BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
This year’s April 24 related activities started early. On March 30, the Armenian Bar Association and ANC-Western Region cosponsored a well attended (over 100 people) panel discussion about the recent spate of lawsuits brought on behalf of Genocide era life insurance policy holders and their descendents. In addition to the legalities, historical/diplomatic aspects of the topic were addressed. But most interesting was the consideration given to the potential impact of the INDIVIDUAL remedies garnered by the suitors on our COLLECTIVE, NATIONAL, demands from Turkey. A simple perspective on this might be phrased:
“if various entities—insurance companies, banks, and even eventually the Turkish government—settle with individual claimants for whatever harm is agreed to by the ‘two sides’, what will happen down the road to our national agenda if the Turks say ‘well, we paid each of you for damages, what else did you expect?’” It was also very disappointing to be reminded that the insurance policies were being paid off at their original value, rather factoring in the passage of time (interest, inflation, etc.)
March 31 was also an interesting evening. Organized by the AGBU Asbeds, a panel consisting of Hasan Jemal (the Genocide organizer’s grandson), Richard Hovannisian, and Pamela Steiner (Henry Morgenthau’s great granddaughter) addressed Armenian-Turkish relations. This was a packed event. People were turned away and some were sitting in the aisles or standing in the alcoves. Jemal presented the evolution of his personal awareness and understanding of the Genocide. It was well presented, sincere, and most importantly, a huge step forward relative to his comments in Boston a year-and-a-half ago when Jemal drew much criticism for his “you must understand our pain, too” approach. He described meeting, in Yerevan, with the grandson of one of his grandfather’s assassins. He told of his going to Dzidzernagapert. His family’s take on 1915 had always been “deportation” of traitorous elements and he had to get past that framework, much of which he attributed to Hrant Dink. He even credited ASALA (presumably shorthand for the various groups who took up armed struggle against Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s) with helping to trigger discussions about the Genocide in Turkey. But he still has a long way to go, as does Turkish society, the latter being ahead of the Turkish state on Genocide recognition. This state versus society distinction which Jemal emphasized is very important, and we must be very conscious of it as we develop our own perceptions and understanding of what is changing in Turkey.
Unfortunately, Jemal’s presentation was almost overshadowed by Steiner’s omissions. She brought shame to her family’s proud tradition by failing to ever say the word “genocide”. But this travesty has already been more than adequately addressed by Harut Sassounian in his column. What I’d like to address is her fetishization of “(re)conciliation”. She, like others who work in the field of conflict resolution, seem so enamored of the process that they forget all else of value to the parties in the conflict they’re addressing. Enough! Whether TARC, the infamous Armenia-Turkey protocols, or Steiner’s current efforts at bringing Armenians and Turks together, I’ve had my fill of people oh-so-empathetically trying to tell us what in less polite/PC terms is heard as “get over it”. This condescension is insufferable. Imagine! Steiner gave as an example of victimizer/victim interactions the meeting between an 18 year old German woman and an 82 year old Holocaust survivor. It was very positive. Well, no kidding! How could it be otherwise? There’s no denial involved there. Reparations have been paid. The young woman is probably not a neo-Nazi or skinhead. What an INAPPROPRIATE example! This woman should not be given the time of day by any Armenian until she apologizes to the Armenians of the world, starts using the word “Genocide”, and recognizes that not everything is negotiable!
Richard Hovannisian, of course, put Steiner in her place and got a standing ovation from the audience doing it. He, too, referenced his evolution on the matter of Armenian-Turkish interactions, lauding the great strides made by Hasan Jemal and others like him in Turkey. And here, for me, is the most important point. We must continue to support, yet simultaneously push hard, those in Turkey who are breaking with the state sponsored denialism that has defined the country, effectively since its 1923 inception in its current, republican, form. This is not a sign of non-appreciation, or ingratitude. Rather, it is a manifestation of the Armenian side’s awareness and recognition of the great strides made in Turkey lately while simultaneously measuring those strides against the gauge of where we should be—back on our lands, with reparations made and Armenian statehood established at least over the expanse of Wilson’s boundaries.
April 1 witnessed the birth of a new category of Genocide event. A highway sign dedication. Yes, you read that correctly. For the first time ever, at least in the United States, a government posted and maintained sign will direct people driving on California’s State Route 60 toour Martyrs Monument in Montebello’s Bicknell park. You may sneer, but consider that this one piece of painted metal will be seen millions of times by drivers passing by the exit to the monument. While it might be half a century late, it’s still an important legislative accomplishment that saw Turkish efforts to prevent passage in Sacramento. After the sign was unveiled with dignitaries present and the road partially shut down, a relatively short and meaningful program with roughly 200 people present completed the day’s ceremonies. A touching moment was State Assembly leader Charles Calderon’s relating how he first learned about the Genocide from “his” (actually a good Armenian friend’s) grandmother, when what he thought was an age-caused facial wrinkle turned out to be a scar from the slash of a Turkish knife.
