LOS ANGELES–Professor Richard Hovannisian–Holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA–has since late March and throughout the month of April continued raising awareness of the Armenian genocide and its legacy. During this period–he traveled to Salt Lake City–Yerevan–Worcester–San Francisco–and Lyon–France–to deliver lectures–work with teachers–and participate in international symposiums on human rights and genocide.
Utah to Armenia
At the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Utah–Dr. Hovannisian spoke on March 27 about "The Armenian Genocide: Premeditation or the Radicalization of War," in which he assessed the somewhat conflicting historiography about the decision-making process and perpetration of the Genocide.
Hovannisian spent considerable time discussing a recent University of Utah Press-published volume by Professor Guenther Lewy–which is aimed at disqualifying the Armenian "tragedy" as genocide and builds on argumen’s of deniers and the Turkish Government. Hovanissian gave examples of factual errors in the seemingly-balanced book and how the author takes out of context what is actually stated in the sources he cites.
Although Lewy insists that he has "no ax to grind," he has in fact previously written volumes that discount the enormity of the Gypsy annihilation during World War II and the treatment of the American Indians during US colonial expansion.
After Utah–Hovannisian went to Yerevan in late March and early April to serve as the co-chair of the international jury reviewing and ranking works on the Armenian genocide. This competition–organized by the All-Armenia Fund through a grant from the Boghossian Brothers–is meant to further research on the Armenian genocide by rewarding the most effective work on the topic.
Two presidential prizes–each carrying a monetary gift of $10,000–were awarded for the best submission from a resident of Armenia and one from abroad. The jury selected Verjine Svazlian of Armenia for her work on oral history and the collection of the woeful songs of exile that were sung in Turkish by Armenian women deportees (now also published in Turkey)–and Edgar Hilsenrath of Germany for his "Story of the Last Thought," a powerful novel about the Genocide and memory–which has been translated into several languages.
Immediately after returning to Los Angeles–Hovannisian was the keynote speaker on April 5 for Glendale Unified School District workshop on teaching about the Armenian genocide. The teachers–according to Sara Cohan–Education Director of Genocide Education Project which coordinated the event–were deeply moved and impressed by the "smooth and thoughtful" presentation and "compelling overview" of the Armenian experience. Hovannisian previously participated in similar teacher workshops coordinated by Facing History and Ourselves–Inc.–in Los Angeles–Montebello–Santa Barbara–Los Gatos– San Francisco–Chicago–Boston–Brookline–Worcester–New York City–Annandale-on-Hudson–Long Island–Memphis–and West Palm Beach.
Professor Hovanissian and Dr. Vartiter Hovannisian then traveled to Clark University in Worcester on April 19-20 to take part in the celebration of the successful completion of the fundraising campaign for the Kaloosdian-Mugar Chair of Armenian Genocide Studies and Modern Armenian History. This is the only position in Armenian Studies in the United States that carries the word "Genocide" in its title–with the first chair holder being Dr. Simon Payaslian–a graduate of UCLA’s Armenian History program.
During a dinner for major donors hosted by President and Mrs. Bassett at their residence–the Harrington House–Hovannisian delivered a congratulatory message and challenge to attract and support students to the program. Then–following an engaging public lecture by Professor Payaslian on his recent book–"United States Policy toward the Armenian Question and Armenian Genocide," he reflected briefly on the issue of pragmatism versus humanitarianism in foreign policy.
Hovannisian was also the keynote speaker at the Bay Area’s commemoration of the Armenian genocide in San Francisco City Hall on April 25. Following the greetings of Mayor Gavin Newsom and remarks in Armenian by Dr. Antranig Kasbarian–Hovannisian addressed the large gathering on the theme of universalizing the Armenian experience as a way of integrating it into collective human memory. He noted the progress made toward that goal in recent years and the challenges that still have to be met in the struggle of the Armenian people for international recognition and condemnation of the crime and for acts of contrition and restitution by the perpetrator.
From San Francisco–Dr. Hovannisian traveled to Lyon to participate in an international symposium on April 28-29 under the honorary presidency of Mary Robinson–former president of the Irish Republic and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The conference was organized by "Le Collectif Reconnaissance," an alliance of fifteen human rights groups–with support from a variety of French academic institutions–municipal and regional administrations–and the French Senate and Ministry of Culture.
The primary themes of the conference were devoted to Genocides and Crimes against Humanity; The Consequences of Genocides; and The Prevention of Genocides: Obstacles and Dynamics for Action. Each of the three themes was further divided into particular topics. Opening addresses were made by Jules Mardirossian–president of "Le Collectif Reconnaissance," and Jean-Jack Queyranne–former president of the Rhone-Alpes Region.
For the session on the political consequences of genocide–Dr. Hovannisian was asked to speak on a topic that appeared in the program with the lengthy French title–"The Crime and Its State Denial Are the Foundations of the Successor State That Oppresses the Survivors and Nourishes Antagonisms: The Example of the Armenian Genocide and Kemalist Turkey." In his presentation–Hovannisian traced the patterns of denial from the very beginning of the Genocide in 1915 through the forced exodus of the survivors and appropriations of Armenian goods and properties by the Kemalist regime in the 1920s. He analyzed the efforts of the Turkish state to deceive and to suppress memory of the crime–a campaign that has gone through several distinct phases and now continues into the twenty-first century.
General and specific aspects of genocide and its prevention were addressed by the twenty-five conference participants–who included–among others–Roger Smith of the United States–Yair Auron of Israel–and Sevane Garibian–Janine Altounian–and Kevork Kepenekian of France. A powerful visual display–mounted under the direction of Daniel Meguerditchian–incorporated the crimes committed against the Armenia’s–Ukrainians–Jews–Gypsies–Cambodians–Tibetans–and Rwandans and other African peoples.
While in Lyon–Professor Hovannisian also visited the newly-dedicated Armenian memorial in the heart of the city at the Place Bellecour. Designed by architect Leonardo Basmadjian–the monument includes thirty-six aesthetically-placed columns and a ground-level–gold-lettered stonework with a trilingual commemorative inscription in French–English–and Armenian: "In the memory of the 1,500,000 Armenia’s–who were exterminated by the ?Young Turk’ government during the years 1915-1918–and of the victims of all genocides and crimes against humanity."