Prosecutor of Gourgen Yanikian’s Case on How Truth Fell Victim to Expediency

Prosecutor of Gourgen Yanikian’s Case

Former California District Attorney David D. Minier wrote an article describing the trial of Gourgen Yanikian who had killed two Turkish diplomats in Santa Barbara to avenge Armenians killed during the Armenian Genocide.

“Yanikian, age 78 and a former Fresno resident, was charged with murder, and I was his prosecutor,” Minier writes in the article he contributed to Fresno Bee.

“The aging Armenian had lured the diplomats to a cottage at Santa Barbara’s exclusive Biltmore Hotel, promising gifts of art treasures for their government. Instead, he pulled a Luger pistol from a hollowed-out book and emptied it at them. He then called the reception desk, announced he had killed ‘two evils’, and sat calmly on the patio awaiting arrest,” the former prosecutor writes.

According to Minier, Yanikian’s goal was to cause “the Armenian Nuremberg” and attract the attention of the whole world to the Armenian Genocide.

Unlike Soghomon Tehlirian who had killed Talaat Pasha but had been acquitted by the jury in Germany, Yanikian was sentenced to life in prison.

Minier writes that Yanikyan’s lawyers told the judge that they wanted to call prominent historians and elderly Armenians who had survived the genocide as witnesses to the court.

In court, Yanikian told how he had witnessed Turks cutting his brother’s throat and killing 26 other members of his family at the age of 8. He testified in Armenian, with his translator being Aram Saroyan, a lawyer from San Francisco and uncle of writer William Saroyan.

Although the jury was moved to tears, Yanikian was sentenced to life in prison. In 1984, however, he was released and sent to a nursing home despite the protests of the Turkish government. Yanikian died of cancer two months later.

In his article, the former prosecutor expresses his regret that he did not have the courage to allow eyewitness survivors to give testimony. Minier had two options – to allow the jury to “disregard the law” and acquit Yanikian “for a perceived greater justice”, or “block evidence to obtain a conviction.”

He chose the latter.

David Minier also criticizes the US government for failing to recognize the Armenian Genocide, noting that the chances of the House Resolution 220 – a resolution that “would be a critical step towards ensuring an event like the Armenian genocide never takes place again” – being approved by the Congress were illusive.

This resolution languished in the Foreign Affairs Committee for months. Apparently, the US government also decided to take a safe route back then.

Minier published this article way back in January 2018. And things have changed since then.

On October 29, 2019, the United States House of Representatives finally formally recognized the Armenian Genocide with House Resolution 296.




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