in Russian – https://aga-tribunal.info/apkarian-2-10-2023/
On October 2,2023 Gassia Apkarian was a guest in Yerevan office of CivilNet and spoke with Patrick Elliott.
This topic is very important that’s why AGA-Tribunal.info web site presents the detailed information with a full text in English with a timing and also with a translation into Russian. One of the previous videos Gassia Apkarian with CivilNet in 2022 – https://youtu.be/k3gCE-bWON8
As CivilNet writes under their video on youtube, Hon. Gassia Apkarian of the Center for Truth and Justice (CTJ) joined CivilNet to discuss the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh and efforts to achieve justice through legal means.
Hon. Apkarian provides a sobering assessment of the “second genocide” committed against the Armenian people of Karabakh, as well as the continued risks facing the refugees. She outlines the obligations of international law to prevent ethnic cleansing and investigate allegations of war crimes. She also shares her vision for long-term solutions respecting self-determination and basic human rights for Armenians in their ancestral lands. For those with information regarding war crimes in Karabakh, please call the CTJ confidential hotline: 094564806 and 094564804.
Video from CivilNet (23 min)
Welcome back to CivilNet. I’m your host, Patrick Elliott, and I’m joined by the honorable Gassia Abkarian, Judge of the Superior Court of California. Thank you for coming, Judge.
Thank you for having me.
In your career as a judge did you ever think that you’d someday be doing this line of work working with genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing?
Absolutely not. For all of us, at least in my case, genocide was something of the past. And my interests have always been about the statehood of Armenia because Armenians in the Diaspora cannot exist without a Homeland. So that’s always been my focus and I’ve had to go through huge mental shock: get over the fact that we’ve had to declare what Aliev has been doing in Artsakh as genocide. I can get into the details of that, if you want.
Yeah, I would actually love to. If you’re able to can you tie it into former prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo’s statement that what happened in Artsakh, what transpired is in fact, it does constitute genocide.
Sure. So let me just give a little bit background on the Center for Truth and Justice. The purpose of the Center for Truth and Justice we were created immediately after the 44-day war, was because we were watching these horrendous atrocities and it became very clear to a group of lawyers and me that Armenia needs help to gather actual testimonial evidence to make it admissible into courts. Right without evidence you cannot fight legally. So we created this group and it became immediately also very clear that Armenians are like an echo chamber. We like to say what we feel to each other. That’s completely useless.
We fetch a lot.
Yeah. So we immediately started gathering testimonial evidence of the war crimes from the 44-day war. Then the September of 22 happened, so it’s been constantly dealing with emergency after emergency. And we created an office both in Armenia and in Artsakh where lawyers that are fully trained in how to gather testimonial evidence, were doing this work and have been doing this work day and night non-stop with the support and the assistance of lawyers into the United States, mostly Armenian-Americans.
However if we are going to actually get world’s attention we need non-Armenians in the international legal world. So what we did was we started putting on conferences in Armenia by bringing these International legal experts that are well known in their field, that have done work for Syria, Libya, Darfur, Yemen, Ukraine. Luis Moreno Ocampo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Moreno_Ocampo) who is the former prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who has actually indicted heads of state for genocide and has done so successfully, – he was one of our first participants in our first conference in 2022. What we do is we don’t just bring these people here – we make them a part of the cause of bringing legal justice to the Armenian people. Which means accountability, hold Azerbaijan accountable for what they’re doing. It was in July of this year Luis Moreno Ocampo contacted me, and he said in his Argentinian accent: “Gassia, this is genocide”. I said: “Okay, I think it’s genocide. You think it’s genocide can we prove it?” So he and I sat down for 12 hours next to each other and formulated the legal opinion that shows Aliyev’s criminal intent to commit genocide. And that document became immediately public. I’m sure you know as a result hearings took place in Washington DC both on the House side and the Senate side. This was during the blockade. It wasn’t even when the bombardment and the shelling of the civilian population started. This is way before these mass deportations started. Genocide does not mean: you have 3 million people dead on the streets. So this is ongoing genocide and the legal document has already been created. Luis Moreno Ocampo is not just committed to the proof of genocide, but to the safety and the security of Armenians and going forward. So I remember I turned around to him and I said: “You realize that this is the worst thing I could possibly be a part of – I’m a descendant of genocide survivors. I never thought we would use the word word genocide again.” He understood the heaviness of this responsibility, but we have to call it what it is: this is genocide.
