Genocide Claims Case Gets Muddier. Asbarez

The inter-attorney squabble between lawyers once fighting insurance companies together to secure payment to the heirs of genocide victims who had bought life insurance policies from the French AXA Insurance Company continued, as one of the attorneys, Brian Kabateck, filed a motion on December 31 asking the US District Court to launch an investigation into alleged misappropriation of Genocide survivor claim funds by another attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan.

In response, Yeghiyan filed a motion opposing Kabateck’s claims throwing the matter further into he said-he said territory.
Kabateck, who along with Mark Geragos and Yegiayan were once co-counsel in the pursuit of payments to the heirs of Genocide victims from insurance companies, was one of the plaintiffs in a law suit filed against Yeghiayan in March, 2011 for alleged misappropriation of funds.

The Kabateck motion, according to court records obtained by Asbarez, alleges that Yeghiayan “created charities for the purpose of funneling” funds allocated by the class action settlement for charities, known as cy pres, “to himself, his family, his law firm and other personal and business associates.”
Kabateck of the Kabatech, Brown Kellner LLP, along with Gergos filed the March 11 lawsuit. The current motion calls for a stay of the suit pending the proposed Yeghiayan investigation.
The December 31 motion says that counsel has “determined that a t least five charities may well have been established by Mr. Yeghiayan to launder money [$1 million] from the class settlements” earmarked to be used by “legitimate charitable organizations to assist the Armenian community.”

Kabateck’s motion says: “It appears that Mr. Yeghiayan created five of the nominated charities for the sole purpose of receiving settlement funds for their own personal and business use. He operated several of these charities out of Mr. Yeghiayan’s law office in Glendale, and one of these supposed ‘charities’ is a private foreign bank account. There is very little evidence that these charities have engaged in any charitable activity whatsoever, other than to issue press releases that publicize Mr. Yeghiayan’s lawsuits and speaking engagements and to sell his books and other publications.”
The Kabateck motion cites a series of examples ranging from allegations of using funds earmarked for Armenian charitable organizations to pay for college tuition to paying consultants and others to carry out projects that benefitted Yeghiayan.
In his opposition motion Yeghiayan says Kabateck’s actions are without merit, citing several legal precedents that he seeks to use to disprove the initial motion.
“Kabateck’s lawsuit against Yeghiayan, Mahdessian, and the charities was filed in March, 2011. Since then, it has hung like a sword of Damocles over all of them while the Court and counsel have focused on recovering money improperly distributed and handled,” said the official opposition motion filed by Yeghiayan attorney Roman Silberfeld of the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi and obtained by Asbarez from Yeghiayan’s law firm.

“Mr. Yeghiayan vehemently denies the allegations that he may have established ‘at least five sham charities to launder money from the class settlements,’” says the opposition motion.

A hearing on this motion is set for January 28 at US District Court..
Regardless of the outcome of the hearing, this ongoing squabble between the attorneys who deemed themselves worthy of representing the interests of Genocide survivor heirs is, to say the least, muddying the just case for reparations to Genocide victims and has already shaken the trust of the Armenian people. It is critical that this issue advance transparently.

View the original article in Asbarez.com

ANCA welcomes the 113th Congress

Asbarez reports that the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) team was up on Capitol Hill to welcome the over 90 newly elected members of the U.S. Senate and House, as Congress kicked off its 113th Session.

ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian and ANCA San Francisco-Bay Area Chairman Armen Carapetian were among those reaching out to old Congressional friends and welcoming new Members, as the new session was launched at noon on January 3rd.

The new Congressional session also ushers in new Committee leadership in many cases, including the powerful Senate and House committees dealing with foreign affairs. President Obama’s nomination of Senator John Kerry (D-MA), a longtime supporter of Armenian issues, as Secretary of State will open the door for long-time friend Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to chair that influential committee. Sen. Dick Lugar’s (R-IN) defeat in the 2012 primary opens the door for Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to serve as Ranking Republican. On the House side, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Ed Royce (R-CA) will chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), a longstanding supporter of Armenian issues, serving as Ranking Democrat.

