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'Leave It to the Historians': Scholars fro, the Diaspora Reflect on the Commission

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  • 'Leave It to the Historians': Scholars fro, the Diaspora Reflect on the Commission

    'Leave It to the Historians': Scholars from the Diaspora Reflect on the Commission

    By Khatchig Mouradian - on October 19, 2009 -

    The protocols signed by the Turkish and Armenian foreign ministers in Zurich on Oct. 10 contain a clause that states the two sides agree to "implement a dialogue on the historical dimension with the aim to restore mutual confidence between the two nations, including an impartial and scientific examination of the historical records and archives to define existing problems and formulate recommendations."

    In the past few years, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) has issued several statements against the historical commission proposal. Most recently; the letter from the organization's president William Schabas to Armenian President Serge Sarkissian and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that "acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide must be the starting point of any 'impartial historical commission,' not one of its possible conclusions."

    In turn, Roger Smith, the chairman of the Academic Board of Directors of the Zoryan Institute, sent an open letter to Sarkissian that considered the commission "offensive to all genocide scholars, but particularly non-Armenian scholars, who feel their work is now being truly politicized."

    Several academics in Armenia have also expressed their views on the sub-commission through comments and interviews to local media outlets, with very few coming out in support of it.

    In this document, compiled and edited by Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian, Diasporan Armenian scholars who are among the most prominent in the field of modern Armenian history and social sciences share their views. These scholars closely follow developments in Armenian Genocide scholarship, and some are prominent in producing that scholarship. They, more than any politician, millionaire businessman, or showbiz personality, would know the problems associated with the "impartial and scientific examination" of the already established facts of the Armenian Genocide. This document gives the microphone to them.


    Hovannisian: Recognition, then commission

    Prof. Richard Hovannisian, the chair of modern Armenian history at UCLA, wrote:

    International commissions have significant value in easing historical tensions and promoting mutual understanding. Such commissions, presently at work in Central Europe and elsewhere, have registered noteworthy progress. But these commissions are based on acknowledgement of particular human tragedies and injustices. They could not function if one of the parties was a denialist state, intent on obfuscating the truth and deceiving not only the world community but also its own people. The record is too long and too well tested for there to be any doubt about the intent of the denialist state in advocating such a commission. It is a snare to be avoided and rejected. The proper order must be recognition of the crime and only then the formation of commissions to seek the means to gain relief from the suffocating historical burden.

    Balakian: Integrity of scholarship is at stake

    Peter Balakian, a professor of the humanities at Colgate University and author of The Burning Tigris, wrote:

    A "historical comission" on the Armenian Genocide must proceed from the unequivocal truth of the historical record on the Armenian Genocide. The historical record shows conclusively that genocide was committed by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915. This is the consensus of the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and is the assessment of the legal scholar, Raphael Lemkin, who invented the concept of genocide as a crime in international law, and who coined the word genocide in large part on the basis of what happened to the Armenians in 1915.

    Because Turkey has criminalized the study and even mention of the Armenian Genocide over the past nine decades, it should be impossible for Turkey to be part of a process that assesses whether or not Turkey committed genocide against the Armenians in 1915.

    If there is a need for an educational commissin on the Armenian Genocide in order to help Turkey understand its history, such a commission should be made up of a broad range of scholars from different countries, but not denialist academics or a denialist state.

    The international community would not sanction a commission to study the Holocaust that included denialist scholars, of which there are many, nor would it invite a head of state like Mr. Ahmadinejad and his government to be part of such a commission. The integrity of scholarship and the ethics of historical memory are at stake.

    Kevorkian: Chances of successful historical research in Turkey are close to null

    Dr. Raymond H. Kevorkian, the director of Bibliotheque Nubar in Paris who has authored and co-authored several books including Le Genocide des Armeniens, The Armenian General Benevolent Union: One Hundred Years of History, and Les Armeniens, 1917-1939: La Quete d'un Refuge, wrote:

    Although the mission entrusted to the "historical" sub-commission in the protocols does not explicitly raise the genocide issue, it is clear that it will be discussed within that framework one way or another. In an effort to delay qualifying the events of 1915 as genocide for a few more years, Ankara has tried to make it seem like this was an adoption of the previous Turkish proposal to establish a "committee of historians." By assigning this issue back to the undertakings of a sub-commission, which is itself operating within the context of official bilateral relations, and by avoiding a direct reference to the genocide, the Armenian "roadmap" negotiators have clearly attempted to anticipate the bitter criticism of their opposition. They must have been persuaded that they had to avoid entering the wicked game previously proposed to Armania, which put the 1915 genocide in doubt. On the other hand, it was inconceivable not to discuss the genocide --- or rather its consequences --- within the bilateral context.

    The question is to determine whether the aforementioned sub-commission will deal solely with the genocide file---as it is, in essence, not empowered with the mission to look into the political aspect of the file---or if the latter will also be on the negotiation table of the bilateral commission, entrusted with the whole set of issues to be settled.

    Insofar as this sub-commissin has at least partly lost its initial mission to throw doubt on the facts of 1915, exchanges can prove to be useful, provided that the required experts are competent and of an adequate level. Its formation and working methods should be subject to scrutiny.

    A historian's work should by no means depend on the state. If historical research has made some progress, it does not owe it to official "initiatives." Not surprisingly, the reasons this progress has been achieved outside of Turkey until now are obvious: If there were a true will to grasp the genocidal phenomenon developed by the Turkish society in the early 20th century, Turkish authorities should have promoted a training program for experts worthy of being called experts. This means amending Turkish legislation and encouraging young researchers to contribute to this very particular field of history: the study of mass violence.

    The aforementioned elements show that the probability of a successful work in Turkey is, to this day, close to null, because the prerequisites to progress are not guaranteed. There has not been a cultural revolution that would release Turkish society from the nationalism that is poisoning and forbidding it from seeing its history in a lucid way. Thus, right from the start, the sub-commission bears an original sin: its dependency on the authority of the state.
    Հա'յ ժողովուրդ, քո միա'կ բրկութիւնը քո հաւաքական ուժի մէջ է: