ANCA WR Criticizes Museum of Tolerance’s Continued Failure to Properly Address The Armenian Genocide

ANCA-WR TROUBLED THAT MUSEUM STAFF IS ATTEMPTING TO USE TOKEN PRAISE FROM THE ARMENIAN ASSEMBLY OF AMERICA TO UNDERMINE GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGN

GLENDALE-The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region (ANCA-WR) today called on the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles–once again–to end its 10-year refusal to comply with its legislative mandate–and host a permanent exhibit on the Armenian Genocide. A search conducted today on the Museum’s state of the art website–using the keyword Armenian Genocide–produced the following result: "there are no records." Over the past several months the ANCA-WR has worked with thousands of Southern California community activists and elected officials to ensure that a significant–permanent display on the Armenian Genocide is established at the Museum. This grassroots campaign is consistent with the terms of the California statute (Statutes of California–Chapter 415–1985) providing state funding for this institution. Museum officials first met the ANC’s good faith efforts with silence–and then–faced with growing pressure–by seeking to circumvent the community’s concerns by soliciting nominal acceptance for their obstructionist policies. "The Museum staff has–clearly and rather crudely–sought to avoid dealing with the real issue at stake here-the ten-year exclusion of an exhibit on the Armenian Genocide," remarked ANCA-WR Chairman Raffi Hamparian. "By seeking out token approval from the Armenian Assembly-a Washington–DC based organization-Museum officials are trying to manipulate the Armenian-American community into believing that they actually deserve praise for their persistent refusal to host a permanent exhibit on the Armenian Genocide," Hamparian added. On April 21–2003–on the sixth day of a hunger strike held outside the Museum by members of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF)–Peter Abajian–Executive Director of the Armenian Assembly of America in the Western U.S.–issued a statement crediting the Museum of Tolerance for its substantial materials on the Armenian Genocide and asserting that the Armenian Assembly of America was "proud of its strong working relationship with the Museum." Again–on July 23rd–the Assembly issued a press release praising the progress made by the Museum on plans-as yet unrealized-to include a mention of the Armenian Genocide in a larger exhibit on 20th Century Crimes Against Humanity. "It is my understanding that the only mention of the Armenian Genocide on the Museum’s entire website cautions readers against comparing the "Armenian massacres" to the Holocaust because it will demean the victims and opponents of Nazism. This language is itself demeaning to every Armenian Genocide victim–survivor–and their families. I find it amazing that the Armenian Assembly is praising an institution whose website so cheaply refers to the blood spilled by 1.5 million Armenian martyrs. The Armenian Assembly’s statemen’s on this matter have had no basis in fact and really no relationship with reality," the ANCA-WR Chairman emphasized. During the AYF’s weeklong hunger strike–AYF and ANCA-WR officials requested and secured a meeting with Museum Director Liebe Geft. Following the two-hour long meeting–the AYF ended its hunger strike based on assurances by Director Geft that the Museum was working on an exhibit that featured the Armenian Genocide. The Director stated that the exhibit would be completed by the end of June of 2003. The ANCA-WR maintained pressure on the Museum of Tolerance by organizing a visit to the Museum on July 1–2003 with members of various community organizations–including the Armenian Relief Society–the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–ARF Shant Student Organization–Usanogh Student Publication–and other grassroots community groups. The visitors were disappointed to see that the Museum had not kept their promise to host a permanent exhibit on the Armenian Genocide. Museum visitors demanded and received refunds for the price of their admission.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

* The State of California (Statutes of California–Chapter 415–1985)–appropriated $5,000,000 for the Museum of Tolerance and defined its mission as informing and advising the people of California "about the roots of hatred–bigotry–and prejudice–which have so adversely affected the lives and well-being of so many human beings–through such mass murder as the Armenian Genocide and the Nazi Holocaust." Despite this clear legislative mandate–the Museum of Tolerance has–for more than 10 years–failed to devote an exhibit to the Armenian Genocide.

* In a February 3–2003 Los Angeles Times article (Armenia’s Seek Place In Museum)–Museum Director Liebe Geft admitted that the museum attempts to remain topical and–for this reason–has given "less attention not only for the Armenia’s but also for issues such as the Cambodian genocide of the late 1970’s."

* In a February 3–2003 Los Angeles Time article–Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds reported that–"Museum Director Liebe Geft acknowledged that the Armenian Genocide–once featured in an introductory film–hasn’t been part of the museum’s permanent display or introductory film presentation for five years." A minor mention of the Armenian Genocide had–until late 1997–been included in a two-minute segment in an introductory film shown at the Museum. This film is no longer shown to visitors–unless they specifically ask for it by name at the video counter at the Museum’s "Wosk" Theater.

* The same February 3–2003 Los Angeles Times article reported the following reaction from Samantha Power–the Pulitzer Prize winning author of "A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide," and the former executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard: "It’s a mistake to leave the Armenian deaths out of any serious look at 20th century genocide–she said. Because of Turkey’s campaigning–the Armenian genocide is the only hard one [for curators] that’s out there–and it’s conspicuous that the hard one is missing."

* Remarkably a search for the term "Armenian Genocide" on the Museum’s website search engine–www.museumoftolerance.com–does not produce any results. The only mention of the Armenian Genocide that could be found on the Museum’s entire website is the following statement in the Teachers’ Guide describing comparisons of the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust as "demeaning."

"BE CAUTIOUS WHEN COMPARING THE HOLOCAUST TO OTHER EVENTS. EASY COMPARISONS TO OTHER EVENTS–SUCH AS THE MASS MURDERS OF ARMENIANS IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY OR THE CONTEMPORARY ISSUE OF ABORTION–WITHOUT HISTORICAL REFERENCE–ARE DEMEANING TO BOTH THE VICTIMS AND OPPONENTS OF NAZISM." (SOURCE: COMING TO GRIPS WITH TEACHING THE HOLOCAUST–BY MARK WEITZMAN–ADAPTED FROM MOMENTUM: JOURNAL OF THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC EDUCATIONAL ASSOCIATION–FEBRUARY–1988.)

* On the Museum of Tolerance’s Online Multimedia Learning Center–the portion dedicated to Armin T. Wegner–one of the few German writers to publicly speak out against the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust–there is no mention of Wegner’s experiences in Armenia in 1915–where he was an eyewitness to the Armenian Genocide and one of the few people in the world who documented the horrors through photography. Yad Vashem–the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority–clearly states the impact that the Armenian Genocide had on Wegner and stressed his activism in defense of human rights. Yad-Vashem.org.il has the following entry regarding Wegner: "The horrendous scenes of dead and emaciated people that he had witnessed in the Armenian refugee camps-visible proof of the first systematic genocide of the twentieth century-continued to haunt him long after."

ANCA-WR STATEMENT

The Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles–California has a responsibility to visitors and the general public to include a permanent exhibit on the Armenian Genocide.

The Museum–by failing to properly educate the public about the Armenian Genocide–falls short of both its legislative mandate and its moral obligations. The conspicuous absence of this horrific episode from the Museum’s permanent displays only helps to perpetuate the present-day denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish Government and a small number of revisionist historians. This is a disservice not only to Armenian-Americans–but also to everyone who has worked to bring attention to the horrors of genocide and the destructive effects of its denial.

The ANCA-WR looks forward to continuing its work with members of the Armenian-American community and other people of good will to encourage the Museum’s leadership and staff to address this matter. As always–we are prepared to assist the Museum in any genuine effort designed to remedy the absence of an Armenian Genocide exhibit.

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