By Harut Sassounian
Two important conferences took place in Yerevan last week in preparation for next year’s Armenian Genocide Centennial.
Participating in the first meeting, held on May 26, were representatives of Centennial Committees from 40 countries who reported on their plans for April 24, 2015. On this occasion, the emblem and motto for the Centennial were unveiled -- “I remember and demand….” The conference was a unique opportunity for the attendees to exchange contact information and discuss collaborative joint efforts.
The second meeting, held on May 27, brought together State Centennial Committee members, with representatives of the regional committees, and dozens of Armenian diplomats and high-ranking clergy from around the world. The State Committee consists of the leadership of Armenia and Artsakh (Karabagh), and heads of major Armenian organizations worldwide.
In a daring move, Pres. Sargsyan announced that he had invited the President of Turkey to visit Yerevan on April 24, 2015, in order to face the truth of the Armenian Genocide. Caught by surprise, Turkish officials have yet to respond to this challenging invitation. The Armenian President also informed the conference participants that he had invited several other heads of state to Yerevan on that date. French President Francois Hollande has already confirmed that he plans to be in Yerevan on the Genocide’s Centennial.
After presentations by State Committee members, representatives from Argentina, France, Lebanon, Russia, and the United States were given the opportunity to address the conference. I was also asked to speak in my capacity as Co-Chair of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of the Western United States.
I began by explaining that Armenians around the world should not be obsessed with the expectation that Pres. Obama would include the word genocide in his ‘memorial’ statement of April 24, 2015. Contrary to popular misconception, the United States government has repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide, starting in 1951 with an official document submitted to the World Court; House of Representatives resolutions in 1975 and 1984; and Pres. Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Proclamation of April 22, 1981. Consequently, there is no crucial need to insist that Pres. Obama also acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, save for the purpose of fulfilling his promise and sustaining his integrity.
In my talk I also suggested that since the Armenian Genocide lasted from 1915 to 1923, the planned Centennial activities should extend from 2015 to 2023. This would be a true nightmare for the Turkish government, having to confront not one, but eight years of Centennial events.
Since the Centennial is a historic milestone, I urged Armenian communities around the world to organize unique events which have a mass appeal and the potential of generating nationwide or worldwide publicity for Armenians’ just demands from Turkey. The same old annual events should not be repeated on the occasion of the Centennial. However, before initiating any project, it is incumbent on all Armenian communities to first agree on the objectives to be accomplished and decide whether the planned activities meet those goals.
I proceeded to read to the conference participants the mission statement of the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of Western United States:
“The 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide signifies a global demand for justice by Armenians worldwide and all people of good will.
The Centennial marks one of the 20th century’s greatest crimes against humanity. In 1915, the Turkish Government began a premeditated and systematic campaign to uproot the Armenian population from its ancestral homeland and slaughter 1.5 million defenseless men, women and children.
Turkey must finally acknowledge its responsibility for the Genocide and make appropriate moral, financial, and territorial restitution, as mandated by the fundamental norms of international law and civilized society.”
I concluded my remarks by suggesting that Armenians worldwide coordinate their Centennial activities so that the same message is delivered to friend and foe alike. I also proposed that the motto chosen by the State Committee be modified from “I remember and demand” to “We remember and demand justice!”
While this gathering should have been held much earlier, it was most useful in terms of coordinating the planned Centennial activities. Not surprisingly, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced last week that his government was closely monitoring the Centennial Committee’s Yerevan meetings. Fortunately, the organizers in Armenia were cautious not to make public the Centennial plans to keep Turkish officials in the dark, giving them as little time as possible to counter the Armenian initiatives!