Tag: Armenian Genocide

24 Jul 2019

ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION MOURNS THE LOSS OF ROBERT M. MORGENTHAU

The Armenian Bar Association mourns the loss of a renowned public servant and legal titan, Robert Morgenthau, who dedicated himself to a long and prominent life in public service.  Scion of a family dedicated to public service and noted for its devotion to the Armenian people, Robert Morgenthau, distinguished himself for serving in the nation’s military, as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and most famously and prominently as the Manhattan District Attorney.

Robert Morgenthau and his family will forever be endeared in the hearts of Armenians everywhere for their unwavering support of the Armenian people during their darkest hours. His grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., who served as the United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913-1916, was steadfast and resolute in drawing the world’s attention to the systematic atrocities, massacres and deportation marches committed by the Turkish government against Armenians in Turkey. Robert Morgenthau continued the work of his grandfather in never letting the world forget about Turkey’s systematic destruction of its Armenian population that became known as the Armenian genocide. In a more recent article in the January 18, 2018 issue of The Wall Street Journal, he asked the question “Will Trump Tell the Truth About the Armenian Genocide?”

At the end of that Wall Street Journal article, Robert Morgenthau eloquently argued and pled:

Every April, the president issues a proclamation recognizing the atrocity that was inflicted on the Armenian people. But bowing to Turkish pressure, that proclamation has never contained the word “genocide.” That must change.

I do not underestimate the concerns of those who say the wrath of Turkey may work against U.S. interests—as I do not dismiss those who say moving the embassy to Jerusalem may complicate peace negotiations. But a just and lasting world order cannot be built on falsehoods and equivocations. Let President Trump demonstrate that commitment once more by declaring the truth of the Armenian genocide. This would send clear message to the thugs in power around the world: Your criminal acts will not go unnoticed.

Because of his unwavering support of the Armenian people, The Armenian Bar Association honored Robert Morgenthau at its annual Public Servant’s Dinner in April 2018, where he gave a stirring and passionate speech. In what were probably his final words on the subject he said:

Today, I am told that I am in retirement. But my grandfather’s voice will not let me rest. For there is unfinished business before us. None of us can rest until there is universal acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.

As Robert Morgenthau and his family have never forgotten the Armenians, the Armenians will never forget Robert Morgenthau and his family. Our deepest condolences go out to his family.

In the words of the venerable Armenian parable, three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller; one for the listener; and one for the story itself, Robert M. Morgenthau. Asdvatz hokin lusavore.

Funeral Services will be held on Thursday at Temple Emanu-El at Fifth Avenue and 65th Street, New York City, at 11:00 A.M.

15 May 2019

Professor Richard Hovannisian Sharpens Armenian Genocide Teaching Skills of Arizona Educators

A special partnership between the Armenian Bar Association and BASIS.ed to develop Armenian Genocide-related educational studies in Arizona’s public schools climbed to new heights on April 29, 2019.  With the 104th anniversary of the Genocide fresh in mind, approximately 50 social science teachers from the highest-ranked network of public charter schools in America gathered together to hear a unique and constructive message of how to incorporate lessons about the Genocide into their students’ broader understanding of world history.

The teacher-training program was held at the BASIS flagship campus in Phoenix and was masterfully led by pioneer educator Professor Richard G. Hovannisian.   With deeply personal reflections about his own all-American upbringing in the San Joaquin Valley during the Great Depression – when the stories of the Armenian people’s terrible trauma went largely untold – Professor Hovannisian explained to the teachers that there are certain basic and broad themes of instruction into which the Armenian Genocide may comfortably be accommodated.

For example, whether drawing from his childhood memories about the isolation of his ethnic identity or tying together the demonization and dehumanization of various victim groups by their oppressors, Hovannisian made a compelling case of how much more alike, rather than dissimilar, the Armenian experience is to other crimes against humanity and recurring episodes of prejudice.   With nodding heads and knowing eyes, the BASIS teachers and administrators absorbed his advice with appreciation and expressed their poise to take back to their classes the lessons they had learned.

