OREM, UT — The Armenian National Committee of Utah joined leading scholars and activists on genocide this week at Utah Valley University (UVU) in Orem for a two-day conference that dove deep into the black heart of genocide, examining its causes and possible avenues of effective prevention.
The conference, titled “Genocide: Histories, Evils and Prevention,” was the latest in a series of annual Spring conferences organized under the university’s “J. Bonner Ritchie Dialogue on Peace and Justice.” Established nearly five years ago, the conference seeks to tackle issues of relevance to peace, justice and human rights around the world.
This year the dialogue brought together distinguished scholars and human rights activists for a candid discussion on genocide, rooted in on a broad range of experiences and scholarship relating to the crime.
The conference came less than a month before the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, commemorated annually on April 24 as the first genocide of the 20th century. Earlier this month, US legislators introduced a resolution (H. Res. 252) into the House of Representatives calling on the U.S. president to properly recognize
the Armenian Genocide and finally end the cycle of genocide fueled by Turkey’s ongoing denial.
"I can’t imagine the narrowness of Turkey and not coming to terms with their past with something that was done almost 100 years ago,” said Ritchie, after his keynote presentation at the conference on Tuesday, titled Finding Hope in a Hopeless World. "Honesty is critical. Turkey needs to tell the truth. Tell it even if it is horrible."
Turkey’s leaders, year after year, threaten that any official recognition of its crime against the Armenian people, whether in a resolution or in an April 24 statement, will damage US-Turkey relations.
"The ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government has perpetuated a vicious cycle of death and destruction by those who, for a century now, feel empowered by Turkey’s example to kill and cleanse," said Sarkis Bekearian, the Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of Utah. “To prevent genocide, we must first of all prevent its denial.”
Speaking ahead of the conference, Michael Minch, the university’s director of Peace and Justice Studies, stressed the appropriateness of this year’s topic and the moral obligation the ongoing genocide in Darfur places on America to understand and solve this crime against humanity.
"With the genocide in Darfur, it’s very timely," he said, speaking to the Daily Herald. "Genocide, just like any other problem, is a problem that can be solved," he said. "It can be understood and solved. And if that’s true, then we have a moral obligation to do so."
The overarching focus of the two-day forum was to find ways to end the cycle of genocide through understanding, prevention and reconciliation. Speaking to that issue were Helen Fein, a professor and historical sociologist from Harvard University; Samuel Totten, a University of Arkansas professor and a former U.S. government atrocity investigator in Sudan; Rocky Anderson, a former Salt Lake City Mayor and outspoken advocate for stopping the genocide in Darfur; Kenneth
Campbell, an associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware; And Ervin Staub, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who is a noted scholar and author on the
subject of genocide.
Earlier this month, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The letter, signed by IAGS president Gregory Stanton, read: “We write to you as the leading international organization of scholars who study genocide. As April approaches, we urge you to ‘refer to the mass slaughter of Armenia’s as genocide in
your commemorative statement,’ as you urged President George W. Bush to do in a letter dated March 18, 2005.”
The ANC of Utah advocates for the social, economic, cultural and political rights of the area’s Armenian American community and promotes increased Armenian American civic participation at the grassroots and public policy levels.