Obama Listens to Repeated References to Armenian Genocide at Shoah Gala

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

On May 7, I attended a very impressive benefit gala at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the USC Shoah Foundation which archives the testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian, Cambodian and Rwandan genocides, and the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.

Internationally acclaimed Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg, after filming Schindler’s List, established the Shoah Foundation to collect and preserve the personal accounts of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust. In 2006, the Shoah Foundation became part of the University of Southern California and currently holds 52,000 video testimonies in 34 languages, representing 58 countries. It is the largest archive of its kind in the world.

The gala was attended by Pres. Obama who received the “Ambassador for Humanity” award. Also in attendance were Samuel Jackson, Octavia Spencer, Barbra Streisand, Liam Neeson, and Bruce Springsteen who performed two of his poignant songs, “Promised Land,” and “Dancing in the Dark.”

In 2010, the Armenian Film Foundation and J. Michael Hagopian signed a historic agreement with the Shoah Foundation to digitize, preserve, and disseminate filmed interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Armenian Genocide. Last month, 400 digitized copies of the Armenian testimonies were delivered to USC Shoah Foundation’s Institute for Visual History and Education. By the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015, the Armenian testimonies, after they are translated, subtitled, and indexed, will be made available along with eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust and other genocides to 50 institutions (including the US Holocaust Museum) in 30 countries.

Nearly 100 Armenian-Americans attended the May 7 gala, raising over $100,000 for the Armenian collection at Shoah. During the evening’s program, several speakers made references to the Armenian Genocide. Spielberg was the first to announce that the Armenian Genocide testimonies were to be included in the Shoah archives. A video shown to the attendees featured several photographs of J. Michael Hagopian, genocide survivor Paul Andonian, and Armenian deportees on a death march. Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith also spoke about the Armenian Genocide, acknowledging the presence of Yevnige Salibian, a 104-year-old genocide survivor from Aintab. Banquet host comedian Conan O’Brien, after acknowledging Mrs. Salibian’s presence from the podium, walked over to her table when the gala ended and had a picture taken with her.

As an honored guest, Salibian was seated next to TV celebrity Kim Kardashian. The following day, Kardashian posted on social media her photograph with Salibian, adding the following message: “Honored to be at the USC Shoah Foundation event to support Armenian Genocide testimonies. I’m sitting next to the most inspiring 100-year-old Armenian Genocide survivor.” Within few days, her posting received close to 400,000 ‘likes’ and almost 5,000 comments on Instagram, and 110,000 ‘likes’ on her facebook page.

Despite repeated references to the Armenian Genocide from the podium, Pres. Obama did not make any direct references to Armenians or the Armenian Genocide in his 18-minute speech — nor was he expected to do so! However, the President made indirect references to genocides other than the Holocaust, without specifying them:

— “I want to say a special word to the survivors who are with us this evening, not just of the Holocaust, but as Steven [Spielberg] noted, survivors of other unimaginable crimes.”
— “If the memories of the Shoah survivors teach us anything, it is that silence is evil’s greatest co-conspirator. And it’s up to us — each of us, every one of us — to forcefully condemn any denial of the Holocaust.”
— “You [Spielberg] …documented the experience not only of the Holocaust, but of atrocities before and since…. To you and everybody at the Shoah Foundation, and for all that you’ve done, for setting a light, an eternal flame of testimony, that can’t be extinguished and cannot be denied, we express our deepest gratitude.”

Armenians do not need to press Pres. Obama to explicitly refer to the Armenian Genocide. Another US President, Ronald Reagan, has already acknowledged it in his Presidential Proclamation of April 22, 1981. It is unnecessary to insist that every US President make the same acknowledgment year after year. Pres. Obama may consider using the term Armenian Genocide not for the sake of Armenians, but to uphold his own integrity by keeping the solemn pledge he made as a presidential candidate. Only then could he fully qualify as an “Ambassador for Humanity.”

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8 Comments

  1. Hratch said:

    The last paragraph is a surprise. It seems that has been our only focus in the last thirty years. I know that Mr. Sassounian has retreated from it recently, but the temptation is always there.

    Anyway, we must stop wasting time on convince the US government to acknowledge the Genocide, more importantly we should persuade Spielberg to talk to the ADL and AIPAC.

  2. armenian christisn said:

    Theres alot of things i hate about kardashian….but when she supports an armenian cause i really am proud to call her an IAN….

  3. helen takessian said:

    concerning the filmed genocide material given to Mr. Spielberg, I have mixed feeleings about its safety and acessibility. Digitized and so on does not make it safe. Has any one taken legal steps,contracts etc. to make sure tall these items will remain useful. EVERY TWO YEARS OR SO WHAT IS ON THE MARKET IN THE it WORLD BECOMES OBSOLETE. THE FUILMSMAY SURVIVE BUT IF YOU DON<T HAVE THE CURRENT DEVICES TO SHOW THEM ON THE FILMS ARE USELESS. Even if you purchase bags full of the current devices, parts for repair will not be availabe for repair.I'm sure that tyhe Jewish community will take every avenue possible to make sure that their films will never wither away. Mr. Speilberg may even be sincere and trustworthy but he willeventually die of old afe and others may have careless views. Who provides the funds and oversight to protect Armenian donations?

  4. helen takessian said:

    concerning the filmed genocide material given to Mr. Spielberg, I have mixed feeleings about its safety and acessibility. Digitized and so on does not make it safe. Has any one taken legal steps,contracts etc. to make sure tall these items will remain useful. EVERY TWO YEARS OR SO WHAT IS ON THE MARKET IN THE it WORLD BECOMES OBSOLETE. THE FUILMSMAY SURVIVE BUT IF YOU DON<T HAVE THE CURRENT DEVICES TO SHOW THEM ON THE FILMS ARE USELEif you purchase bags full of the current devices, parts for repair will not be availabe for repair.I'm sure that tyhtheJewish community will take every avenue possible to make sure that their films will never wither away. Mr. Speilberg may even be sincere and trustworthy but he willeventually die of old age and others may have careless views. Who provides the funds and oversight to protect Armenian donations?

  5. Paul Giragosian said:

    I would like to add a comment. The reason why Obama has not recognized the Armenian Genocide or taken a stand on Nagorno Karabakh is because he has been advised tha it is not in this country’s best interests to do so. It is well known fact the old school power brokers (the identities would stunn you) have vast investments in all aspects the Azeri oil industry and they have their “special access” to POTUS. Forget about the Turks, they are what they are as History has documented. More to follow on this topic as information becomes available. I am surprised that no one has investigated this area and has brought the facts into the light, i.e., Best Interests Vs Genocide?

    • Paul Giragosian said:

      One more thing: if the Turks were ever to apologize and admit to Genocide involvement (unlike the Kurds), it would bankrupt their country from reparations and law suits as well as the fact, it would be humilitating to the Turkish people in so far as they have been lied to for the past 100 years at least. Not all Turks are bad, it’s only their leaders and their supporters who believe it never happened. Ask yourself this question, What would you do if you met a Turk or anyone else for that matter, who said that the Genocide did not occur or that it was a big lie, perpetuated by the Armenians. There are those members of Congress who don’t care or who actually believe this so they put on their ballet shoes and dance around the issue or use excuses such as they do not want to offend an ally.

      Hillary Clinton will never be President because she says that the Armenian Genocide is debateable among historians. Excuse me, but if Arnold Toynbee, one of the world’s greatest modern day historians, says it happened; then it did happen. End of Story. Don’t kid yourself, there are members of Congress in both parties that are complicit in nonrecognition of the Armenian Genocide.

  6. Paul Giragosian said:

    I challenge Spielberg to do a film using Franz Werfel’s wonderful book: Forty Days of Musa Dagh. The film would be financed by Armenian Americans as well as others who believe in truth and justice. For those of us who aren’t in the know, the Forty Days of Musa Dagh was a 1933 novel by the Austrian-Jewish author Franz Werfel. Based on the events at Musa Dagh in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire, the book played a role in organizing the Jewish resistance under Nazi rule. It was passed from hand to hand in Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe, and it became an example and a symbol for the Jewish underground throughout Europe. The Holocaust scholars Samuel Totten, Paul Bartrop and Steven L. Jacobs underline the importance of the book for many of the ghettos’ Jews: The book was read by many Jews during World War II and was viewed as an allegory of their own situation in the Nazi-established ghettos, and what they might do about it.

    Spielberg has a double duty since this project was previously tried by MGM in the 30’s but was quashed by the Government. Reference: Peter Balakian describes how the U.S. State Department under President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) surrendered to the demands of Turkey and forced MGM to drop the project to make a film based on the novel and once again compares this event concerning the novel to the fate of the European Jews: “This was 1935. How much did FDR’s State Department know about what Hitler was doing to the Jews of Europe, and how much did it care?”

    The Time is Now! Let’s do it!

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