Richard Hovannisian highlighted his presentation with attention-grabbing video clips of Genocide survivors which brought the immediacy of the subject matter into clear focus for the BASIS teachers.  Nearly 50 years ago, Hovannisian initiated a ground-breaking oral history project aimed at capturing survivor testimonies and his collection of more than 1,000 accounts are now housed at U.S.C.’s  Shoah Foundation where they are being digitized and studied, both in the context of Armenians’ unique experiences and also through the wider lens of shared experiences with other groups.

In a lively question-and-answer session which followed the program, the BASIS educators probed with interest and departed with an understanding of how to welcome the Armenian Genocide into the learning lives of their students.  Thanks to Professor Hovannisian, every question was met with an uncomplicated and relatable answer.

Professor Hovannisian is widely known for his legacy of institutionalizing Armenian history and genocide scholarship at U.C.L.A.   He has lectured in nearly 40 countries, more than 150 colleges and universities, and more than 1000 public lectures and forums on six continents. Hovannisian has served as a consultant to the California State Board of Education, authoring the chapter on the Armenian Genocide in the State’s Social Studies Model Curriculum on Human Rights and Genocide. He has also served as a consultant to the Facing History and Ourselves Organization, assisted in the preparation of its resource book on the Armenian Genocide, and introduced the subject in numerous teacher-training institutes and summer workshops.

“We often struggle with how best to teach our children about one of the darkest pages of our people’s history and its long-lasting consequences of trans-generational trauma and resilience,” said Lucy Varpetian, Co-Vice Chair of the Armenian Bar Association.  “The survivors themselves may have been hesitant to share openly their stories as a guard against passing on the heavy burden of their Genocide memories.  It’s important to forge these relationships with educational institutions like BASIS so that we can learn to impart information about the Genocide to our children in more inclusive and universal ways.”

For four years, the Armenian Bar and BASIS have worked together to open and broaden the avenues of Armenian Genocide instruction in many Arizona high schools and middle schools.  Following the teachers’ workshop, a second Genocide commemoration program took place, drawing a more diverse audience of student families and members of the local Armenian community including Father Zacharia Saribekyan of Scottsdale’s St. Apkar Armenian Church, of Scottsdale’s St. Apkar Armenian Church.

(L-R) Armen K. Hovannisian (Armenian Bar), Father Zacharia Saribekyan (St. Apkar Church), Michelle Keogh (Basis), Professor Richard Hovannisian, John Hillis (Basis), Lucy Varpetian (Armenian Bar)

20 Mar 2018

Reclaiming the Forgotten Survivors of Genocide

The Armenian Bar Association and the Armenian Museum of America Present a Colloquium

RECLAIMING THE FORGOTTEN SURVIVORS OF GENOCIDE: Legal Perspective on the Fate and Future of National Artifacts, Collective Identity and Cultural Markers

 

Speakers:

Karnig Kerkonian, Esq., International Law Expert

Nicholas Koumjian, Esq., Prosecutor, International Criminal Courts

To Register: https://armenbar-ama-reclaiming.eventbrite.com

Pre-event lunch talk at Harvard Law School:

06 Sep 2017

The Crime of Crimes? Genocide, International Courts and International Politics

A talk with Nicholas Koumjian on the subtle issues of the definition of genocide and what distinguishes genocide from other crimes against humanity, such as exterminations.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948, obligates the state signatories to prevent and punish genocide. Since the convention was adopted the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia have returned genocide convictions, the ICC has issued an arrest warrant against Sudan’s president for charges that include genocide and the trial chamber for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is currently deliberating on charges against the top surviving leaders of the regime which include genocide against the Vietnamese and the Cham Muslim minorities. However, the vast majority who lost their lives under that regime was ethnic Khmer and these killings are not covered by the genocide charges. Various voices have called on the international community to recognize the conflict in Syria to include an ongoing genocide against Yazidi and Christian minorities. What are the elements of genocide and what distinguishes genocide from other crimes against humanity, such as exterminations? Does it matter whether crimes are labelled genocide or given a different legal characterization?

Nicholas Koumjian has worked at various international criminal tribunals for the past 17 years, including the International Criminal Court, International Court for the Former Yugoslavia, Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor, State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Special Court for Sierra Leone. Following his appointment by the United Nations Secretary General, he has served in Cambodia as the International Co-Prosecutor at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. He recently completed final arguments in the trial of Nuon Chea, “Brother Number 2” in the Khmer Rouge and Khieu Samphan, the former Head of State on charges for crimes committed by that regime. It is estimated that almost 2 million people lost their lives during that regime and the charges include genocide, enslavement, forced marriage and rape. From 2007-2012, Mr. Koumjian was Senior Trial Attorney for the prosecution of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia for crimes in Sierra Leone and led the prosecution in the trial at the ICTY of Milomir Stakic, Mayor of Prijedor, on charges which included genocide. Prior to international practice, Mr. Koumjian was a Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years.

Co-Sponsors: Promise Insittute for Human Rights, International and Comparative Law Program, and International Human Rights Law Association

This activity has been approved for 1.15 hours of MCLE Elimination of Bias credit by the State Bar of California.

Please RSVP here.

24 Apr 2017

Armenian Bar Across The Board On April 24th

Please join us to remember the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide.   Take action under the law. Rise for the martyrs. Speak out for justice. Prevent crimes against humanity.

Featured Speakers: Armen K. Hovannisian, Past Chairman and Current Board Member of the Armenian Bar Association; Garo Ghazarian, Past Chairman and Current Board Member of the Armenian Bar Association; Steve Dadaian, ANCA Board Member and Past Vice-Chairman of the Armenian Bar Association

25 Apr 2015

April 25, 2015: The Morning After

By Karnig Kerkonian

(This article first appeared in the Association’s Newsletter, Winter 2015, Volume 26, Number 1)

Law is the business of social ordering. So it is particularly fitting, on the eve of the Genocide Centennial, for Armenian lawyers to give some thought as to the state of our present social order. This is a complicated undertaking for a number of reasons, as such consideration necessarily touches on our history, on our politics, on our pride and, of course, on our very insecurities as a people. But it is further complicated by something monumentally deeper—something not necessarily easily articulable: the inescapable reality that our nation’s historic disenfranchisement has left none of us untouched, has left none of us unscathed and has left none of us able to deny that the very blood flowing through our veins today, which we pass to our children and theirs, stained desert sand just a century ago for no justifiable reason. For lawyers trained to value reason over emotion, the challenge is clear.

The Genocide was a national trauma of unspeakable proportion; and our nation today still lives in a post-traumatic period. We cannot underestimate the impact on the psychology of our identity; on our own self-perception of who we are. We cannot pretend that the last century’s discourse of disenfranchisement has not utterly consumed, and perhaps even confused, our view of our own identity today. It is axiomatic that we are more than the Genocide— but trauma skews perspective, it blurs the horizon and it renders the future a mirage. You see, this is the purpose of Genocide itself—to erase the people, to erase the nation in the minds of the people who remain, and to erase everything else from the identity of the rest of us. It is a disgusting truth; but it is precisely what Genocide is.

Look around. Today, the Genocide may be our single most commonly shared trait of group identity, particularly outside of Armenia. Even a quick survey of those who we consider, or would consider themselves, Armenians quickly demonstrates that it is entirely possible that neither language, location, vocation, cuisine, culture, religion, nor even genetics links one Armenian to another to the extent the Genocide does. This should disturb us. It should frighten us that we are left holding more hands in our trauma than in our dances, left sharing more pride in our protests than in our literature and left embracing one another more in commemoration than in celebration. We are not historic artifacts; we are a living nation, surely with stories yet to tell and epics yet to write.

It is time to hand the evidence over to our lawyers and let them prosecute the crimes of inhumanity perpetrated on our people. And it is time for the rest of us to begin rebuilding our national consciousness, rediscovering our national identity and re-entrenching the value of that identity in our children, wherever on this earth they may sleep. It is time for us to champion our progress, not our perseverance. We must awake on April 25, 2015 with a national consciousness that rises above the Genocide, that embraces Armenians living in a Republic and an ever-growing Diaspora and that insists that we as Armenians forevermore define our identity by what we have done rather than what has been done to us.

The Republic of Armenia, in and of itself, is not the solution to defining a comprehensive national consciousness. Our nation is larger than the Republic of Armenia—we have to accept this and assume the responsibility it imposes. Of course, the Republic is of vital importance to us as Armenians, an integral element of the survival of the Armenian people, and we must do everything we can to support its development and ensure its stability. However, the Republic is neither the Armenian nation nor its savior.

I say this not to belittle the importance of an independent state, but we cannot pretend that its emergence was something different than it was. The Republic was not born as our Israel. The independence of the Republic of Armenia, as was the fall of the Soviet Union more generally, was an event which few—including the leading Western Soviet scholars at the time— came even close to predicting. The Republic was not the result of a national intellectual movement to save the Armenian nation and it was not the great white horse for ending the indignities against the Armenian people. Israel, on the other hand, was both for the Jews.

A cursory review of Theodore Herzl’s late-nineteenth century work, Judenstaat, immediately introduces the reader to a national agenda, a national plan to create a nation-state for Jews in either Palestine or Argentina for the purpose of saving the Jews from widespread and incessant persecution, particularly in Europe. Herzl’s intellectual seed sprouted nationalist sentiment among Jewish intellectuals throughout Europe and awakened a national consciousness that fueled an emerging Zionist platform. The lectures given at the various Jewish World Congresses, particularly the First Zionist Congress in 1897, only buttressed the intellectual foundation upon which the concept of a Jewish state was rooted. When the State of Israel emerged in 1948, thousands of Jews waiting aboard massive ships in coastal Mediterranean waters arrived on the new land fulfilling a political and intellectual agenda nearly a century in the making.

This type of nationalistic foundation is absent from the independence of the Republic of Armenia. The Republic gained its independence as a result of a political and economic implosion of the Soviet Union with which the rest of the Armenian nation, institutionally and particularly in the Diaspora, played at best a nominal role. As much as the demonstrations in Yerevan for unification of Karabagh with Armenia contributed to the world’s visual of the great Soviet collapse unfolding, it would not be accurate to claim that these demonstrations substantively caused the downfall of the Soviet Union and the independence of Armenia. The refusal to see the Republic in this context is escapist rhetoric that has led the Diaspora into a near complete abandonment of any vital Armenian issue outside of the Republic and beyond the Genocide.

We must be fair to ourselves. We must place our Republic in its fair context. We cannot coax ourselves into complacency believing that the work of building a national consciousness— one that exists beyond the Genocide and beyond the Republic—is something that the Republic will do for us. Did we really need to wait for the tragic suffering of the Armenians of Aleppo, the gutting of our historic presence in Kessab and the emptying of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem to realize that Yerevan is not our only home and that the Genocide, not our only travesty? We know better; but, the truth is, shaping a national consciousness that unifies us is not only physically, but intellectually, laboring work.

National identity is a product. It is the result of certain things that are, that occur and, sometimes, that people simply want. There are cultural factors, of course: language, art, music and others. And then there are the formative historical events: wars, calamities and prominent figures, for example. But sometimes, there is a third element— forces of engineering, of structuring and of teleology—moving with a predetermined resolve to shape a national identity.

