Armenia’s glorification of terrorists threatens regional peace
On October 29, Armenian media reported that Hampig Sassounian, an Armenian-American who was a suspected member of the Armenian terrorist organization Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide (JCAG) is in Armenia after his extradition from the United States. Eurasia Review reports that until he was granted a controversial parole in March 2021, Sassounian was serving a life sentence in a US prison for shooting Turkish Consul General in Los Angeles Kemal Arıkan while sitting in his car at an intersection in Los Angeles in 1982.
Although Sassounian denied being a member of JCAG, the organization reportedly largely funded his legal costs. Sassunian’s extradition to Armenia was celebrated in Armenian social media as he, along with many other members of the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) and the JCAG, is lauded as a national hero in Armenia. Both ASALA and JCAG have been identified as terrorist groups by many countries, including the United States.
As a result of the terrorist attacks by the two groups in 22 different cities around the world, at least 58 Turkish nationals, including 31 diplomats, lost their lives. In one of ASALA’s most notorious attacks, the group killed nine people and injured more than 80 by deliberately targeting civilians in a crowded passenger waiting area at Esenboğa Airport in the Turkish capital Ankara on August 7, 1982. The wave of these terrorist operations reached such a level that the Washington Post protested on July 31, 1983 asking: “How many more Turkish diplomats will be killed by murderous fanatics of Armenian terrorist groups?” The question has a stark answer: so many terrorists think they can tidy up without getting caught. “
Neither members of these terrorist groups nor their supporters among the Armenian people have since regretted or expressed remorse for murdering innocent people. “In prison, in an interview with the Armenian military magazine“ Hay Zinvor ”in 2012, Hampig Sassounian introduced himself as a soldier and expressed the wish to serve in the Armenian army in Karabakh, occupied territory of Azerbaijan in the time, which shows that it is [an] unreformed terrorist, ”said Leyla Abdullayeva, spokesperson for the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry, commenting on Sassunian’s release. “We regard this decision concerning the aforementioned terrorist as a serious mistake and a concession to terrorism and we condemn it once again,” said Tanju Bilgiç, spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, in a written statement.
Despite these reactions, Armenian governments and society have never ceased to regard the members of these groups as national heroes, giving their names to streets, schools and other institutions and erecting statutes in their “honor”. Although some Armenians objected to Sassunian’s glorification as a “national hero,” Armenian social media was generally in a festive mood. For example, an Armenian Diaspora organization called the United States-based Armenian Youth Federation enthusiastically announced on Twitter that “Armenian hero Hampig Sassunian is free and in the homeland.”
As stated above, the glorification of Sassunian’s terrorist acts is not an isolated case for Armenia. For example, Monte Melkonian, one of the leaders of ASALA, is heroised by Armenians for killing Turkish diplomats and for playing a leading role in Armenia’s war against Azerbaijan. In 1980, in Athens, Greece, Melkonian murdered a Turkish diplomat and his 14-year-old daughter. After being released from French prison, Melkonian traveled to Armenia and joined his country’s ethnic cleansing in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. He took part in mass atrocities against Azerbaijani civilians, the most significant of which took place in the city of Khojaly in 1992. Since Armenia gained independence in the early 1990s, statues have been erected in it. honor, his name was given to educational institutions and a foundation bears his name. In the cemetery where he is buried there is a memorial built in honor of ASALA.
Varoujan Karapetyan, another member of ASALA and head of the French branch of the organization, was welcomed to Armenia as a national hero, after spending nearly 20 years in prison in France, for the bombing of Turkish diplomats at Orly airport in Paris. The eight victims of the attack were not only Turkish citizens: in addition to two Turkish nationals, four French, an American and a Swedish lost their lives in this incident. But that did not stop Armenian politicians and intellectuals from campaigning for his early release and heroizing him at the highest level.
The glorification of those terrorists like Sassounian, Melkonian and Karapetyan who murdered innocent civilians, diplomats and children justifies and legitimizes terrorist tactics in pursuit of so-called national causes and encourages future generations of Armenians to follow suit. The tragedies experienced by Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the past decades unfortunately do not seem to have been enough for supporters of these extremist groups to realize that violence breeds more violence and more tragedy. On the contrary, in the context of peace efforts since the end of the 44-day Karabakh war, it is high time that Armenia renounced the violent past and seized the historic chance for a peaceful future.