On April 20, 2007, the sixth annual Holocaust and Armenian Genocide Commemoration was held at the Fairlane South Building on the campus of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The commemoration was co-sponsored by the Armenian Research Center, the Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, and the Mardigian Library of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, as well as the Armenian Studies Program of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies at Wayne State University.
The two primary speakers for the event were Tamir Sorek, Assistant Professor at the Center for Jewish Studies and the Department of Sociology at the University of Florida, and Prof. Gerard J. Libaridian, holder of the Alex Manoogian Chair in Modern Armenian History at the University of Michigan. Both speakers did not shy away from expressing their own strong personal convictions as regards the respective topics that they covered.
Sorek spoke on "The Holocaust and Public Culture in Israel." He first noted that the lessons of the Holocaust come in three types: (1) Jewish lessons, (2) Zionist lessons, and (3) universal lessons. Jewish lessons concern two points: (a) Jewish solidarity, and reliance on Jews alone, is essential; and (b) anti-semitism must be detected and combated. Zionist lessons, on the other hand, can be summarized in four points: (a) there is no security for Jews in the Diaspora, (b) there is a need for a sovereign state of Israel, (c) Israel is the safest place for Jews, and (d) all Jews should immigrate to Israel. Finally, the universal lessons of the Holocaust relate to two points: (a) anti-democratic phenomena and racism must be fought, and (b) minority rights must be protected throughout the world.
Sorek argued that in times of insecurity, Israelis and the Israeli government were less likely to assimilate the universal lessons of the Holocaust and thus recognize the Armenian Genocide. Reversely, the likelihood of Israel's acceptance of the universal lessons and recognition of the Armenian Genocide would grow in times of relative security. To prove this point, Sorek referred to the very recent history of Israel, which he divided into three periods: the first Palestinian uprising (1987-1993), the Oslo peace process (1993-2000), and the second Palestinian uprising (2000-2004). Only during the years of the peace process did Israeli government officials attend April 24 commemorations organized by the local Armenian community. It was also in 1994 that, on the Knesset floor, the then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin unambiguously described the killings of Armenians as "certainly massacre and genocide, something the world must remember." Sorek explained the wavering official Israeli attitude by the fact that, during periods of insecurity, the friendship of Turkey as a Muslim and Middle Eastern power friendly to Israel is more valued. Turkish pressure on Israel not to recognize the Armenian Genocide has largely been successful in the years of peril, but less so in the years of relative security.
An even more important reason for the non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Israel has, according to Sorek, to do with the "victim status" that Jews have because of the Holocaust. He pointed out that such a status offers Jews a certain type of political capital which can be used. To recognize the "victim status" of other groups would dilute Jews' own status, while the overuse of "victim status" would eventually debase it. Sorek ended his presentation by expressing hope that Jewish Israelis would feel secure in the future so as to say once more "Never again!" rather than "Never again to us!"
Libaridian's talk was entitled "A Challenge for the Present: How to Think of the Past When Planning the Future." He analyzed how remembrance of the Armenian Genocide does (and should) influence Armenia's official policy, both domestic and foreign.
Libaridian first noted that non-recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey compels Armenians to try to prove it, and they hence usually neglect the necessity to analyze the genocide. He also cautioned that Armenians often confuse the process of explaining (analyzing) the causes of the genocide with justification of mass murder.
After underlining these caveats, Libaridian noted that until the mid-1960s, the main division in the Diaspora Armenian communities was over the legitimacy of Soviet Armenia. In the 1970s, however, the issue of recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey and the rest of the world replaced the Soviet Armenian dilemma as the major issue and united the Armenian Diaspora. The newer generations of Armenians, both in Armenia and the Diaspora, have almost no direct contact with Turks. For most of them, the Turk has become just an abstraction that is easy to hate.
Libaridian, who was a high-ranking member in the administration of Armenia's first post-Soviet president, asserted that the issue of the Armenian Genocide recognition was not a major objective of the Karabakh movement, which emerged in Armenia in 1988. This movement first demanded the annexation of Mountainous Karabakh to Armenia, but then achieved independence from the USSR. According to Libaridian, this de-emphasis as regards genocide recognition was certainly not about denial; the leaders of the Karabakh movement simply did not want to use the Armenian Genocide issue to devalue the idea of independence.
Libaridian said that, during Armenia's transition to independence, two contrasting visions of the country's future were extensively discussed. The first vision depicted Armenia as a small, perpetually victimized country, reliant on the USSR/Russia. It argued that a Turkey that does not recognize the Armenian Genocide is a Turkey more likely to invade Armenia. According to the second vision, however, Armenia should become a normal country, with normal relations with its neighbors. The followers of this line of thought believed that, through establishing normal relations with Turkey, they can later resolve other issues as well, including that of genocide recognition. Because of the dominance of this second vision in the early 1990s, Armenia's first post-Soviet constitution did not make the issue of Armenian Genocide recognition a basis of its foreign policy. On the other hand, when Armenia entered into negotiations with Turkey over normalization of relations in 1991, the Turkish government, as a precondition to the talks, originally wanted Armenia to drop the genocide recognition issue. Libaridian recounted that the Turks later dropped this precondition after they realized that Armenia did not link it to normalization of relations. It was only Armenia's support for the secessionists in Karabakh and the latter's territorial gains against Azerbaijan which ended the negotiations between Armenia and Turkey.
Libaridian stated that, at that time, Armenia's current president, Robert Kocharyan, who was still in a position of authority in Karabakh, wanted to link Armenia's dropping the genocide precondition to Turkey's dropping the Karabakh precondition. According to Libaridian, Kocharyan's position emanated from his belief that Karabakh would be in a stronger diplomatic position if Turkey and Armenia had normal diplomatic relations. Libaridian then contrasted this past attitude by Kocharyan to his current position as president of Armenia. Libaridian argued that Kocharyan now sees genocide recognition as a matter of Armenia's national security. This new attitude, according to Libaridian, is closer to the view of Armenia as a perpetually victimized nation. Libaridian also reminded the audience that Vazgen Sargsyan, the founder of Armenia's army, did not like Armenians talking about themselves as victims. Especially after the successes against the Azerbaijanis on the battlefield, Sargsyan used to ask rhetorically: "why should genocide define our character and nation, since we are the victors now?"
Libaridian himself believes that victimization can be embedded into the Armenian character when the genocide is taught to students at a very young age. By focusing solely on the tragic aspects of the Armenian Genocide, options for Armenia are being closed.
A short question-and-answer period followed, during which Libaridian expressed pessimism that the US House of Representatives would approve the draft resolution that has recently been tabled regarding Armenian Genocide recognition.
Thereafter, the audience, including students from the AGBU Alex and Marie Manoogian High School in Southfield, MI, enjoyed a catered lunch and had the opportunity for additional discourse with the speakers.
Return to Armenian Research