Modernist scholar of nations and nationalism, Benedict Anderson, spoke of the nation as something “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” He attributed national consciousness to, among other things, advances in communications which targeted people and martialed their interests toward a desired end. This analysis sees national consciousness as a product of a discourse that reaches, teaches and propels a people who may never meet one another toward a shared goal. National identity is not the simple byproduct of shared territory, it can be shaped through discourse and a unifying objective— particularly in this era where technological advances in communication have contributed to revolutions.

Understanding national consciousness in this context is important to us as Armenians. We have had the fortune of strong cultural forms and defining historical moments; yet the discourse of our national consciousness has not been comprehensive, progressive or teleological. In the Diaspora, it has been largely a singularly focused, retributive political agenda; in the Republic it has been a survivalist, economic one—both for good reason and both of necessity. But neither discourse has sufficiently espoused a whole of which it is only a part; neither has seriously defined the Armenian nation as existing beyond its own understanding. Without a national consciousness that rises above the passions de jure, we risk the unsharing of our national values, as what is valuable to one Armenian begins to be weighed differently by other Armenians and, ultimately, national identity diverges. This is not theory: it is happening today as Armenians weigh the role of the Genocide and the Republic in their own lives— and the conversations voice a divergence which decades ago would have been unspeakable.

Of course, to us as Americans, we think of this divergence as simply diversity within a national identity. But, you see, the American experience allows us to see divergence as diversity because the American identity is particularly defined to champion precisely this—whether in the 14th Amendment, high school textbooks teaching the civil rights movement, the very concept of the “melting pot” or, for that matter, the belief that everyone should share in the American Dream. Whether the dream has been achieved, of course, is the very beauty of the American experiment: that no matter where we are on the path, we know in principle the goals to which we are aspiring as a society. This is the benefit of a structured national identity, one reinforced through institutions and, in the American example, based on principles, the rule of law and certain concepts of social justice and equality.

The problem we face as Armenians is that divergence without structure is not diversity within the nation—it’s just plain divergence. It is separation, a parting of ways. It was easy to rally national consciousness by chanting “tebi yergir” when the idea of an actual Armenia was a pipe dream. It was easy to protest Genocide in those years when we were unschooled in international law and the law of reparations. And all of this was so massively important: we survived, we did so much to hold on to one another. But the greatest challenges to our survival as a nation may still lie ahead; dare I say that the “simpler” days are over. The challenge of defining a national consciousness that will shape, and with which we will survive, our next century together will be a sophisticated, tough and extraordinary undertaking.

With the Republic a reality, the Genocide Centennial upon us and a people strewn all over the globe, it is time for Armenian lawyers to think earnestly about our present social order and how we must structure, perhaps even govern, our nation in the years to come. We are at the threshold of something immensely precarious, yet unavoidable: to define who and what the Armenian nation is and who and what the Armenian nation will be. There is, I guess, an eerie simplicity to the whole thing: what will it mean to be an Armenian? But, mind you, it will not be a judge who will ask you the question…it will be your ten year old.

Karnig Kerkonian, of Chicago, Illinois, is a distinguished graduate magna cum laude of Harvard University who holds two law degrees—a Doctorate in Law from the University of Chicago and a post-doctoral Diploma in International Law from Cambridge University, England. Since 1999, Karnig has represented numerous U.S. companies and multinational entities in transactional matters as well as complex business litigation matters. He is well recognized for his work in international law, both public and private, and has been tapped as specialized counsel in cross-border matters as well as a leading speaker before law associations on various international legal issues.

24 Apr 2015

The Chairman’s Message on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide

By Armen K. Hovannisian

(This article first appeared in the Association’s Newsletter, Winter 2015, Volume 26, Number 1)

The two girls were born three months and three hundred miles apart in 1909, one in Kharpert’s Kessrik village and the other in Ordu’s seaside hills and dales. Soon enough, my grandmothers as girls were to have little in common and were to become, by circumstance, distant strangers in fate and future.

