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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The world won't act but Armenia can: Indict anyone who commits crimes against the Armenian people

Adolf Eichmann's trial may  
suggest a path to justice  
More than two months after the ceasefire, families still wait for Azerbaijan to honor its commitment to return Armenian prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, reports of Azeri atrocities against Armenian civilians and soldiers have mounted, reminding us that the assault on Artsakh was much more—and much worse—than a naked land grab.

In fact, the war itself was an atrocity, a violation of every precept of international law created to protect the world’s peoples and their lands from aggressors.

Yet thousands of Armenians are dead and historic Armenian soil and relics lost because precepts provide poor protection from drones and cluster bombs.

You don’t have to know history to understand that such weapons would not be in the hands of Armenia’s predators if the international community truly cared about its professed ideals.

If you do know history, the hypocrisy and perfidy of the West are tragically familiar—and so is the world’s denial of responsibility, which in turn enables denial of guilt by the perpetrators.

I know just enough to be both unsurprised and furious. I simply don’t believe the world will punish our tormenters no matter how earnestly we entreat or how furiously we Tweet.

So why don’t we just do it ourselves?

If this seems impossible, consider how Israel dealt with Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi who engineered the deportation of millions of Jews to death camps in the East.

Eichmann, who escaped from Allied custody in 1946, was reportedly sighted in many places through the years before a credible report came from Argentina.

Israel sent its own Mossad agents to investigate. They discovered Eichmann working at a Mercedes-Benz factory under an alias. They tackled him as he stepped off a bus near his home on May 11, 1960.

He was shoved into a car and flown to Israel to face charges.

Eichmann’s trial was a galvanizing spectacle televised around the world. Everyone of a certain age remembers the contemptible coward in the glass booth who pleaded that he was only following orders.

The story of Eichmann’s richly deserved reckoning has been told many times. I repeat it because I think it may hold lessons for Armenians, for whom justice seems always to be just out of reach.

What I find instructive is that Israel created its own framework for justice in 1950 by enacting a law to prosecute Nazis for crimes against the Jewish people.

The frustrations of Nazis hunters after the war had shown the need for such a law. Eichmann was the most notorious of numerous Nazi officials who evaded pursuers by taking advantage of the world's willingness to look the other way.

Argentina was a favored destination for Germans fleeing reprisals. Juan Peron’s government made clear that it would not bother them, much less comply with extradition requests.

Knowing this, Israel didn’t allow itself to be diverted by such legal niceties as extradition, or questions about its jurisdiction.  

Eichmann had never been to Israel so he certainly hadn’t committed any crimes there. The law he was accused of violating didn’t exist at the time of his heinous acts. In fact, Israel itself didn’t exist until 1948, three years after the Nazi regime collapsed.

None of this kept Eichmann from being sentenced to death. He was hanged barely two years after his capture.

Although the trial took place 16 years after the Second World War, it was the first time many people around the world heard stories of concentration camps and death chambers directly from survivors. The emotional impact was extraordinary.

The trial is seen as the beginning of widespread Holocaust awareness, which grew exponentially as countless other survivors were encouraged to break their own silence. From that flowed waves of empathy that enhanced Israel’s claim to special status as a haven for an endangered people.

Armenia is no less entitled to such a claim, yet Armenians have been supplicants for centuries with little reward. It is long past time to follow Israel’s example by asserting that Armenians stand on hallowed ground and that any trespass will be punished as Eichmann was.

Armenia should indict Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev and his puppeteer, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Let them plead their case, and force them to listen to ours. There is no doubt about the outcome.

Of course, there is a difference between current heads of state and former Nazis but it’s hardly a mitigating circumstance. The power and stature of national leaders make it more important to hold them to account.

Certainly this pair would be hard to tackle at a bus stop but a trial in absentia would have great value. Once they were branded as war criminals, no other nation could deal with them without sharing their shame. 

One nation that deserves particular attention in that regard is Israel.

Not only did it help arm Azerbaijan with advanced weapons, Israel provided ongoing intelligence to guide Azerbaijan’s attack. It repeatedly rebuffed objections from the Armenian government as well as pleas for mercy from the Armenian church.

Now who stands on the moral high ground? 

To my mind, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is as culpable as Aliyev and Erdogan. Let him join them in the dock.

Surely the Israelis will recognize and honor their own example.

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