Richard Hovannisian and Elie Wiesel in Conversation on Genocide

Richard Hovannisian and Elie Weisel (Photo by Jeanine Hill, Chapman University)

BY JANO BOGHOSSIAN

ORANGE, Calif.–On April 17, Professor Richard Hovannisian, First Holder of the AEF Chair in Modern History at UCLA and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Chapman University and the University of California, Irvine, engaged in “Conversation” with Dr. Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, regarding the moral obligation of mankind to honor and preserve the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust by documenting and preserving witness and survivor testimonials, advocating for recognition, and promoting education.

Before a capacity audience in the Wallace All Faiths Chapel, the scholars touched upon their unique individual experiences and that of their communities while dealing with concepts of truth and justice in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Hovannisian posed the question of whether there can ever be real justice for Holocaust victims, even with the countless monuments and reparations they have received, to which Wiesel simply said “no”. Hovannisian added that the Armenians, on the other hand, have not even been given the satisfaction of a modicum of formal recognition by the Republic of Turkey. He wondered about Dr. Wiesel’s view of the Holocaust being beyond the bounds of history and therefore incomparable and argued instead that the Holocaust, like the Armenian Genocide, could be contextualized and historicized without making either of them seem rational.

Dr. Elie Wiesel spoke of the Armenians’ “passion for memory” and for preserving every detail of a calamity that marked and traumatized all subsequent generations of Armenians both in homeland and Diaspora. Wiesel then described how the Armenian cause “eventually became my cause,” and discussed the importance of remembrance and what might happen once the last witness eventually passes away.

Dr. Hovannisian emphasized that selectivity of memory poses a challenge for those not connected to an event, as the Holocaust has been universalized, while Armenians still struggle with denial. “The history is not just our history, but mankind’s history,” said Hovannisian, and stated that memory must not just be linked to a single victim group.

There currently exists two institutions in Los Angeles that preserve, digitize, index and utilize survivor testimonials from the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust—UCLA’s Armenian Oral History project led by Hovannisian, and the Shoah Foundation’s much more extensive collection at the University of Southern California. Hovannisian began the UCLA program in the 1970s by having students interview survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The interviews were later transcribed and translated by a subsequent generation of students.

“Elie Wiesel and Richard Hovannisian in Conversation” was moderated by Chapman University History Department Chair Jennifer Keene and was part of the University’s week-long events featuring Elie Wiesel and organized by the Rodgers Center of Holocaust Education headed by Dr. Marilyn Harran.

In the days prior to the Chapman program, Professor Hovannisian lectured in Yerevan, Armenia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Berlin, Germany; and Scottsdale, Arizona. On April 21, he was the keynote speaker of the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at St. Mary Church in Costa Mesa, California, and on May 1-2 returned to Chapman University on May 1-2 for guest lectures in two Holocaust classes. He will make a presentation on the destruction of Smyrna/Izmir in a communitywide program at St. Leon Church in New Jersey on May 17, and will be the featured speaker in Montreal on May 25 on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian republic.

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9 Comments

  1. Tsoghig said:

    This is a dream team, Elie Weisel and Richard Hovannisian. They should be the honorary chairmen of our 100th Anniversary committees.

    • Anton A said:

      I beg to differ. No, this is not a dream team, perhaps it’s a dream, but definitely not a team. Armenians have waited 98 years with no genocide recognition, while Dr. Wiesel ( the other member of the so-called team) has gotten his recognition. WHY? In fact, When I look at that picture I see Dr. Hovhannisian standing alone; as far as I’m concerned, there is no one standing next to him except the ghosts of our genocide victims. Thank you Dr. Hovhanissian, you may not see me in the photo, but I am standing on your shoulders in spirit, brother. Thanks for lifting our godforsaken nation.

