WASHINGTON, DC – After extensive research and the gift of a major cache of photographs of Armenian Genocide memorials from around the world, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) website presently displays 327 memorials in 45 countries.
The 2015 centennial commemorations of the Armenian Genocide presented a somber occasion for many communities to install new memorials. The database previously accounted for 200 memorials in 32 countries. The new figures represent a 60% growth in the number of memorials in an additional 13 countries around the world. Also, 74 existing postings have been updated with new information. All these can be viewed in close detail with the 650 images that have been added to the existing database.
The database provides information about each memorial, a description of the type, its location, the year of installation, a transcription of important inscriptions, and additional details if available, such as the artist, sculptor, or architect, sponsors, official visitors, and amenities. The database also has a search function according to the type of memorial or the city in which a memorial is located.
Memorials are documented in as diverse a set of countries as Brazil and Bulgaria, Chile and Cyprus, Estonia and Ethiopia, Ireland and Italy, Singapore and Slovakia, and Ukraine and Uruguay. To the same extent that Armenian churches indicate the existence of diaspora communities, the Armenian Genocide memorials now also mark their location and attest to the depth of the Armenian people’s commitment to honoring the memory of the victims of the 1915 atrocities.
The full list of countries on the ANI site includes: Argentina (7); Armenia (44); Australia (7); Austria (4); Belgium (2); Brazil (3); Bulgaria (6); Canada (9); Chile (2); Cyprus (4); Czechia (1); Denmark (1); Egypt (3); Estonia (1); Ethiopia (1); France (45); Georgia (3); Germany (14); Greece (2); Hungary (3); India (1); Iran (8); Ireland (1); Israel (3); Italy (8); Latvia (1); Lebanon (14); Mexico (1); Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) (3); Netherlands (2); Poland (2); Romania (2); Russia (10); Singapore (1); Slovakia (2); Spain (4); Sweden (2); Switzerland (3); Syria (7); Ukraine (5); United Arab Emirates (1); United Kingdom (4); United States (74); Uruguay (4); Venezuela (1).
Besides Armenia, where 44 memorials have been documented, 29 of which were recently added to the database, countries with a large number of memorials include France, with 45 documented sites, of which 29 were added, Germany with 14, most of which are recent installations, Lebanon with 14, some consisting of significant complexes, and the United States with 74 identified memorials, 25 of which were added.
Many of the memorials are monuments and the khachkar, the cross-stone in traditional Armenian design, and in varying sizes, has been adopted as a commonly-shared feature. This appears to be a more recent development in the installation trend, perhaps reflecting the origin of the community sponsoring the memorial, and its preference to rely upon an art form that references traditional Armenian memorial art.
Other sites have installed sculptures ranging from conventional figural representations all the way to completely abstract forms striving to capture the depth of the pain associated with the genocide experience. On the one hand, the figure of Komitas has become a symbol of the victim, with a noteworthy example in the middle of Paris, France, and another in Detroit, Michigan. On the other hand, there is a detectable change in styles where monuments raised in Armenia in the Soviet period usually resorted to abstraction with minimal direct reference to the Armenian Genocide, and where now memorials take more diverse forms since independence.
Whereas the well-known central memorial in Yerevan at the Tsitsernakaberd complex is the largest of its type, several other memorials in Armenia also involve substantial complexes, especially the Musa Dagh Memorial, located in Armavir, and the memorial in Nor Hadjin in Kotayk. Smaller-scale models resembling the Tsitsernakaberd memorial have been constructed in a number of locations, including a respectable replica in Fresno, California.
Notably impressive memorial complexes have also been created in Lebanon and in the United States. The very large monument in Montebello, California, in the shape of an extended Armenian church cupola, dates from the semi-centennial commemorative activities of 1965. Also located in a public area is the Armenian Heritage Park in central Boston, Massachusetts, with its innovative sculptural installation that is adjustable and sits in a round pool across from a circular labyrinth. On the Mission Hills campus of the Ararat Home, the Los Angeles Armenian community’s retirement facility for the aged, a number of memorials dedicated to specific purposes have emerged as another complex of notable monuments, including a memorial garden dedicated to Aurora Mardiganian, whose story has been recovered as the emblematic experience of the survivor. As for the campus of the seminary of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia located in the town of Bikfaya in the Lebanon mountains, an entire series of monuments recall important aspects of Armenian history at the foot of its colossal bronze statue.
The memorial chapel on the grounds of the Catholicosate in Antelias, Lebanon, which serves as an ossuary, has also become another model, and other similar memorial chapels have been constructed elsewhere. The most elaborate of these constitute the chapel in the town of Der Zor in Syria, the site of the largest death camp during the Armenian Genocide.
