Mourners set flowers at the eternal flame commemorating the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide (photo Raffi Elliott)

Armenia Delighted with US Recognition of Genocide


YEREVAN – The traditional Armenian Genocide commemoration felt bittersweet for the hundreds of thousands of Armenians making the pilgrimage to the Tsitsernakarberd memorial on Saturday, April 24. In the wake of last autumn’s major military setback against the Turkish-supported Azerbaijani Army, the subsequent ethnic cleansings which have effectively ended millennia of continuous Armenian habitation in the Artsakh towns of Hadrut, Shushi and Talish have evoked memories and long-buried trauma of the 106=year-old Genocide.

Still, for those concerned that the indigenous Armenian people’s presence in the South Caucasus may yet again be under threat, a proclamation by US President Joe Biden has injected new hope that a newly-reengaged United States on the world stage would be more willing to support Armenia as it faces renewed threats in the region. Still, as the political consultant Eric Hacopian noted in a recent interview with Civilnet, the Biden Administration’s recognition is largely about correcting a historical wrong and resulted from decades of successful American-Armenian activism. It doesn’t directly signal renewed American interest in the modern Caucasus however.

“Each year on this day, we remember the lives of all those who died in the Ottoman-era Armenian genocide and recommit ourselves to preventing such an atrocity from ever again occurring” read Biden’s proclamation, which reached Yerevan at 8:00 PM local time. Audible outbursts of cheers were set off across the Armenian capital as the news continued to spread, and more Armenian television channels interrupted regular programming to break the historic story.

“For the first time ever, I’m going to pop open a beer on April 24th” one cheerful passerby told the Mirror-Spectator. “This is no longer a commemoration of our losses, but a celebration of our ultimate victory: survival.”

The statement was also welcomed by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The prime minister, who had been attending a final concert of the Trilogy of Remembrance, dedicated to the 106th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide with his wife, reportedly sent President Biden a letter expressing gratitude for his act. It was also met with a barrage of criticism from Ankara and Baku.

Pashinyan hailed Biden’s statement as a “a powerful step on the way to acknowledging the truth,” and bring justice to the victims of the Genocide and their descendants. He also thanked the American President for setting an “inspiring example” for those hoping to see a just and tolerant world.

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Pashinyan also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who offered his condolences for the Genocide victims. The two leaders reiterated their commitment to fulfilling the clauses of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement, in particular Clause 8, which calls on the unconditional return of all prisoners of war. Azerbaijan is accused of holding up to 180 Armenian captives, both military personnel and civilians. Azerbaijan acknowledges only about 60 such cases, but denies that they qualify as POWs since they were captured after the ceasefire agreement was signed. This argument violates Article 4 of the Geneva Convention; as confirmed by the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week. According to the statement, “Underscoring the concerns expressed by the European Court of Human Rights with respect to 188 Armenians allegedly captured by Azerbaijan the Committee calls upon Azerbaijan to ensure that all Armenian detainees are released without delay into the care of the Armenian authorities.”

This point was underscored even further by French Senate President Gérard Larcher who lead a French diplomatic delegation to Yerevan as part of the Genocide commemoration. Referring to a recent bill passed by the French Senate recognizing the Independence of Artsakh, Larcher said added that the motion was more than symbolic, “the document provides a leverage through which the negotiations may lead to a lasting peace.”

Larcher was later awarded the Order of Honor by Armenian President Armen Sarkissian.

Back near the Tsitsernakaberd, Montreal-born Human Rights lawyer Sheila Paylan — now residing in Yerevan — explained the significance of President Biden’s statement as adding to incontrovertible outside pressure for Turkey to engage in retrospection surrounding the legacy of the Armenian Genocide in their own identity. “I’ve always felt that the most important recognition should be coming from Turkey,” Paylan said, “but Biden’s recognition brought us to a point where I can possibly see Turkish recognition of the Armenian Genocide within my lifetime.”

Eight hundred miles west, in the Turkish capital of Ankara, her cousin Garo Paylan is preparing to lay the first stones of that foundation. On Monday, April 26, Turkey’s only ethnic-Armenian MP for the Kurdish-backed HDP party submitted a bill recognizing of the Armenian Genocide to the Turkish Parliament. “When Turkey confronts the Armenian Genocide, it won’t matter what other parliaments say. The Armenian Genocide has been a subject of other parliaments, other presidents for 106 years because it’s been denied,” Paylan stated on the occasion.

For Turkey however, the road to recognition might still be a long one. Responding to Paylan on Twitter, Turkish ultranationalist MP Ümit Özdağ threatened: “When the time comes, you will have a Talat Pasha experience and you must live it.”

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