PHILADELPHIA—Before a standing-room only audience at La Salle University, Dr. Taner Akcam, the first scholar of Turkish origin to publish on the heretofore-taboo topic of the Armenian Genocide, explained the historical background and causes of the genocide.
Speaking at the university’s Diplomat-in-Residence program (DRP), Akcam discussed how concerns about Armenian independence and the intervention of foreign powers on behalf of the Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire led the Young Turks to plan and proceed with the elimination of Armenians and other Ottoman Christians. He also explained that Turkey’s denial of the genocide is the result of the role played in it by the founders of the Turkish republic.
Dr. Cornelia Tsakiridou, director of La Salle’s DRP program and an associate professor of philosophy at the university, explained that “the idea of bringing Dr. Akcam here was to expose students to the historical arguments of the case and do so by inviting a prominent historian who has specialized on this subject.”
“Professor Akcam brings to the study of the destruction of Turkey’s Armenian minority his expertise as a historian, a number of highly praised books, but also his Turkish background—a combination that has made him unpopular in Turkey, where the use of the term ‘genocide’ to describe the destruction is subject to prosecution for insulting Turkish identity,” said Tsakiridou.
The program was planned with Vince Kling of La Salle’s foreign language department, who is teaching a course on memoirs and using Peter Balakian’s autobiography Black Dog of Fate, the story of an American of Armenian descent who comes to terms with the genocide that affected his family.
Akcam is an associate professor of history at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. Since 1990, he has focused his research on Turkish nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, with 11 books and numerous articles to his credit, starting with his first book, Turk Ulusal Kimligi ve Ermeni Sorunu (The Armenian Question and Turkish National Identity), published in 1992. Three years later, at the International Genocide Conference in Yerevan, Armenia, Akcam’s presentation on Turkish nationalism and the Armenian Genocide marked the first public acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide by a Turkish scholar.
Akcam’s life and work have been featured in four critically acclaimed documentary films. In 2007, the Armenian Bar Association honored him with the Hrant Dink Freedom Award, calling him “a champion of historical truth about the Armenian Genocide.” He has also been honored by the Harvard University Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations and the Massachusetts State Legislature. He serves on the editorial board of “Genocide Studies & Prevention,” the official journal of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS).