Thursday,16 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )
Thursday,16 August, 2018
Issue 1237, (12 - 18 March 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Genocide conference opens

Responsibility 2015, an international conference marking the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, has made a remarkable opening in New York, reports Nora Koloyan-Keuhnelian

Al-Ahram Weekly

In the heart of Manhattan in Times Square’s Marriot Marquis Hotel, a long-awaited international conference marking the centennial of the Armenian Genocide opened last Friday with a presentation by UK human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, counsel in a case referring to the Armenian Genocide that went to the European Court of Human Rights in January.

In his opening presentation, entitled “Responsibility: 100 years of Human Rights Violations,” Robertson called on Turkey to recognise the crimes carried out against the Armenians under Ottoman rule as genocide, in other words intended to target the continuing existence of the Armenians.

In his book “An Inconvenient Genocide: Who now Remembers the Armenians,” Robertson argued that the crimes by which more than a million Armenians lost their lives under Ottoman rule in 1915 be defined as genocide.

“As historians don’t know the law, it’s quite clear that a number of denialist historians deny the Genocide. They don’t understand what genocide means, and they profess no understanding of the law or have no experience in applying it, so they are not qualified to answer the legal question” of whether or not these crimes were genocide, Robertson commented to the Weekly.

He added that denialist historians think that genocide requires proof of a written order from the central government at the time such crimes take place to eliminate all members of a particular group or people professing a particular religion. They may think there must always be an intention to kill everyone in the group, rather than part of the group or to create conditions where such killing is inevitable, he said.

Robertson noted that annihilating a racial or religious group becomes a matter of international concern if a country like Turkey seeks to cover up such crimes by blotting them out of school textbooks or by prosecuting those who allege them, or, worse, if denial takes the form of an insistence that they were justified in the first place.

“There can never be justification for genocide, even on the shoulder-shrugging grounds that it occurred during World War I when life was cheap and ‘military necessity’ or ‘national security’ required it. Any state that takes the lives of hundreds of thousands of women, of old men and young children, on the grounds of their race must, in the absence at least of confession and apology, pay a price, as long as a century later,” Robertson said.

The Conference includes panels on Armenian Genocide Scholarship, Building Solidarity, Armenian Genocide in US Policy Circles, Attitudes in Turkey, Individual and Group Reparations, Islamised Armenians, Denial, Gender and Genocide, and Genocide and Education.

Among the speakers are well-known figures such as Bilgin Ayata, David Barsamian, David Gaunt, Guillaume Perrier, Israel Charny, Nancy Krikorian, Richard Hovannissian, Sarah Leah Whitson, Ruken Sengul, Khatchig Mouradian and others.

The closing panel, on Art and Expression, will include Alexander Dinelaris, co-writer and winner of an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the filmBirdman, Chris Bohjalian, author of 17 books including ten New York Times bestsellers, Eric Boghossian, author and actor, and Scout Tufankjian, a photojournalist whose work has been featured in Newsweek, Le Monde, theNew York Times and other publications.

It had earlier been announced that British writer and Middle East correspondent for the Independent newspaper Robert Fisk would be among the speakers at the Conference. But Fisk, known for his strong support for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, had cancelled his previously scheduled appearance as a speaker at a luncheon only a day before the Conference started, citing unforeseen circumstances according to Conference organisers.

However, some said that Fisk had cancelled his participation owing to objections to the Dashnak Party, the Lebanese chapter of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, which is a member of the March 8 Coalition led by the Shiite Hizbullah Party.    

The Conference was organised by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Eastern US Centennial Committee. “It is about the responsibility of everybody, whether it’s the Turkish state, whether it’s Armenia, or whether it’s the international community, to acknowledge past crimes and to intervene when current crimes are still being committed by the Islamic State, for example, and to prevent future crimes,” commented Khatchig Mouradian, head of the Conference organising committee and editor of The Armenian Weekly.

Committee co-chair Haig Oshagan said that “responsibility extends to individuals and nations to know their past and their history and how to understand the present and figure out the future, so the historical work is a responsibility to explain the Genocide to the current generation. It’s our duty to understand what happened to our ancestors and pass it on to the new generations.”

“Our demands for reparations are based on the notion of responsibility; a nation cannot claim impunity for a criminal, and the opposite of impunity is accountability or responsibility. This has to do with everything from recognition to reparations, and the foundation is that Turkey is responsible for these crimes and we will demand reparations for them.”

“I think what we do as activists comes from our sense of responsibility to our nation. The work we’re doing is voluntary. We all feel we’re in some way responsible. So it seemed appropriate to call the conference Responsibility 2015,” Oshagan concluded.

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