Thank you, Judge. Can you tell us, I mean, as you know the genocide is a very strict legal criteria. There is a lot of cynicism in of course in Azeri, but also Turkish media and to a certain extent some of their proxies in the West. Where the narrative they’re trying to in is this: is a Russian ally that seized land that wasn’t internationally recognized as theirs, they lost a war and now they’re being politely asked to leave, they were offered to stay but they chose to leave on their own poition. So what is the strict legal criteria that points to this specific case? I mean, the orders of magnitude between the genocide that our grandparents what they suffered and what’s taking place right now, in what’s left of Arsakh? It’s very different and yet it’s the same terminology. So for this cynicism what answer would you give, what are the criteria that makes this a clear-cut case? That this is genocide – not crimes against humanity not just ethnic cleansing, but really the worst possible thing that a human being can do.
So the strictest definition is according to the Genocide Convention. And the legal opinion is very specific: under the Genocide Convention qualifies because the first step, the opinion was based on, is starvation – it’s genocide by starvation. The blockade was starvation of the Armenian people. It doesn’t mean you have 100,000 people who are famished, laying on the ground, dying. Genocide does not require the entire annihilation of an entire people, it requires the intent. And starvation was the tool that Aliev have started to use. Then since then he advanced to bombing and shelling which is intent to kill in addition to that. Now mass deportations because Armenians were not given the choice of you can continue to live on your ancestral land and will protect you. They were given the choice of you either abide by our rules which means we can bomb you, starve you, kill you and you’re going to accept it and live on your land presumably to your death or – leave.
So it’s according to the Genocide Convention. I want to go to the next level. For all State parties, that are a member of the Genocide Convention, the purpose of the Genocide Convention is once genocide has been identified, State parties have the responsibility to prevent. Which is why when we declared genocide and we put the United States and the EU on notice there was no doubt, no question – all legal minds agreed that genocide was in place. It becomes the responsibility of these State parties to prevent it and they have failed. They have failed to prevent the ultimate what has now happened – the complete removal of all Armenians from their millennial ancestral lands. These are the indigenous people who have now been forced to flee or die. That is genocide, genocide is being completed now. All State parties that have failed to prevent are accomplice. Let me make it really clear: Aliev is a war criminal and he is a criminal by genocide. That is what we have to hold him accountable to. Because when you don’t hold them accountable, this will repeat over and over and over again. Armenia is not going to be the sole example, it will happen in other parts of the world specifically around the Caucasus.
Judge, what do you have to say – we’ll flip to the other side of the the cynicism coin here. But as you can probably understand, the majority of Armenians feel dejected, disappointed and have completely lost faith in any kind of international mechanism, including myself. So, convince me – what can we do to hold Aliev accountable? Because as far as it looks like for the rest of us, him and his luxurious family will continue to live a luxurious life in London and Baku and Moscow and continue to behave the way that they want with no accountability for this.
Sure, that will happen if we all throw our hands up in the air and we say: “This is a disaster, this is tragic, nothing works. So what? We stop.” Let me tell you something about the Center for Truth and Justice. Our staff in Artsakh, in Nagorno Karabakh, who were actively collecting testimonial evidence of the 44-day war, became victims themselves. Even before the blockade started, one of our staffers was taking testimony from a POW. She got a phone call that her uncle had been shot to death, who was a policeman. We’re in this really horrendous position where the victims themselves are the ones who have to gather the information. And during the last 10 days we had to make sure that our staff in Artsakh are safe and remain safe. We told them to destroy all paperwork, to get rid of the phones and the computers that we use. Because we’re fully digital: everything that is gathered is immediately uploaded and sent abroad. Because from the 44-day war we knew that the evidence could be attacked and destroyed. So for the last 10 days we’ve been literally counting how every single one of our lawyers and investigators crossed through the border and came to safety in Armenia. We’ve regrouped now and one of the worst things about the situation is the following. In the last 10 days atrocities have been happening in Artsakh.
