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Series examines the Armenian genocide

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  • Series examines the Armenian genocide

    Chelmsford Independent, MA
    May 19 2005

    Series examines the Armenian genocide
    By Margaret Smith/ Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 19, 2005

    For Armenians worldwide, April 24, 1915 is a date seared into their
    collective consciousness as the darkest day in the history of their
    3,000-year-old civilization.

    The date marks what survivors and their descendants recall as the
    beginning of arrests, mass-killings and deportations of Armenians,
    including women and children, from their homes in Turkey - then part
    of the Ottoman Empire. Survivors would tell of being forcibly marched
    through harsh desert terrain to Syria.

    In all, an estimated 1.5 million are reported to have died, many from
    hardships suffered on the trek.

    By 1923, the Armenian population in Turkey fell from 2.5 million to
    100,000, according to some estimates.

    This year marks the 90th anniversary of the killings. Although the
    number of people who bore first-hand witness is rapidly dwindling,
    the episode has gained more attention as historians and scholars
    grapple with the ramifications of genocide.

    An event series at the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center at 40 French
    St. in Lowell focuses on genocide - as well as the experiences of
    the Armenian refugees who settled in the United States.

    The events are a collaborative effort of several organizations,
    including the Merrimack Valley Armenian Genocide Committee, the Lowell
    National Historical Park, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell
    and Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives, Inc.

    For Levon Chorbajian, a Billerica resident since 1979, the struggles
    of Armenians have personal meaning.

    "I would like people to understand genocide is currently an
    international problem and issue," said Chorbajian, whose parents,
    the late Walter and Antoinette Chorbajian, managed to escape the
    carnage as children.

    Chorbajian, a professor of sociology at UMass Lowell and one of the
    event organizers, will moderate a forum on global issues of genocide,
    tonight, Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m. at the Mogan Center.

    The Mogan Center is also the host of an exhibit of artifacts, works of
    art, photos and archives depicting the experiences of Armenian victims,
    refugees and descendants. The exhibit is on display until June 17.

    Event organizers said the Armenian killings - along with the
    displacement of families and confiscation of property - did not
    receive widespread attention until recently because many survivors
    simply wanted to put the horror behind them.

    "It's taken the third and fourth generation to really activate
    the interest," said Ruth Thomasian, executive director of Project
    SAVE. a Watertown-based organization dedicated to the preservation
    of photographs and other artifacts depicting the experiences of
    Armenian refugees. She added, "These people who experienced it -
    and their children - just wanted to forget about it."

    Thomasian recalled speaking with a 98-year-old survivor now living
    in New York. "A woman said, 'For me, that is life, and for you that
    is history.'"

    Debate endures

    The motivations for the killings remain the subject of
    emotionally-charged debate. The Turkish government maintains these
    actions were part of the country's efforts to defend itself from
    pro-Russian corroborators during World War I.

    For years, many survivors refused to talk about the trauma they had
    experienced or witnessed. Chorbajian said his parents, however, was an
    exception. "My family talked about it very freely. It was a frequent
    topic of conversation. I'm grateful I learned about this," Chorbajian
    said, adding that his family's stories influenced his career choice as
    a professor who researches, teaches and writes about genocide issues.

    The United Nations anti-genocide convention, first adopted in 1951,
    declared acts of genocide a crime whether committed in peace or during
    times of war.

    The definition of genocide includes acts committed with the intention
    of destroying a national, ethnic, racial or religious group; including
    killing members of a group, causing bodily or mental harm to group
    members; deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about
    the group's demise; imposing measures intended to prevent births
    within the group and forcibly transferring children to another group.

    The Armenian genocide remains a painful point of contention between
    Armenians and present-day Turks, even as it slips from living memory,
    Chorbajian noted.

    One of the events in the series, "The Other Side of Genocide," a
    lecture by series coordinator Mehmed Ali, executive director of the
    Mogan Center, will focus on at issues that have faced the Turkish
    community. The lecture takes place Tuesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at
    the center.

    Chorbajian said one fear is that a public acknowledgement by the
    Turkish government might lead to demands for reparation from survivors
    or their descendants.

    Chorbajian said he thinks an apology from Turkey would be more
    important than compensation.

    Whether to seek reparations, however, is something the Armenian
    community must decide for itself, he said.

    An ongoing tragedy

    Chorbajian said it's important to note that during episodes of
    government-sanctioned mass-killings - including those in Turkey
    -there are those who have given shelter or safe passage to would-be
    victims. Many Turks, for example, warned or offered help their Armenian
    neighbors even though doing so might have cost them their own lives.

    Similar responses during the Holocaust and the Rwandan civil war
    were the subject of the acclaimed films, "Schindler's List" and
    "Hotel Rwanda."

    However, a troubling recurrence, he said, is the world community's
    inability to respond effectively. He cited the inaction of United
    Nations officials in Rwanda as one example.

    A complete schedule of commemorative events at the Mogan Center and
    elsewhere can be found on the Web site of St. Vartanantz Armenian
    Church of Chelmsford. For more information, visit the Web at
    [url][/url] - [COLOR="Red"]Armenian[/COLOR] [COLOR="Blue"]Genealogy[/COLOR] [COLOR="Orange"]Forum[/COLOR]