ANC Defends UConn’s Selection of Black Dog of Fate as Summer Reading

*ANC delegation confronts Turkish denials at Board of Trustees meeting.

"It is a classic academic freedom issue." – University of Connecticut President Philip E. Austin

STORRS–Conn.-Speaking yesterday at a meeting of the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees–a delegation from the Armenian National Committee defended the university’s decision to distribute 3,000 copies of Peter Balakian’s award-winning memoir–"Black Dog of Fate," to incoming first year students. During a twenty minute presentation before the Board–the ANC refuted protests by Turkish faculty against Balakian’s book–which document his childhood curiosity about his Armenian heritage and his growing awareness of the Armenian Genocide.

Earlier in the day–the Hartford Courant–Connecticut’s largest newspaper–had run a front-page story concerning protests against the inclusion of the book by three members of the University’s faculty and the school’s Turkish Students Association. One of the faculty members–engineering Professor Nejat Olgac–told the newspaper–and later argued before the Trustees–that the memoir does a disservice to incoming students "by misguiding them and injecting hatred in their minds." During their presentation–the opponents against the book described it–alternately–as "racist," and "propagandistic."Black Dog of Fate" won the 1998 PEN/Albrand literary prize for best memoir–and was picked as a New York Times Notable Book of 1997 and a "best book" by Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.

ANC member George Aghjayan–who was joined by Arpie Charkhoudian–Col. George Rustigian–and Stella Rustigian–explained to the Board that there is not any serious historical debate within academia over the facts of the Armenian Genocide. The only remaining controversy on the topic–he noted–center on the Turkish government’s campaign to deny–dismiss–and cover up this crime against humanity. Citing renowned genocide scholars Israel Charney–Terrence Des Pres–and other respected academics–Aghjayan stressed that denial is the last stage of Genocide. He concluded by noting that Turkish society itself would benefit by coming to terms with the Armenian Genocide.

In addition to defending the selection of "Black Dog of Fate," the ANC countered efforts to use the inclusion of Balakian’s memoir as a pretext to pressure the university to provide a forum – and a large audience – for Armenian Genocide deniers. Among the names suggested were Princeton professor Heath Lowry–a self-acknowledged ghostwriter for the Turkish Embassy–and Justin McCarthy–a discredited demographer who has throughout his career echoed Turkish government denials of the Armenian Genocide.

The President of the University of Connecticut–Philip E. Austin–has dismissed protests against Balakian’s memoir–noting that–"It is a classic academic freedom issue." According to the Courant–"the University–as part of an effort to beef up its emphasis on undergraduate academics–began the orientation week seminars a year ago with the book ‘Amistad,’ by David Pesci. Like Pesci–Balakian will appear at the University of Connecticut to take part in the discussion and to sign copies of his book."


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