Lectures focus on history of Armenian Genocide

by Jessica Thompson

Dr. Richard Hovanissian, a historian of the Armenian Genocide at the University of California, Los Angeles, will present a series of lectures today about the World War I genocide of 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish government.
The focus of the lectures is to provide information about the genocide, as well as a discussion about why it has been largely ignored both in political and scholarly arenas.
“This is a very controversial issue because the Turks are denying that the genocide took place,” said Stephen Feinstein, director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. “It occurred under a different government, but the Turks are afraid of reparations.”
Kemal Yesin, a member of the University’s Turkish American Student Association, said the Turkish government accepts that Armenians were killed, but argues the deaths cannot be classified as a genocide.
“There was a war going on in which the Muslin population, including Turks, suffered as many if not more casualties,” Yesin said. “There was no systematic killing of Armenians by the Turkish government.”
Yesin added that numbers of Armenian casualties have been greatly exaggerated. Turkish authorities estimate 600,000 Armenians were killed.
Resolution 596, a bill passed Wednesday by the House Foreign Relations Committee, is the first official U.S. recognition of the tragedy, Feinstein said.
He said the NATO alliance between the United States and Turkey is the primary reason the U.S. government has, until now, avoided acknowledgement of the genocide.
The resolution came following pressure from both the Armenian community and human rights groups, said Dr. Massis Yeterian, a retired University alumnus who provided the funding to bring Hovanissian to the University.
Yeterian’s Armenian heritage — both of his parents were genocide survivors — makes his interest especially personal.
“My mother and father were the only survivors from very large families,” Yeterian said. “Living in an Armenian community, all the families had the same stories of loss. The subject of the genocide was part of our education.”
Yeterian said his hope is that the genocide becomes public knowledge not only to Armenians but to the world.
“Turkey has done a good job of bottling up the issue, but the proof is there,” Yeterian said.
Much of the genocide’s documentation was done by Henry Morganthau, the U.S. secretary of state under the President Woodrow Wilson. Interviews with survivors have also provided missing information.
Feinstein said some historians believe the Holocaust could have been averted if the Armenian genocide had been publicly acknowledged with of war crimes trials.
“In July 1939, Hitler said ‘Who now remembers the Armenians?'” Feinstein said. “He was basically saying that the world doesn’t give a damn about genocide.”
Yesin said the Turkish perspective has not been fairly represented.
“It is disappointing that the voice of the Turkish people has not been heard,” he said.
He added that Resolution 596 is unfair and biased.
“This will definitely affect Turkish-American relations,” he said. “It was not a just decision.”

Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at (612) 676-1862 x3232.