Sparks Fly When Turkish Protestors Interrupt Program on Genocide

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Sparks Fly When Turkish Protestors Interrupt Program on Armenian Genocide
By Alin K. Gregorian
Mirror-Spectator Staff
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on March 25 on the links between the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust became uncharacteristically boisterous after about a dozen protestors held up anti-Armenian signs.
The program, titled “Armenia 1915-Auschwitz 1945: Small Nations and Great Powers,” featured Dr. Simon Payaslian, Charles K. and Elisabeth M. Kenosian Professor of Modern Armenian History and Literature, Department of History, Boston University; Marc A. Mamigonian, director of Academic Affairs at National Association for Armenian Studies and Research; and Dr. James R. Russell, Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University.
Russell, though not a historian, approached the issue of the Armenian Genocide as a Jewish American who had lost many family members in the Holocaust in Salonika and Ukraine, as well as the foremost scholar of modern and classical Armenian in the US.
He spoke poetically and with deep and touching emotion about his current project, a translation of poems by Misak Medzarents, a Western-Armenian poet who had died at age 22 in 1908 before the Genocide was launched. He compared the young poet’s works to Edgar Allen Poe, among others. He died from tuberculosis, brought on by a serious injury he had suffered earlier in his life. This talented young poet was also a translator of the works of Emerson and Oscar Wilde in his native village of Pingian.
With passion and delicacy, he described the horrors visited upon Armenians on April 24, 1915 and lamented the passing of an entire generation of musicians, playwrights, poets and novelists.
“Misak was lucky,” he noted.
He said it is unbelievable that he is grateful that this talented young artist died before suffering from the indignities and cruelties that befell other Armenian artists and leaders in 1915, such as Komitas Vartabed, the composer and ethnomusicologist who survived the Genocide but went mad after seeing the results and never played another note.
He recited a Hebrew poem on sorrow and loss. He also recited a quote from Avedis Aharonian, suggesting that the future generations cannot be permitted to forget the evil which befell the Armenians.
Again, speaking of his personal experiences, he said he had been visiting Poland as a young student when a local man spit on him and called him a hateful name. He ended up visiting the Soviet Union and the Soviet Republic of Armenia and fell in love with its history and language.
He led the audience in “Hayr Mer,” or The Lord’s Prayer, in immaculate Armenian, “in the language of Toumanian, Abovian and Misak Medzarents, in memory of the Holy Martyrs.”
Upon the conclusion of his speech, the floor was opened to questions and that is when a question on the veracity of the Genocide was posed and all of a sudden about a dozen anti-Armenian signs went up. The protestors, scattered throughout the room, would not put down the signs, despite repeated requests from panelists and audience members.
While the Armenians and their supporters were shocked at the protest, they kept the dialogue civil.
Again, Russell came out swinging, to the delight of the audience.
“Turkey today is like Nazi-Germany Light, if Nazi Germany had survived,” he said. “It is beneath human contempt that you do this at my university.”
He said that Germany admitted to the Holocaust “while it was dragged kicking and screaming” to the Nuremberg Trials by the Allies after World War II and now they are free to truly come to terms with their past.
He suggested that those Turks protesting the event should “research your heroes that helped the Armenians. Free yourselves and learn about your history. Go to the Turkish interior and ask pious Muslims what happened to the Armenians.”
Payaslian started off the program, speaking about the history of Germany in the Ottoman Empire and rattling off information comparing and contrasting the case of the Armenians and the Jews. He noted that while several future Nazi leaders had served as military leaders in the Ottoman Empire, and that they knew about the coordinated assault on the population, it did not follow necessarily that the event served as an example to future Nazi leaders.
He asked rhetorically, “Did Hitler really need a model to launch the Final Solution?”
The answer seemed to be “no,” he concluded.
For Germany, he explained, Turkey was important as a gateway to the Middle East.
While he noted the popular quote about Hitler, in which he said that “Who today remembers the Armenians,” it is possible, he said, that Hitler was along the line of leaders such as Pol Pot, Mao and Stalin, who hit upon the idea for a “final solution” based on their “previous military bureaucratic capabilities.” For such leaders, he added, consequences were not taken into consideration and they needed no examples for such measures.
Mamigonian took a more personal approach to the Armenian Genocide, speaking about his own family history, including many members who were slaughtered in Kharpert. “Denial says [they] never existed,” he said. “The goal [of deniers] is to get the debate as if there are two sides. They are building a Potemkin village of denial,” he added.
He compared the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the government of Turkey and its allies and hired guns to the deniers hired by tobacco firms in the 1950s to combat the findings of scientists who had established links between smoking and cancer.
He said that deniers in both cases benefited from their liberal-minded proponents of truth who were open to debating the situation, thus sowing doubts in the minds of those unfamiliar with the issues. He specifically referred to historians for hire who publish academic denial presented as neutral-sounding literature on the subject. One particular example he cited was Guenter Lewy, whose book by the University of Utah Press, The Armenian Massacres in Ottoman Turkey: A Disputed Genocide, makes it seem as if he is a fair arbiter, rather than a denier, thus creating a “scholarly pseudo-debate.”
Mamigonian added, “The University of Utah is ground zero of Turkish denial.” Their preferred line of argument is that the Armenians suffered “a great disaster yet they were not wholly innocent victims.”
He stressed, “Academic integrity ought to be stressed and cherished.”
One audience member, a history professor at Salem State College, said, “I did not think I would be a witness to genocide. Denial is the final stage of genocide. It should weight very heavily on your conscience. History is in the making at a very local level.”
Hovhannes Ghazaryan, a graduate student in the Mid-Career Master in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, served as moderator.
The event was co-sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School European Club, the Harvard College Armenian Students Association, the Mashtots Chair in Armenian Studies at Harvard and NAASR.

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