COLUMBIA STUDENTS HOST DISTINGUISHED GENOCIDE PANEL
By Serouj Aprahamian
Friday, April 17, 2009
In an effort to pay tribute to the memory of the 1.5 million victims of
the Armenian Genocide and inspire vigilance against such atrocities,
both past and present, the Armenian Student Association of Columbia
University hosted a distinguished panel lecture this past Thursday,
Over 200 students, faculty and local community members were in
attendance for the event, which featured moderator Andrea Kannapell
of the New York Times, renowned genocide scholar Taner Akcam, and
famed Armenian-American attorney Mark Geragos. The official headline
for the evening was "The Armenian Genocide and Its Relevance Today."
"We were delighted to see the panel bring together the Columbia
community to discuss the Armenian Genocide," said Nora Khanarian,
a student at Columbia and a member of the organizing committee for
the event. "We are optimistic that constructive dialogue about the
important ramifications of our history is possible in the future."
Khanarian’s fellow organizer, William Bairamian, added, "It was
imperative to have an Armenian Genocide remembrance and educational
event at Columbia University, as it should be on every respected
university campus in the world. Every Armenian-American student
should feel that it is their duty to educate those who do not know
about the Genocide."
The evening began with the reading of a statement from the noted
psychiatrist and genocide prevention scholar David Hamburg. Hamburg was
scheduled to take part in the panel but was unable to make it due to
last-minute health reasons. Nevertheless, he sent a condensed version
of his talk which was read aloud for the audience by Ms. Kannapell.
This was followed by Professor Akcam’s presentation which focused
on Armenian-Turkish relations over the past 30 years and what will
be needed to move ahead in the future. He addressed such matters
as developments within Turkish society, the talks between Turkey
and Armenia, and the issue of the US position on the Armenian
Genocide. At several points during his talk, Akcam insisted that,
"Obama should use the word . . .genocide," and that, "by using this
term, %u218genocide,’ the United States can liberate Turks, Armenians,
and everybody in this conflict."
The next speaker to take the podium was Mark Geragos, who addressed
the legal implications of the Genocide and focused explicitly on
the need for reparations and restitution. After talking about his
experiences as a lead attorney for the Genocide-era claims against
insurance companies New York Life and AXA, Geragos expounded upon
why he believes reparations are so important for the securing of
justice. "You can never, as a victim, never be made whole until you
have restitution," stated Geragos. "There is never going to be a
resolution to the so-called Armenian question until we get back our
land, until we get back the monies that were taken from us, and until
we get back some kind of reparations."
After such forthright and succinct presentations, there naturally
was a great deal of issues ripe for discussion during the question
and answer period. Audience members included many Turkish students
who were not only hostile toward the facts of the Armenian Genocide,
but were also taken aback by the insistence that reparations would
be needed to right this wrong committed by their government.
Some of the Turkish attendees expressed their disagreement through
prolonged statements, at times refusing to sit down after being asked
politely by the moderator to recite their question. Many others
were more cordial and presented their questions to the panelists
and received forthright answers in return. This lively back and
forth continued as other audience members raised questions about how
Armenians could get their family lands back, the past operations of
ASALA and the Justice Commandos, and the legality of Turkey’s present
blockade of Armenia.
Following the Q&A, Bairamian took to the floor to offer some closing
remarks on behalf of the organizers. "We are here not only to remember
those that needlessly perished in the Armenian Highlands and in the
deserts of Der-Zor," he began, "but to make clear to any perpetrator
of genocide that their crimes will never be forgotten–not so long as
there is a sense of humanity and justice among the men and women of
this otherwise beautiful world." Posing the question of whether we
are doing enough to end the scourge of genocide, Bairamian posited,
"We will know the answer to that question when our children learn of
genocide not as a current event but as an aberration of the history
of a time long passed."
The event concluded with a nearby reception which continued in the
spirit of the conference, as attendees congregated and discussed many
of the issues raised by the thought-provoking panel. Professor Akcam,
in particular, could be seen engaging with many of the Turkish students
who proceeded to congregate around him.
Reflecting upon the success of the evening, Arpine Kocharian,
another of the main student organizers of the event, explained how her
grandfather was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide from Mush. Orphaned
at the age of 7, he went on to serve as a veteran of WWII and live
an accomplished life. Nevertheless, he was never able to recover from
the trauma of what happened to his family and an entire village back
in Mush, says Kocharian.
"I think my grandfather, would have been proud of me and my colleagues
today because our panel was able to voice the relevance of the darkest
page in our history."