LOS ANGELES—On Sunday, April 28 more than 200 supporters of the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance joined the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR) and the Museum of Tolerance for a joint film screening of Kay Mouradian’s My Mother’s Voice.
The evening was opened by Nora Hovsepian, Co-Chair of the ANCA-WR with a pointed speech addressing the relevance of denialism and drawing ties between the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Ganocide. Hovsepian’s full remarks can be seen below. Liebe Geft, Director of the Museum of Tolerance also made opening remarks, commenting on the need to hear the words and sentiments Ms. Hovsepian addressed. “We are long overdue in recognizing the Armenian Genocide,” she remarked.
The screening of My Mother’s Voice is just the beginning of the ANCA-WR’s renewed relationship with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The ANCA-WR looks forward to continuing and developing its relationship with the Museum of Tolerance in the coming months. It is important that as organizations and as cultures sharing similar stories of genocide that we come together not once a year, but multiple times to bring awareness to the causes.
Kay Mouradian’s short film presented the rousing story of her mother’s plight after the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Those who attended were captured by the poignant story of Flora Munushian, a fourteen-year-old Hadjin native, who lost her family during the Armenian Genocide but gradually made her way to America. “Like the 6 million Jewish people lost in the Holocaust, Armenians lost an incredibly vibrant, successful and valuable gene pool of more than a million as a result of the Armenian genocide,” remarks Mouradian. She continued, “I found the heartfelt cooperation between the Museum of Tolerance and ANCA-WR on April 28 in commemorating the Armenian Genocide with the screening of MY MOTHER’S VOICE gratifying. The story of my mother, Flora Munushian, who at age fourteen was deported from her home in Hadjin, Turkey brings an epic chapter in Armenian history to life. Flora’s voice is that of all the victims and survivors of the Armenian genocide, a story that must not be forgotten. Flora’s personal story has opened the door to a deeper understanding of the suffering of our two peoples.”
Following the screening, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian was invited up to make his remarks where he recognized the importance of sharing these stories of survival, “From the Armenian Genocide to the horrors of the Holocaust, we have too often seen that the world will continue to suffer genocide until we emphatically reject hate in all its forms and hold accountable the perpetrators of crimes against humanity,” says Councilman Krekorian. He continues, “Each year in the City Council, we honor those whose lives have been irreparably affected by the Genocide and the Holocaust, including this past April, when survivors of both atrocities stood side by side. It was a historical and emotional moment that reminded us all to never forget our shared history and commitment to justice.”
The movie screening was followed by a spirited panel discussion by Kay Mouradian, Mark Friedman, Director of My Mother’s Voice, and Harut Sassounian, Publisher of The California Courier. The panel was led by Liebe Geft, Director of the Museum of Tolerance. The panel discussion, was fueled by a multitude of questioned for the audience where it became further obvious how important this film is to Dr. Mouradian, “this has been 20 years in the making,” she remarks. “In my earlier years I didn’t listen to my mother as she spoke about the horrific ordeal of the Genocide, but in her later days I sat by her and truly believed that it was my duty to publish her story of survival from the Genocide.”
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.
Introductory Remarks By Liebe Geft, Tolerance Museum Director
Thank you for joining the Museum of Tolerance for a special program in honor of Armenian Genocide commemoration. We gratefully acknowledge our co-sponsors, the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region. I am pleased to recognize Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and to welcome leaders and members of the Armenian community and the members, staff, volunteers and visitors of the MOT.
Every day is Remembrance Day at the Museum of Tolerance. In the twenty years since this Museum was established over 5 million visitors have become witnesses to the shameful episodes in human history during the 20th century- and have come away being reminded of, learning more, and challenged never to forget – in the as yet unfulfilled hope that such tragedies should not be repeated.