Among those returning to Congress was Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), who marched up the steps of the Capitol today after a valiant recovery from a stroke suffered in 2012. Prior to his election to the Senate, Kirk served as Co-Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus during his years in the U.S. House.

Special Issue of ‘Armenian Review’ Discusses Genocide Reparations. The Armenian Weekly

The Armenian Weekly reports the Armenian Review recently announced the publication of a special issue about “The New Global Reparations Movement,” the growing movement to require reparations for cases of mass human rights violation.

Professor Henry Theriault of Worcester State University is the guest editor of the special issue, and also contributes his analysis of the moral imperative requiring reparations for the Armenian Genocide. International law expert Dr. Alfred de Zayas argues the case that the UN Genocide Convention is both applicable to the Armenian Genocide and requires that reparations be made.

For many years, reparations had not been a central element in political, legal, or ethical engagements with past group harms. Since the 1988 decision by the United States to compensate Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, however, reparations have been raised by victim groups as a key requirement for justice and have become intertwined with truth and reconciliation processes.
Thus the articles in the special issue present many of the other key reparations movements. Jermaine McCalpin and M.P. Giyose discuss the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and connect it to other cases:

McCalpin to African-American and Native American reparations, and Giyose to the legacy of former colonies burdened by the huge state debts incurred by their former rulers. Patrick Sargent analyzes South Africa, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Haiti as four cases of such “odious debt.” Kibibi Tyehimba analyzes the need for reparations for the historical legacy of sustained violence against African-Americans, and Haruko Shibasaki presents the legal movement in Japan for reparations for the “Comfort Women” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army during World War II. A group of authors present the issue of reparations for indigenous peoples who were dispossessed by Argentina’s military during the country’s “Campaign to the Desert” in the 19th century.

Armenia continue to modernize its forces with precision weaponry

Asbarez writes that according to the report of Armenian military, there is a “significant” arms acquisitions in 2012 and added it will continue to modernize its forces with precision weaponry in the coming years.
Artsrun Hovannisian, spokesman for Armenia’s Defense Ministry, announced the following:

“At the beginning of this year we declared that we have acquired new rocket systems capable of neutralizing active armor protection of enemy tanks. This is just one example new-generation precision-guided weapons. Naturally, we do not declare some things immediately. But those acquisitions are significant and they will be unveiled little by little. The focus remains on extremely precise means of firepower that have serious preemptive functions” said Harutyunyan.
Some of the long-range weapons possessed by Armenia were demonstrated for the first time during a military parade in Yerevan in September, 2011. Those included Russian-made Scud-B and Tochka-U missiles capable of hitting strategic targets deep inside Azerbaijani territory.

Armenian army also appears to have been reinforced with more advanced versions of Russian-made S-300 air-defense systems. IMINT and Analysis, a U.S. defense newsletter using open-source satellite imagery, reported in October that such systems have been deployed in the last two years in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province adjacent to Karabakh. The online publication said their sophisticated surface-to-air missiles not only cover the entire Karabakh airspace but can also thwart air travel between Azerbaijan and its Nakhichevan exclave.

Hungary and Azerbaijan Expand Trade Relations

Asbarez writes that three months after extraditing axe-murderer Ramil Safarov to Azerbaijan, where he was pardoned and pronounced a national hero, Hungary opened its first ever trade office in Baku earlier this month in hopes of advancing economic relations with the very government that applauds ethnically motivated murder.

We should recall that Safarov, who was serving a sentence in Budapest for murdering an Armenian officer Gurgen Hayrapetian in 2004 during a NATO Partnership for Peace program, was promoted in the Azeri Army. The White House, Brussels and other international entities condemned the extradition and the subsequent pardon of the axe-murderer.
“The trading house was established in Azerbaijan as the two countries are strategic partners,” said Peter Szijjarto, Hungary’s foreign minister, during the opening ceremony of the office.

He said the first reason of opening the House in Baku is the strategic cooperation between the two countries and the second is compliance of the supply for the Hungarian economy with Azerbaijan’s demand.
A Hungarian delegation headed by Szijjarto, which consisted of economic, banking and tourism sectors’ representatives, took part in an Azerbaijani-Hungarian business forum on the same day.
Azerbaijani Economic Development Minister Shahin Mustafayev told the business forum that political relations between Azerbaijan and Hungary are at a high level and there is potential for their further development, which is confirmed by numerous visits and meetings.

Turkish Citizens Sign Petition Against Denialist Exhibit in Denmark. Armenian Weekly

Armenian weekly reported from Istanbul that in response to official statements that the Royal Library of Denmark has agreed “to balance” an Armenian Genocide exhibition by allowing the Turkish government to mount its own “alternative” exhibit, a group of Turkish citizens–including academics, writers, former members of parliament, and mayors–have signed an open letter to the Royal Library, which follows, in full.

Don’t Stand Against Turkey’s Democratization and Confrontation with its History!

The individuals whose signatures appear below have been distressed to learn that the Royal Library of Denmark has given the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit” in response to the Armenian Genocide exhibition.

It is incorrect to suggest that two different views of what happened in 1915 are possible. Over 1 million Ottoman-Armenian citizens were forced out of their homes and annihilated in furtherance of an intentional state policy. What exists today is nothing other than the blatant denial of this reality by the Turkish government.
An honest reckoning with history is the non-negotiable precondition of a true democracy. The Turkish government has been suppressing historic truths and following a policy of denial for more than 90 years. In response to the many intellectuals in the nation who have urged the government to confront history honestly, this systematic suppression and intimidation policy, which reached its zenith with the assassination of journalist Hrant Dink in 2007, continues unabated. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in several cases on this subject against Turkey’s position and actions.

By giving the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit,” you support their policy of suppression and intimidation. The support that you are extending to a regime that has made opposition to confronting history and denial of the truth a fundamental principle is equivalent to supporting a regime of apartheid. We want to remind you that your support constitutes an obstacle to democratization efforts in Turkey today.
There is a regional aspect of this policy also. Peace, democracy, and stability in the Middle East will only come about through regimes that are willing to confront history honestly. Through its position of denying historical truths, Turkey represents an obstacle to the development of peace, democracy, and stability in the Middle East. We, citizens fighting for a democratic Turkey, urge you to reconsider your decision to grant the Turkish government the opportunity to present an “alternative exhibit” and withdraw the offer immediately, and we invite you to join and support the democratic civil initiatives demanding that Turkey confront its history honestly.

Fikret Adanır (professor of history), Taner Akçam (professor of history), Ayhan Aktar (professor of sociology), Cengiz Aktar (professor of political science), Cengiz Algan (the DurDe civic initiative), Ahmet Altan (chief editor, Taraf newspaper), Maya Arakon (professor of political science), Oya Baydar (writer), Yavuz Baydar (columnist, Todays Zaman newspaper), Osman Baydemir (mayor of Diyarbakır), Murat Belge (professor of litterature), Halil Berktay (professor of history), İsmail Beşikçi (professor of sociology), Hamit Bozaslan (professor of political science), İpek Çalışlar (writer), Oral Çalışlar (columnist, Radikal newspaper), Aydın Engin (founding Editor T24 webnews), Fatma Müge Göçek (professor of sociology), Nilüfer Göle (professor of sociology), İştar Gözaydın (professor of law and politics), Gençay Gürsoy (professor of medicine) Ayşe Hür (historian, columnist Radical newspaper), Ahmet İnsel (professor of economics), Ayşe Kadıoğlu (professor of political science), Gülten Kaya (music producer), Ümit Kıvanç (writer), Ömer Laçiner (chief editor, Birikim Review), Roni Margulies (poet), Baskın Oran (professor of political science), Cem Özdemir (co-chair, German Green Party), Esra Mungan (professor of psychology), Sırrı Sakık (MP), Betül Tanbay (professor of mathematics), Zeynep Tanbay (choreographer), Turgut Tarhanlı (professor of international law), Ufuk Uras (former MP), Şanar Yurdatapan (Initiative for Freedom of Expression).

