SAN FRANCISCO (ANCSF)–A San Francisco court dismissed on Friday a lawsuit calling for the removal of a plaque at the foot of Mt. Davidson Cross–in memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide–filed by two Turkish organizations and Turkey’s Consul General to San Francisco against the Bay Area Armenian-American community. The plaque was placed after the site of the cross was purchased by Armenian-Americans.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Paul Alvarado held in favor of the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case–based on the SLAPP statute that protects free speech. The SLAPP law requires plaintiffs to show probability of success in order for the case to proceed. This ensures that the mere filing of a lawsuit does not result in the suppression of free speech.
Judge Alvarado’s ruling resulted in the dismissal of the third lawsuit involving the Mt. Davidson Cross since the 1990’s.
The defendants–the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California–were represented by David Balabanian–Geoffrey Holtz and Matthew Grey of the San Francisco law firm Bingham McCutchen. Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Richard Carlston and Christopher Doyle of the Walnut Creek law firm of Miller–Starr and Regalia.
In a previous prior court battle–plaintiffs claimed San Francisco was in violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state–because the cross rests in a public park. A settlement was reached in 1997–when the land on which the cross sits was to go up for auction. A coalition of 32 Bay Area Armenian-American organizations won the auction–and the transfer of the land was later approved by a wide margin of San Francisco voters. After court appeals contesting the validity of the auction–the Supreme Court denied a hearing of the case in April 2003–letting stand the previous ruling validating the sale of the site.
The complaint by the Turkish American Alliance for Fairness–the Turkish American Association of California–and the honorary Consul General of Turkey for San Francisco Bonnie Joy Kaslan sought the removal of the memorial plaque at the foot of the cross. The suit alleged the plaque violated the city deed prohibiting the placement of a structure or sign on the land.
The plaque lays flat on the ground at the base of the 103-foot cross. It was unveiled during a public event in 1998 by Mayor Willie Brown and several Armenian Genocide survivors. It reads:
"The Mt. Davidson Cross was designed and built by George Kelham and inaugurated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. In 1997–the citizens of San Francisco voted to approve the sale of the monument to the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California–to preserve it as a historic landmark.
This revered site is cared for in memory of the 1,500,000 victims of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government from 1915 to 1918. Over half of the Armenian population on its ancient homeland was killed–and no Armenian community remained in historical western Armenia.
By honoring those lost–we honor all victims of injustice and cruelty. In their name we dedicate ourselves to the protection of human rights and the dignity of all peoples.
If evil of this magnitude can be ignored–if our own children forget; then we deserve oblivion, and earn the world’s scorn — Avedis Aharonian"
City officials stressed the intent of the deed restriction is to preserve the natural environment and avoid commercialization of the property. Mt. Davidson Cross is open to the public and is surrounded by Mt. Davidson Park.
Representing the defendants–Balabanian argued in court on Friday that the true intent of the plaintiffs was to stop Armenian-Americans from commemorating their dead.
In 1997–Turkish groups actively opposed the acquisition of Mt. Davidson Cross by the Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California–conducting a protest campaign to city officials and urging San Francisco neighborhood and political groups to reject the ballot measure. The ballot passed with 68 percent in favor.
Turkish opposition to the memorial plaque is a part of a broad campaign to oppose any public acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide.
Successive Turkish governmen’s have lobbied against the passage of local–state–and congressional resolutions commemorating the Armenian Genocide–inclusion of the history of the Armenian genocide in school curriculum–and plans to produce films about the genocide.