As we approach the hundredth anniversary of 1915, the signature year of the Armenian Genocide, we should note that the twentieth century’s first genocide on such a great scale is still teaching lessons relevant to the twenty-first century. Perhaps the lesson of widest application is that genocides are unfinished history—they never end with the burial of the victims or even the punishment of perpetrators, supposing those things happen at all. They remain as unrepaired fault lines caused by terrible eruptions in the plate tectonics of civilized morality. They also mark disputed territory fought over continually by those who would forget, deny or distort – versus those who would remember the significance of these terrible historical events.
The atrocities committed against the entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire during WWI were centrally planned and administered by the government of the time and carried out between the years 1915 and 1918. The Armenian people were subjected to deportation, expropriation, abduction, torture, massacre, and starvation. The great bulk of the Armenian population was forcibly removed from Armenia and Anatolia to Syria, where the vast majority was sent into the desert to die of thirst and hunger. Large numbers of Armenians were methodically massacred throughout the Ottoman Empire. Women and children were abducted and horribly abused. The entire wealth of the Armenian people was expropriated. After only a little more than a year of calm at the end of WWI, the atrocities were renewed between 1920 and 1923, and the remaining Armenians were subjected to further massacres and expulsions. The international community condemned this ‘crime against humanity’ – 1915 was 22 years before the UN Genocide convention was adopted.
It was Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish refugee from Poland during the Nazi Holocaust, who coined the term “genocide” in 1944 when working as an international law expert for the U.S. War Department. In Lemkin’s mind at the time was Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s denunciation of the Axis in 1941 for “a crime without a name.”
Yet Lemkin’s memory went back further. Childhood reading indelibly imprinted on him stories of the Romans’ mass murder of perhaps a million Jews in first-century Palestine. But the event that decisively put Lemkin on the path of becoming a leader in the crusade to enlist the international community in the fight against mass murder and “crimes against humanity” occurred in 1921. At the time a 21-year-old student studying linguistics at the University of Lvov, Lemkin read about the assassination by Armenian survivor Soghomon Tehlirian of Talat Pasha, architect of the 1915 genocide. Lemkin asked himself: “It is a crime for Tehlirian to kill a man, but it is not a crime for his oppressor to kill more than a million men?” So Lemkin’s decision to devote himself to creating international law against the “crime with no name” that he named “genocide” began, in a very real sense, with his commitment to learn from the Armenian genocide.
Would that the world had learned its lesson then! The failure to do so has had horrendous repercussions. Our charge today is to remember. But we have a double imperative in this regard. Not just “zachor” – remember – but also “lo tishkach” – don’t forget. We have to constantly remind ourselves not to forget to remember!
Remarks by ANCA-WR Co-Chair Nora Hovsepian at The Museum of Tolerance
On behalf of the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region, let me first express my sincere gratitude to our friends here at the Museum of Tolerance for co-hosting this screening with us of Kay Mouradian’s important and moving film, My Mother’s Voice. We are proud of Kay’s commitment and perseverance toward making this happen.
Our participation here was also made possible by generous grants from Mr. & Mrs. Harry and Cheryl Nadjarian and the Ignatius Foundation’s Trustees, attorneys Walter Karabian, Esq., George Phillips, Esq., and Michael Amerian, Esq., to whom we are also very grateful.
Finally, we are truly gratified to see all of you in the audience who have taken time out today to join us here, to help us lay the foundation for what we hope will be a lasting and productive cooperative relationship between our two communities.
You see, the Jewish People and the Armenian People have the unenviable shared distinction of being amongst a small group of nations in history which has been subjected to the evil crime of Genocide and all of its consequences. As French philosopher Ernest Renan recognized way back in 1882 even before either of our Genocides had occurred, “Suffering in common unifies more than joy does. Where national memories are concerned, griefs are of more value than triumphs, for they impose duties, and require a common effort.”
And our collective duty to remember and to remind the world of the unspeakable horrors inflicted upon us does require a common effort between our Nations to ensure that justice is served. But there are distinctions which must be recognized first:
While the perpetrators of the Jewish Holocaust and their successors acknowledged and apologized for their crime against humanity and were held accountable by the world, the same can certainly not be said for Turkey and its predecessor government which tried to exterminate the Armenian People.
