“The bitter lessons of the Armenian genocide did not go down in the history and memory of humankind as mere memories of the past. They came to be replaced by the horrors of the Holocaust and the tragedies in Rwanda, Darfur and many other places,” he said in a speech at the two-day forum attended by genocide scholars from about 20 countries.
Sarkisian complained that “political expediency and short-sighted opportunism” often shape governments’ attitudes towards past and present genocides. It was a clear reference to their reluctance to recognize the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide and risk antagonizing Turkey.
“Issues related to the prevention and condemnation of genocides as well as the elimination of their consequences must be on the international community’s agenda,” said Sarkisian.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian made the same point. “Genocide denial and impunity pave the way for new crimes against humanity. Regardless of geopolitical or other interests, the international community must be united in condemning and preventing genocide,” Nalbandian told conference participants.
One of the participants, prominent U.S.-Armenian historian Richard Hovannisian, suggested that Armenia’s government has toughened its position on genocide recognition since the collapse of its normalization agreements with Turkey. “It seems to have become more determined,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Sarkisian’s policy of rapprochement with Turkey has triggered a barrage of criticism from many in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora. They say that Ankara has exploited it to keep more countries from recognizing the slaughter of some 1.5 Ottoman Armenians as genocide.
Taner Akcam, a U.S.-based Turkish scholar also participating in the conference, said such recognition would make it much harder for the Turkish state to claim that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and not as a result of a premeditated government policy.
“I strongly recommend recognition of the Armenian genocide,” Akcam told journalists. “This is also important for the prevention [of more genocides,]” he said.
The conference began four days after a U.S. federal appeals court reversed its own decision made last year and ruled that the heirs of Armenians killed in Ottoman Turkey can seek payment from companies that sold their relatives life insurance.
According to the Associated Press news agency, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said a California law labeling the World War One-era killings as a genocide does not conflict with U.S. foreign policy, which the court said is unsettled on the issue. The ruling revived a lawsuit filed by heirs against three German insurers, including Munich Re AG.
“This was totally unexpected,” attorney Brian Kabateck, who represents the Armenian heirs, told the Associated Press. “It's a great victory for the Armenia people.”
Kabateck and other lawyers have filed similar lawsuits against New York Life Insurance Co. and French insurer AXA, which were settled in 2005 for a combined $37.5 million.