On March 22 in Watertown, the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) screened J. Michael Hagopian’s newest Armenian Genocide eyewitness documentary, “The River Ran Red,” before about 300 attendees.
A panel discussion afterward featured Hagopian, Clark University professor Taner Akcam, and MIT lecturer Bedross Der Matossian.
Akcam made several troubling statements which, though they may have seemed innocuous to the audience, implied the following, in my opinion: that Turkey and its regimes past and present bear no responsibility for the consequences of the genocide; that many more documents and archives must be opened and researched before the most important conclusions about the genocide can be reached; that genuine Turkish-Armenian rapprochement can occur before—or even in place of—sincere genocide acknowledgment and restitution; that so-called “reconciliation,” which he left undefined, is somehow a solution to past injustices; and that academicians should possess fluency in the Turkish language to participate in dialogue because Turkish is the leading language in genocide research.
These implications could not be directly challenged since audience members were not able to verbally ask questions. After written questions were collected, the moderator combined and sanitized them before orally presenting them to the panelists, who were then given the choice of whether or not to respond.
It is well known that Akcam does not believe in reparations for Armenians. Der Bedrossian did make a passing reference to reparations, but that was only because of written questions from audience members.
In holding this event, NAASR recognized that the Armenian Genocide is an important topic. But to what end? Aside from the obvious fact that Turkey does not acknowledge the genocide, is NAASR unaware that there are other aspects of the genocide that are relevant to present-day Armenia and Armenians?
There is nothing wrong with genocide study and research. But will incessant calls for further research be used to marginalize and delay for another 94 years the articulation and fulfillment of Armenian political demands emanating from the genocide?
If this event needed a panel, and I’m not sure that it did, and even if the audience had been allowed to ask direct questions, the panel should have been balanced with at least one person who could discuss the present-day implications of the genocide as well as legitimate Armenian demands.