Today, as we jointly commemorate the 98th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in which 1.5 million Armenians were annihilated in a systematic and premeditated attempt to facilitate the spread of pan-Turanism by ridding the Ottoman Empire of its thriving Christian Armenian population, we must recognize that Turkey has escaped accountability for all of this because it has engaged in a well-orchestrated campaign of denialism, fueled and facilitated by governments who either fear reprisal from Turkey or who abdicate their moral authority for the sake of geopolitical interests.
Make no mistake: the relevance of this denialism does not lie only in the historical record of the last century. Rather, denial is about diversion, about buying time until the world is deceived into believing that today’s Turkey is completely detached and rehabilitated from its Ottoman past as it seeks to portray itself as a modern, Western-leaning democracy and regional peacemaker.
And while the great Jewish humanitarian and scholar Israel Charny has aptly recognized that “Denial is the final stage of Genocide, as it seeks to demonize the victims and rehabilitate the perpetrators,” the world remains silent, allowing the denialism to continue, ignoring the warning of renowned human rights activist Ginetta Sagan, who pointed out that “Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.”
Denial for modern-day Turkey is about going on the offensive. It’s about blockading land-locked Armenia today, cutting off its western border and using its surrogate Turkic brethren in Azerbaijan to cut off Armenia’s eastern border from the world, in their joint ongoing attempt to strangle Armenia and its people and finish what they started.
While Turkey proclaims itself as a modern democracy protective of all religious and ethnic minorities, it allows elderly Armenian women to be attacked and beaten in Turkish cities today, left battered and bleeding from the signs of crosses carved into their chests, all with impunity and silence from the world.
While Turkey deceives the West into believing that its society enjoys freedom of speech and freedom of the press, it passes laws criminalizing anything deemed to be anti-Turkish, including the mere mention of the words “Armenian Genocide,” jailing journalists and progressive academicians who fail to toe the official line, again with impunity and silence from the world.
While Turkey falsely portrays itself as a regional peace-maker, its surrogate Azerbaijan declares through presidential proclamation that “All Armenians of the world are [its] enemies,” brazenly using fighting words eerily reminiscent of words used by Adolf Hitler before the Jewish Holocaust, and encouraging Azeris and Turks to attack Armenians wherever they may be.
This is all happening today, not 100 years ago, but today. Armenians are collectively under siege again now, and yet the world still fails to act, allowing an unrepentant Turkey and an increasingly belligerent and aggressive Azerbaijan to overtly threaten the Armenian Nation.
While Turkey falsely portrays itself as a Western-leaning democracy, it, along with the rest of the world, remains silent as Azerbaijan glorifies army officer Ramil Safarov, a confessed axe murderer who is now a national Azeri hero because he deliberately killed an Armenian soldier in his sleep in an ethnically driven heinous crime ironically committed during a NATO Partnership for Peace program in which both were participating. It remains silent as the Azeri government pushes the envelope even further by threatening to shoot down civilian aircraft flying into or out of the new state of the art airport in the Armenian Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
All of this should truly shock the conscience of civilized societies, yet once again, it is done with impunity as both Turkey and Azerbaijan continue to enjoy unfettered U.S. and Western military aid and support, emboldened by a deafening silence, which as Elie Wiesel has repeatedly pointed out, “encourages the tormentor – never the tormented.”
And yet, in spite of all this, in spite of our shared experience with national tragedy, today Israel is sadly not among the list of 27 nations such as France, Canada, Russia, Germany, Poland, Argentina, and others, to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. While the Knesset held its first open discussion on the matter in 2011, partly as a result of Israel’s strained relations with Turkey, and by unanimous vote sent the issue to the Education Committee to deliberate, and while the process was repeated in 2012, both sessions ended inconclusively. Just last week, once again, Israeli parliamentarians discussed the matter, some making comments such as “Israel must find a way to fulfill its moral obligation of remembering wrongs done to others, especially since it demands that people do not deny the Holocaust,” and “Israel cannot ignore the tragedy of another nation,” yet still nothing more has been done. One deputy was quoted as saying, “Members of Knesset will have to decide between the benefits of the strategic relationship with Turkey and the moral duty not to ignore the Armenian Genocide.”
