Interviews and press conferences
The crime of the Armenian Genocide has no statute of limitation: President Armen Sarkissian’s interview to Al-Ahram daily
Al-Ahram daily (Egypt), the most influential paper in the Arab world, in its June 25 issue published an exclusive interview with the President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian titled “The Armenian Genocide has no statute of limitation: the Ottomans carried out the most horrific genocide in history.”
Al-Ahram was founded in 1875 with the daily circulation of one million. In its introductory, the paper writes:
“Official relations between Egypt and Armenia are good and strong. They started in 1991 when Egypt recognized independence of Armenia. In 1992, the two countries signed the agreement on the establishment of diplomatic relations. An Armenian embassy was established in Cairo in 1992, and in 1993, Egypt opened its embassy in Yerevan.
Political relations of the two countries are based on mutual respect. Armenia highly values Egypt’s neutral position on Artsakh conflict and appreciates Egypt’s historical position on receiving and integrating into the Egyptian society of the Armenians who fled massacres. In 2013, when His Excellency President Al-Sisi assumed the office, the Armenian-Egyptian relations received a great boost.
The intergovernmental commission makes great efforts to develop relations of the two countries in the economic area and to organize cultural events to promote cultural exchange.
Below is the exclusive interview of His Excellency President of RA Dr. Armen Sarkissian in which he talks of the historical problems related to the massacres of the Armenian people in 1915 and Armenia’s policies with this regard. Last year, at the Munich Security Conference, President Sisi too, spoke of this issue, underscoring that 100 years ago Egypt welcomed Armenians, who had fled carnage, “in Egypt they had found security, peace, and stability.”
Yerevan, exclusively for Al-Ahram.
Question: Mr. President, every year on April 24 the Armenian people all over the world commemorate the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and memory of 1,5 million victims who fell victim of deportations, mass massacres organized against the Armenians by the government of Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire during WWI, as well as violence, famine, and diseases. What would you say about this?
Answer: Over one hundred years have passed since that crime against humanity and civilization carried out in 1915-1923 but the consequences of that crime are still there and impede Armenia’s natural development.
Actually, regular massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Turkey started in 1894-96, during the reign of the sultan Abdul Hamid II when 300,000 Armenians were killed. Major powers of the time, world press and prominent individuals, including the Prime Minister of Great Britain William Gladstone, French politician Jean Jaurès, author Anatole France, German missioner Johannes Lepsius, and others, raised their voices against that criminal act and demanded to implement the promised reforms in Western Armenia, which were supposed to provide the most basic civil rights to the Armenians, inviolability of life and property, but were not able to stop Abdul Hamid.
The countries of the Entente, Vatican, and diplomats accredited to Turkey, especially the Ambassador of the United States Henry Morgenthau, were not able to stop the Young Turks which “improved” the mechanisms for the extermination of Armenians and turned it into a state-planned and state-implemented genocide. Taking advantage of the opportunities provided by WWI, the government of Young Turks in 1915-16 launched the implementation of its plan of a total extermination of Armenians, instigating deportations of an unthinkable scale and scope, as well as violence, and murder. (On May 24, 1915 Russia, France, and Great Britain in a common statement called all this a “crime against humanity and civilization.” Later, in 1944, Rafael Lemkin introduced in international law the term “genocide” which he coined having in mind the extermination of the Armenians). After WWI, Mustafa Kemal, the new leader of Turkey, carried on with the task of his predecessors, wiping out the remaining Armenians in Cilicia and Western Armenia and launching a war against the Republic of Armenia.
Question: Why and how it happened? Wasn’t it true that Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were loyal to that country for centuries and promoted its development? What went wrong?
Answer: That’s the point. How? The witnesses – diplomats, military men, military doctors, missionaries, politicians, international press, etc., left irrefutable evidence about the genocide and mechanisms it was carried out through. Later, academic circles, historians and genocide experts, based on the archive documents described it in detail and verified. The world is well-aware of that. I would like to concentrate on the causes and consequences of the Genocide. I will single out some of them.
The first was political: The “Armenian Issues” raised in the Treaty of San Stefano and at the Berlin Congress of 1878 had to be brought to its logical conclusion by the establishment of Armenian autonomy on the territory of historical Armenia, having in mind future independence of Armenia which was the case with other Ottoman nations living on the European and Middle East parts of the Empire after the Balkan war and WWI. The sultan’s Turkey and later republican Turkey was against that because in case of Armenia’s independence a strategic part of the territory would be detached from the Empire, thus closing Turkey’s access to the Caucasus and countries of Central Asia.
