Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Washington D.C. – The fifth annual United Nations (UN) International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, was observed yesterday by the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) and commemorated in a special virtual event by the Armenian Mission to the UN.
Spearheaded in 2015 by Armenia and overwhelmingly adopted by the UN General Assembly, December 9 was marked as a day to create awareness and remembrance about the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, but to also explore ways to end ongoing political violence around the world.
“We commend Armenia’s Mission to the UN and the distinguished panelists assembled for helping foster greater awareness and understanding about the challenges before us and ultimately helping to prevent future genocides and ethnic cleansing once and for all. We are especially concerned with the current situation in Artsakh and the grave risks faced by its Armenian population,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.
To recognize the noteworthy day, Armenia’s Mission to the UN organized the event, “Mass Media in Genocide Prevention: The Promise and Peril of the Digital Age,” featuring UN representatives and a number of panelists including award-winning film director Terry George, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Dr. Peter Balakian and scholar David L. Phillips, Director of the Peace-building and Rights Program at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.
They were joined by Alice Wairimu Nderitu, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Melissa Fleming, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Dr. Sara E. Brown, Executive Director of the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education, and Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for Responsibility to Protect, in a panel moderated by Dr. Henry Theriault, President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University.
“Crisis atrocities are detectable and predictable,” Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Mher Margaryan, said in his remarks. “Denial of past crimes, impunity, discrimination and prevalence of hate speech are among the factors that lead to massive crimes and represent early warning signs.”
The rise of digital technology has created more opportunities for manipulations and misinformation for political gains, according to Ambassador Margaryan, who reflected on the military escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh [Artsakh] over the last few months. He likened the war, which was unleashed by Turkey and Azerbaijan during a global pandemic, to the Armenian Genocide, which was executed during World War I.
“Too often mass media is used to promote hate speech, war mongering, denialist narratives and the whitewashing of past atrocities that breed recurrent violence,” said Ambassador Margaryan. “Despite continuing efforts by the international community to prevent genocide war crimes and crimes against humanity, mass atrocities continue to persist.”
He highlighted that Armenia, which was the main sponsor of the UN General Assembly’s resolution to institute December 9 as the International Day Commemorating Genocide Victims and Prevention, is “fully committed to strengthening this important platform through thematic events held in observance of the day since its establishment in 2015.”
In a video message, H.E. Ara Aivazian, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, noted the 72nd anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which “empowered the international community with a legal framework to punish what used to be a crime without a name.”
“The Genocide Convention represents the first international agreement on human rights,” said Minister Aivazian. “Since 1998 Armenia has been leading international efforts within the UN to underpin the significance of the Genocide Convention in order to construct solid foundations for prevention.”
He emphasized that the establishment and regular observance of December 9 as United Nations International Day Commemorating Genocide Victims and Prevention will promote consolidated action against the crime of genocide.
“As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Armenia expresses its firm resolve to promote and protect human rights, while declaring a strong commitment to prevent hate crimes,” said Aivazian.
Following the viewing of a clip from the blockbuster Armenian Genocide film, “The Promise,” renowned film producer and director Terry George, whose films include Oscar-winners Schindler’s List and Hotel Rwanda, spoke about highlighting the plight of genocide victims.
He conveyed that the stories are about “empathy and ordinary people” who find themselves in horrific situations of suffering.
“The media of film and documentary is possibly one of the most powerful weapons we have in the prevention of genocide because it creates a barrier to hate and cruelty,” said George. “When you know another person and understand how they live and how their families interact, it makes it so much harder for the perpetration of genocide.”
Human rights advocate David L. Phillips remarked that the 20th century has been “the bloodiest in human history” and noted Turkey’s “unrelenting” campaign of denial regarding the Armenian Genocide.
Tying mass atrocities into the present-day, Phillips elaborated on the “second Armenian Genocide” launched on September 27 in Nagorno-Karabakh, when Azerbaijani armed forced, supported by Turkish drones, war planes and jihadist mercenaries, were brought in to wage war against Armenians.
As Director of the Peace-building and Rights Program at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Phillips highlighted the online propaganda and threats that the academic institution faces from Azerbaijanis when hosting Armenian-related discussions. He noted the University is “routinely attacked by Azeri propaganda” and regularly receives hate messages.
Nevertheless, Phillips said that the work of the Institute “is devoted to bearing witness” and launched an Artsakh atrocities documentation project in conjunction with Artsakh’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Artak Beglaryan, that features credible reports, news articles, videos and documentation of Azerbaijani terror groups targeting churches and cultural symbols.
“The Artsakh atrocities page is a counterweight to the Azeri propaganda infrastructure and represents an effort by Columbia University to make sure that the voices of Armenian victims are heard,” said Phillips.
Author and academic Dr. Peter Balakian observed that “bearing witness to atrocities comes in many genres,” ranging from literary to cinematic to digital to visual arts.
“We record and watch atrocities on our television screens, computers and through satellite and drone images,” he said. “Individual witnesses can capture images that become viral and mass media moments.”
One specific area of significance that is part of genocide and has been recorded, according to Balakian, is the systematic destruction of the Armenian cultural heritage taking place in Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Balakian raised a critical point by asking: “How do we transmit witnessing into actions of intervention and political actions of justice and repair?”
Between 1997 and 2006, based on documentation by digital media, satellite cameras and drone footage in Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave, Azerbaijan “wiped clean of its culture 89 medieval churches and more than 30,000 khatchkars as an act of cultural genocide,” said Balakian.
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Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.