Forrest Gump Goes to Lebanese-Armenian community

Chris Bohlajyan wrote the following article which was published in the US-Armenian “The Armenian Weekly” daily:

“We all have a little Forrest Gump in us. A bit of Leonard Zelig.
We’ve all had those moments when, suddenly, we are not merely witnesses to an instant fraught with meaning, but we are participants in the scene. We see ourselves both in the minute and with a cinematic distance: Camera pulls back wide to reveal the majesty of the spectacle, the sheer grandeur. And there, much to our surprise, we see ourselves. We are at once in the moment, and an observer of it.

1×1.trans Bohjalian: Forrest Gump Goes to Beirut. It wasn’t the most terrifying moment of my professional life, but it was up there. It was also, however, among the most moving.
The reality is that my visit to the Lebanese-Armenian community—my second in 2012—was rich in memories like that.

There was my visit to the Levon and Sofia Hagopian Armenian College—another high school, actually—in Bourj Hammoud. Friends of mine in the United States had told me that even though the Armenian students in Beirut might speak English, it was unlikely they would understand the nuances of my presentation. Not true. The very first question? A 16-year-old girl asked me, “Has writing this novel been healing for you personally? Emotionally?” Two other students had already finished the book by the time I arrived and wanted to discuss the ending with me with all the passion of readers in Los Angeles or Milwaukee or Watertown. I am not easily awed, but I was nervous. There are a variety of reasons for this, some grounded in the man’s profoundly important stature in the church, and others in the chasm-like gaps in my own religious training. Although my Armenian grandparents went to an Armenian church, my parents usually attended Episcopal churches in the New York City suburbs. Today I live next door (literally, right next door) to a Baptist church in Vermont, and have gone there happily for a quarter century. Nevertheless, my religious training has a long history of eccentricity. Exhibit A? Most of my training for confirmation when I was a 12-year-old at Trinity Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., revolved around Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” To this day, I still know an embarrassing amount of the libretto.
In any case, the idea that I was going to meet His Holiness certainly got my attention when I received the invitation back in September. I learned key phrases in Armenian and I drove my friend Khatchig Mouradian, the editor of this newspaper, a little crazy with my obsessive-compulsive insistence on practicing precisely how much I should bow when I met Aram I. And I asked Hagop Havatian to share with me which of His Holiness’s books I should read prior to our meeting. I did considerably more homework than before I had been confirmed three and a half decades earlier.

Chris Bohjalian is the author of fifteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Night Strangers, Skeletons at the Feast, and The Double Bind. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than 25 languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). Bohjalian’s novel of the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls, hit bookstores on July 17.

Turkey and the Armenian Ghost. The Armenian Weekly

The Armenian Weekly published the full text of a talk delivered by Dr. Taner Akcam (Clark University) during a panel on ‘Overcoming Genocide Denial’ organized by Fordham Law School’s Leitner Center for International Law and Justice on Dec. 4. Speakers included Akcam, Gregory Stanton (George Mason University), and Sheri Rosenberg (Cardozo Law School). Akcam originally wrote this text as the preface of the book: La Turquie et le fantôme arménien (Turkey and the Armenian Ghost) by Laure Marchand and Guillaume Perrier, to be published in France in March 2013 (Actes sud), and, hopefully, soon in the US.
Why do we Turks continue to deny the genocide?”
Or, stated another way, Why do we Turks feel like lightening has struck our bones whenever the topic is brought up?

I’ve been dedicated to researching the subject of the Armenian Genocide since 1990, more than 20 years. This question keeps getting asked over and over again with unerring consistency. The question is a simple one, but as the years have passed my response to it has changed. At first, I tried to explain the denial through the concept of “continuity,” namely, governmental continuity from the Ottoman Empire through the Turkish Republic. Another way of formulating this thesis might be by titling it, “The Dilemma of Making Heroes into Villains.” The argument is very simple: The Turkish Republic was actually established by the Union and Progress Party (Ittihat ve Terakki), the architects of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The founding cadres of Turkey were essentially Union and Progress members. And so, a significant number of the founding cadres of Turkey were either directly involved in the Armenian Genocide or they enriched themselves by looting Armenian properties. But these individuals were also our national heroes—they are the founding fathers of our nation. If Turkey acknowledges the genocide, we would have to accept that a number of our national heroes and founding fathers were either murderers, thieves, or both. This is the real dilemma.

