By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
WORCESTER, Mass. — On Thursday, October 27, an audience of 200 braved snow to attend the opening of a two-day conference at Clark University, titled “Beyond the Armenian Genocide: The Question of Restitution and Reparation in Comparative Review.” The featured speaker was Prof. John Torpey, professor of sociology at the Graduate Center of City University of New York (CUNY).
After welcoming remarks by Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark, Taner Akçam, who holds the Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marion Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies and organized the conference, began the evening with the announcement of his victory in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled the Turkish government’s prosecution of him for speaking about the Armenian Genocide, under Article 301 of its Criminal Code, which bans such speech, had violated his freedom of expression in Turkey.
In his address, Torpey sketched a broad canvas regarding the subject of reparations, making the point that reparation can mean something different depending upon the culture and the circumstances. In spite of these differences, there are some commonalities amongst groups, including European Jewry, the Armenians, Native Americans and African Americans, all of whom have asked for reparations for wrongs done to them, he explained.
Reparations commonly involve coming to terms with the past, an expectation that financial recompense will be made responsibly, reconciliation between the parties, financial compensation and the promise that wrongs will not be repeated, said Torpey. Not every reparation settlement involves a financial factor, as in the case of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, which brought groups of blacks and whites together to talk out their conflicts and differences.
In the case of African-Americans who seek reparations for slavery, the monetary factor has been more important. While reparations have not been made to individuals, the issue of reparation has been addressed, in part, by the building of hospitals and schools in disadvantaged black neighborhoods and by building the National Museum of African-American History in Washington, DC.