Community Leaders Discuss ‘The Road Ahead’ for Genocide Recognition


From left, Michael Mensoian, Khatchig Mouradian and Aram Hamparian

By Thomas C. Nash
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

WATERTOWN,Mass. — A symposium dedicated to exploring the next steps for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide saw both unity and disagreement last Thursday, with four panelists sharing four differing opinions on how the movement should proceed.

The panel discussion, held at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center on May 12, was jointly sponsored by the Armenian General Benevolent Union Young Professionals (AGBU-YP) Boston and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Sardarabad Gomideh, in a first collaboration of its kind locally.

The panel featured participants from fields ranging from academia to political advocacy, including Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America; Marc Mamigonian, director of programs at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research; Michael G. Mensoian, professor emeritus of political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Khatchig Mouradian, Armenian Weekly editor and PhD student at Clark University.

A fifth panelist, Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, was unable to attend.

Moderator Alin K. Gregorian, editor of the Mirror-Spectator, began the discussion by asking, “If there is a road ahead, that must mean there is a road behind us. What steps brought us here?”

Hamparian began by stressing that efforts to get the Armenian Genocide recognized by Congress was not the endgame, but rather seeking reparations, an issue that became one of the most debated items during the discussion.

“We are asking [the Turkish government] to acknowledge a truth and stop obstructing justice,” Hamparian said. “What exactly is it that Turkey fears? Are they so afraid of a word, or what that word will lead to?”

He stressed great strides have been made in the field. He likened the uphill battle for recognition to that of the fight against the tobacco lobby, which only a couple of decades ago, had seemed insurmountable.

Mensoian, a contritubor to the Armenian Weekly, stressed the need for Armenian- Americans to focus on old Armenian lands that are under duress, such as Karabagh, which though it is liberated, remains under threat, and the Javakhk region of Georgia, old Armenian lands, where Armenians face government persecution for keeping their language or schools.

“We have elevated [Genocide recognition] to a cause célèbre that is the most important thing as far as the Armenian-American community is concerned,” he said. “My view is that it’s a political dead end. What we need to focus on are the immediate problems.”

That remark set off a back-and-forth that saw Hamparian call Mensoian’s assertion a “false choice” between pushing for recognition and focusing on other issues. Mouradian and Mamigonian both worked to highlight the need for justice both in academia and in the reparations movement.

To exit the Genocide recognition movement, Mamigonian noted, would mean “a void that will readily and eagerly be filled” by the Turkish government’s version of history.

When it came to the geopolitical issues that surrounded the Armenian Genocide, the panel shared mostly the same views. The group was in agreement that opening of the border between Armenia and Turkey would likely have adverse effects for Armenia, and that discussion of reparations to Armenia was not an issue that should be pushed aside — despite the fact that the issue may be driving Turkey to avoid recognizing the Genocide.

Mouradian stressed that the notion of whether such aims are “realistic” gets in the way of justice, saying that the arguments that modern day Turks aren’t to blame for the Genocide is similar to that of the United States’ history of slavery.

“I came to this country a few years ago. Am I responsible for slavery or the destruction of Native Americans? No. Am I benefiting from the consequences and the results? Yes, I am. Every single Turkish person, one way or the other, is benefiting from the consequences of the Armenian Genocide.”

“There is violence in the status quo,” Mouradian added. “When people say ‘Be realistic,’ they are essentially saying, ‘Do what we want you to do.’”

Mamigonian concluded by examining the talk of a “politically-powerful” Armenian-American community and a weak Turkish equivalent he says is put forward often in Turkish American groups.

“I think recognition for Armenia will be a source of tremendous moral satisfaction, I don’t know that it’s going to make Armenia any stronger or any safer,” Mamigonian said. “It will probably lead to better relations between the two countries. But overnight is it going to transform Armenia into having a less corrupt government or an abundance of natural resources and greater strategic importance? I don’t know about that.”

At the beginning of the evening, YP Boston Chairwoman Nicole Meregian gave opening remarks. She also noted state Rep. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown) was in attendance. Chris Mensoian of AGBU YP Boston and Jirayr Beugekian of the ARF Sardarabad Gomideh served as event chairs.

AYF Great Boston Nejdeh chapter chairman, Stepanos Keshishian, said: “Personally, I thought it was a great initiative to bring together Armenians of different sub-communities for a discussion. Although we may have differing political beliefs or ideologies, the important thing is that we all work for the health of our nation and for the well-being and comfort of all our brothers and sisters around the world. As Aram [Hamparian] mentioned, it will come in small accomplishments aimed at ensuring justice. Dialogue aimed at achieving these successes is, in itself, a step in the right direction. That’s not to say that we should all give up our individual beliefs and adapt to a centralized ideology. The point is that we each, as individuals or as groups, have the ability to make accomplishments, and dialogue will certainly not hurt.”

An audio recording of the symposium will be available at www.mirrorspectator.com.

(Some material from the AGBU was used in this story.)