But there are no international diplomats like we had during 1915, where there were missionaries, foreigners diplomats, journalists that were documenting what was happening. They were taking pictures, they were writing articles. There was no one in Artsakh, who could document it because Aliev would not allow anybody to go in. And it’s completely ridiculous that in the last 24 hours UN monitors or observers went in through Baku and Aghdam. And my joke is what are they doing there are they there to vacuum the streets and clean the streets? There’s no one left there. And if there is any evidence of atrocities it’s been cleansed it’s been whitewashed over a 10 day period. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there – we know it’s there. Because over 100,000 Armenians crossed the border. I went down to Goris for 24 hours to get a sense of what it looks like. It was not the right time or the right place to stick a phone in someone’s face and ask them questions about how did your son die, what happened to your children, what about the explosion, where are the boys, what happened to your home, your farm, your animals, what about the museums we left behind, what about our cultural heritage we left behind… So we had to let go of these few days for the Armenians to cross through with relief on their faces that they are now going to live. That is all that’s been secured so far. Now we’re doing the really difficult work of corroborating and verifying these hearsay stories. Because during those 10 days on social media horrible videos were circulating. We collect all of those, we verify them, we go to the source. And honestly we haven’t been able to verify any new videos. They have been circulating beheadings and torture from the 2020 war in order to terrorize the general population not just in Artsakh but in the Diaspora.
The Diaspora has been sending us all these videos and we have painstakingly been verifying that these are not new atrocities, but they’ve been using it to terrorize the entire Armenian Nation. So what I want to do right now is put out there disinformation. We’ve created a hotline phone number for all of our compatriots Armenians who’ve crossed the border. And we’re asking them to call these two phone numbers. I know they want to call and say we need housing we need, help we need, clothing, food, jobs. That’s not what we do. There are other organizations for that. We are very specific: we’re looking for people who are witnesses to any type of atrocities or who are victims themselves. We have a lot of leads and our staff is out there actively collecting. So how do you hold Aliev accountable is you don’t give up as hard as it is. The victims are still the investigators, we are the victims and we’re still the investigators. No one else is going to come and do this for us. We collect this evidence, we get it to the right places and we have to persevere legally. Because if we don’t hold them accountable legally, we lose all other arguments. Because politics can the words are used in any way they want without any backing or facts. We are the Center for Truth and Justice, we use facts to hold them accountable. That’s how we said this is genocide. And Aliev needs to be tried for genocide. I am saying this right now: if it doesn’t take me a year or 10 years or 20 years and if I can’t get there, the next generation has to do this. But we have to collect the evidence, we have to hold Aliev accountable for genocide. Can I give you the phone numbers? They’re Armenian phone numbers. it’s for Armenians here:
and the other number is
They can call us day and night. It’s a 24-hour and we’re going to keep these numbers available for the next two months. Because the problem with evidence is over time. It gets diluted, that’s why it’s a two-month hotline understand.
What about the president’s (of Artsakh) declaration, his unilateral declaration that the Republic of Artsakh ceases to exist? Does that have any kind of legal repercussions, does that harm people’s right to return, does it remove a legal shield that they would have had or is it inconsequential to the work that we do?
