Khachatourian: Armenian Scholars at the Center of Genocide Denial

The Turkish Studies Project (TSP) of the University of Utah convened its fourth conference on June 5 in Tbilisi, Georgia. The conference is entitled, “The Caucasus at Imperial Twilight: Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Nation-Building (1870s-1920s).

Lately, certain elements in Armenian academia have been advancing the warped notion that by taking part in denialist or denialist-organized conferences they can counter claims by Turkey and its mouthpieces whose careers have hinged on historical revisionism. Yet we have seen no proof of that.
Lately, certain elements in Armenian academia have been advancing the warped notion that by taking part in denialist or denialist-organized conferences they can counter claims by Turkey and its mouthpieces whose careers have hinged on historical revisionism. Yet we have seen no proof of that.

Directed by Prof. M. Hakan Yavuz of the University of Utah’s Department of Political Science, the TSP is funded by the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), one of the most active U.S.-based groups in promoting the denial of the Armenian Genocide. (The TCA is also specified as a sponsor of the conference.) The TSP was established in 2009 through the TCA’s financial support.

The Turkish Coalition of America has gained notoriety since its establishment in 2007 for its aggressive promotion of “the contra-genocide narrative” by funding scholarship that casts doubt on the facts of the genocide, pursuing aggressive legal measures, such as its lawsuit (which was dismissed) against the University of Minnesota and its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and working against U.S. recognition of the genocide by the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch.

In light of the TCA’s support of the conference, it is not surprising to find such names as Norman Stone, Justin McCarthy, Michael Gunter, and Kemal Cicek among the participants. Each is well known for writings that attempt to undercut the veracity of the Armenian Genocide.

What is surprising, however, is the presence of a number of Armenian scholars, both from the Republic of Armenia and from the United States, including one who is a member of the organizing committee.

Lately, certain elements in Armenian academia have been advancing the warped notion that by taking part in denialist or denialist-organized conferences, they can counter claims by Turkey and its mouthpieces whose careers have hinged on historical revisionism. Yet we have seen no proof of that.

As these Armenian academicians gallivant around the world from one conference to another, the government of Turkey continues to invest millions to infiltrate academic circles in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The participation of some of the Armenian scholars on the roster of the Tbilisi conference is not surprising as they “sold out” a long time ago. What is more disturbing is the participation of a younger generation of academicians who fervently argue that their presence at such conferences bolsters the Armenian position when, in reality, it goes a long way in advancing Turkey’s decades-long denialist policies.

The Armenian scholars’ participation in the conference does not end with presenting papers; it includes Armenians who are listed as organizers on the program.

In the absence of efforts by Armenia to produce a new generation of multi-lingual Armenian scholars, coupled with the laissez-faire attitude of those who make it a point to be at the forefront of denialist scholarship, the academic pursuit of the Armenian Cause is taking a step backward.

Therefore, these Armenian scholars who are participating in these conferences should be held accountable to the public and must, through the Armenian press, report on their efforts to “counter” genocide denial in these forums. After all, those same scholars took great advantage of the arena presented by the Armenian press during their nascent days as burgeoning scholars.

Ara Khatchatourian is the editor of Asbarez English, where this editorial first appeared. To view the full program of the conference, click here.

10 Comments

  1. MR Khatcadourian; publishing the names of these Armenian scholars,and the works they have lectured on, not only is a good journalism but also very essential for the Armenian public to objectively scrutinize their work in the future.

  2. It is truly horrible to see this Armenian-on-Armenian violence. It makes me sad. But the selfish and foolish behavior of a tiny handful of ethnic Armenian scholars have played into the hands of one of the craftiest and best funded agents of the Turkish government operating in America. It is critical for both the Armenian community and the Armenian academy to understand what has happened, why it is a problem and how to hold accountable those who played a leadership role in the organization and implementation of this conference.

  3. When I read your “Provocative – inflamatory” headline: “Armenian Scholars at the Center of Genocide Denial”, I got the impression that Armenian scholars were actually denying the Armenian Genocide. I am happy to have read the article by the Azbarez Editor and to notice that this is not the case. I have also noticed that some of the papers presented by these Armenian scholars in this so-called “Turkish-sponsored/controlled” conference have subject titles such as: “Ruben Melkonyan (Department of Oriental Studies, Yerevan State University), The Memory of the Armenian Genocide in Modern Turkish Literature.”

