BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This is great stuff! I’m referring to the lawsuit by Barkev and Garo Ghazarian reported just a few days ago. It is a new, incremental, portion of our struggle for justice. They are suing Turkey on what can simply be described as religious freedom grounds.
It seems to me we have to view this suit in the broader context of the legal front in our struggle with Turkey for justice. So a quick review of what has happened on the legal front over the past two decades will probably be helpful.
First, life insurance companies were sued because they had never paid out on the policies bought by Armenians who were subsequently killed in the Genocide. This was enabled by legislation enacted by the State of California. Next, German,and later Turkish, banks were sued to make them disgorge the funds deposited with them by victims of the Genocide which were never disbursed to the heirs of these people. These approaches stalled in the U.S. legal system when the Supreme Court found that they supposedly stepped on the federal government’s toes by intruding into the realm of foreign policy. The idea was that since the U.S. government had not recognized the Genocide, it could not be used as a basis for legal action. This is the “preemption” doctrine at work. Who would have imagined that trying to reclaim monies owed to someone but never paid had to have Genocide recognition to proceed? It’s ridiculous, but… that’s the realm and “logic” of law.
Now, there are direct claims proceeding to regain ownership of land. There is the Bakalian case in which the owners of the property where a U.S. air base is located in İncirlik, Turkey were trying to regain ownership of the land. But, just a couple of days ago, it was dismissed by the courts because the statute of limitations (i.e. time limits) had passed, not on substantive grounds. Wending its way through the Turkish legal system is the suit brought by the Catholicosate of Cilicia to regain the property of its seat in Sis. In this type of case involving real property, especially the church/institutional one, the return of a some churches to the Armenian Patriarchate of Bolis(Constantinople, Istanbul) a few years go might serve as a precedent. A slightly older example, with a negative outcome, I have cited before is that of Victor Bedoian who was screwed out of his property in Van by the Turkish courts after years of trying to operate a hotel there.
But the Ghazarian case looks different. It addresses a fundamental human right, the freedom of conscience, specifically of religious practice. Based on the news release, it seems Turkey interfered and violated this right by preventing Garo from learning about his family’s traditions from his fatheron the native soil where those traditions were established.
Because the lawsuit is not based on property, but rights, universal human rights, it will be interesting to see how the U.S. courts process the case. (Non)Recognition of the Genocide by Washington is immaterial to the basic rights of person. So the silliness imposed by the preemption doctrine cannot come into play. It will be fascinating to watch this case proceed. The next step is to hear how the government of Turkey responds to the lawsuit.
This case is also interesting because it touches on our right to go to our ancestral lands AS ARMENIANS, not as citizens of a third country. It is about our identity not being violated, suppressed, or ignored. It is a very creative and justice-based step.
The case is also probably very sensitive since anything said about it could be twisted and misconstrued by the Government of a Turkey.
Let’s watch and learn. We must proceed organizedly, not haphazardly, with everyone making claims in the courts, since negative outcomes can become precedents used against us.