Dr. Taner Akcam

Taner Akçam Speaks on Armenian Restitution

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BURBANK, Calif. — Under the auspices of Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, the Diocesan Zvartnots Cultural Committee invited historian Dr. Taner Akçam to deliver a lecture entitled  “What Follows Recognition? Possibilities of an Armenian Restitution Movement” on Wednesday, April 10 in the Armen Hampar reception hall of the Diocesan headquarters in Burbank.

The reception room was appropriately decorated with the pictures of some of the literary giants of the time, who fell victim to the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Young Turks. They included Siamanto, Taniel Varoujan, Roupen Sevag, Yeroukhan, Krikor Zohrab, Roupen Zartarian and Tlgadintsi.

Welcoming remarks were made by Zvartnots Committee Chair Dr. Simon Simonian, who asked the audience for a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Armenian Genocide. Today, he said, 32 countries around the world recognize the Armenian Genocide. He then invited artist Roupen Haroutunian for a musical interlude. Roupen performed four solemn selections on the duduk.

Dr. Simon Simonian

Dr. Simonian introduced Dr. Taner Akçam, who Simonian said has dug up every stone to uncover the truth about the Armenian Genocide and has been called the Sherlock Holmes of the Armenian Genocide by the New York Times. During the 1990s, Akçam was the first Turkish scholar to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.

Akçam was born in the province of Ardahan, Turkey, in 1953. He received his doctorate in 1995 from the University of Hanover, Indiana, with a dissertation on “The Turkish National Movement and the Armenian Genocide Against the Background of the Military Tribunals in Istanbul between 1919 and 1922.”

A socialist, Akçam was arrested in 1976 and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Amnesty International adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. A year later, he escaped to Germany, where he received political asylum. He has been a member of the history department at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, from 200 until he came to the University of California, Los Angeles in 2022 as the inaugural director of the Armenian Genocide Research Program of the Promise Armenian Institute. Akçam has authored many books on the Armenian Genocide.

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Akçam presented his lecture, augmented by a PowerPoint presentation. The three focii of Dr. Akçam’s lecture were Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian Genocide recognition movement, and possibilities of an Armenian restitution movement.

Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide institutionalized racism, like apartheid in South Africa, said Akçam. Furthermore, continued the historian, denialism led to an ideology of discrimination in Turkey. Today in Turkey, he added, Armenians, Kurds, Alawites and Christians are not at the same level as Turks are.

Akçam said that in 1965 a movement around the world emerged to compel recognition of the Armenian Genocide. That movement began on April 24, at the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, with a march in Yerevan to the Genocide Monument, where the eternal flame is a sign of survival.

Akçam noted that US President Joe Biden recognized the Armenian Genocide in 2021, which was a turning point. He further said that Biden’s recognition provides the legal framework to begin working on restitution. Now it’s time for us, he added, to push for a legally binding law in the Congress of the United States. And for this, he concluded, the burden falls on Californians, who have the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia.

Akçam pointed out that there should be a legal consequence after the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which is the compensation of Armenians. He further noted that reparation and restitution should be our next step and we should work toward that goal diligently and systematically with united forces.

Diocesan Zvartnots Cultural Committee with Dr. Taner Akcam at center

Dr. Akçam then wondered if the Jewish reparation movement can serve as an example for Armenians to follow. For this, he suggested, two things should be taken into consideration: a spirit of unity and political perspective, which requires support by the United States government.

In conclusion, Dr. Akçam mentioned that there is a special envoy for the Holocaust in the US State Department and asked if there should not be a special envoy for the Armenian Genocide in the US Department of State. This was a well taken suggestion. Questions and answers followed his presentation.

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