Those individuals, as we were taught in school, were men who “created our nation and the state out of nothing.” They define who we are. This is true not only for the early generation of the Turkish nation, but also for the opposition movements of the country, including the largest wave of a democratic-progressive movement Turkey had ever seen: the 1968 student protest movement. The representatives of this wave and its political organizations strongly identified themselves with the founding cadres of the republic. They called themselves, in analogy with the founding fathers, the second “Kuvayi–Milliyeciler” or “national front,” a specific term that we use only to define our founding cadres. This strong identification with the founding fathers was not particular to the progressive ‘68 generation. It has been true for any of the groups active in Turkey: nationalist, Islamicist, or other right wing circles.
In other words, in order to accept the genocide, in our present state, we would have to deny our own national identity, as it exists today. That is a very difficult task, an almost impossible one, and very destructive. Instead of dealing with the identity crisis and the emotional and political fallout that will result from accepting the genocide, think about it: Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to just deny it?

I started to modify my response to the question “Why do Turks deny the genocide?” over time. I added one more reason for Turkish denial. It is also a very simple argument. If Turkey accepts that the genocide took place, it will be obligated to pay reparations. The argument has some wider consequences than whether the events of 1915 should be termed “genocide.” Let’s assume that 1915 was not genocide, and imagine that the Union and Progress Party had deported the Armenians from a cold, mountainous, and infertile area to a sunny warm and fertile region; pretend, in other words, that the Armenians had been dispatched to Florida. However, everything that these people owned was confiscated in the process and not a single penny was paid back to them. Even if you refuse to accept the events of 1915 as genocide, you have to accept the fact that the country of Turkey today was formed on the seizure of Armenian assets, and now sits on top of that wealth. As a result, if you accept and acknowledge that something unjust happened in 1915 in Turkey, you have to pay back compensation. Therefore, in order to avoid doing that, denying genocide outright makes a whole lot of sense.

I have continued to add some additional factors to explain Turkish denials, such as the phenomenon that occurs when you repeat a lie. Even in ordinary daily life, how easy is it to reverse yourself once you’ve told a lie? The lie about genocide has a history of decades and has become calcified. A state that’s been lying for 90 years can’t simply reverse course. Even when you know you’re telling untruths, they acquire the veneer of reality after so many years.
But these points are only useful for explaining why the state has continued to deny the genocide. As the years passed, I started to write that the term “Turkish denial” was inadequate for fully explaining the situation. I questioned the validity of the use of the term “Turks” to reflect a homogeneous entity that defines not only the people of Turkey but the state of Turkey, as well. I suggested making a distinction between state policy and the attitude of the people of Turkey towards genocide. I argued that the term “denial” was adequate in explaining state policy, but not that of society. The attitude of society should more accurately be portrayed as one of ignorance, apathy, fatalism, reticence, and silence, rather than denial.

Turkish society is not a monolithic block, and can be considered analogous to a train. It’s made up of lots of different cars, and each car represents a different sub-cultural ethnicity with a different attitude towards what happened in 1915. I’ve stated many times that a large portion of Kurds, Dersimians, and Alewites have accepted the reality of what happened in 1915, and that the real problem is that these different groups have not been able to express their thoughts on it in a way that was forceful, firm, and especially written. I used the terms silence and avoidance not only in the sense of a single attitude that is jointly held by all segments of society, but also to mean not openly taking a stance toward the official state narrative. One has to accept that all of these distinctions are important, and perhaps vital, to understanding the development of civil society in Turkey today, but that they are still not enough to explain why denialism is such a dominant part of the cultural landscape in Turkey.

