BY JANO BOGHOSSIAN
ORANGE, Calif.–On April 17, Professor Richard Hovannisian, First Holder of the AEF Chair in Modern History at UCLA and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Chapman University and the University of California, Irvine, engaged in “Conversation” with Dr. Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, regarding the moral obligation of mankind to honor and preserve the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust by documenting and preserving witness and survivor testimonials, advocating for recognition, and promoting education.
Before a capacity audience in the Wallace All Faiths Chapel, the scholars touched upon their unique individual experiences and that of their communities while dealing with concepts of truth and justice in the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Hovannisian posed the question of whether there can ever be real justice for Holocaust victims, even with the countless monuments and reparations they have received, to which Wiesel simply said “no”. Hovannisian added that the Armenians, on the other hand, have not even been given the satisfaction of a modicum of formal recognition by the Republic of Turkey. He wondered about Dr. Wiesel’s view of the Holocaust being beyond the bounds of history and therefore incomparable and argued instead that the Holocaust, like the Armenian Genocide, could be contextualized and historicized without making either of them seem rational.
Dr. Elie Wiesel spoke of the Armenians’ “passion for memory” and for preserving every detail of a calamity that marked and traumatized all subsequent generations of Armenians both in homeland and Diaspora. Wiesel then described how the Armenian cause “eventually became my cause,” and discussed the importance of remembrance and what might happen once the last witness eventually passes away.
Dr. Hovannisian emphasized that selectivity of memory poses a challenge for those not connected to an event, as the Holocaust has been universalized, while Armenians still struggle with denial. “The history is not just our history, but mankind’s history,” said Hovannisian, and stated that memory must not just be linked to a single victim group.
There currently exists two institutions in Los Angeles that preserve, digitize, index and utilize survivor testimonials from the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust—UCLA’s Armenian Oral History project led by Hovannisian, and the Shoah Foundation’s much more extensive collection at the University of Southern California. Hovannisian began the UCLA program in the 1970s by having students interview survivors of the Armenian Genocide. The interviews were later transcribed and translated by a subsequent generation of students.
“Elie Wiesel and Richard Hovannisian in Conversation” was moderated by Chapman University History Department Chair Jennifer Keene and was part of the University’s week-long events featuring Elie Wiesel and organized by the Rodgers Center of Holocaust Education headed by Dr. Marilyn Harran.
In the days prior to the Chapman program, Professor Hovannisian lectured in Yerevan, Armenia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Berlin, Germany; and Scottsdale, Arizona. On April 21, he was the keynote speaker of the annual commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at St. Mary Church in Costa Mesa, California, and on May 1-2 returned to Chapman University on May 1-2 for guest lectures in two Holocaust classes. He will make a presentation on the destruction of Smyrna/Izmir in a communitywide program at St. Leon Church in New Jersey on May 17, and will be the featured speaker in Montreal on May 25 on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian republic.