On Sunday, April 2 UCLA’s twice yearly conference was dedicated to oral history of the Armenian Genocide. I only caught the last panel which addressed more theoretical, sociological issues and current/future lines of research. Earlier in the day, more nuts-and-bolts discussions of what to do with the various existing archives of this information had been addressed. Interesting was Taner Akcam’s closing plea for us to get our act together and make the raw data available, especially online. He told of students who do NOT do Armenian Genocide research only because material is not readily available and instead do research on the Holocaust. His topic, oral histories of Dersim’s “Kurds” was very interesting, since the survivors of those massacres told of initially being asked if there were any Armenians among them. If so, they were killed first. Then, the remainder was killed for saving the Armenians in 1915!
While the next day’s, April 3, lecture at the Ararat Eskijian on the history of the development of chairs in Armenian studies in the USA wasn’t specific to the Genocide, it is certainly related to venues for studying the Genocide. The focus was on the establishment of the chair at Harvard, followed by the efforts at UCLA/UCBerkeley. More recent developments are on the speaker’s, Marc Mamigonian, radar to study. Interesting was the slight bias involved in the lecture. It was probably unavoidable since the bulk of source documents came from NAASR’s archives, that organization’s perspectives naturally got more play, and with them, the anti-ARF slant of that organization’s Cold War period leadership. Regardless, it was a very informative lecture.
Back at the Ararat Eskijian Museum on April 9, the preliminary, 18 minute, version of an upcoming documentary, Orphans of the Genocide, was shown, along with two other pieces created by The Armenoid Team. This is a group of movie/TV industry professionals, based in Florida, who are producing documentaries on Armenian topics, and already garnering serious attention for the quality of their work. Of course, interspersed in the speaker’s, Bared Maronian, description of their work were mentions of the need for funds. But they are doing a lot with a little and deserve the community’s support. Check them out at http://www.armenoidteam.com.
As always, whether due to Genocide related events being scheduled simultaneously through the LA basin or simply life getting in the way, I cannot attend all of them. One that I really regret to see, and later heard was very informative, was the ARPA Institute’s April 14 lecture about the Armenian refugee camp at Port Said, i.e. the life of the people who inspired Franz Werfel to write The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Conversely, something that I would never would have expected to see, and frown upon, is the St Gregory church’s Ladies Society’s April 16 fashion show! Is it really necessary to hold these kinds of events in April? It’s very tacky when people schedule things like dances, trips to Las Vegas, parties, and even weddings in April. No, it’s outright embarrassing!
April 17 was a busy Sunday. Glendale ANC’s annual 10am to 4pm blood drive, held at the new Youth Center, netted 46 donors, a record. In the evening, the AYF had organized a concert of patriotic songs in the Soorp Asdvadzadzeen church’s parking lot, adjacent to the youth center, with numerous singers. I counted some 1000 people, and that may have grown after I left. It is a great idea, and was well executed, including the presence of Middle Eastern food serving “lunch trucks”, keeping with the recent fad of people chasing the upscale version of “roach coaches”. My only disappointment was the selection of songs performed by the singers while I was there. Almost all were slow. None of our fierier, more inspiring, songs seemed to make it onstage. I hope that changed later in the program.
Sandwiched between the blood drive and concert was a trip to Pasadena’s AGBU Center for a screening of “Armenian Destiny”. This hour-long piece turned out to be a documentary about the AGBU. I learned much. It was presented through the life of a fictional Genocide survivor who became active in the organization and was told in his voice. Unfortunately, too much Diaspora history was included as background to the AGBU’s doings, making the movie a bit of a drag.
Of course my current home city of Burbank issued its annual Genocide proclamation, accepted on behalf of the community and Burbank ANCA by Jaklin Khodabakhsh. A former State Assembly candidate was very impressed with the ANCA’s speaker, Gaudzag Boyajian, during the council meeting. Burbank High School student, Arpa Shahijanyan also addressed the council. The mayor, Anja Reinke, was interviewed by Horizon TV. As is now the tradition, following the proclamation, once it got dark, a brief candlelight vigil with a short program was held outside, on the City Hall steps. Some 200 people attended. The good news is that this year, the local paper covered the event, and with a very well written article at that! Last year, that was a glaring absence.
More next week. Please participate in the events and actions organized in your communities.