The outline for the U.S. H. Res. 306 was published in “Hayastani Zrutsakitz” weekly as early as February, 2011: An Interview with Dr. Armen Ayvazyan

The outline for the U.S. H. Res. 306 was published in “Hayastani Zrutsakitz” weekly as early as February, 2011: An Interview with Dr. Armen Ayvazyan

– Mr. Ayvazyan, in the last part of a series of your articles on “Armenian Question Today” (“Hayastani Zrutsakitz”, 4 Feb 2011) you have thoroughly raised the question about the right of Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC), as well as of the Armenian Catholic Church and Armenian Evangelical Church, to demand the return, under their jurisdiction, of the Armenian churches on the territories of modern Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Given that before the publication of your article there hadn’t been any detailed analysis on this topic (at least we are unaware of any) we would like you to comment on the U.S. H. Res. 306, titled “Urging the Republic of Turkey to safeguard its Christian heritage and to return confiscated church properties”, which was introduced on June 15. And, finally, is there any connection or commonality between your suggestions and those demands that are made in this Resolution?

– H. Res. 306 was a big surprise to me. This is indeed an unprecedented initiative by Ed Royce (R-CA) and Howard Berman (D-CA), respected members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of U.S House of Representatives. Notably, it was instantly endorsed by 30 U.S. congressmen from both parties. Although I do not have any direct evidence that my analysis published in the “Hayastani Zrutsakitz” has any relation to this Resolution, but the similarity of my suggestions with the demands proposed by E. Royce and H. Berman is obvious. Judge yourself: my article put forward the following five basic requirements for a program of overcoming the effects of Armenian Genocide as they particularly relate to the realm of Armenian Church:

  1. “the return of all Armenian churches and/or the land on which they existed before 1915  to the spiritual and administrative jurisdiction of AAC;
  2. the moral and financial compensation for the destruction of Armenian churches, the confiscation and looting of their property and historically and culturally valuable items, as well as the killing of thousands of Armenian clergymen during the Genocide;
  3. to grant Armenians, citizens of the Republic of Armenia and other states, the right freely and without hindrance to visit and fulfill their spiritual needs at AAC’s sacred sites situated on the territories of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia;
  4. to coordinate with the AAC all conservation and restoration work on monuments of Armenian church architecture if such are carried out on the territories of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, as well as give the AAC the right to conduct its own restoration work with its own funds.
  5. recognition and permanent protection of AAC monuments and sacred sites as part of European and world cultural heritage.”

The H. Res. 306, on behalf of the U.S. Congress spells out the following four demands to the government of Turkey:

  1. “end all forms of religious discrimination;
  2. allow the rightful church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to organize and administer prayer services, religious education, clerical training, appointments, and succession, religious community gatherings, social services, including ministry to the needs of the poor and infirm, and other religious activities;
  3. return to their rightful owners all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties, including movable properties, such as artwork, manuscripts, vestments, vessels, and other artifacts; and
  4. allow the rightful Christian church and lay owners of Christian church properties, without hindrance or restriction, to preserve, reconstruct, and repair, as they see fit, all Christian churches and other places of worship, monasteries, schools, hospitals, monuments, relics, holy sites, and other religious properties within Turkey.”

– It turns out that H. Res. 306 reflects almost all of your suggestions…

– It seems so. But I believe that the approach to this problem is not less important. And the difference here is huge. This resolution, even if it is accepted by the U.S. Congress, will just be a recommendatory pronouncement of a foreign state, even if it is a superpower like the U.S.A. Although its acceptance is very desirable for the Armenian side, but I was suggesting a totally different and, in my opinion, more effective – international legal – approach to the question of return of the Armenian Churches. Let me briefly summarize what I meant.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is a legal entity separate from the state. Structurally, it is a transnational organization with four administratively independent hierarchal sees — namely, the Catholicosates of St. Etchmiadzin and Cilicia, as well as the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Constantinople (the latter three recognize the spiritual supremacy of the Catholicosate of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin). After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the proclamation of Armenia as an independent state, AAC, making use of the fundamental change in Armenia’s international political and legal standing, could have pursued international legal remedies and pressed for a special autonomous action program to address  the consequences of the Armenian Genocide in the church sphere. Provided that there is support from the Armenian state and the structures of Diaspora, the AAC (except for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is under tremendous pressure from Turkish government) may still develop and submit to international courts such a standalone program. As the traditional national-religious organization of the Armenian people, which has legal independence, historical authority, international status and friendly relations with the world’s Christian churches, the AAC simply must fight for the reinstatement and enforcement of trampled religious rights of the Armenians and save the remnants of the Armenian religious-historical heritage in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, regardless of the foreign policy exercised at a given moment by the leadership of Republic of Armenia towards these countries.

A range of international conventions and treaties, including The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954 (signed by Turkey in 1965), Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 1972, the aforementioned Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1951 as well as other treaties and agreements within the framework of UN and UNESCO can form as the international legal basis for a series of cases “Armenian Church vs. Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The advantages of the international legal approach to the return of Armenian churches are unquestionable. First, the international courts, especially the International Court of Justice, in this case will reach an obligatory, rather than recommendatory verdict. Second, we will stop being a passive supplicant, and will take on the responsibility for – and simultaneously the control over – the outcome of our case ourselves, rather than the Americans or the Europeans who would always have something over which to bargain with Turkey on somebody else’s account. An almost forty-year odyssey of Armenian Genocide resolutions in the U.S. Congress must have finally taught something to Armenian lobbying organizations, if they, of course, have the desire to consider their own mistakes (even though, they have never manifested any vestiges of self-criticism). We must understand once and for all that success in such cases will depend primarily on us, in particular – on the national and international prestige and power of the AAC, as well as on the capacity of Armenia to pursue an independent foreign policy. In these matters our problems are legion. In short, if the struggle for the re-establishment of rights of the AAC will be limited only by pressure on the U.S. Congress to adopt this resolution, then no significant outcome should be expected. But if parallel actions are taken about international prosecution against Turkey, then the adoption of this Resolution may indeed have a historical significance.

– Are there any points, which are ignored in H. Res. 306?

– AAC has similar problems in Georgia and Azerbaijan, but the Resolution does not mention them at all.

Finally, I would like to add, that the Republic of Armenia, as well as the organizations of Armenian Diaspora are extremely late in creation of their own school of international law experts. It is high time to catch up and prepare qualified specialists in this field.

This interview was first published in Armenian and Russian in “Hayastani Zrutsakitz” on June 17, 2011

This post is also available in: ,