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Legal lessons from the Armenian genocide are focus of upcoming program

April 3, 2023
Contact: Thomas Nobile
Director of Communications
Tel: 732-937-7527
NEW BRUNSWICK – An upcoming seminar hosted by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education will delve into the history and legal issues surrounding the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century.
Those who tune in to the webcast on April 25 will hear an in-depth discussion of the legal ramifications caused by countries that were slow to recognize the genocide and how the delay impacted reparations and justice for survivors, along with a legal analysis of the current conflicts in Europe and Western Asia.
New Jersey, according to U.S. census data, is home to the fourth largest population of Armenian Americans in the country, including many attorneys. For John L. Shahdanian, the seminar’s moderator and a New Jersey State Bar Association trustee, the topic is personal. His grandfather was the son of a genocide victim, who was killed by Ottoman Turks. Shahdanian said his grandfather was lucky to escape at a young age to Syria and then France.
“He passed down the stories of the horrors that he saw, including seeing his father being taken away to jail then ultimately disappearing,” Shahdanian said.
The Armenian genocide refers to the physical annihilation of Armenian people, an ethnic group of 1.5 million living in the Ottoman Empire, from the spring of 1915 through fall 1916. At least 664,000 and as many as 1.2 million died during the genocide, either in massacres and individual killings, or from systematic ill treatment, exposure and starvation, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The killings were carried out to establish Turkish dominance in the regions of central and eastern Anatolia, or what is now modern-day Turkey.
For decades, many countries including the U.S. were reluctant to label the Armenian deaths as a genocide over the risk of disturbing international relations with Turkey, which denies that the killings were systematic or meet the U.N. definition of genocide. It wasn’t until March 2010 that a U.S. Congressional panel finally voted to recognize the genocide. In April 2021, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to publicly acknowledge the genocide, stating that “the American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.”
“It’s the use of the term genocide, that’s what Turkey has fought against for all these years. They claim that, historically, it was a war, which is ridiculous because Armenians were not a country,” Shahdanian said.
The long and arduous legal and political journey by the Armenian community to achieve justice and genocide recognition is among the topics of discussion in the April seminar, according to Shahdanian. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who was one of the biggest advocates on the national stage for attaining genocide recognition, will make a brief appearance virtually. An expert panel will also feature Raffi Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America; Scott A. Ohnegian, a partner at Riker Danzig in Morristown; and Dr. Henry Theriault, president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.
“Recognizing the genocide is important from a historical perspective and especially for education. If you don’t know history, you’re doomed to repeat it,” Shahdanian said.
For practicing attorneys, the seminar will bridge together a host of legal affairs that emerged from the genocide—from litigation in human rights and international law, to reparations for the loss of indigenous lives, property and rights. The seminar will cover a series of lawsuits by the Armenian community to have U.S. companies honor life insurance policies for family members who were killed.
“There is a legal component of this that attorneys will find fascinating. And obviously, there’s the whole legal history of the political process to get genocide recognition,” Shahdanian said.
Visit to register for the seminar.

Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Tel: 732-937-7527
Email: [email protected]


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