This week, we received a press release announcing an online petition organized by a group of disgruntled Armenian university students against what they call “falsifiers of Armenian history,” alleging that there is a concerted effort to falsify Armenian history within Armenian studies programs across the U.S.
The group says that this petition, which has been already signed by more than 1,300 Armenians, is “geared against the phenomena of falsification and distortion of Armenian history. Throughout many years, the false Armenological school has claimed that (1) the Armenian people are ‘newcomers’ and ‘colonists’ in historical Armenia and that the ancestors of Armenians arrived in the Armenian Highland in the 6th century BC and destroyed the ‘Urartians’; (2) the three outstanding fifth century historians, Pavstos Buzand, Movses Khorenatsi, and Yeghishe, are ‘pseudo-historians’; (3) the territory of Artsakh historically belongs to Azerbaijan, since the Turkic Azers are the direct descendants of the Caucasian Albanians.”
Simultaneously with the online petition, the group also produced and uploaded videos on YouTube, the contents of which may upset even those signatories who believe that falsification claims are legitimate and have put their name to the petition with a genuine conviction of its message.
The “Against Falisification of Armenian History” petition says that “There is only one Armenian history! We are convinced that the Armenian students in Armenia and the diaspora must have a singular historical framework that represents genuine Armenian history and culture. The center of Armenology can only be and is our Homeland: Armenia. Therefore, we demand that all Armenian studies textbooks in the U.S. must be approved by the Armenian National Academy of Sciences. We, the undersigned, call on the academic councils of the universities in the U.S. to remove from circulation the book The Armenian People: From Ancient to Modern Times.
The somewhat uphill battle of challenging academicians is not a new one for Armenians, as I and countless others like me have encountered many an academician and professor who refused to even address issues like the Armenian Genocide within the context of early 20th century history.
One of the most vocal opponents of historical revisionism regarding the Armenian Genocide (and at a time the only voice in academia that struggled against the silence on the genocide), Professor Richard Hovannisian, is also a target of the disgruntled students.
When the petition campaign was launched, the Armenian National Academy of Sciences issued a statement on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the UCLA Armenian Studies Program, praising it for sowing the seeds for the proliferation of similar Armenian studies programs throughout the U.S.
The president of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Vladimir Barkhudarian, in his congratulatory message to the Society of Armenian Studies, singled out Hovannisian for his leadership and role in the advancement of Armenian studies in the U.S. and also called for an end to what he termed “baseless and inappropriate” accusations against Hovannisian.
“We condemn and find it imperative to end such name calling, which does not benefit our effort to form a united front against our adversaries and becomes an obstacle to the flourishing cooperation between academicians from the homeland and the diaspora,” said Barkhudarian in his congratulatory letter.
However true the claims of these students may be, their method and the language of the petition will only elicit a backlash from the entire U.S. academic community, as calls for removal of books and approval of texts goes against the entire premise of academic thought and study, which harnesses freedoms of speech and expression as pillars of academia.
The disgruntled students must use the unique forum that singularly exists within the academic world to challenge any falsification and the academics that have alternative views, initiating a discourse that, in the long run, can be constructive.