  2. Anton A said:

    With all due deference to Dr. Elie Wiesel and his ilk, both inside and outside the Knesset. I’ve got a question to my Jewish friends, a question of deepest moral magnitude that this planet could ever evoke: Why in the name of Yahweh have the state of Israel not recognized the Armenian Genocide yet? WHY? Why, Dr. Wiesel, with your immense influence, have you not encouraged a campaign to reverse the greatest injustice of the 20th century that decimated the Armenians and others? Why does the Jewish lobby such as the ADL and others always try to defeat Armenian genocide recognition in US congress? Why? Also, is the holocaust a legal tender by any chance? Are the keepers of the holocaust gate left ajar for realpolitik operatives, for Turks, Azeries; for oil, gas, and arms? Just remember! Raphael Lemkin was lost for the WORD had it not been for the Armenian holocaust, thus the word “genocide”. The Jews used that yardstick which measured earlier the corpses of Armenian genocide victims to measures the holocaust victims with in courts and parliaments as they sought recognition and retribution. In another manner of speaking: the Armenians were of service to them in death as well. People most often forget this fact, and ignorance has no place here. With utmost humility of opinion, the Jewish holocaust table will always wobble a little to the touch for it does not rest squarely, not on four legs of legitimacy, justice, morality, and compassion. Some things are way, way, way, beyond politics, as a seeker of justice, I am certain that the Jewish holocaust victims would have cursed any progeny of theirs who used them as pawns for political expediency. Thank you and may God open the inner eye of the unconscious for the benefit of all humankind.

    • Mabuballah said:

      ThankYOU, Anton, for at last putting the “elephant in the room” in focus front and center. Why, oh why indeed have not only ADL, but AJC, the Holocaust Museum, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, and other Jewish organizations in the United States so long and so successfully stonewalled a proper recognition of the Armenian Genocide (indeed, “Holocaust” I)? Indeed, why do both Israel and the U.S. sell not only the most advanced weapons AND THEIR MANUFACTURING CAPABILITY to Ilham Alyev, dictator of Azerbaijan and one of the most repressive tyrants of this world? The answer can be found in Rifat Bali’s “Model Citizens of the State”, which descri bes in fine detail how the Turkish Ladino (Jewish) community, numbering fewer than 20000 individuals, through Jewish organizations in the U.S. and abroad, wields such enormous and controlling influence on U.S. foreign policy to this day. Bali describes how Turkish threats to the security of that community, coupled with threats to leave NATO, have been used time and time again to get Jewish communities to push their agenda in all aspects of public life here in the USA while the Jewish community allows itself to remain locked in the most grotesque Stockholm syndrome as the Turks even dare to describe themselves as the Jews’ protectors since the first voyage of Colombus! Wake up, you of the Armenian Diaspora (and other refugee communities created as a result of the Turkish horror of the past century). Wake up and unite! You’ve nothing to lose but the false friends who pretend to sympathize with your causes!
      If the Turks wish to leave NATO, is that any cause for fear in the U.S.? Indeed, do we even still need NATO? If so, for what — the dismemberment of those helpless to resist, like Yugoslavia?

    • Mabuballah said:

      Dear Anton:
      I am both pleased and surprised that your comment got published here. Yesterday I tried to expound on it a little further, but you can see what happened to that! All I did was point to a publication of a Turkish Jew, Rifat Bali’s “Model Citizens of the State” and point out that the Armenian Genocide was but part of an even more monstrous Turkish pogrom, particularly in the first quarter of the 20th century (mostly directed at the annihilation of Anatolian Christians). Read part 3 of Chapter 4, pp.246-256, of Bali’s “Model Citizens” entitled: The Armenian Genocide Connection; Hoffman,Bjornlund, and Meichanetsidis’ “The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks”; and Henry Morgenthau’s “Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story” to get a fairly balanced picture of what transpired in those times, from which the world has suffered in shame and silence ever since.
      (Hopefully you’ll get a chance to read this before they axe me again.)

  3. Janine said:

    Thank you. To those of us who remember struggles with recognition in these circles, this is a bright thing. I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley in 1977 when the Turkish consulate telephoned the President of the University and was successful in making the library remove photographs from an exhibit on the Genocide. *Photographs* were somehow controversial! Thank you.

  4. Jacques Kavafian said:

    The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide should be held in Istanbul Turkey. 100,000 people on the 100th anniversary. It would be a great opportunity to have Armenians whose encestry come from the various towns in Anatolia to visit those towns and engage with the Turkish/Kurdish people.

  5. Joseph said:

    Mr.(Dr.) Wiesel will never admit the the Armenian Genocide will ever rise to Genocide or “Holocaust” recognition.Only he and his people have the monopoly of that “title”. Well, Mr. Wiesel, most Armenians don’t care any more of your opinion or that of your Knessett. We are happy that other peace loving nations do recognize our genocide.If I had to advise Mr. Hovannesian, I would have told him not to lose his time and talent for this stubborn and prejudiced individual with due respect to his admirers.

  6. Random Armenian said:

    I’ve heard Richard Hovannisian speak and he is a great speaker and communicator. He’s an excellent choice for this conversation. Regardless how some feel about Mr Wiesel, it is important for the general public to see and hear about the Armenian genocide in such an respectful, legitimate and academic setting and discussion.

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