Ironically, this is all happening while the Turkish Government had the nerve to demand and receive an apology from Israel for the Marmara flotilla incident, still withholding restoration of full diplomatic relations until Israel compensates the victims. Yet Turkey blatantly refuses to do the same for its Armenian victims. How shameful and hypocritical indeed.
So as our two nations, the Jews and the Armenians, try to navigate through all of this to find a way for Israel to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide and for Jewish communities worldwide to stand with us against Turkey’s continued denialism and Azerbaijan’s continued aggression, it is important to remember that we have many links in our shared history as well.
Armin Wegner, a German soldier in World War I, was an eyewitness to the Armenian Genocide and disobeyed orders intended to smother news of the massacres by gathering documents and photographs and smuggling them out of Turkey after being recalled to Germany for insubordination. “My conscience calls me to bear witness,” he said. “I am the voice of the exiled who scream in the desert.” Being the only German writer to publicly denounce the persecution of the Jews, he was later imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo and thrown into a concentration camp. Ultimately, his heroism and humanity were recognized when he was bestowed the title Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem and the Order of Saint Gregory the Illuminator by the Catholicos of All Armenians. Many of his photographs are displayed today in the ancient Armenian quarter of Jerusalem and serve as a lasting reminder of the horrors of the Armenian Genocide.
In the aftermath of World War I, Austrian Jewish novelist Franz Werfel, having witnessed the plight first-hand of starving Armenian refugees who had survived the Genocide, was moved to write his most famous novel, Forty Days of Musa Dagh, telling the true story of the heroic self-defense of the Armenians of Musa Dagh against the onslaught of Turkish Ottoman armies. The book was translated from German into Hebrew in 1934 and was widely read by Jews who saw it as a handbook of survival and resistance against the Nazis during the Holocaust. As Professor Yair Auron wrote, “The story of the defense of Musa Dagh became, indeed, a source of inspiration, an example for the underground members to learn, a model to imitate. They equated their fate with that of the Armenians. In both cases, murderous evil empires conspired to uproot entire communities, to bring about their total physical extinction. In both cases, resistance embodied the concept of death and national honor on the one hand, and the chance of being saved as individuals and as a nation on the other.” Even Antek aka Yitzhak Zuckerman, the deputy commander of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance, later wrote that “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising could not be understood without reading The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.”
While a Nazi newspaper flatly denounced Franz Werfel as a propagandist for Armenians who had suffered the horrors of the Turks, it also condemned “America’s Armenian Jews for promoting in the USA the sale of Werfel’s book.” How ironic indeed.
By 1943, Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer, coined the term “Genocide” to describe the organized mass killings of Armenians from 1915-1923, later stating, “I became interested in Genocide because it happened to the Armenians.”
Even Hitler was emboldened by the unpunished crime against the Armenians when he brazenly justified his murderous plan by famously claiming, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Indeed, as the heirs of our dual national tragedies, as those who continue to suffer the trauma of the crimes perpetrated against their People, it is our moral obligation to take a stand for justice, to demand that the crime is duly recognized and punished, and to ensure that reparations are made. For so long as the Genocide remains unpunished, the lessons of history have not been learned, and so long as justice continues to be denied to the Armenian People, there can be no peace and no forgiveness. We ask this sacred institution, the Museum of Tolerance, and all that it stands for, to remain committed to the cause for justice and to help us achieve the ability to forgive by helping us fight for a just resolution to the Armenian Cause. As Simon Wiesenthal himself said, “Hope lives when people remember.” Today, we take that first step together to remember, to remind, and to reclaim. We have a lot of work to do, both separately and jointly, but so long as we do not allow politics to trump history, I have no doubt that justice in fact can be achieved.