The Der Zor complex was subjected to extensive damage and rendered to ruin at the hands of Islamic State terrorists who overran eastern Syria in 2014. The ISIS militants, who committed genocide against the Yazidi people of northern Iraq and persecuted the local Kurdish populations, were very likely to have inflicted damage to the memorial in service to their sponsors in Turkey.
In 1995, the Tsitsernakaberd memorial site was expanded with the construction of the first museum dedicated to the Armenian Genocide. The museum and associated research institute (AGMI) were once again sizably expanded for the 2015 centennial events. AGMI is now joined by other institutions providing physical exhibits such as the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts, and the recently opened Armenian Museum in Moscow. Online exhibits and museums include Houshamadyan, which is dedicated to recovering and reconstructing the memory of Armenian life in the pre-genocide era, Land and Culture, which hosts a database of monuments destroyed or confiscated during the Armenian Genocide, and the Armenian Genocide Museum of America’s interactive website. ANI also notes Research on Armenian Architecture, which is dedicated to the photographic recovery of Armenia’s heritage subjected to destruction.
With the exception of many memorial sites in Syria, which have become difficult to access under conditions of civil strife in the country, very few memorials are actually placed at locations directly associated with the Armenian Genocide. There are none to speak of in Turkey, of course, where so many atrocities were committed all across Armenia and Anatolia, even though the first memorial service on April 24, 1919, was held in Istanbul. The only memorials in that part of the world are the unmarked and crumbling remains of ancient churches and abandoned homes.
A unique museum exists at an actual orphanage site in the town of Jbeil (also known as Byblos) in Lebanon. The orphanage structure is still intact and has been converted into the Armenian Genocide Orphans Museum that contains moving exhibits on the experience of child survivors who were housed in the facility. The plaza facing the building has also been converted into a memorial complex dedicated to the orphans, with a monument to the guiding light of the institution, Maria Jacobsen. Another orphanage building still intact is located in the small Swiss town of Begnins. It is marked by two modest plaques dedicated by the offspring of Armenian orphans who were housed and educated in that facility, and in recognition of the Swiss pastor Antony Krafft-Bonnard, who established the orphanage.
Other humanitarians have been extended recognition through plaques and monuments dedicated in their memory. The Wall of Honor at the Tsiternakaberd Memorial recalls the most prominent, including Alma Johansson, Anatole France, Armin T. Wegner, Karen Jeppe, Henry Morgenthau Sr., Jakob Künzler, Johannes Lepsius, Pierre Quillard, James Bryce, Raphael Lemkin, Franz Werfel, and Fridtjof Nansen. Others are recognized with busts or memorials placed in their respective countries, including Franz Werfel in Austria, Karen Jeppe in Denmark, Anna Hedvig Büll in Estonia, and Johannes Lepsius in Germany.
The Armenian Genocide Memorials Database was first created as part of a memorials database project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, with assistance from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Robert Arzoumanian, Assistant to the ANI Director, conducted further research under the guidance of ANI Director Dr. Rouben Adalian to bring the database up-to-date to reflect and record the considerable efforts made by Armenian communities worldwide to honor the centennial of the Armenian Genocide by installing new memorials. These sites serve as gathering places for the annual commemorations that are held every year on the 24th of April, and have become tributes to the survivors who founded the communities of the Armenian Diaspora.
ANI extends its appreciation to its friends who have supported this ongoing effort to document Armenian Genocide memorials. ANI also acknowledges the public’s input for the background information on many of the identified monuments. ANI continues to welcome public assistance with this undertaking, especially with any help it can receive concerning undocumented memorials, or the current condition of existing memorials.
For more information on ANI, please refer to the preceding announcements of “Armenian National Institute Website Now Includes 795 Official Records Affirming Armenian Genocide,” and “Armenian National Institute Posts Database on Media Coverage of President Biden’s Recognition of the Armenian Genocide and its Implications.”
Founded in 1997, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) is a 501(c)(3) educational charity based in Washington, DC, and is dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide. The ANI website can be consulted in English, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic. ANI also maintains the online Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA).
By Harut Sassounian
Last year, I wrote an article reporting that the Silk Way Airlines of Azerbaijan made 350 secret flights to transport hundreds of tons of weapons from Bulgaria to ISIS terrorists in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries between 2014 and 2017. We now have a new surprising revelation that Silk Way received $419.5 million of loans from the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM) to buy three 747-8 cargo planes from Boeing to continue its sinister operations.