So, my thinking has begun to change, yet again, recently. I don’t mean to say that my previous explanations were necessarily incorrect. Just the opposite: I still believe that these factors play a major role in the denial of the Armenian Genocide. However, I have now started to think that the matter seems to have roots in something much deeper and almost existentialist, which covers the state as much as the society. The answer to the question seems to lie in a duality between existence and non-existence—or, as Hamlet would say, “to be or not to be.” I believe our existence as a state and a society translates into their—Christians in Anatolia—non-existence, or not-being. To accept what happened in 1915 means you have to accept the existence of them—Christians—on Turkish territory, which is practically like announcing our non-existence, because we owe our being to their non-existence. Let me explain.

In order to provide more clarity, I would like to introduce Habermas to the topic. Habermas points out that within the social tissue and institutions of societies resides a “secret violence,” and this “secret violence” creates a structure of communication that the entire society identifies with.[1] Through this way of “collective communication,” the restrictions and exclusion of certain topics from public discourse are effectively institutionalized and legitimized. What is meaningful to note here is that this structure is not imposed on the society by the rulers, but is accepted and internalized by those who are ruled. There is a silent consensus in the society.

I would like to borrow another term from author Elias Siberski to shed some light on this condition–“communicative reality” (die kommunikative Wirklichkeit). Siberski uses this term to describe a very important characteristic of secretive organizations.2 According to Siberski, secretive organizations create an internal reality through a method of communication that is totally different from the real world. The situation in Turkey today resembles this very closely. As a society, we are like a secret organization. Since the establishment of our republic we have created a “communicative reality,” which sets out our way of thinking and existence over “state and nation.” It gives shape to our emotions and defining belief systems, or, in other words, our entire social-cultural net of relations. In sum, the things that make us who we are or at a minimum who we think we are. What is important to note is the gap between this “communicative reality” and actual reality.

In the end, this “communicative reality” has given us speakable and unspeakable worlds, and has created a collective secret that covers our entire society like a glove. It has created one big gigantic black hole. We are, today, a reality that possesses a “black hole.” This existence of a huge “black hole,” or the possession of a “collective secret,” or creation of a “coalition of silence”—these are the terms that define who we are… We simply eradicated everything Christian from this reality. This is how we teach Ottoman history in our schools, this is how we produce intellectual-cultural works about our society.
My opinion is that the secret behind the denial of the Armenian Genocide, or the unspeakableness of it, lies somewhere in here. What happened in 1915 is Turkish society’s collective secret, and genocide has been relegated to the “black hole” of our societal memory. Since the founding of the Republic of Turkey, all of us, rightists and leftists, Muslim, Alewite, Kurds, and Turks, have created a collective “coalition of silence” around this subject, and we don’t like being reminded of this hidden secret that wraps around us like a warm, fuzzy blanket. The reminders have an annoying irritating quality and we feel confronted by a situation that leaves us unsure of what to do or say.

Because, if we are forced to confront our history, everything—our social institutions, mentalities, belief systems, culture, and even the language we use—will be open to question. The way a society perceives itself is going to be questioned from top to bottom. As a result, we don’t appreciate the “reminders.” We view reminders as “force,” and react quite negatively to them. All of us, rightist and leftist, search for excuses, but we together seem to be crying out, as if in chorus, “Here we are minding our own business, not bothering anyone, when you appeared out of nowhere. Where did you come from?” It is as if we, as a nation, are making this collective statement: “If you think we are going to destroy the social-cultural reality we created with such great care over 95 years, with one swipe of a pen, think again!”

The Armenian Genocide is a part of a more general framework that is directly related to our existence. The republic and the society of Turkey today have been constructed upon the removal of Christians—the destruction of an existence on a territory that we call our homeland. Since we have established our existence upon the non-existence of another, every mention of that existence imparts fear and anxiety in us. The difficulty we have in our country with speaking about the Armenian issue lies within this existence-non-existence duality. If you’re looking for an example that comes close to this, you don’t need to look far: The history of the Native Americans in the U.S. bears similarities.

