Address by H.E. Serzh Sargsyan, President of the Republic of Armenia, at the International Social and Political Global Forum against the Crime of Genocide
22 April, 2015, Yerevan
Dear participants of the global forum,
I welcome you at the International Social and Political Global Forum against the Crime of Genocide. Thank you for accepting our invitation, and your most important contribution. The impressive and venerable list of this forum’s participants gives us hope that the forum will become an important platform to comprehensively discuss, and further improve the mechanisms for the prevention of genocide that is the crime of all crimes. I strongly believe that the remarks delivered, and the views expressed here will trigger a broad international reaction that in its turn may produce an invaluable impact on the raising of global awareness on this key issue.
The international organizations’ agendas, diplomatic efforts exerted by the small and large states alike, international media’s headlines have recently been specifically addressing one of the tremendous challenges humanity faces. I speak of the Middle East, the modern civilization’s cradle, where the surging extremism and intolerance resulted in violence and, at some places, even in genocidal acts against a number minorities. This is yet another warning to the international community alerting that the threat of the crimes of genocide, and other crimes against humanity, has not been eliminated, and requires consolidated and consistent efforts by the international organizations, states and civil society.
This forum is one of the central events to mark the Armenian Genocide Centennial. As you are aware, commemoration events are being held in different countries of the world, supported by the four fundamental pillars. Those are remembrance, gratitude, prevention, and revival. These are also the messages that the Republic of Armenia, and Armenian Diaspora communities that emerged because of the Genocide in different countries wish to deliver to the international community and coming generations upon the Centennial. These four notions are also deeply symbolic for the commemoration of all other crimes of genocide committed throughout the human history.
One of the topics to be discussed during the forum refers to the role of the memory and truth in overcoming the consequences of genocide. That is, truly, the most accurate way to pin it down since, as far as the crimes of genocide are concerned, the remembrance and contemporary reality are unavoidably interlaced. Genocide is a crime of such a vast scale, with such a severe damage inflicted that even many decades later its impact is felt by the descendants of both the victims and perpetrators, as well as by the entire international community.
For us, Armenians, remembrance is a moral obligation and, at the same time, inalienable individual and collective right. It is our moral duty and right to commemorate the one and a half milion of victims, inhumane sufferings endured by the hundreds of thousands, loss of the material and spiritual heritage accumulated by our people throughout millenia, extermination of the substantial part of the early 20th century Armenian intelligentsia, who mainly resided in Constantinople, that led to the mass slaughter. It is because of this cohesion of the right and duty that we have adopted the motto “I remember and demand” for the commemoration events.
It is impossible to disagree with the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who notes that “to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” Remembrance, meanwhile, is the best remedy for the descendants of those who perpetrated genocide to face their own history, and the best oportunity to restore the justice.
The crimes of genocide – Medz Yeghern, Shoah, those commited in Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur and elsewhere, shall be commemorated by both the successors of the victims and perpetrators. The path to reconciliation is not paved by denial, but rather by the consciousness of memory.
Perpetration of genocide is both an aftermath of the inner developments in a given state or society, and failure of the entire system of international relations. It has been demonstrated on numerous occasions that impunity is a prerequisite to the recurrence of the crime of genocide. The Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust were committed in the course of, respectively, the World War One and Two. The international community proved unable to prevent them and other crimes of genocide. Remembrance is the only possible way to reveal nowadays the enormous losses that the global civilization has suffered as in the aftermath of the crimes of genocide. It is impossible to describe by words the scope and level of the distortion of human values that resulted in the initiation of such a heinous crime.
In our recollections of the crimes of genocide a specific significance has been reserved the notion of gratitude in order to acknowledge the human virtue that saved thousands of living souls. There have been numerous narratives, such as the activities of Irena Sendler and Raoul Wallenberg during the Holocaust, Paul Rusesabagina during the Rwandan Genocide, Van Chhuon during the Cambodian Genocide; they all ensured the physical security of the people they rescued, and inspired hope at the times of overwhelming domination of cruelty and hatred.
The Armenian people has not forgotten and is grateful to those Kurds and Turks, who covertly saved lives of their Armenian neighbors. We are indebted to the Arab people, who gave shelter to those, who had narrowly escaped the Turkish yataghan, as well as the Russians, Americans and Europeans, who took care of the Armenian orphans or partook in the humanitarian efforts.
Equally, our gratitude is well-earned by the public figures, clergymen, missionaries, diplomats, and those nations that demonstrated righteousness and civic courage since their actions had been guided by the noble ideas of humanism.
Alongside with our consistent efforts toward the recognition, condemnation of the Genocide and elimination of its consequences, the prevention of the crimes of genocide is yet another key mission on our foreign policy agenda. Needless to say, these efforts are interrelated since the recognition and condemnation of the past crimes of genocide play invaluable role in the prevention of the crimes against humanity. For that reason we attach utmost importance to the genocide prevention, and emphasize once again our firm resolution and political will in combating crimes incompatible with the human civilization.