The disclosure was made by a reporter for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. government in 2016. It is noteworthy that Silk Way, “owned by a company with past ties to Azerbaijan’s Aliyev family, won some lucrative contracts from the U.S. military,” according to FOIA documents. In fact, “Silk Way was given contracts worth more than $400 million with the U.S. Defense Department’s Transportation Command for more than decade,” according to Devansh Mehta of OCCRP. Silk Way transported “ammunition and other non-lethal materials” to Afghanistan as of 2005. “In addition to its relationship with the U.S. government, Silk Way Airlines has also worked as a subcontractor for the Canadian Department of National Defense, the German armed forces, and the French army,” Mehta revealed.
In April 2017, Silk Way increased its purchases from Boeing, signing a $1 billion deal for 10 new 737 MAX passenger planes, according to reporter Mehta. However, it is not known how the new acquisition was financed. Last October, Silk Way announced plans to buy two more 747-8 cargo planes.
Mehta disclosed that “the airline is owned by Silk Way Group, which, at least at one point, was closely associated with Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family (which has used its planes for private trips) and has benefited from benevolent state deals. Information obtained through FOIA shows that Silk Way Airlines took steps to conceal its owners’ identity, perhaps to improve its chances of winning the valuable U.S. loan guarantees and military contracts.”
Mehta added that “Azerbaijan ranks 122nd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, while President Ilham Aliyev’s family owns luxury properties around the world worth over $140 million. The Panama Papers and other leaks have implicated the country’s first family as being involved in nearly all sectors of the Azerbaijani economy, from luxury hotels to mining to banking.”
According to the terms of the Export-Import Bank’s $419.5 million loan to Silk Way, in case of default the loss would be repaid by the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA). The problem is that IBA has been “implicated in the Azerbaijani Laundromat, a massive scheme that pumped nearly $3 billion out of the country through various shell companies,” Mehta wrote. Furthermore, IBA is not in a position to guarantee the Silk Way loan, as the IBA itself declared bankruptcy in 2015, unable to pay its $3.3 billion debt!
Nate Schenkkan, project director of the Nations in Transit report at Freedom House, a US-based nonprofit that monitors democracy and human rights around the world, questioned the wisdom of EXIM Bank’s loan to Silk Way: “In Azerbaijan, where one family dominates economically and politically, and is then using state institutions to back its economic projects, there’s an obvious conflict of interest.”
Arzu Aliyeva, Pres. Aliyev’s 21-year-old daughter in 2010, was one of the three owners of Silk Way Bank, the financial arm of Silk Way Holding. Since 2017, her name is no longer mentioned as an owner. “Silk Way Holding, also referred to as Silk Way Group (SW Group) on its website, is a conglomerate that has currently listed 11 companies in its portfolio, including the airline,” according to Mehta. Silk Way Holding dominated Azerbaijan’s aviation sector after the state carrier AZAL airlines was privatized in a highly secretive manner without any bids and tenders. Mehta wrote that “a similar privatization of the telecom sector ended up with the [Aliyev] family earning about $1 billion in bribes in cash and share value, according to an earlier OCCRP story. The investigation also found that the money was funneled to the first family through various secret offshore companies. These companies have enabled the Aliyevs to control stakes in gold mines, telecommunications and construction businesses in Azerbaijan.”
According to a filing in 2006, Silk Way Airlines was owned by IHC (International Handling Company), an offshore entity based in the British Virgin Islands. In a 2017 filing, Silk Way Airlines stated that 40% of the company was owned by IHC, while 60% was owned by SW Holding, “effectively controlled” by Zaur Akhundov, an Azerbaijani citizen. Mehta stated that “IHC is linked to the Aliyev family through its director Jaouad Dbila who reportedly served as a proxy for the first family’s business interests in the past.”
In 2011, a Russian-born manager, Grigory Yurkov, was given power of attorney for both Silk Way Holding and IHC, according to Luxembourg’s official gazette. This appointment was used as a means to conceal the true owners of IHC.
Meanwhile, Zaur Akhundov had mysteriously become the 100% owner of the entire Silk Way Group in 2014. By that time, the firm and its many holdings were already worth billions of dollars, Mehta declared, based on the company’s loan guarantee application. Akhundov, 50, had held several official positions in Azerbaijan. “It is unclear how Akhundov became the owner of a billion-dollar conglomerate with more than 10 aircrafts, an insurance company, a construction company and an aircraft maintenance company, to name a few of the enterprises in the Silk Way Group,” Mehta wondered.
According Schenkkan of Freedom House, “Azerbaijan can be described as a centralized, vertical pyramid where the benefits go to one family that collects rents throughout the economy. This includes all sorts of transactions, not only official state transactions that might involve taxes and public funds, but also things that involve what we normally consider the private sector: import-export, consumer goods, transport—any area of the economy, the family has a stake in it and receives a cut on what takes place.”