By the way, the prospect of having on this chunk of land an independent country populated by vigorous and entrepreneurial Armenians was not appealing to the major countries of those times either, otherwise in 1923 in Lausanne they would not denounce the August 10, 1920 Treaty of Sevres with its segment referring to Armenia which would establish Armenian sovereignty in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire with the access to the Black Sea. Interests of Armenia and the Armenian nation were neglected also by the Moscow and Kars Treaties of 1921 which allocated a negligible piece of land to Armenians.
Armenia was carved up, Kars and Ardahan provinces were yielded to Kemalists. On the other hand, Nagorno Karabakh and Nakhijevan were deliberately put under the administrative jurisdiction of Soviet Azerbaijan and it spurred a lasting squabble and conflict in our region as we witness it even today.
Another reason for the genocide was ideological. The newborn Turkish nationalism strived to turn the huge multinational and multicultural empire into a homogeneous Turkish state, having in mind its political advancement toward the spacious and rich lands of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The main obstacle on that road on again were the Armenians who were living between these two expanses, along with Greeks and other Christian nations residing in Asia Manor.
Thus, ethnic cleansing of the two superactive elements of the Empire – Armenians and Greeks – had no alternative for the Turkish nationalists. The two nations, which were the creators and heirs of the Byzantine civilization and which dedicated their talent and vigor to the development of the Ottoman Empire.
Question: Nonetheless, there is an opinion that Armenians possessed no adequate resources to establish an independent state like, let’s say, other nations of the Empire which gained independence.
Answer: It is simply not true, and Turks know it better than anyone else, and not only they.
Back in 17-18 centuries Armenians had a program, even a Constitution, for the establishment of autonomy, even reestablishment of statehood. From that time on, political groups were actively working and in the second half of the 19th century they transformed into political parties. Publishing houses were first established at the beginning of the 16th century, national press appeared in the 18th century and published broad discussions on the political future of Armenia and the Armenian nation. High-class specialists in different areas were educated in Russia and Europe.
Armenians were active in economy and trade not only on the territories of the Ottoman and Russian empires, where their historical homeland was, but also from West to East, from North to South; on vast lands they became an unescapable factor and were promoting greatly global trade and development of the East-West trade and economic relations.
In the South-East Asia, the Sargis family established the banking system, Lazarians dynasty in Russia, oil tycoons Gyulbenkians and Yessayans in the Middle East and Europe, Alexander Mantashov and others in the Caucasus were among the most prominent figures of the business world. They accumulated vast capital. That capital was channeled toward funding a wide network of the Armenian educational institutions, spiritual and cultural centers, hospitals, youth and sporting organizations.
Armenians, as an ancient nation with the traditions of statehood, had efficient self-governing bodies not only in the two mentioned empires but also in the countries of their residence from East to West. Many of them held high military, diplomatic and administrative offices in different countries.
To maintain internal and external tranquility of the future state, Armenians also had a skillful corps of officers forged in the battles of the Balkan and Caucasus wars, military commanders, generals, privates and volunteers who later, during WWI and WWII, demonstrated their military skills.
Human resource was also in abundance: demography-wise, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and Caucasus were of a considerable number and comparable to other nations, even exceeding some of them. It means that before WWI, Armenians possessed every prerequisite for establishing a sovereign state. It is vividly proved by the fact that after the Genocide of 1915-23 Armenian were able to rise and to build a modern developed state on the small portion of their ancestral historical land. During WWII, Armenian generals and marshals covered themselves with glory in the fight against fascism at all fronts. In our times, their grandchildren defend staunchly the right of Artsakh to be free and independent.
Today, Armenia, Artsakh, and well-organized and influential Diaspora form a triumvirate; they are descendants of those Armenians who 100 years ago were on the brink of extinction.
Question: Mr. President, over one hundred years after the Genocide and no matter how heavy the losses were, some would say that past is in the past and now it is necessary to look into the future.
Answer: We look into the future, we dream of it, we plan our future, work every day to build that future. But remember that future is a continuation of yesterday and today.
We speak very often of the huge human and material losses. And it is true. The loss of 1.5 million people had affected considerably the reproductive ability of the Armenian nation: in normal conditions, today we would be not 10 or 12 million but at least double of that number.