Armenia’s active engagement with the international community’s efforts toward the prevention of the crime of genocide has been time and again demonstrated through the relevant UN resolutions adopted by consensus throughout years upon our initiative. The most recent one was adopted in March of this year by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. The resolution, inter alia, condemned the international public denial of crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity since public denials created a risk of further violations and undermined efforts to prevent genocide.
Denial, in conjunction with the creation of genocidal environment and extermination itself, is a vertex of that very triangle. The denial of genocide is fraught with inciting a new xenophobic wave, and is often accompanied by intolerance and justification of the already commited crimes of genocide. However, under strong international pressure denial aqcuires a seemingly softer yet eqaually dangerous nature overshadowed or dissolved in the history revision campaigns.
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
It is unambiguous that considerable contribution has been made so far by the international law experts and historians toward the legal definition of the term “genocide,” and development of the punishment mechanisms for this crime. Likewise unambiguous has been the contribution of the social and political circles, journalists, and parliamentarians, who without any hesitation very often took the lead in that respect. The aforesaid is absolutely applicable also to the case of the Armenian Genocide. In 1915-16 the world press was replete with horrendous articles describing the Armenian massacres. The New York Times covered the issue extensively publishing some 145 articles in 1915 alone with headlines like “Appeal to the Ottoman Empire to Stop Massacres.” The newspaper characterized the crime perpetrated against the Armenian people as “systematic,” “authorized,” and “organized by the government.”
On May 24, 1915 the Allied Powers, Great Britain, France, and Russia jointly issued a statement, describing the crime perpetrated against the Armenian people as a “crime against humanity and civilization”, which was the first time ever that definition was aired on such a high level.
Subsequently, these notions were introduced into the fundamental language to define that crime – the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and other most important documents of the international law.
The recurrence of the crimes against humanity and genocide has also been caused by the lack of adequate adequacy, consistency, unity and determination of the international community for the recognition, and condemnation of the committed crimes of genocide, as well as for the elimination of the genocidal environment and denial. Parliaments and their members, as cornerstones of the democratic values, have a significant role to play in that regard.
I deem it important that in the framework of this conference a special discussion will be held on the invaluable role of the legislators. Their messages, decisions and statements are significant both for the restoration of justice, and for the emancipation of the given societies, especially the coming generations from the clutches of the consequences of the evil of genocide.
I welcome and value the two documents adopted by the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia this year – the Statement Condemning the Genocide of the Greeks and Assyrians Perpetrated by the Ottoman Turkey, and the amendments introduced in the Law on Holidays and Memorial Days. In accordance to the latter December 9 is designated as the day for condemnation and prevention of the crimes of genocide, which is highly symbolic, as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide had been adopted on the very that day.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In this context revival is the last one amongst the most important messages of ours. A hundred years ago the Armenian people survived through the darkest and brutal page of their history. The calamity that befell upon our ancestors was indeed unprecedented by its scale. Today, a hundred years thenceforth, the Armenian people commemorates its martyrs, and presents itself to the world with the independent state, emancipated Artsakh, and viable Diaspora that strives to preserve the Armenian identity and to develop Armenia proper. Now our overarching objective is to contribute anew to the development of universal civilization.
All those achievements have been based upon the revival of the Armenian people. Perhaps, it has been the demonstration of the most salient feature of our people – upholding the faith toward the universal human values, in spite of all the complications and calamities, and the ability to find the strength within to build and create anew. Yet in 1918 the Armenian statehood, lost centuries ago, had been restored. Later on, during the Soviet times the Armenian people created numerous spiritual and tangible values thus partaking in the enrichment of the world scientific and cultural repository. The revival of the Armenian people culminated in the 1991 national awakening with the accession of the newly independent Republic of Armenia to the international family of sovereign states.
The Armenian nation revived not only in the homeland, but also in Diaspora. The sons and daughters of Armenia, who had found refuge in many countries of the world because of the Armenian Genocide, successfully integrated in the societies that adopted them, and meanwhile preserved their Armenian identity, their sense of deep bond with the Armenian homeland.
Therefore, on the Armenian Genocide Centennial we declare confidently in broad daylight that the perpetrators of the Genocide failed to achieve what they planned. Moreover, our response to the attempt to annihilate the Armenian nation is the state building, our ongoing revival that is now no longer reversible.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that today’s Forum, along with the discussions to be held, shall send the following powerful and pragmatic message to the international community: the crimes of genocide have not in the least ceased to be a threat to the humanity, and the overcoming of their consequences, and prevention shall become a top priority. The lessons of the past simply oblige us to do so. The civilized humanity shall joint its efforts to eradicate eventually the evil of genocide, and its underlying circumstances.
It is a well-known truth that everything is interconnected in the universe. It is also true for the civilization since humanity establishes itself as a harmonious and complete continuum within the patchwork of its diverse races, nations, cultures, and religions. Genocide is a crime that is intended to tear a branch off from the tree of the global civilization. The loss of any branch may be fatal to the rest that tree.
Hence, being determined to state “Never again” let’s make our modest contribution towards the universal objective that unites us all – a more adequate accomplishment of the international community’s mission to prevent the crime of genocide.
Once again, I thank you for being with us in Yerevan these days, and wish you a fruitful work.