When you’re holding a gun to someone’s head, no matter what contract or what terms they agree to, it’s null and void. And that’s literally what Azerbaijan did. By the way all the decisions, that have been taking place in Yevlakh between the Artsakh new leadership and Azerbijan, none of it is in writing. It’s all hearsay and it changes any given day, so it’s all rumor. There is no legal foundation for the dissolution of the Republic of Artsakh. It was a democracy, a democracy has been removed and that is the shame of the democratic world outside. A republic has been dismantled that has existed independently with three branches of government with self-rule. Ultimately the indigenous people of Nagorno Karabakh have been forcefully removed and that is the biggest loss. Does this mean they can’t go back? Not legally. There are no grounds for them not to go back, except for one problem – there’s Aliev holding a gun to the heads of all Armenians.
You mentioned holding Aliev accountable even in court for genocide. What would that look like? Would he have to be physically removed from Baku and dragged to the Hague? What does that look like from a legal perspective?
So the international legal system is not great. Okay. These tools were created in response to World War II and the Holocaust. All right. These tools are being put to use only very recently in the last 20-25 years. There has not been a head of state that’s been criminally held responsible that has been dragged into any jail or prison. What we need is an indictment – an indictment of Aliev. And that needs to take place under the ICC, the International Criminal Court to which Armenia is now a full party to. And people have said to me: well, Azerbaijan is not a party to it. That’s got nothing to do with it. They don’t have to be a party to it. He’s a criminal and he needs to be held criminally responsible. In order to hold him responsible there needs to be evidence and the evidence needs to go to the correct jurisdiction.
So the ratification of the Rome Statute in Armenia is going to play a huge part in this?
Absolutely! Okay, it’s absolutely critical that this gets done, as soon as physically possible. Absolutely! The other thing I want to talk about is the ICJ (Intl Court of Justice) rulings. The reason the ICJ rulings are so critical is Luis Moreno Ocampo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Moreno_Ocampo) hung his head hat on those legal findings by the court. Because the court found that the blockade is a threat to life and limb. And that means and told Azerbaijan that they need to open the blockade. He was put on notice, he did not abided by the ICJ ruling. Therefore he is criminally liable.
So what’s the process? Can you just ignore ruling after ruling? I mean Putin’s doing it right now.
Absolutely, of course, you can. That’s called politics. So there’s the legal world and there’s the political world. In order for the political world to take a stance, other things need to come into play. We don’t deal with that. We’re not a political group. But what we do is, we support and create the legal tools for them to be used politically.
So this is, you’re saying that ultimately the best case scenario is – that in order to turn Azerbaijan into a pariah state, in order to really help us sanction that country to get Aliev recognized as the murderer and criminal, that he is, – we need that legal precedence. It doesn’t mean someone will take action after that, but it it really greatly helps our chances.
Well, things are moving already. We put the United States and the EU on notice with genocide based on Luis Moreno Ocampo ‘s legal decision. Hearings took place on the House side and the Senate side. State Department was called to task to answer to these. They didn’t move fast enough, they didn’t do enough, because Aliev have moved faster than lightning speed. International mechanisms don’t move overnight. Everybody knows that he moved from the time that genocide was declared to the complete deportation, mass deportations of Armenians, he did that within 60 days. Nothing moves that fast. I mean that’s even true of Ukraine. 60 days is nothing, when you’re trying. But right now things are moving in the United States at least also in the EU where steps are being taken to sanction Azerbaijan. And we need real sanctions not lip service. Sanctioning means: corporations need to be sanctioned that are investing in Azerbaijan. Sanctioning means that the leadership of Azerbaijan can no longer travel freely to the United States. These are real sanctions. You need to hit them where it hurts.
Thank you, Judge Apkarian. This has been really really enlightening. Would you like to read the phone numbers for the hotlines? One last time.
Absolutely. I’m assuming you guys can also do this in Armenian because it’s the Armenians that have to respond.
(continues in Armenian)
For one more thing I just want to make sure everybody understands. The information they give us is fully confidential and their names will not be used unless there’s full consent by them.
Thank you very much Judge Apkarian.
Thanks again for watching. I’m Patrick from CivilNet.