Genocide Prevention Symposium Held at UN


By Florence Avakian

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

NEW YORK — The trauma of genocide does not end with the killing. The tragic effects can be long-term and very damaging. In the 20th century alone, tens of millions have been killed in Armenia, Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia, Guatemala, Darfur, Iraq, Rwanda, Sarajevo, South Sudan, as well as countless Greeks, Assyrians and Palestinians.

At the New York headquarters of the United Nations (UN), on Thursday, April 4, a special symposium took place, titled, “Toward Preventing Genocide — Nations Acknowledging their Dark History, and Practicing Mindful Non-Violence.” It was organized and moderated by Dr. Ani Kalayjian, president of the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention (ATOP).

Opening the conference was Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Garen Nazarian, who reminded the audience of more than 60 UN delegation representatives that the “horror of genocide is repeating itself in different parts of the world today, and innocent victims continue to be persecuted for no other reason than their ethnicity, religion or national origin. International cooperation and action are required to facilitate the timely prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide,” he stated.

Nazarian noted that the United Nations Human Rights Council recently adopted a resolution initiated by Armenia, and co-sponsored by almost 60 member states of the international body which “stresses the importance of truth, justice, reparation and that perpetrators should be held criminally responsible on the national or international level, and affirmed.” He also emphasized the importance of education in the prevention of genocide.

Concerning the Armenian Genocide, he stated that the process of international recognition of this genocide, the first of the 20th century, “will be continued despite Turkey’s denial of that indisputable historical fact.”

Following his remarks, Nazarian presented awards to the high school students who were winners of the Krieger Essay Contest on the prevention of genocide.

A film by Dr. Michael Hagopian, and produced by Carla Garabedian, called “Voices from the Lake” was shown featuring eyewitness harrowing accounts by survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Archival photography detailed the atrocities, including the torturing of women and children. “Grieving Armenian parents gave up their children to Turks who were lined up in every town and city as the death marchers passed through. They gave their precious children up so they would not be killed even though they would probably go into harems or become slaves,” said survivor Garabed Der Minassian.

An aid worker, Marie Jacobsen, reported that “a nation was disappearing.” An eyewitness to the atrocities, she said the Turkish gendarmes killed with axes and bayonets when they ran out of bullets.”

PREVENTION AND HEALING

Introducing the distinguished panel of speakers who focused on lessons for prevention and healing, Dr. Kalayjian noted that the Ottoman Empire following the Genocide, in its court sessions was the first to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Twenty-eight countries of the world have also recognized the Armenian Genocide. “Both sides – victims and perpetrators need to heal,” she stressed.

Dr. Joyce Apsel, a professor at New York University and Institute for the Study of Genocide, in her talk on “Challenges and Initiatives for Prevention,” recalled that two international declarations were passed in 1948: the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” and the “Declaration of the Prevention of Genocide.” Across the world, the “human capacity to commit genocide has continued,” she said. “It’s important to understand and work for the prevention of any genocide.”

Apsel revealed that at the Zoryan Institute’s Genocide and Human Rights University Program, where she has taught, Armenian and Turkish students would come and talk to each other, a process which has been created over the years. She outlined “transitional justice mechanisms” which include many courses of education; the development of a series of norms which have a responsibility to protect an international community when states fail to meet this responsibility; a series of tribunals which would make the perpetrators responsible; and truth commissions to acknowledge what has happened. Atrocity prevention also includes non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), lawyers, ordinary people to prevent the escalation of violence, she said with emphasis.

Thea Halo, a Pontian Greek and author of Not Even my Name, spoke about the role of memoir in the healing process. She confessed that growing up, she didn’t know her heritage, and thus invented an ancient Egyptian one. She related that Greeks and Assyrians were ignored in Ottoman genocide history. Her mother, who is now almost 104, was on the death march for almost eight months with her five siblings, made into a slave and rescued by Armenians. “She never denigrated Turks, only the Turkish and Ottoman governments,” said Halo, who read harrowing excerpts about the Genocide from her book. “A memoir can be a bridge for healing,” she noted quietly.

Alexander Dinelaris, who has written the award-winning play, “Red Dog Howls,” which details how he found out about his Armenian heritage, was the recipient of the Armenian American Society for Studies on Stress and Genocide (AASSSG) 2013 Outstanding Achievement Award. He revealed that though he is part Cuban, Puerto Rican, Greek and Armenian, he was raised by his Armenian grandmother who never spoke about her travails during the Genocide. “I have carried the fear and guilt for decades, and worried that I would pass them on to my unborn child at the time. I wanted to break the cycle of guilt, fear, shame, humiliation. Genocide depends on dehumanization, and plays do the opposite. My play, “Red Dog Howls” was a ‘collective catharsis,’” he said, quoting from Plato.

During the question-and-answer period, it was pointed out that one of the major reasons that the Turks have not acknowledged the Armenian Genocide is because of the potentially expensive reparation. What is needed is the acknowledgment and validation of the Genocide, and appropriate reparation, the latter being a cause of vast differences of opinion in the Armenian community.

Again, it was repeated that the effects of a genocide persist through generations with the subsequent generations carrying survivors’ guilt. Before healing can be achieved, the roots of the problem must be addressed, it was stressed.

The event concluded with a moment of silence for all victims of genocide in the past and present.

Co-sponsors of the symposium included the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Armenia to the United Nations, ATOP, AASSSG, Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), Meaningfulworld, Armenian Constitutional Rights Protective Centre of Armenia, Voices for Freedom, and Institute for Multicultural Counseling & Education Services, (IMCES).