18 December 2018
To mark the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, AGBU continued its commitment to the UN’s mandate of genocide prevention through education. Three AGBU centers in various locations worldwide organized observances including a panel on past and current conflicts in the Middle East, by AGBU Europe in Brussels, a book talk on ancestral histories in Toronto and an AGBU sponsored concert in Yerevan, Armenia.
“The way we chose to narrate the history of the Middle East is very problematic because it doesn’t help us understand our past,” began Vicken Cheterian, a political analyst from Geneva’s Webster University, speaking at the conference in Brussels. “It is central to look at Ottoman history from the beginning of the 19th century to understand what is happening the Middle East now.” Professor Cheterian was joined in discussion by Professor Uğur Ümit Üngör of Utrecht University on the panel “Mass Violence in the Middle East Today”. Aude Merlin, a Lecturer of Political Science at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), moderated the panel, which gathered a diverse audience, including academics, students and representatives from governmental and nongovernmental organizations alike on December 13, 2018.
The presentations sought to address the continuity between past and present conflicts in the Middle East and how the suppression of history in the post-Ottoman world potentially perpetuate patterns of violence. Professor Cheterian tackled the implications of the inadequate way scholars have studied modern history of the Middle East, omitting to look at what happened before the end of WW1. “From 1919 on, it’s a story of glorious victory that Turkey’s national movement made against foreign powers” he says, before adding “by focusing on Sykes-Picot, we reduce the history of the Middle East to negotiations between powers on the post-war division“. Cheterian argues that obliterating the crimes of the past in the late Ottoman Empire, suppressing their memory, is also a way to allow these crimes to recur, adding that for post-Ottoman states today in the Middle East, it means that “mass violence are not only acceptable solutions to their problems, but actually heroic solutions, because those responsible for mass murders in the past are celebrated as the saviors of the nation”.
Professor Üngör, in turn, examined the creation of “cultures of victory, defeat and resistance” and the episodic violence they influence now. “The Ottoman Empire was a Sunni empire, which means that those groups which were disempowered, oppressed for a long time, once they had the opportunities to seize powers, they clang on to it and they didn’t let go. We see that in Irak with Shia power, we see that in Syria with Alawi power, in Lebanon with Christian power. These are the long echoes of the Ottoman Empire”, says Professor Üngör. In order to allow changes in the patterns of violence in the Middle East today, he added that “we have to think about the lack of transitional justice after all that violence, the lack of political institutions, civil societies and empowerment of minorities.”
The panel, which highlighted the challenges of rehabilitating history and how a global community begins to do that, was organized and hosted by the Belgian Collective for the Prevention of Crimes of Genocide and Against Negationisms in partnership with the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU Europe), the research unit on political life of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Cevipol), the International Roma Youth Network (Ternype) and the European Union Jewish Students (EUJS). The Belgian Collective is composed of associations linked with communities that have suffered genocides.
As part of the Global Forum Against the Crime of Genocide, organized in Yerevan by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, AGBU sponsored the opening night concert featuring the State National Academic Choir of Armenia and the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra on December 9th, 2018. The forum’s programming was focused on genocide prevention through accessible public education. “Given the history of the Armenian nation, it is our obligation to shine the light on the horrors of all genocides as well as the ongoing injustice of genocide denial in the face of well-documented history,” said AGBU Armenia President Vasken Yacoubian, with Armenia’s Acting Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan at his side. “AGBU is proud to help carry the mantle of human rights advocacy by organizing and participating in international symposia and panel discussions in major capitals like New York, Paris and Beirut. Today, we can do so not just as survivors of genocide but as champions of humanity.”
Across the Atlantic in Canada, AGBU Toronto invited the local community to explore the heroic history of Talas in Western Armenia. “Sharing the Journey,” an event on the night of November 28, 2018, was dedicated to discussing the book Grit and Grace In A World Gone Mad: Humanitarianism In Talas, Turkey 1908-1923 with author Wendy Elliott. The book retraces the steps of a remarkable, yet little known group of Canadian and American missionaries and relief workers in Talas in the dying days of a post-WWI Ottoman Empire. Elliott discussed how the group saved thousands of Armenian, Greek and Turkish orphans from starvation and disease, and how these ordinary people shifted the course of history through their service. The event was especially touching because many who attended were themselves descendants of Armenians from Talas, exploring the city of their ancestors through Elliott’s curated archival media. The following week, AGBU Montreal hosted Elliott with similar success.
To complement the dynamic global onsite programming, AGBU published three WebTalks featuring Dr. Bernard Coulie, a professor of Byzantine Studies, Armenian and Georgian Studies, and European Culture and Identity at the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL) in Belgium. In the videos, Dr. Coulie details the phases of genocide, explains the history of the Assyrian and Pontic Greek Genocides coinciding with the Armenian Genocide, and discusses the process of genocide recognition in Belgium. With the intent of genocide prevention through education, AGBU WebTalks are made to be accessible to the global public. As these anniversaries pass, AGBU maintains its commitment to its ever-evolving community in all corners of the world.
To watch the full conference “Mass Violence in the Middle East”, please click HERE.