An Armenian protester holds a banner reading ‘1915 never again’ as she takes part in a demonstration near the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in January.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
YEREVAN, Armenia – On April 24, 2015, a century closes circle upon the 1915 genocide and great national dispossession perpetrated by the Young Turk Party against the Armenian people.
This primer in premeditated nation-killing resulted not only in the deportation and murder of 1.5 million civilians on their native soil but also in the destruction of an entire civilization – nearly four millennia of continual presence in an ancestral cradle long mapped as Western Armenia.
The government of Turkey, which now occupies those lands, denies that a genocide ever took place there.
What shall I say on that April day, 100 years later, to my survivor grandfathers Kaspar and Hovakim, who had watched their parents and siblings killed by the sword or else taken away for conversion? Or to their wives, my grandmothers Siroon and Khengeni, the latter of whom was saved by a righteous Turkish neighbor?
We know that, in 1915, the survivors of Western Armenia were dispersed to the four corners of the earth and live to this day, some well and others poorly, in their adopted countries. My own family moved to the United States; I grew up in Los Angeles. We know too that a small Armenian republic, commonly known as Eastern Armenia, has recently come forth from under the rubble of the Soviet Union.
I repatriated to that Armenia, Eastern or Soviet Armenia, in 1989, during the final hours of the USSR. In 1991, I served as the new republic’s first foreign minister. I raised Armenia’s flag before the headquarters of the United Nations. This was not the Western homeland of my grandparents, but it was the reborn Armenia I was proud to call home.
Soon, however, our newfound freedom began to disintegrate.
Greed and corruption plagued the halls of government. I resigned. Years later I founded an opposition party, Heritage, and entered parliament. In 2013, I ran for president. Official results gave me 37 percent of the vote, although the hundreds of thousands who staged protests that spring were convinced this was not so. The incumbent administration stands.
Pending the accomplishment of a Republic of Armenia that is ruled by law, it is the progeny of Western Armenia who must come forward to press their collective rights, that flow from genocide and national dispossession.
This necessarily presumes a novel, contemporary mechanism of recourse with the denialist government of Turkey, and the braver segments of Turkish civil society.
A comprehensive agenda they must forge together, and in consultation with official Yerevan, but the bottom line must encompass the creation of an Armenian national hearth in historic Western Armenia.
This strategy should entail: 1) a guaranteed right of return for survivors of the genocide and their generations, whether or not their property deeds are currently intact; 2) designation for them of a special Hearth status that does not require a change of existing citizenship; 3) the rebuilding of Armenian schools and colleges, churches and monasteries, all with jurisdiction duly vested in the Armenian Hearth; 4) the construction of memorials and introduction of public curricula to educate the Turkish public about their true past; 5) celebration of the Armenian identity throughout the land, from Mount Ararat to Musa Dagh; and 6) negotiations between the republics of Turkey and Armenia triggering the first-ever sovereign reciprocal demarcation of the official frontier, including but not limited to provisions for an Armenian easement to the Black Sea.
As for me, having lived in Eastern Armenia for 25 years, the western heartlands of my grandparents have not stopped being mine. They are not, and shall never become, wastelands. They have been breached, perforce and by malicious policy, over the past century. But they and I continue to belong to each other. Nobody has more title than I do, the grandson of Kaspar and Hovakim, and the resilient multitudes whose forebears are as sacred as mine.
I plan shortly to return to find my Home, and trust that the Turkish authorities currently in power – pending their own facing of history and their own recognition of and redemption for the Armenian Genocide – will take every measure that my homecoming will be received with full honor, dignity, and an enduring respect for my rights as a child of the new-old Homeland.The author, whose grandparents hail from Garin-Erzerum, Mezre-Elazig, Bazmashen-Bizmishen and Ordu, was born in the United States, worked as an international lawyer in Los Angeles, and moved to Yerevan, becoming the nation’s first foreign minister. He is the executive producer of 1915 (1915themovie.com), which will be released in theaters on April 17.