Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Restorative Justice, A Century-Old Sin, and My Family: Part II

This post is the second of a three-part series this week for a class on restorative justice that I am taking as a part of my Doctor of Ministry studies at Seattle University. As a part of this class, we have been explicitly asked to engage with our social media circles regarding our work on a particular violent conflict that restorative justice--a framework that has been used in post-apartheid South Africa and post-reunification Germany, among other nations--might help address. Because advocacy on behalf of recognition of the Armenian Genocide has been a cause of mine for many years, this was a natural topic for me to write about. What follows is the second of three parts of my paper (part one appeared yesterday, and part three will appear tomorrow). 
This second part provides an outline of past attempts to address justice in the wake of the genocide, especially acts of retributive justice. Any and all feedback--reflections, questions, constructive critiques, what have you--from you, my dear readers and friends, would be much appreciated. This feedback may be used in a future paper for this class, and so I would ask for you to include a line specifically giving me permission to use your feedback in that paper. As always, it remains a blessing to write for you. Thank you! ~E.A. 
 How can restorative justice act as a possible solution for myself and for the millions of other diasporic and native Armenians, especially when the crime itself—the Armenian Genocide—remains denied by the descendants of the original perpetrators, to the extent that the depth and repetition of this denial necessitates referring to genocide deniers as perpetrators themselves?
A note before getting into the prerequisites for a process of restorative justice: after the First World War ended, the Ottoman Empire conducted a two years-long series of courts martial in 1919 and 1920 to try many of its former leaders on the war crimes of massacring civilians—not only the Armenians, but the Greek Genocide, which took place prior to, and simultaneously with, the Armenian Genocide—as well as wartime profiteering, and subversion of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876. These courts martial sentenced the Ottoman triumvirate most closely associated with the Armenian Genocide—Enver Pasha, Talaat Pasha, and Djemal Pasha—to death, having found that the intent of the genocide was to physically eliminate the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian populace.[1]
Because of a lack of international law and extradition protocols, however, all three men were able to easily escape Turkey, and none returned to face sentence. This spurred the creation of Operation Nemesis—an explicitly retributive mission undertaken by the Dashnaktsutyun, or Dashnak for short, which translates roughly into the Armenian Revolutionary Foundation—to assassinate the main perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide. For the purposes of comparison, the nature and spirit of this mission was not unlike the later Operation Wrath of God undertaken by the Israeli Mossad in retribution for the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the Summer Olympics in Munich and later made famous by the Steven Spielberg film, Munich.
Under the auspices of Operation Nemesis, both Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha were assassinated by Armenian operatives in 1921 and 1922, respectively (Enver Pasha was killed in combat in 1922). Soghomon Tehlirian, Talaat’s assassin, murdered his target in broad daylight in the heart of Berlin, but was acquitted of charges of murder by a twelve-person jury after little more than an hour of deliberations[2] and became a folk hero to Armenians, with a number of statues and monuments to him being erected not just in Armenia, but at his gravesite in Fresno, California, right here in the United States as well.[3]
I want to be as emphatically clear as I can: the assassinations of Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha, while perhaps sympathetic on a Falstaffian, spleen-like level, have no place in any sort of restorative justice framework. My own religious objections to capital punishment aside for a moment, a sentence of death does not empower a populace at large to execute said sentence any more than, say, a sentence of imprisonment upon somebody entitles a vigilante to imprison that somebody themselves in their basement, and justice that is purely retributive, however good it may feel to our more reptilian id’s, simply does not serve the ends of a restorative justice framework.
There are similar comparisons in more modern times to which the Talaat Pasha assassination may be viewed against—the capture and extraction of Adolf Eichmann from Argentina, or the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Eichmann, however, was taken alive and afforded substantive due process, even if he too, in the end, was executed. In the case of the assassination of Bin Laden, the rules of engagement were such that, per then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, if Bin Laden surrendered and represented no threat to the American SEALs, he was to be captured rather than killed.[4] And yet, both operations—the Eichmann capture and the Bin Laden assassination—raised serious questions of legality under international law (the full analysis of which is beyond the scope of this paper, and on which this paper takes no formal position—however, if the Eichmann or Bin Laden raids were extralegal, then the Talaat Pasha assassination surely was, noble though its cause may have been, and continue to be, for Armenians worldwide).
The comparison to Eichmann and Bin Laden is more than a detail—Eichmann’s trial was a worldwide sensation, acting almost as a second Nuremburg to allow Israel to put on full display the horrors of the Shoah. Bin Laden’s assassination prompted outpourings of jubilation and celebration in America, which I must confess to sympathizing with, perhaps against my Christian spirituality. Both men were war criminals, and targeted as war criminals, just as Talaat Pasha was, but of the three, only the Eichmann operation did not result in assassination, and thus, only the Eichmann example offers any real path for restoration, even though all three men may well have been so far from wanting any restoration that none would have been possible in any case. That potentiality must be left open as well.
In addition to the assassinations of Talaat Pasha, Djemal Pasha, and other Ottoman governmental leaders, the transition of the Ottoman Empire into the modern Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which was made complete with the end of the Turkish War of Independence in 1923, provided something of a historical buffer for the contemporary Turkish state that allows them, and the academics, scholars, and advocates who agree with them, to essentially create another philosophical obstacle to restorative justice by asking, essentially, “Look, the modern state of Turkey is not responsible for the war crimes of the First World War, why make them apologize for something they did not do?”
            Asking such a question, though, ignores two crucial points: First, Ataturk was himself a military officer of World War I, as were a great many other Turkish revolutionaries who remade the state in the early 1920s. The First World War, and by extension, its individual events and atrocities—including the Armenian Genocide—still acted as a crucial factor in the formation of the modern Turkish state. And secondly, the Republic of Germany stands as a stark rebuke and counterexample to this line of reasoning. Not only has the German government been revamped twice since the Third Reich—once under the denazification procedures following World War II, and again following reunification in the wake of the collapse of East Germany and the Soviet Union in the early 1990s—but both West Germany and the current German state have for decades remained unequivocal about Germany’s culpability for the Nazi Holocaust. Turkey, quite simply, has not.
Image of the forget-me-not logo of the Armenian Genocide recognition campaign courtesy of

[1] Gerald Libaridian, Modern Armenia: People, Nation, and State, Transaction Publishers, 2007, 134-5.
[2] Chris Bohjalian, “The Forgotten Hero Who Killed the Armenian Genocide’s Mastermind,” The Fresno Bee, April 20, 2016, last accessed August 4, 2016.
[3] Ibid
[4] "The authority here was to kill bin Laden," he said. "And obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn't appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him,” from Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, “Bin Laden Was Unarmed When SEALs Stormed Room,” The Associated Press, May 3, 2011, last accessed August 2, 2016.

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