BY HEIDI BOGHOSIAN
Students at Suffolk University Law School have launched an online petition urging the school’s president to withdraw its invitation to Armenian genocide denier Abraham Foxman to speak at their commencement and receive an honorary degree. Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League director, drew harsh public criticism in 2007 for opposing a congressional resolution acknowledging the 1915 extermination of approximately 1.5 million Armenians. Since the 15th century, Armenians had been treated as second-class citizens under Ottoman rule. In honoring Foxman, Suffolk University sends a message that politics are more important than acknowledging crimes against humanity.
The denial of genocide is an integral, and final, part of the genocidal process, as Genocide Watch founder Gregory Stanton has written. Despite a well-documented body of eyewitness accounts and other evidence chronicling the 20th century’s very first genocide (scholar and lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the word genocide in 1943 with the extermination of the Armenians in mind), the Turkish government continues to mount a campaign of denial through inaccurate scholarship, propaganda, aggressive lobbying, and even a law which forbids mention of the word genocide. In 2005, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness,” as was Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink who was subsequently assassinated in 2007 by a young Turkish nationalist. U.S. political and partisan allegiances with Turkey enable a range of repugnant human rights transgressions, old and new.
My grandmother Baidzar was born in Giresun, a village on the Black Sea, to parents who owned almond and filbert orchards and were active in working for protection of the Armenian minority. Baidzar remembered that men would come to their house in the middle of the night and have secret, whispered meetings upstairs, because it was against the law for minorities to assemble. The father of the poet Silva Gaboudegian was one of those men. Many years and many worlds later, an older cousin would tell my grandmother that those men were members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Baidzar remembered her mother falling to her knees crying before two officers, a Turk and a German, who came to their home on horseback, begging them to spare her family. Baidzar later watched her parents and siblings being slaughtered before escaping to an orphanage and making a treacherous passage to the United States as a mail order bride.
Around the world, on April 24, just weeks before Suffolk’s commencement, and 99 years after the mass murders, families with stories just like my grandmother’s will mark the day of observance of the genocide. April 24 is widely considered to be the starting date of a systematic and well-documented plan to eliminate the Armenians. On that day in 1915, the Interior Minister of the Ottoman Empire, Talaat Pasha, ordered the arrest and hangings of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The killings were gruesome and included beheadings of groups of babies, dismemberments, mass burnings and drownings, use of toxic gas, lethal injections of morphine or with the blood of typhoid fever patients.
Although there has been much academic recognition of the Armenian genocide, this has rarely been followed by governmental recognition. Turkey swiftly condemned a U.S. Senate committee resolution adopted on April 10, 2014 by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations labeling as genocide the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces and warned Congress against taking steps that would tarnish Turkish-American ties. Similar resolutions under past presidential administrations have also failed.
The Turkish people have been taught for decades that there was no genocide, with the result that most believe their country is being treated unfairly when genocide resolutions are raised. Continued failure to acknowledge the genocide in our history books is a disservice not only to survivors of the genocide, but also to those Turks who tried to stop it then and who face imprisonment today for publicly acknowledging the genocide.
Suffolk University should listen to its students. It has the chance to take a step forward in rectifying decades of injustice by reversing its decision to honor Abraham Foxman with an honorary law degree at its 2014 commencement. Tolerance of those who deny the Armenian genocide may be politically expedient, but it is nonetheless morally indefensible.
The syndicated radio program, “Law and Disorder,” will address this issue on the air Monday, April 21, 2015. To find out which stations near you will air the segment, visit lawanddisorder.org/stations.