Beirut: Students unite to remember the 20th century’s first genocide

Daily Star, Lebanon
April 24 2004

Students unite to remember the 20th century’s first genocide
Armenian groups mount program to shine light on Atrocity

By Kaelen Wilson-Goldie
Daily Star staff

On April 24, 1915, the Turkish government placed some 200 Armenian
community leaders under arrest in what was known at the time as the
city of Constantinople. According to the Armenian National Institute,
many arrests would follow, as would many forced expulsions and
summary executions.

Eighty-nine years later, Armenians all over the world solemnly
commemorate April 24 as the start of the Armenian genocide, when the
Young Turks killed 1.5 million Armenians. By 1923, the Turks had
succeeded in pushing the rest of the community out of eastern Turkey.

It is a tragedy that has, for decades, fought for the most basic
reaction – the simple act of recognition.

The Armenian genocide is considered the first such atrocity of the
20th century, but since it occurred a good 30 years before the UN
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, getting the
event acknowledged as such has been difficult. Such countries as
Lebanon, France, Greece, Cyprus, Russia, and Argentina have
recognized the genocide, while Turkey has steadfastly refused. As a
result, the commemorations on April 24 tend to carry an activist
cast, part of a longstanding effort to force Turkey’s hand in coming
clean about its history.

This year, for the first time, students from five major Lebanese
universities have joined forces to assemble a two-week program of
events marking April 24. “The Armenian Genocide: 89 Years of Unfolded
Truth” started last week and continues through April 30. It includes
an intelligent mix, from photography exhibitions and slide
projections to academic lectures and several film screenings.

The centerpiece of the program is Atom Egoyan’s critically acclaimed
feature film “Ararat,” which will be shown at the American University
of Beirut (AUB) on Monday and at the Saint Joseph University (USJ) on

“‘Ararat’ is very modern,” says Aram Kradjian, a 21-year-old student
at AUB who heads up the Lebanese-Armenian Heritage Club. “It’s not a
typical black-and-white documentary. Going to see it is like going to
the movies normally.”

As such, Kradjian hopes to attract a wider audience to the screenings
than that which might otherwise attend. But balancing the popular
appeal of going to the movies is the academic specificity of
attending a lecture at AUB on Wednesday by philosopher Henry

A professor at Worcester State College in western Massachusetts and
the coordinator of the Center for Human Rights there, Theriault will
deliver a talk on social theory and the denial of genocide. He has
long studied the after effects of genocides, especially on diaspora
populations and in the Armenian case.

The Lebanese-Armenian Heritage Club invited Theriault specifically,
but his lecture fits in well with the week’s events. All told, the
student-run commemoration took almost three months to coordinate. “It
was a big achievement,” says Kradjian. “There are so many different
political parties that Armenians living in Lebanon belong to. Getting
five clubs together is a big deal. And from every club, there are
three representatives who all have different opinions.”

Still, students from AUB, USJ, Haigazian University, Notre Dame
University (NDU), and the Lebanese American University (LAU) managed
to find common ground.

Because AUB has a fairly established network of student clubs and a
method for allocating resources to them, the Lebanese-Armenian
Heritage Club was able to finance about three-quarters of the budget.
NDU, by contrast, established its Armenian Student Association only
quite recently, while LAU just has a loose federation of Armenian
students. Still, the groups pooled their resources and came up with a
diverse program. They also put a strong effort into public relations,
printing 15,000 copies of their well-designed brochures and stickers
and distributing them both through official university channels as
well as by hand.

“Each university has its program and its budget,” says Armig
Vartanian, 20, a law student at USJ who serves as secretary of the
school’s Armenian student association. “Each year when we do this,
students ask about the case. Some students are still indifferent. But
all the clubs help each other out.”

Vartanain points to the strength of the BBC documentary, “Armenia –
The Betrayed,” as a particular highlight of this year’s commemoration
and as an effective means of bringing contemporary relevance to the
nearly 90-year-old tragedy. “That the BBC has given its time to this
issue means a lot to us. Sometimes people say that it has been a long
time, and Turkey still denies it. But this documentary proves” that
the issue still matters.

“Armenia – The Betrayed” first screened on the BBC last January.
Correspondent Fergal Keane looks at how relations between the US and
Turkey, especially in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, have
politicized the issue of recognizing the Armenian genocide. Turkey
has always maintained that the Armenian population that was killed
between 1915 and 1923 died in the context of a civil war and not a

But the documentary gives an eye-opening account of both historical
documents supporting systematic extermination as well as insight into
current events, in which Presidents Clinton and Bush were both
apparently pressured to withdraw bills from Congress seeking to
recognize the Armenian genocide because the US did not want to
disrupt diplomatic relations with Turkey at critical moments.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS