ENCINO, Calif. — “I don’t want to be silenced. I want to tell the truth while I live,” Dr. Taner Akçam, a former political prisoner in his native Turkey and one of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge and openly discuss the Armenian Genocide, told a group of more than 300 mostly Jews and Armenians, who came together at Valley Beth Shalom synagogue on May 6 for an evening of fascinating film and discussion about the Armenian Genocide.
Akçam, a scholar and author of A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, traveled to Los Angeles from Worcester, Mass., to join with award-winning documentary filmmaker Dr. J. Michael Hagopian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, to tell stories of survival, courage, conscience and compassion regarding the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and its long and complicated history. The two men, who have known each other for 20 years, are among the world’s leading authorities on the history of genocide.
The evening was sponsored by Jewish World Watch (JWW), a five-year-old anti-genocide organization, a coalition of 64 Los Angeles synagogues working together to combat genocide and other egregious violations of human rights worldwide. JWW Co-Founder and VBS Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis led the evening, and was joined by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate, Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, and Armenian Consul General Grigor Hovhannisyan, as well as clergy from the Armenian and Jewish communities.
Akçam focused much of his talk on the “founding legends” of the Turkish state, explaining the “myths” now protected by laws of the land. The fourth legend is: “The Armenian Genocide is a complete lie. It never happened.” Akçam said that until the year 2000 there was no law in the Turkish penal code protecting this legend, because until recently, “absolutely no one in Turkey questioned it.” However, in the year 2000 the Turkish government passed the “infamous Article 301,” making it a crime to talk about the Armenian Genocide as ‘genocide.’”
“The most important reason [for the continued denial of the Armenian Genocide] is that we [Turks] have a lack of historic conscience,” Akçam explained to the captivated audience. “If a community has to recognize that its founding fathers, instead of being heroes, have been perpetrators, who violated the cultural premises of their own identity, reference to the past is indeed traumatic. The community can cope with the fundamental contradiction between identity claims and recognition only by a collective schizophrenia, by denial, by decoupling or withdrawal.
“As long as the act of perpetration is not consciously accounted for, all peculiarities of this