The U.S. Congress should hold a hearing to investigate the appropriateness of EXIM Bank’s $419.5 million loan guarantee to Silk Way Airlines, its arms shipments to terrorist groups in the Middle East, and its hidden ownership by the ruling Aliyev family. After all, why should Azerbaijan, a country with billions of petrodollars, be given a U.S. loan?
By Harut Sassounian
FLArmenians Guest Contributor
Last week I wrote about the sensational revelations by Bulgarian investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva in Trud newspaper, who reported on leaked documents that Azerbaijan’s state-run Silk Way Airlines has shipped under diplomatic cover 350 planeloads of heavy weapons and ammunition to terrorist groups around the world during the last three years.
A report by Radio Free Europe (RFE) Azeri investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, who has been jailed for her disclosures of Azerbaijan government’s human rights abuses, has revealed in a 2010 report on Pres. Aliyev’s daughter, Arzu Aliyeva’s part ownership of a company that is linked to Silk Way Airlines. This fact explains how the airline managed to get all the diplomatic clearances to ship such large quantities of weapons to terrorists.
It turns out that Silk Way Airlines belongs to SW Holding, a group of companies that “enjoys a near-complete monopoly of airline service,” including mid-flight meals served by Sky Catering, and taxi service run by Airport Gate, both of which are owned by SW Holding. In addition, technical maintenance of the national carrier’s planes and helicopters are carried out by Silkway Technics, and “multiple other companies controlling everything from Traveler assistance to ticket sales to duty-free stores are all owned by SW Holding,” according to Ismayilova.
SW Holding also owns Silk Way Bank which is owned by Pres. Aliyev’s then 21-year old Arzu Aliyeva and Zarifa Hamzayeva, wife of president of Azerbaijan’s AZAL state airline company, according to RFE’s Azerbaijani Service. Silk Way Airlines is also a part owner of the Silk Way Bank.
Interestingly, Ismayilova reports that “the rise of SW Holding, which has seamlessly absorbed many of AZAL’s former businesses, has raised questions about dubious privatization practices in Aliyev’s Azerbaijan. It also serves to underscore how the political elite continues to use close friends and family members to preserve its hold on the country’s most valuable assets — despite Azerbaijani laws that list nepotism by state officials as an offense punishable by up to 12 years in jail.”
Pres. Ilham Aliyev is simply continuing the practice started by his father Heydar Aliyev, who after ruling Azerbaijan for two decades passed the Presidential baton to his son. In a constitutional referendum in 2009, term limits on the President were abolished making Ilham Aliyev President for Life! Not to take any chances, he recently appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as Vice President, to become his possible successor.
As I had reported earlier, based on an article in The Washington Post,” Pres. Aliyev’s preteen son, Heydar, was the legal owner of nine luxury mansions in Dubai purchased for $44 million. President’s two daughters, Arzu and Leyla, also own property in Dubai. The three children together own property in Dubai worth $75 million. Obviously this is not money they earned nor did their parents! Pres. Aliyev’s annual salary is $230,000. Ismayilova estimates Pres. Alyev’s wealth to be “in tens of millions of dollars.” This is surely an underestimate, given the lack of concrete figures. However, just the fact that Aliyev’s three children own property in Dubai worth $75 million, Pres. Aliyev’s wealth could be safely estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars if not in the billions of dollars! Contrary to Azerbaijani law, neither Pres. Aliyev nor his wife has declared their net worth.
Under Azerbaijani law, public officials are prohibited from owning businesses, while family members are exempt from this restriction, a loophole exploited by the Aliyevs to hide their earnings in their children’s holdings. Just Arzu Aliyeva’s part ownership of the Silk Way Bank is worth over $12 million. According to RFE, “presidential secretary Azer Gasimov confirmed that Arzu Aliyeva was one of the owners of the Silk Way Bank.”
Gulu Khalilov, the spokesman for the State Committee on Privatization of State Property, told RFE that he had no information on the privatization of AZAL, the state airline company, including its holdings, like AZAL Bank. RFE was told that none of the legal procedures for privatization were followed.
“In the meantime, SW Holding has slowly but steadily acquired nearly all of AZAL’s former companies, including the insurance firm AZAL Sigorta, which is now co-owned by SW Holding and the two daughters of Jahangir Asgarov, the president of AZAL and the husband of Zarifa Hamzayeva, the current co-owner of Silk Way Bank,” according to Ismayilova. “SW Holding has also been the sole contractor on a number of high-profile AZAL projects, including airport-construction deals in Lankaran, Ganja, and Zagatala worth a total of $150 million.”
Pres. Aliyev and his family must be held responsible as part owners of a state-run airline that ships sophisticated weapons to terrorists around the world!