Genocide Museum Director on a Mission To Unite All for 100th Anniversary in 2015


By Daphne Abeel
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

WATERTOWN, Mass. — Dr. Hayk Demoyan, director of the Genocide Museum Institute in Yerevan, is a little jet-lagged — and no wonder. He was on a recent 10-day visit to the United States, specifically the Boston area; before that, he had traveled to both Slovenia and Cyprus.

In an interview at the Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) in early April, Demoyan explained the motivation for his recent travels.

“I went to Cyprus to celebrate Armenian Days there and to Slovenia where I spoke to the Armenian community in Ljubljana. I am here to develop some collaborative and exchange relationships and also to plan for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide,” he said.

He added, “It is essential that the entire Armenian community be united when the time comes to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in 2015. That is my current mission.”

Demoyan, who is in his 30s, was appointed director of the Genocide Institute in 2006. He was born in Gumri, but moved to Yerevan in 1993 to attend Yerevan State University, earning first a degree in anthropology and then a doctorate in modern Turkish studies.

The institute, which was founded in 1995, comprises a 2,000-meter space devoted to exhibitions of photographs and documents of what happened from 1915 to 1922. The material covers more than the Armenian experience. Many countries and organizations are represented, including the US, Russia and the Red Cross.

“I really didn’t want to take this position at first,” said Demoyan. “I was only 31 when I was appointed and I had no experience, and there are many important people coming to the institute from other countries. It is the focus of a lot of interest and I wasn’t sure I would be up to the task. At least a quarter of a million people visit the institute each year and that is exclusive of the many thousands who come on the day of commemoration of the Genocide.”

This was Demoyan’s third trip to the US. In 2008, he visited the Armenian Assembly of America’s offices in Washington to begin discussions of a relationship between the institute in Yerevan and the planned Genocide Museum in Washington. At that time, he attended a ceremony in New York where he co-signed an agreement of cooperation between the Armenian Genocide Museum of America and the Near East Foundation. Washington’s Genocide Museum, to be housed in the former Washington Bank Building, has been a work in progress for several years and is slated to open sometime this year.
While in the Boston area, Demoyan visited the Holocaust Memorial and the memorial to the Irish Potato Famine, both in downtown Boston. He addressed the St. James Men’s Club in Watertown and on April 6, gave a talk at the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) on his new book, Sports and Athletics in the Ottoman Empire, which features the history of sports and physical training among the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. The rise of athletic clubs, the organization of Pan-Armenian Olympic Games and the establishment of Boy Scouts are among the topics Demoyan covered in this fascinating run-through of Armenia’s longstanding sports history. On April 9, Demoyan attended Clark University’s conference titled “The Armenian Genocide 95 Years Later.”

He returned to Yerevan on April 14 to prepare for the Genocide commemoration to be held on April 24 and to be present on April 23, when the Genocide Institute will open a new exhibit featuring the front-page coverage of the Genocide. The items include illustrated articles from papers around the world, complete with shocking graphics that bear testimony to the events of the time. Especially notable are English, Russian, French and American publications on issues pertaining to the Hamidian massacres, the Adana atrocities of 1909 and of course, the Genocide of 1915-1922.

“This media exhibit might come to ALMA,” he said, “because we are forming a new relationship with them, which will include exchanges.”

Demoyan shook off any suggestion that the Genocide Museum is affected by possible political turmoil in Armenia. “The state budget supports us and recently the president issued an order to double the salaries of employees at the museum,” he said. “Also recently, I submitted a five-year plan and had a meeting with the prime minister and there is agreement that there will be more funds available for events and activities at the museum.”

He added, “My most important agenda, wherever I go, is to speak about how to commemorate the centennial of the Genocide. We must develop a common Armenia agenda — we must show that we are united in our commitment to honor this very significant occasion.”