Prof. Taner Akçam

Prof. Akçam Receives Upstander Award from World without Genocide


By Bonnie Russell

WORCESTER (Telegram & Gazette) — Clark University history professor Taner Akçam will be honored for the decades he has spent gathering historical evidence to document the 1915 Armenian genocide, the mass killings of 1.5 million Armenians that took place at the hands of the government during the Ottoman Empire.

Akçam will be honored with the 2018 Outstanding Upstander Award from the World Without Genocide organization.

According to its website, World Without Genocide, housed at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, works “to protect innocent people around the world; prevent genocide by combating racism and prejudice; advocate for the prosecution of perpetrators; and remember those whose lives and cultures have been destroyed by violence.”

Akçam, one of the first Turkish intellectuals to acknowledge and openly discuss the Armenian Genocide, holds an endowed chair at Clark’s Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. An outspoken advocate of democracy and free expression since his student days at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, he is an internationally recognized human rights activist.

“We have long admired your bold and dedicated work to document the atrocities perpetrated by the Ottoman government against the Armenian people. You have persisted in speaking out about the genocide, despite being marked for death by Turkish ultranationalists,” Ellen J. Kennedy, executive director of World Without Genocide, wrote to Mr. Akçam.

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One example is Akçam’s challenging of Article 301, a provision of Turkey’s criminal code that permits the arrest of individuals who use the term “genocide” to describe the killing of about 1.5 Armenians during the Ottoman Empire. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in Akçam’s favor stating that Turkey violated his right to free expression.

Akçam presented the case in 2007, following the murder of journalist Hrant Dink, who had been convicted under Article 301.

Akçam’s most recent discovery, an Ottoman document that he states is “the smoking gun,” which demonstrates the government’s knowledge of and involvement in the systematic elimination of the Armenian population, was discussed in an article by Tim Arango published on April 22 in the New York Times.

In an email, Akçam explained that he had first discovered “a memoir of an Ottoman bureaucrat Naim Efendi, which is considered lost.” The memoir includes about 52 telegrams belonging to the Ottoman Government regarding the deportation and extermination of Armenians.

“The second discovery is a different telegram sent by a central committee member of the Union and Progress Party (which organized the genocide). The telegram is a smoking gun and includes the killing orders,” he said.

Akçam’s forthcoming book, Killing Orders, combines these two different areas of research to provide evidence that refutes arguments by Turkish denialists regarding the inauthenticity of the telegrams.

Previous recipients of the World Without Genocide award include Eli Rosenbaum, director of human rights enforcement strategy and policy at the U.S. Department of Justice; Claudia Paz y Paz, former Attorney General of Guatemala; and Magistrate Judge Peggy Kuo, former prosecutor at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

Akçam will formally receive the award at the organization’s annual gala in May 2018 in Minneapolis.

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