Thursday, August 11, 2016

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

This post is the third 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 sfinal part provides an outline of what restorative justice and a truth and reconciliation process for Armenia and the Armenian diaspora might look like. 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. 
 Before any further acts of restorative justice can or should take place, a full recognition of what was done between the years of 1915-1918 must be made, at a bare minimum, by the government of Turkey, but preferably by the government of the United States as the country with the largest population of diasporic Armenians which has not formally recognized the Armenian Genocide as genocide (the only two countries with larger Armenian populations—aside from Armenia itself—are Russia and France, both which have formally recognized the Armenian Genocide as genocide).
Debates concerning formal recognition in both countries are ongoing, though whether Turkey will be in any position to even countenance recognition in the near future after its abortive military coup against strongman president Recip Tayyip Erdogan is an open question. And in truth, were it not for a crucial secondary step in restorative justice—the step of potential reparations—it may well be good for the restorative justice process to simply skip over the governments of Turkey and Armenia altogether, as both have ceased to be truly representative of their citizenry in any fully democratic manner. In considering potential obstacles to restorative justice, these two governments must be considered chief among them.
However, as evinced by the extent of the livelihoods that had to be surrendered in order for their escapes to be made, the material losses experienced by my family—and by millions of other families—was dire. Reparations have been made a part of some Armenians’ advocacies, sometimes quite coarsely.[1] Speaking solely for myself, and not for any other member of my family, I am not sure that I could accept any such reparations myself. I would much prefer to see such monies go towards the efforts of genocide memorials, like the Armenian memorial in Yerevan, or Yad Vashem in Israel, or towards humanitarian efforts aimed at increasing the financial security of Armenians themselves. While my family lost greatly in both blood and treasure as a result of the Armenian Genocide, the blood cannot be replaced, and I am not sure, in my case, that the treasure necessarily should be either. I am financially secure, my family is financially secure, and I can think of many other people and organizations to which such reparations could go in my personal instance. I would imagine there are many other diasporic Armenians—certainly not all, or even necessarily a majority—for whom this is also the case.[2]
However, I believe that truth and reconciliation protocols—as a part of the larger quest towards restorative justice—may be created independent of governments. The Armenian Apostolic Church, while not always having the warmest of relationships with other Armenian Christians, still speaks for the Armenian community on matters of genocide and its immorality, and could act as an effective advocate and framer for a truth and reconciliation process. Because the genocide itself concluded ninety-eight years ago, the question of offering legal amnesty in exchange for testimony and admission of fault—as in the case of South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process—is largely moot, and puts the church in a stronger position to spur on such a process free of the corruption of the Turkish and Armenian governments, even as those countries’ citizens may protest any outcome.
On a more global level, in order to incorporate the whole of the Armenian diaspora, such truth and reconciliation attempts, for the sake of a centralization of efforts, would perhaps best be undertaken under the auspices of an international human rights group. In keeping with the spirit of a non-governmental actor initiating such proceedings, rather than use a highly-politicized actor such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, there are non-governmental organizations that may be equipped to do so, such as the International Crisis Group out of Belgium, or the Aegis Trust out of England, both of whom played significant roles in resisting the Darfur genocide in Sudan. These organizations are not explicitly religious, but they would offer the sort of moral credibility necessary for any initiator and facilitator of restorative justice.
The parties to this process would be, in terms of the victims: descendants of the direct genocide victims, and the people who have faced hate mail, death threats, and even, in Turkey, imprisonment for acknowledging the Armenian Genocide (Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code contains a ban on “insulting the Turkish Nation”—and before 2008, on “insulting Turkishness”—that was used to prosecute high-profile writers and academics who acknowledged the Armenian Genocide as a genocide[3]) and in terms of the perpetrators: the current Turkish government, as well as their allies in Turkish academia who continue to manufacture ready-made excuses and mitigations for why the Armenian Genocide should not be recognized, much less apologized for, and the longer those excuses are made, the more indignant resulting protests against any recognition will likely be.
But recognized it must be, and apologized for it must be as well. This is how true reconciliation starts. The stakes for such reconciliation are high: there remains a total blockade on the border that Armenia and Turkey share, and the antipathy between both ethnicities’ diasporic populations remains extremely high. Such antipathy cannot, should not, and ought not to be sustainable. The antipathy between different peoples—between, say, Samaritans and Judeans, or Syrophoenicians and Israelites—is something that we see Jesus Christ take on (or, in the case of the Syrophoenician woman, that we see brought square in front of Jesus) brazenly, without care or consideration for the societal norms that dictate such prejudices. One of the earliest baptisms into the Way, the church of Acts of the Apostles, was the Ethiopian eunuch, who lived on the margins within the church in terms of not only ethnicity, but sexuality as well. The transcending of such boundaries in the name of inclusion, justice, and truth is an intrinsically Christian calling, even if we have ignored it as such for far too long.
101 years ago, the blueprints for a century’s worth of genocides were drawn up. 1-1.5 million men, women, and children lost their lives as a result of executing those blueprints, and then tens of millions of people in subsequent genocides, from Germany to Rwanda, likewise lost their lives. These are perhaps the most destructive, bloodthirsty blueprints of all time, but they need not have an infinite lifespan. Indeed, some of our most devastating expressions of evil have not had infinite lifespans. The Third Reich, envisioned to last for 1,000 years, lived for twelve. Apartheid in South Africa fell over twenty years ago, even as the great work of promoting the interests of people of color there relative to the white Afrikaners continues on. And the inheritance of a continual humiliation and shame at the lack of regard given for the Armenian genocide by its perpetrators, and by its perpetrators’ enablers in the United States government, in academia, and elsewhere likewise can, God willing, one day cease.
When that day comes, whether in my lifetime or afterwards, there will no doubt be rejoicing as well as trepidation, depending on one’s perspective in this singular seeking of the truth of a historical atrocity that, thanks to the collective memory of millions, will not fade into the mystic fog of time and forgetfulness. Rather, those memories will live on, hopefully accompanied by the spiritual richness and life that comes from having heard apologies made, and accomplishing some measure of reconciliation as a result. It is a hope that I still carry, for my family, and for my world.
Image of the forget-me-not logo of the recognition campaign courtesy of

[1] Elif Safak, The Bastard of Istanbul, Viking Adult, 2006,
[2] I can confirm that my opinion is shared amongst my family. Per an email from Hagop Mouradian, my third cousin and great-grandson of Krikor’s brother Hagop (for whom he is named), who has maintained our family’s personal record of the genocide in considerable detail: “I do not need my title, properties, money, and jewels, but I do need to know that I have the right to live, that the targeted killing of my ancestors was wrong. I need to be told that they did have the right to live, and that that right was stolen from them. That is the recognition that I need and that I desire so that I, as a member of this family, can return “home", a place where I am at peace with who I am in the world.”
[3] The widely-touted 2008 reform amendments to Article 301 have not resulted in a substantial change in its use to silence advocates of genocide recognition; in the 2011 case of Taner Akcam, a Turkish scholar who favors recognition, the European Court for Human Rights found that “the Court notes that despite the replacement of the term “Turkishness” by “the Turkish Nation”, there seems to be no change or major difference in the interpretation of these concepts because they have been understood in the same manner by the Court of Cassation (see paragraph 45 above). Accordingly, the legislator’s amendment of the wording in the provision in order to clarify the meaning of the term “Turkishness” does not introduce a substantial change or contribute to the widening of the protection of the right to freedom of expression,” Case of Altug Taner Akcam v. Turkey, 25 October 2011, last accessed August 3, 2016, paragraph 92{"itemid":["001-107206"]}

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