Valeria Thus is currently a Masters student in Human Rights International Law at the University of Buenos Aires and an alumna of the Raphael Lemkin scholarship granted by the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute (AGMI) of Yerevan. She is working on her thesis, "The Legal Anti-negationism: Reflections from a Human Rights Perspective."
- You are from Argentina, where everything is different… world outlook, challenges. So, what do you feel touching upon the themes of the Armenian history and the Armenian genocide?
- My stay in Armenia has given me the opportunity to learn about the country’s history and to experience its culture.
Of course, each genocide has its own unique characteristics: the reasons that led to it, the methods and technologies used for annihilation —the technology of power—, the subsequent attempts at rationalizing it, and the struggle for punishment and for finding out the truth about what happened.
I think, however, that Argentina and Armenia have much more in common than one might think at first glance, especially because both countries have experienced genocidal processes and in both cases survivors and relatives of the victims have been given a critical role in the struggle for truth, memory and justice.
While the Argentine case has been more characterized by the fight for trial and punishment of the perpetrators (the trial of the Juntas in the years following the dictatorship, and the reopening of the cases at present), both in Armenia and Argentina the human rights movement, in the face of impunity and the impossibility of conducting trials, devoted its efforts to the struggle for recognition and truth.
We have a lot to learn from the Armenian people’s struggle capacity in an international geopolitical context that more often than not turned its back on them.
- Argentina has recognized the Armenian genocide as a historical fact henceforth. You must be proud of your country.
- Indeed, the human rights policies adopted in the last few years have turned Argentina into a model for the region, not just for being the only Southern Cone country to bring the perpetrators of the human rights violations committed in the 1970s to justice, but mainly because it has developed a policy for preventing social genocidal practices that go far beyond those experienced in our country.
In this context, as you have said, Argentina has recognized the Armenian Genocide through two of its powers: Congress passed Law 26,199 proclaiming April 24 of every year as the Action Day for Tolerance and Respect between Peoples in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, and in April 2011 the Judicial Power issued a historical ruling stating that the Turkish state committed the crime of genocide against the Armenian people in the period between 1915 and 1923.
Besides these wise public policies, I feel morally obliged to stress that these achievements would not have been possible without the unwavering struggle of the Armenian civil society organizations created in Argentina a result of the diaspora. Also, I think I should note that the declaratory judgment I’ve just mentioned is the result of a judicial process initiated by Gregorio and Luisa Hairabedian, two renowned activists.
If there is one thing I can say for sure as a human rights activist and lawyer is that any progress made in the countries that have faced mass violations of human rights is always the consequence of the struggle of the human rights movement.
- What can you tell about your research topic and if your study in AGMI within this period supported to improve your knowledge on the Armenian Genocide?
- It might be relevant to state that the topic of my thesis is concerned with analyzing, in states governed by the rule of law, whether it is suitable or not to punish negationist practices by weighing the human rights at stake —such as freedom of speech, the dignity of victims, and equality as a non-submission principle, among others—, as well as by aligning domestic legislations with international human rights law, i.e. the authoritative use of them. In addition, my analysis seeks to gain insight into the performative dimension of law vis-à-vis the state of denial and the prevention of the reorganizing consequences of genocidal social practices by going deeper into their symbolic realization.
Based on the meaning I’ve just described, the general hypothesis of my research work is that expressions of denial, being racist or hatred propaganda, are dangerous for the public order or harmful to democracy, and stand in outright opposition to the victims’ dignity and the fundamental right to honor them and their descendants.
In my opinion, the protection of the honor and dignity of genocide victims, the preservation of collective memory, and the elimination of racist ideologies are fundamental values that may account for restrictions to freedom of speech. Consequently, any effective attempt at preventing or fighting genocidal practices should punish the proliferation of expressions of denial, as they are the last step in the genocidal process.
In general, academia has done a lot of work on the Holocaust denial, but there is little information available on the Armenian case. My experience in AGMI gave me the possibility of having access to theoretical material on the Armenian genocide, which was absolutely new to me, as well as to prestigious and high-quality professors and authors.
It also gave me the opportunity to review the Turkish policy of denying the Armenian genocide throughout the years, the sophisticated dynamics of such denial, and the international pressure of the Turks to avoid the recognition of the genocide, as well as to study at the same time the resistance struggle of the Armenian people against this denial.