So, I think we have to reverse the question: The central question is not whyTurkey denies the genocide, but whether we the people of Turkey are ready, as a state and as a society, to deny our present state of existence. It seems that the only way we can do that is by repudiating how we came to be and by creating a new history of how we came to exist. Are we capable of doing that? That’s the true question.

Houshamadyan Project Reconstructs and Preserves Ottoman Armenian History

Armenian Mirror Spectator writes that the website for the Houshamadyan project (www.houshamadyan.org), at first glance, seems to provide a colorful depiction of small town Armenian life in the Ottoman era , a forgotten subject in history.
Upon further exploration, however, visitors realize that Houshamadyan is more than a typical website , it is an interactive archive. Viewers do not merely read the history, they experience it firsthand through written documents, images, artifacts, digitized textiles, depictions of traditional games as well as sound and video recordings.

These resources are aimed at enhancing “the visitor experience and helping make the reconstruction of these lost communities all the more vivid.”
Lessersohn’s involvement in the project came in tandem with an exploration of her own familial and cultural identity. Lessersohn first encountered the Houshamadyan website while researching her own family history and was immediately inspired to get involved. After emailing the project director, Lessersohn submitted her own great-grandfather’s recordings of lullabies to the project while she was living in New York.

Lessersohn, a graduate of Harvard College (AB’09 in The Study of Religion), has also worked at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once Lessersohn relocated to the Boston area, she became the project coordinator for Houshamadyan and has worked to collaborate with the local community and abroad to expand the project’s reach.

“Through my work with the project, I have become increasingly interested in the issue of representing and communicating historical and cultural identity and complexity. I have also, of course, taken a great interest in the study of Armenian communities in the Ottoman Empire, and their interaction with other Ottoman communities and peoples. I hope to explore these themes as well as others in my future studies,” said Lessersohn.

Houshamadyan is currently fundraising for the publication of their first book, Ottoman Armenians, Vol. 1: Life, Culture, Society. The book will be an extension of the website, with new articles, extended versions of current projects and more than 200 images, rather than just a replica of the site. While Houshamadyan is chiefly a web-based archive, the Houshamadyan team says they also value the tactile and representative importance of physical archives and preservation of hard copies of materials. “We believe it is important to have such a publication, to keep in libraries and family homes, to give to others as a gift or an educational tool, and to reach audiences who do not necessarily have access to the internet […] it will only add to the strength and reach of our work if we produce materials in all forms (website, books, exhibitions, workshops, etc). It is always good to express oneself in as many ways as possible, to reach as many people as possible.” Coordinators hope to eventually translate this first publication and future publications, into Armenian and Turkish. Visitors can already access the website in both English and Armenian, and translation into Turkish is forthcoming. Also in the works is a full exhibition and accompanying workshop in Berlin in 2013.

Human Rights Watch Urges Turkey to Reconsider Rights Advocate

Asbarez writes that the judge recently appointed as the chief ombudsman of Turkey’s newly created ombudsman institution has a history of failing to respect human rights standards, and his appointment risks the effectiveness of the new institution.

Mehmet Nihat Ömeroğlu was sworn in by Parliament as head of the ombudsman institution on December 5, 2012.
As reported, the body was approved by parliament in June but has not yet been established.

Turkey’s highest court in 2006 upheld the conviction of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink for “insulting Turkishness” under the notorious article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code.
Ömeroğlu was sworn in a week after the majority of members of parliament from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voted for his appointment over two other candidates.

The decision to convict Dink targeted his writing on the impact on Armenians of the mass killings in 1915.
Dink was assassinated in January 2007.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights found Turkey to have violated Dink’s right to freedom of expression with the article 301 conviction, and to have failed to protect Dink’s life in the face of evidence known to the authorities that Dink faced a real and imminent threat in the form of plots to kill him.
“The ombudsman will be separate from the National Human Rights Institution, which the government has also made a commitment to establish. While the ombudsman can provide an important mechanism to investigate citizens’ complaints against state officials and institutions, its effectiveness will depend on the person leading it and the way its powers are used” said Human Rights Watch.