Sargisian Calls for Armenian Genocide Recognition

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — President Serge Sargisian said broader international recognition of the Armenian Genocide is essential for preventing more crimes against humanity as he opened an international conference in Yerevan this past week.

“The bitter lessons of the Armenian Genocide did not go down in the history and memory of humankind as mere memories of the past. They came to be replaced by the horrors of the Holocaust and the tragedies in Rwanda, Darfur and many other places,” he said in a speech at the two-day forum attended by genocide scholars from about 20 countries.

Sargisian complained that “political expediency and short-sighted opportunism” often shape governments’ attitudes towards past and present genocides. It was a clear reference to their reluctance to recognize the 1915 mass killings and deportations of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide and risk antagonizing Turkey.

“Issues related to the prevention and condemnation of genocides as well as the elimination of their consequences must be on the international community’s agenda,” said Sargisian.

Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian made the same point. “Genocide denial and impunity pave the way for new crimes against humanity. Regardless of geopolitical or other interests, the international community must be united in condemning and preventing genocide,” Nalbandian told conference participants.

One of the participants, prominent historian Richard Hovannisian, suggested that Armenia’s government has toughened its position on Genocide recognition since the collapse of its normalization agreements with Turkey. “It seems to have become more determined,” Hovannisian said.

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Sargisian’s policy of rapprochement with Turkey has triggered a barrage of criticism from many in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora. They say that Ankara has exploited it to keep more countries from recognizing the slaughter of some 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians as genocide.

Taner Akçam, a US-based Turkish scholar also participating in the conference, said such recognition would make it much harder for the Turkish state to claim that Armenians died in much smaller numbers and not as a result of a premeditated government policy.

“I strongly recommend recognition of the Armenian Genocide,” Akçam told journalists. “This is also important for the prevention [of more genocides,]” he said.