BOSTON — In commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, the topic of the 2015 Najarian on Human Rights at Faneuil Hall is titled “Honoring America’s Call to Action: Then & Now.” This, the sixth annual lecture takes place on Thursday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Faneuil Hall. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public.
This year’s lecture pays tribute to the New England women and men who, starting in 1894, gathered at Faneuil Hall to draw attention to the atrocities perpetrated against the Armenian minority of the Ottoman Empire. They heard eyewitness accounts from relief workers, missionaries and diplomats, including US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau. These prominent Bostonians, including Julia Ward Howe, William Lloyd Garrison, Jr. and Alice Stone Blackwell, gave the call to action then launching America’s first and largest humanitarian effort.
Clara Barton, then director of the American Red Cross, led an international mission to Turkey to deliver aid personally — the first time a US organization established a humanitarian base in another country. In 1915, Near East Relief, known today as the Near East Foundation, was founded and continued the work already started. Thus, Americans embarked on the largest international humanitarian effort of its time, raising $117 million in funds and needed supplies. Among the Bostonians leading this great undertaking was James L. Barton, the first Chairman of Near East Relief. This was America’s first international human rights movement.
The lecture’s Call to Action: 1894-1919 provides an historical perspective most fittingly offered by Peter Balakian, author of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, winner of the Raphael Lemkin Prize. Balakian, Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor at Colgate University, is the author of seven books of poems and four books of prose including the recently published, Vice and Shadow – Essays on the Lyric Imagination, Poetry, Art and Culture. James Carroll, in his review of the new work states that Balakian “…creates a brilliant collage of both American imagination and Armenian memory…an elegantly written, seminal work of sweeping importance.”
A play by award-winning, playwright Joyce Van Dyke, commissioned for this lecture, follows, and is directed by Judy Braha. During the weeks following the lecture, Joyce Van Dyke’s play, “Daybreak,” runs October 29 to November 7 at the Balch Arena Theatre at Tufts University, under the direction of Barbara Grossman. The play was previously seen in Boston in a production directed by Judy Braha under the title “Deported / a dream play.” Van Dyke’s other plays include “The Oil Thief” (Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding New Script) and “A Girl’s War” (Boston Globe’s “Top Ten” plays of the year, Gassner Prize).
The lecture’s Call to Action 2015 is offered by Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. Whitson oversees the work of the division in 19 countries, with staff located in 10 countries. She has led dozens of advocacy and investigative missions throughout the region, focusing on issues of armed conflict, accountability, legal reform, migrant workers, and political rights. She has published widely on human rights issues in the Middle East in international and regional media. As a board member of Project 2015, a US-based non-profit organization of leading scholars, academics, activists, and writers of Armenian and Turkish descent in the United States, Whitson helped to organize programs in Istanbul to commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, working closely with Turkish civil society organizations. Whitson is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.