BERLIN — This year’s commemoration of the genocide was different in Germany. To be sure, there were speeches recalling the dark and tragic events of 1915, and there were demands for progress in implementing the measures contained in the genocide recognition resolution passed by the Bundestag (Parliament) in June 2016. There was magnificent music performed by talented young Armenians, and the ceremonies concluded with solemn prayers for the souls of the victims.
But the spirit pervading the gathering at the banquet hall of the historic Berlin Rathaus (Town Hall) on April 24 was different. Though solemn, the mood was also animated by hope, reflecting the optimism generated by the civil society movement in Armenia, which was breaking new ground in the process towards political and economic reforms. At the same time, one could almost feel a certain tension in the air, expressing uncertainty regarding the ultimate outcome of events.
Following a moving performance on the duduk of Vache Hovsepyan’s Aravot luso, played by Harutyun Chkolyan, Prof. Elke Hartmann of Bamberg University greeted the many diplomats, political figures, church representatives and Armenian community members in the name of the organizers. The organizers this year were many. Significantly, the hosts included the Armenian Embassy, the Diocese of the Armenian Church in Germany and the Central Council of the Armenians in Germany, in collaboration with the Armenian Community of Berlin as well as the Armenian Church and Cultural Community in Berlin. Such a show of unity among the various Armenian organizations was most welcome.
Expanding Genocide Research in Universities …
Prof. Elke Hartmann, who is also co-founder of the research project Houshamadyan, which reconstructs daily life and culture of Ottoman Armenians, referred to the 2016 resolution, which expresses support for Turkish-Armenian steps towards understanding and reconciliation, as well as a broad educational effort in Germany on the genocide. In this context, she formulated a proposal for genocide studies institutes to be established here.
“Working through the history of the genocide in a scientific manner is the foundation for all other initiatives, understanding and hopefully reconciliation.” Such scholarly work is required not only to provide for school text books, but also for experts whom intellectuals, artists and the broader public can look to for assistance and guidance. Germany should not only support researchers in Armenia and Turkey: “more important would be the creation of academic structures in Germany itself, for research into the genocide against the Ottoman Armenians.” Germany’s academic institutions could provide the “protected and neutral space required for such sensitive as well as emotionally charged research to unfold.” A further advantage Germany offers is a “state and a society that, conscious of its own historical co-responsibility, feels closely bound both to Armenians and Turks.” And, German scholarship and society have developed an expertise in dealing with the country’s own past.