Richard Hovannisian in Australia and Canada

Hamshen tealeaf pickers, June 2013 (Courtesy of Roupen Berberian)

LOS ANGELES—Professor Richard Hovannisian is presenting Armenian history and the case for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide at academic conferences in Australia and Canada. Hovanissian participated in an international conference from Aug. 5 to Aug. 7 at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, titled “Aftermath: Sites and Sources of History and Memory.”

The 3rd annual Dr. Jan Randa Conference in Holocaust and Genocide Studies was sponsored by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation and drew scholars from Australia, East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and South America. Hovannisian’s presentation on the Armenian post-genocide experience and the role of Armenian oral history in reconstructing historical events was the sole paper regarding the Armenian Genocide at the conference. His presentation was accompanied by brief film clips of survivors from Banderma, Smyrna, Aintab, Kharpert, and Sepastia. The presentation roused intense discussions about survivor testimony and incited comparisons of Armenian oral histories with those of subsequent genocide survivors, from the Holocaust to Cambodia, Indonesia and East Timor, and Rwanda.

While in Australia, Hovannisian was invited by the Armenian Genocide’s 100th Anniversary Committee to conduct a series of presentations on historic Western Armenia in Sydney and Melbourne. The presentations featured video segments prepared by his daughter, Ani Hovannisian Kevorkian, showing interactions with the last remaining Armenians in Dikranagerd (Diyarbakir) and the Armenian-speaking Hamshen people in the mountains near the Black Sea in eastern Turkey. The capacity audiences in both cities showed particular appreciation for these real-life scenes filmed as recently as June of 2013.

From Australia, Richard Hovannisian traveled directly to Toronto, Canada, to participate in the two-week Genocide and Human Rights University Program at the University of Toronto, sponsored by The Zoryan Institute. The enrolled students and teachers were of Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish, Pakistani, Nigerian, Argentinean, Mexican, American, and Canadian backgrounds.

On his first day at the Institute on Aug. 9, Hovannisian presented an overarching analysis of the Armenian Genocide: its historical antecedents, the genocidal process itself, and the aftermath. On the second day, he focused on the denial of genocide, reasons and motivations behind it, strategies and tactics, and its various phases beginning with absolute denial to more effective approaches like rationalization of events and the downplaying of the tragedy of those events through the assertion that all peoples suffered from the same conditions that may have caused some loss of life.

Under the sponsorship of The Zoryan Institute and ten community organizations, Hovannisian spoke at the Armenian Community Centre of Toronto on Sunday, August 11, in a program dedicated to the late Professor Marjorie Housepian, whose pioneering work, based in large measure on first-hand interviews and oral histories, led to the publication of the acclaimed book, The Smyrna Affair, reissued as Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City. During his talk, Hovannisian also reflected on the importance of the Armenian community of Smyrna (Izmir) prior to the great fire that destroyed the thriving city in September 1922.

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