AASSSG Symposium on Prevention of Genocide
Press release April 2010
By Susan Markar
On Tuesday, April 6th at the AGBU Center in New York City, the Armenian -American Society for Studies on Stress and Genocide (AASSSG) held its annual symposium on Genocide Prevention. This year’s symposium was entitled, “Preventing Genocide through Awareness, Insight and Education.” The program began with President Dr. Ani Kalayjian welcoming the attendees, thanking the AGBU for providing the venue, and introducing the award-winning film, “The River Ran Red,” by Dr. J. Michael Hagopian. The film depicts the history of the Armenian Genocide with survivors reliving the details of the atrocities in their own words. The film begins with the massacres at the Euphrates River and ends at Deir Zor where children were incinerated in caves. Deir Zor has been described as hell on earth and as the point of no return.
There are facts and statistics for the Genocide of the Armenians and other Christian minorities, but Dr. Hagopian’s film is all about the human factor, like a son wanting to feed his dying mother or a sister wanting to save her baby sister. In the film, one woman describes the beheading of a crying baby. As a little girl, witnessing this horrific act, she thinks and keeps thinking that there must be a way that she can reattach the baby’s head.
The film also shows how non-Armenians kept written accounts of this silent Genocide. A niece recalls that her Aunt Polly, part of an American missionary family, had written that she asked the Turkish soldiers to take her to the valley where all the Armenians are forced to go. For two days Aunt Polly was allowed to go to the valley that was full of Armenian corpses. On the third day, the Turkish soldiers decided she had followed them far enough. They knew they couldn’t threaten her outright, as an American, without getting the American government involved. So, they forced her to turn back by putting a pistol to her driver’s head.
After the film, which depicted the traumatic history Dr Kalayjian asked to turn to the next generation and to find out what the students had written in their award – winning Krieger essays. Awards were given to the students who had creative conclusions and were able to incorporate a larger view on Genocides. The Kreiger essay topic has been, “What the Legacy of Genocide Means to Me.” One of the winners said that as a Palestinian, it (genocide) hits home, as it is happening right now and just like the Armenians no one wants to talk about it. “My goal,” he added, “is to spread awareness of cultural genocide.”
Dr. Kalayjian and the AASSSG Committee presented Dr. Hagopian with the 2010 AASSSG Outstanding Achievement Award for his commitment and dedication to making documentaries about the Armenian Genocide. In his remarks upon receiving the award, he said “I wanted you to feel what it was like to go through genocide and that I wanted the survivors to tell the story themselves, and how they felt when it was happening to them.”
As a genocide survivor himself, Dr. Hagopian, a 96 years young and energetic person, told the story of how as a boy his family was forced to leave Harpout and the family dog named Humor behind. He recalled that his father rented a Model T. Ford and his family drove off with Humor crying and chasing the car. To this day, Dr. Hagopian said in a somber tone of voice, “I still have the image of a dog chasing his loved ones.” He added that he uses imagery like this in his films that will resonate with the viewers.
Dr. Kalayjian thanked Dr. Hagopian, for his awareness, insight, and commitment to the Armenian cause. She then introduced the next speaker, Michael Bobelian, author of Children of Armenia. Mr. Michael Bobelian began his presentation with two main points. The first was the issue of Turkish denial that the Ottoman Empire got away with the crime of genocide and still to this day denies the truth of the genocide.
The second point and amazing fact was that the Armenian Genocide was well known throughout the world as it was taking place in 1915. Every major newspaper and magazine covered the genocide. The New York Times alone featured more than 100 articles in 1915. Armenians were the first beneficiaries of aid, similar to today’s Live Aid. Thousands of American volunteers had pitched in to help along with various organizations. The Near East Foundation used celebrities like Jackie Coogan to ask for donations of evaporated milk for the starving Armenians. Charity events were also held to raise funds for the Armenian victims.
Mr. Bobelian went on to reinforce the value of Hitler’s infamous quotation a little more than two decades later, “After all, who today remembers the genocide of the Armenians?” He then stated that there was a long period of silence and that it wasn’t until 1965, 50 years later that Armenians started reminding the world of the 1st Genocide of the 20th century. Mr. Bobelian said that in April of 1965, there was a groundswell of emotional response. In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, 100,000 had Armenians participated in an Armenian Genocide Commemoration, in spite of covert Soviet pressure. Another fact reported by Mr. Bobelian, there were no monuments dedicated to the victims of the genocide until 1967-1968.
He continued with the history of the Armenian Genocide Resolution, beginning in 1974 when the first legislative advocates reached the executive branch. He told the story of Senator Bob Dole’s friendship with Armenian surgeon, Dr. Hampar Kelikian. Dr. Kelikian had greatly influenced his life. He brought awareness of the Armenian Genocide to the senator. In September of 1989, Dole introduced the resolution on the Armenian Genocide. Mr. Bobelian noted that one paragraph would trigger five months of intense opposition against the resolution. Turkey had lobbying firms, like Halliburton, who warned against the dangers of passing such a resolution. Not only would Turkey be against the resolution and the word “genocide,” opponents included the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Defense Department and Senator Byrd, as Mr. Bobelian recounted the history. For four days, Senator Byrd led the opposition in the Senate. Senator Dole, as Mr. Bobelian quoted him said, “Sometimes we have to judge right from wrong.” Mr. Bobelian concluded his presentation with hope for right to prevail.
After his speech Dr. Kalayjian thanked him and gave the audience an opportunity to ask questions to the speakers. The program ended with breaking news. Dr. Hagopian reported that he has a project with director Steven Spielberg that will be formally agreed upon by next week. The project, part of the Shoah Foundation, provides for the preservation and dissemination of all his interviews of survivors and eyewitnesses of the Armenian Genocide.
A reception and networking followed where Dr Kalayjian thanked the AASSSG Committee members: Dr. Gergerian, Harry Milian, Seta Capellini, Susan Markarian and Dr Shahinian; as well as Association for Trauma Outreach & Prevention (ATOP) interns: Jennifer De Mucci, Katherine Kaze, and Tochi Anueyiagu. Special gratitude to Alinda and Arlette Vartanian for taking care of the reception. The next commemoration will take place in April 2010, for more information kindly visit www.meaningfulworld.com. AASSSG is a not-for-profit charitable organization therefore your donations are tax deductable. Kindly send your donation checks made out to AASSSG and mail it to 135 Cedar Street, Cliffside Park, NJ 07010