Time for Justice for Genocide Victims


By Harry Koundakjian

While some criminals guilty of committing genocide (such as those in Serbia or Germany) are brought to trial, the majority go free, never penalized for their horrific crimes. In particular, the Armenians live with the unacknowledged Genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, and the perpetrators have never been charged. Among the victims was my great-grandfather, the Reverend Hagop Koundakjian, who was burned alive near his town church with 28 of his parishioners. My great-grandmother, Yeretzgin Maryam, reported this in a letter in which she explains how she had to walk behind the Turkish officers’ horses to collect their manure and try to cook the undigested seeds for her children and grandchildren.

Great-grandmother Yeretzgin Maryam (Mary) Koundakjian writes: “I wish I had not been compelled to write about the terrible and frightening tragedies that took place.

“The catastrophe struck like lightning. With tears in my eyes, I write to you. Your father (Rev.)

Hagop Koundakjian was luckier than we were, because at the beginning of the catastrophe, on the road to Adana, he was killed and did not see the sudden destruction and premeditated attacks on our city. He did not witness the burning of his city, did not hear the shocking and frightening shooting by the cruel and heartless enemy.

“He did not see his sisters, brothers and relatives shot to death indiscriminately.

“On April 11, 1909, we had our communion (at church, during the worship service). It was a rather heartfelt ceremony. Nobody knew or imagined that this would be his last sermon.

“On the next day father journeyed for the annual Armenian Evangelical Church conference.

“As you might have heard already, all in the group of 28 from Osmaniah were burned alive with your father. I want to assure you, my children, that all these difficulties, threats of persecutions and doomsday announcements have strengthened us in our faith — Christianity — and belief in God.

“On April 16th, a gang of wild Turks, Kurds and Circassians attacked Hassanbeyli. Our youth, with their limited arms, protected us heroically but the enemy fighters advanced like locusts, obliging us to take cover in the nearby hills. We prayed to the Lord to protect us.

“We were driven and took refuge at Bahche, where we still are today. They (the Ottoman Turks) threatened us with death if we did not convert to and accept Islam. We are very tired. We are near half-dead.

“Everything was destroyed. The church, in which your father served for over 30 years, disappeared.”

This is a fraction of the letter written by our great-grandmother found so far. All our efforts to locate the rest have been in vain. But we continue the search.

Having been born into an Evangelical family, I only have this portion of our people’s story, but I understand from very reliable sources that Bishop Papken Charian of the Apostolic Brotherhood wrote his dissertation on this same issue. He had collected all the martyrs from the  three denominations (Apostolic, Catholic and Evangelical) and published it in a single volume.

This is also translated into English. You all can get this book under the title Nahadag Hay Hokevoraganner (Martyred Armenian Clergy).

Last December, during a two-day forum attended by Genocide scholars from about 20 countries, Armenia’s President Serge Sargisian said broader international recognition of the Armenian Genocide is essential for preventing more crimes against humanity:

“The bitter lessons of the Armenian Genocide did not go down in the history and memory of humankind as mere memories of the past. They came to be replaced by the horrors of the Holocaust and the tragedies in Rwanda, Darfur and many other places.”

Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian of Armenia made the same point: “Genocide denial and impunity pave the way for new crimes against humanity. Regardless of geopolitical or other interests, the international community must be united in condemning and preventing genocide.”

A comment made around the world was, “I want to hear the words, ‘Armenians across the world, along with the Republic of Armenia, demand reparations for the crime of genocide and the rightful return of our confiscated lands.”

My anger is because of this: What are our political leaders around the world doing to compel the great powers — the US, Great Britain, France, Russia and Germany — to make clear to successive Turkish governments that either they accept these facts as truly Genocide, and if not, that they would break off relations with Turkey. Turkey is acting like a superpower now around the world in order to get into the European Union. This should not happen. Yes, I know they are 80 million now, but surely we can prove that some of them — or perhaps many, many of them — have Armenian blood in their veins. Many of their earlier leaders were not Turks anyway; they were known as ‘Deunmeh’ or converts.

Not many people know about our Tricolor flag. It is known as Yerakoouyn and consists of three horizontal bands of red, blue and orange. The meaning of the colors have been interpreted in different ways. Red stood for the blood shed by Armenian soldiers in war, blue for the

Armenian sky and the orange represents for fertile lands of Armenia and workers who work there. The official definition of the colors, as stated in the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, is: The red emblematizes people’s continued struggle for survival, and for the blood our brave ancestors shed, fighting the enemy and sacrificing their lives to save the Armenian nation from annihilation, ensure their freedom to practice their Christian faith, Armenia’s independence and freedom. The blue is for the people of Armenia to live beneath peaceful skies and the orange symbolizes the creative talent and hard-working nature of the people of Armenia. Long live the flag of Armenia. History of the Armenian flag says it was created after the First World War between 1918 and 1921, after Armenian gained independence and was readopted on Aug. 24 1990, just before gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

It is a must for all Armenian families to read about and remember our Martyrs. They should not and cannot be forgotten.

(Harry Koundakjian was chief photographer for the Associated Press in the Middle East and North Africa for many years.)