On Saturday morning, April 24, 1915, Siroon, who had quickly come to be known as Sarah and whose Nalbandian family had immigrated to the San Joaquin Valley just a few years earlier, was skipping rope, jumping hop-scotch and picking up jacks among friends from her first grade class at Cherry Avenue Elementary School.

She was to graduate from Tulare Union High School, marry early to larger-thanlife Kaspar, and name her four sons John, Ralph, Richard, and Vernon into whom she cemented security, confidence, America and the English language. She took the helm as naturally in the PTA and at the Emblem Club as she did the mantle in the Armenian Relief Society and the Ladies Guild at Holy Trinity. Her sprawling ranch house with the thick wood shingle roof looked onto the Sunnyside Country Club. She drove a white four-door Fleetwood Cadillac with a soft and purry velure interior. Khnguhi Kalyonchian, betraying the wistful black-and-white photograph on the credenza projecting a thousand yearold darling little girl sporting pigtails in her hair and a tennis racket in her hands, bid adieu to most of her family beginning on that day. Although she “survived” the Genocide, Khnguhi’s smile was turned down that day, at once and forever. In the years and decades to come, in picture after picture, it was one visual dirge, one unmitigated lament after another, a funeral procession that lasted for nearly all of her 91 years.

Fifty years in this country and she still spoke English in choppy sentences, misconjugated verbs and mixed-up tenses, outstretched arms and expressive eyes. She went to no schools in America, made no friends, played no games. She bent her back, swallowed her pride, and went to work in Fresno’s fields. She married the quiet and restrained strength of Hovakim and named her daughters Vartiter and Nazik. The son she lost was to be named Vrej, meaning Revenge. Maybe the boy died so that his name would live in us. Khnguhi’s matchbox-sized house with the thin decaying roof was similar to the hundreds of houses which Kaspar gathered. She never drove a car. Neither did Hovakim. As we mark the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I struggle to settle on a definition of the scope of what was lost, what was taken. Was it only the childhood of Khnguhi and the roots of Siroon? Were their sorrows and anguish really that much different from each other in the end? Were they not both disinherited of their provenance, dispossessed of their destinies, displaced even from themselves? This much I know; but for the Genocide, Siroon wouldn’t be playing hide-and-seek in Tulare and Khnguhi would have played a lot of tennis near the Black Sea. And I’d most likely be somewhere between Erzerum and Kharpert.

My grandmothers and yours shared a common fundamental characteristic: they faced the darkness and insisted on a future for their families, took silent oaths to not give up, to say yes to life, to believe in the possibility of justice. To our parents, we say thank you for living strong and for showing us the way. Because they did not give up, because they believed, then we will not give up and we will believe.

With the stories of these girls embedded in my life and the stories of your families engraved in yours, we must see to it that the chronic pain and continuing effects of the Genocide are not dehumanized, that they are not examined only analytically and scientifically, that their significance is never lost or forgotten. Though it is now a hardening scab, we cannot let the bleeding wound to be forgotten. Only when it is personalized will it be real enough to play a role in the decisions we make. These memories of hardship may test our hopes and try our conscience, but memory is our sacred duty, not simply to remember, however, but to act. Let us tell the world not only how our people died, but also how they lived, how they loved, how they hoped, how they dreamed.

The Armenian Bar Association is one of the places where those stories can come together to be shared and where the bleeding may finally find a way to stop. And although so much has already been written and spoken, mere words—mine and yours–somehow are not enough. Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing. “Never again” without follow-through means “Wait till next time.”

As we enter the second century after the Genocide, we are now poised and prepared to take care of ourselves. Perhaps it’s time that we should not coddle public officials so slavishly, we should not grovel to governments with upturned palms, we should not seek shallow solace in recognitions, splinters of victory in resolutions. We should not rely on someone else to make us whole. Because they can’t. They never could. From now on, let our redemption begin and end with us.