SAN FRANCISCO–The Armenian National Committee of the San Francisco – Bay Area hosted a workshop for Bay Area public school teachers on Oct. 7–entitled "Exploring Responses to Genocide and Mass Violence" at the ANC offices in San Francisco. The workshop was conducted by Facing History and Ourselves–a national educational development organization.
Jack Weinstein–Bay Area Program Director for Facing History–led teachers through an examination of the responses to the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide–comparing the governmental and societal reactions to each event.
Weinstein described the Nuremberg Trials which brought Holocaust perpetrators to justice after World War II as–"The institutionalizing of a system of accountability for something that hadn’t even been named before." As an added outcome of the trials–extensive documentation was accumulated–corroborated and testified to–about the crimes against humanity committed during the Holocaust. Besides the trials–there have been so many other responses as well–including many monumen’s–museums–and more than 300 feature movies produced in the last 50 years about the Holocaust.
"Why do it?" Weinstein asked–about society’s need for strong responses to genocide–"For justice–restoration–restitution–and prevention."
In introducing the subject of the Armenian Genocide–Weinstein cautioned that it’s important for society not to negate genocides other than the Holocaust. "I wonder if saying ‘Never Again’ means ‘Never Before,’" he said about those who would isolate the Holocaust into its own category. When we look at other genocides–"It’s not a victimization sweepstakes," he said–adding that communities should examine "comparative genocide" instead of "competitive genocide."
In discussing the lack of institutional responses to the Armenian Genocide and the campaign of denial which filled the void–Weinstein raised the problem of "the winners writing history," sometimes resulting in no justice being done.
In introducing Armenian Genocide scholar Hilmar Kaiser–Weinstein said that unfortunately–denial can also be a response to genocide. He said teachers need to know the facts–the extent of the denial–the source and the funding for that denial. "Not knowing is dangerous," said Weinstein.
Hilmar Kaiser–whose presence at the workshop was arranged by the Armenian Genocide Resource Center–spoke about the common characteristics between the Genocide and the Holocaust–pointing to the Bagdad Railway which was used to deport Armenia’s–and the German-trained Ottoman’scientists who experimented on Armenia’s. He informed the teachers about the government of Turkey’s campaign of denial–which began during the Armenian Genocide itself when Turkey shaped the execution and planning of its great crime to allow for denial–by sending Armenia’s to their deaths in mountain gorges and deserts with no witnesses–and producing fake evidence to negate the facts.
Kaiser showed how the denial continues today–both directly and through Turkey’s allies. "The US State Department tries to suppress every recognition of the Armenian Genocide," he said. He described Turkey’s program of endowing Turkish Studies Chairs in universities around the country–with the intent of institutionalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide. As a scholar–Kaiser attested that Turkey’s denial campaign has made it difficult for scholars to dare to study the facts and put forth theses. "They have cut the wings of scholarship," he said.
"There were no Nuremberg Trials for the Armenian Genocide," said Kaiser. Although there were trials to prosecute war criminals–Turkey decided to try its own criminals–instead of turning the job over to the world community. The purpose was to produce light sentences and keep the real crimes secret–while placating the international community’s need for "accountability." In reality–said Kaiser–"The trials were a cover-up. They were part of the peace negotiations. They were an appeasement to the winners of the war." Kaiser warned the teachers that denial for Armenia’s–anti-Semitism for Jews–and racism and hatred towards others is still very much alive. "Please don’t think it is over. It isn’t," he said–underlining how the recent events in East Timor and in Kosovo were predictable to those who have studied genocidal campaigns of the past.
Materials on the Armenian Genocide were distributed to the teachers. Facing History and Ourselves is an ongoing program whose mission is to engage students in an examination of prejudice by studying the lessons of the Holocaust and other examples of genocide. The Bay Area Armenian National Committee and the Armenian Genocide Resource Center works with Facing History to encourage teachers to include Armenian Genocide study in their curriculums.