Special for the Armenian Weekly
By now, Armenian Weekly readers are likely aware of “Responsibility 2015,” a large-scale conference organized by the ARF on the occasion of the Genocide Centennial. Held last month before hundreds in New York City, the conference was remarkable in many ways—in its breadth of coverage, freshness and vitality, and much more. Fortunately, the proceedings are being made available online, so (presumably) many hundreds more will have a chance to partake in them.
I have no desire to recount the conference in all its detail. Rather, as the experience continues to settle within me, I’d like to share some reflections—large and small—about what happened and how it affected me and others.
In my mind, perhaps foremost is the overall tenor and approach that prevailed throughout the weekend. The Armenian Genocide was not presented as a historical matter, nor even a matter requiring validation; it seems that many of us have gotten over the need to prove what happened. Instead, the genocide was presented, time and again, as a matter of contemporary relevance; one that interweaves with multiple discourses covering international law, genocide studies, human rights, gender studies, literary criticism, policy studies, and much more. It was also presented as unfinished business, as evidenced by two entire panels devoted to the topic of reparations.
At the same time, the conference exuded an upbeat, optimistic personality, even while remaining serious and respectful toward the underlying theme of genocide. With participants ranging from Geoffrey Robertson to Chris Bohjalian to Eric Bogosian, it felt as if we had “arrived”: We were witnessing the genocide issue being placed on a larger stage populated by best-selling novels, Oscar-winning screenplays, and famed international legal cases. This aspect really hit home during the Saturday luncheon, when 12 distinguished authors each spoke about their recent/forthcoming publications, each dealing with a different aspect of the genocide. The enthusiasm with which they spoke was matched only by the genuine energy among those assembled, who repeatedly broke into applause. At times, I felt as if a dam was breaking.
Nor was this limited to the “stars.” Many of the panels featured non-Armenians, including Turks and Kurds, hailing from a variety of disciplines. Indeed, Prof. Richard Hovannisian pointed to this very fact in his talk recounting the history of Armenian Genocide studies. With characteristic clarity and wisdom, Hovannisian pointed out that, today, some of the best genocide scholarship is being done by Turks, mostly those living abroad but also a small but growing number inside Turkey. Also on hand were a healthy number of “hybrid Armenians,” for whom the genocide issue has been part of a journey of self-discovery. The latter was evident especially in the closing panel, when three of the five participants—Alex Dinelaris, Scout Tufankjian, and Dana Walrath—explicitly spoke of their insider/outsider identities which were filled with richness and, sometimes, contradictions and inner conflicts.
True, there were minor glitches here and there. For example, there was the Saturday evening VIP Reception, which featured entertainment from several contemporary artists, including a multi-ethnic ensemble including an Armenian, a Turk, and a Kurd. The ensemble’s repertory was varied, including songs about Western Armenia but sung in different languages, including Turkish. Understandably, this drew the ire of some in the audience, who without proper explanation mistook the medium for the message; they decried the fact that Turkish was being sung at such an event, without understanding exactly what was being sung. Such experiments need to be handled with greater care in the future.
Finally, at various points during the weekend, I was reminded of those activists who are no longer with us—Leo Sarkisian, Shavarsh Toriguian, Harry Sachaklian, Bill Mesrobian, and many others—who built up our advocacy efforts over many decades, both here and abroad. They did so through tireless and sometimes thankless effort, which at times appeared very far from yielding real dividends. But they are part of the reason we are here today. Thank you, dear friends and comrades.
I hope that other writers will point out additional aspects of the conference. There was much “meat on the bone,” as they say, and I hope it receives the wide-ranging treatment it deserves. I also look forward to news from similar initiatives – especially the recent centennial conference held in Paris, as well as the upcoming conference on reparations to be held in Yerevan. These and other activities give hope that April 2015 will be a time for renewal, rather than mere remembrance.