Another significant loss, which successive Turkish government were determined to impose on us, was the total extermination of the Armenian element at its historical homeland. Nowadays, there are no pockets of Armenians living on that territories. And no people means no language, no traditions, no lifestyle, no culture, no cuisine, no home environment which eventually forms the national environment, society, and nation. It means that as a result of the Genocide, Armenians had lost the right to live on the land of their ancestors, to master their own life and destiny. And keep in mind that Armenians were not a newly formed ethnical group but the ancient people with one of the most ancient statehoods and civilizations.
In the decades after the Genocide, Turkey has been consistently wiping out the traces of Armenians and the Armenian civilization.
And if today we rightfully condemn demolition of historical monuments by various extremist groups, we had to be even harsher in condemning the annihilation of the material and cultural monuments of the millennia-old nation. Now think of the Armenians spread all over the world, many of whom for centuries, up to 1940-50s were homeless – apatride.
By the way, during WWI Armenia fought with valor and dedication in the armies of the allied powers at all fronts – from Verdun to Palestine, from Brest to Trabzon and Caucasus, after the war they still didn’t get their cherished fatherland. Currently, almost three-quarter of Armenians live in different countries, under various traditions, social systems, and religions. Armenians everywhere exercise great efforts to preserve their identity and to speak of their rights which they were deprived of because of the Genocide.
Question: Which are, in your opinion, lessons of the Genocide and what the humanity has to do?
Answer: It is painful to realize that the human kind didn’t draw lessons from the Armenian Genocide – it was forgotten, remained unrecognized and uncondemned for a long time, while it could have prevented subsequent crimes in human history. After the Armenian Genocide, the human race witnessed other genocides.
I am deeply convinced that the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is not only for Armenians but first and foremost it’s a matter of treating timeless human values, it’s an issue of stopping that evil. Armenia is led by this very notion in making prevention of genocides a priority of its policies and is undertaking active steps at the national and international levels. At the proposal of Armenia, the UN Human Rights Council traditionally adopts a resolution on prevention of genocides. In 2015, UN General Assembly, again at the initiative of Armenia, adopted a resolution to declare December 9 the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims
of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime. Thus, the issue of recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which Armenians raise before the international community and Turkey, is very urgent. It has a number of components: duty to remember, prevention of its repetition, and elimination of the consequences.
After half a century of silence, in 1960-70s the world started to speak about the Armenian Genocide again: in 1965 Uruguay was the first country to recognize it. Today, multiple countries of the world and international organizations have recognized the Armenian Genocide, among them France, Russia, US, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Vatican, in the Arab world – Lebanon and Syria. And the number is growing.
Today, the overwhelming majority of international community doesn’t question the fact of the Genocide. At the same time, the recognition of the Armenian Genocide is viewed from the viewpoint of short-time economic and political interests related to Ankara which is unacceptable.
We cannot on one hand speak of an efficient common fight against homophobia, discrimination, intolerance, anti-Semitism, denial of the Armenian Genocide and other global vices, on the other hand – “play diplomacy.”
I am confident that countries and international organizations, which recognized the Armenian Genocide, where guided by that very approach, and we are grateful to them for that.
We are also grateful to the countries which after the Genocide opened their doors and gave refuge to the survivors of that catastrophe. We are also grateful to the missionaries, military doctors and nurses, diplomats, organizations, which took care of the orphans, our brothers in this tragedy – Greeks, Assyrians, Jews, and Yazidis, as well as to those Turk, Kurdish, and Arab families and individuals who often put their lives and safety in peril in those dismal days of carnage and lent a helping hand and saved many Armenians.
The position of the successive Turkish governments is quite another issue - to evade the recognition of the Genocide and to push forward the policy of denial at the state level.
Today, the international community, politicians and public figures, including many Turkish intellectuals and individuals, raise the issue of recognition of the Armenian Genocide and hope that the Turkish authorities will face the tragic pages of Turkey’s own past and will turn them. The crime of genocide has no statute of limitation. Recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey and elimination of its consequences is a pledge of security for Armenia, Armenian nation, and the entire region.
We cannot forget the Armenian Genocide and will not submit to its consequences. We cannot neglect sufferings of the victims and survivors and must ensure a secure and dignified future for their generations.