AGBU Asbeds of Los Angeles Host Annual ‘Evening with Intellectuals’


LOS ANGELES — Late last spring, the AGBU Asbeds of Los Angeles invited Turkish historian Dr. Cengiz Aktar, from Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, and Prof. Kevork Bardakjian, from the University of Michigan, to speak at their fifth annual “An Evening with Intellectuals” event.

A crowd of 350 guests packed the Agajanian Auditorium of the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School on June 19, showing great interest in the developing juncture in Armenian-Turkish relations, the topic of Aktar’s and Bardakjian’s discussions.

Asbed Executive Committee member Dr. Gabriel Aslanian served as emcee for the evening and was joined by Berj Shahbazian, chairman of the Southern California District Committee, to welcome guests, including members of the AGBU Central Board of Directors, Manoogian-Demirdjian School faculty and board of trustees, former Asbed chairmen and executive committees, reverend clergy and young professionals.

According to AGBU Asbed Chairman Kurken Berksanlar, the goal of their organization is to keep the public informed on issues related to Armenian national identity, history, culture, politics and current affairs from various viewpoints. As he took the stage, he discussed how Hrant Dink pursued Genocide recognition and how other like-minded individuals are also opening the eyes of today’s Turkish citizens to that reality.

Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish citizen, is one of the figures behind the “Forgiveness Campaign,” an effort to gain acceptance of the Genocide and request a pardon from the Armenian community. Later, he discussed ways to ask for forgiveness from “our Armenian brothers and sisters.”

His campaign, led by over 300 intellectuals, scientists and businessmen, was written by Ali Bayramoglu and spread over the Internet for months, giving Turks the opportunity to raise a different voice with over 30,000 signatures of support. Compared to the Turkish population of 72 million, this is only a small percentage, but still a big step in Armenian-Turkish relations on a broader level.

Aktar stressed the importance of the Internet in increasing the availability of widespread information and opinions about the Genocide to a diverse audience. As the press slowly becomes freer in Turkey, expressing the unfortunate history of the Armenians is more apparent and is gradually starting to change present relations in the country.

After Aktar, Bardakjian took the stage and not only condemned the Turkish government’s policy of Genocide denial, but also spoke out against the creation of a new commission of historians in Turkey that will let the past stay forgotten. According to Bardakjian, today only a few Turkish individuals are starting to reveal their Armenian identity and the roots of their family members. He also discouraged Turkey’s potential entry into the European Union.

A reception followed the program where guests and participants continued to discuss the issue of evolving Armenian-Turkish relations.