  4. The program of the workshop is very loaded and I don’t know if the ambitious titles match ambitious scholarship. I hope not all is mediocre. At the same time, we Armenians cannot isolate ourselves from the world scholarship on these issues. I support those scholars who go and instead of stigmatizing them we should encourage them. If they are good and courageous scholars they potentially represent our voice in a denialist environment. But we MUST have a voice in this field of scholarship too, otherwise we do not exist! So, all I can hope for is that these scholars who will represent the Armenian point of view can manage to withstand the pressure from the rest of the conference and can defend our voice.

  5. Dear Editor,

    I wish to thank Ara Khachatourian for his timely article exposing an alarming trend in academia. While there are many layers to the question of when and how to engage genocide deniers, it appears those who participated in this case have oversimplified the issue in order to avoid the difficult questions. It is delusional to think that one can “convince” scholars who are deniers of genocide as if they are somehow lacking access to information that is convincing. The Armenian Genocide is so well documented, that any denier, in this day and age, has an agenda that diverges widely from academic integrity. Those that have shifted their position from denial to acceptance have done so because to do otherwise undermines their scholarly credibility. Participating in these conferences, in this way, only removes that stigma and thus allows for the denial to continue. It seems some amnesia has set in and these academics should reacquaint themselves with the available scholarly research on genocide denial.

    The views expressed in the recent interview with Jirair Libaridian on the Groong Armenian News Network would appear to be indicative of those scholars (note that I do not limit this simply to ethnic Armenian scholars, ethnicity is irrelevant to this discussion) that choose to participate in such conferences. Libaridian, in part, states that he has something important to say on the subject of the conference. Apparently he feels this particular conference is not simply the best outlet for his scholarship, but the only outlet. Implicitly, he feels his work will gain the greatest credibility by inclusion with papers presented at a conference organized by Hakun Yavuz.

    Those who have dealt with genocide denial over the past 25-plus years are well aware of the pitfalls. Much has changed over that period. What is disturbing to me is the concept that change for the sake of change is necessary for progress to be achieved, as if no progress has been made over the past 50 years in regards to acceptance of the Armenian Genocide as historical fact. Sometimes, tried and true methods that have been successful over a long period of time require no adjustment or dramatic shift.

    George Aghjayan
    Needham, Mass.

    https://armenianweekly.com/2013/06/06/letter-it-is-delusional-to-think-one-can-convince-a-denier/

  6. What am I missing here? I’ve used the article’s hyperlinks to peruse the Tbilisi conference list of papers. Yet I can’t see the factual basis in that list of papers for the thrust of Ara Khachatourian’s article, let alone its headline. The article’s argument and title both appear unsupported by its cited specific facts.

  7. The name of participating scholars are in a link in the article, click on it (here’s the link: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-Turk&month=1305&msg=axPD0UdUxaakeNUxBb3moQ)

    If our case is solid proof, which it is, then we have nothing to fear in engaging, all the time, in discussions and debates with others on the case of the Genocide, as a matter of fact more we engage and debate the opposition the better, that’s how we help spread our cause, not just by force, protest and anger, but also by reasoned debate and rational examination of facts.

  8. Dear Noric, it seems you are missing a great deal. You might want to look into what the Turkish Coalition of America is. In addition to the links provided in the article, you can read http://www.reporter.am/go/article/2009-09-16-defense-contractors-join-turkish-lobbying-effort-in-pursuit-of-arms-deals

    http://www.chgs.umn.edu/histories/turkisharmenian/

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-congress/2012/06/turkish-coalition-gave-nearly-to-outgoing-rep-schmidt-126280.html

    and of course you will want to read their own website’s page on the “Armenian Issue.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

  9. This is obviously a very difficult issue for all of us. In the end, I side with Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, in connection with founding the University of Virginia, that “we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, not to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” We have to show up in the battle to defeat error.

  10. Enjoy this article in Zaman, saying:
    “The participation of intellectuals like Garabet K. Moumdjian and Ara Papian—both open to compromise—helped make this meeting ideal.”
    and
    “This technique to block peace by setting Armenians against one another was used a century ago, with disastrous effects for all Armenians. In any case, this time around many prudent Armenians decided to ignore the propaganda and reacted negatively to attempts to stop people from expressing themselves at conferences. It now looks like Yerevan will have to leave behind these despotic stances as well as its critical approach to Turkey, and instead behave more reasonably.”
    http://todayszaman.com/news-318689-isolating-turkey-on-the-armenian-issue-by-mehmet-fatih-oztarsu-.html
    Good job Ara Papian and Garabed Momjian!

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