April 24, 2014

Jewish and Armenian Students Gather for Commemoration

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Both Jewish and Armenian communities on campus gathered at the Johnson Museum to remember the Holocaust and the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Thursday.

The event, co-hosted by the Armenian Student Organization and Cornell Hillel, featured a reception followed by a keynote speech by Prof. Vicki Caron, history, and a panel of distinguished speakers from Cornell and Colgate University.“Armenians have survived, but at what price? There have been no Nuremberg trials, and the Turkish criminals are celebrated as heroes.” — Prof. Yervant Terzian

Prof. Yervant Terzian, astronomy, began by describing the events that led to the 20th century genocide.

“As humans increased in number, they began a rivalry and started to kill each other,” Terzian said. “This resulted in wars, which followed us into the 20th century, which included the Armenian genocide and the Jewish holocaust, which occurred in World War II.”

Terzian continued by discussing the reluctance of the Turkish government to recognize the Armenian Genocide — the Ottoman Empire’s systematic extermination of Armenians during World War I in Turkey.

“Armenians have survived, but at what price? There have been no Nuremberg trials, and the Turkish criminals are celebrated as heroes today in Turkey,” he said. “Turkish efforts to deny the genocide have resorted to rewriting historical accounts. Recognition of huge genocide is the very least Armenians can ask for, but they have largely been denied this.”

Terzian ended the introduction by sepaking about the importance of remembering the genocides.

“Had the world recognized the first massacre, perhaps the second one could have been avoided,” he said.

After a moment of silence, Caron spoke on the uniqueness of the Holocaust as a genocide, its effect on today’s world.

“It was unique in two ways, in the cold and calculated method of killing, such as the technology in the camps in Poland as well as Hitler’s unique intent to kill all Jews, without exception, as well as to wipe out all of Jewish culture.”

Caron cited the recent shooting at the Jewish Center in Kansas City by ex-Klu Klux Klan Dragon Frazier Glenn Miller, Jewish identification in Ukraine and popular anti-Semitic French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala as reasons to remember.

Prof. Roald Hoffmann, the Frank H. T. Rhodes professor of Humane Letters emeritus, and the winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, urged the audience to ‘return, remember and forgive’ the horrors of Holocaust, speaking as a child survivor. Hoffmann spoke about his family move to Zokchiv, a middle-class Polish-Ukrainian town, and then being smuggled out by bribery to hide in the attic and storage room of a schoolhouse in the countryside.

“We can return. The remembering is the necessary step, and clearly, on both a national and personal level, that is what is missing in Turkey and the Turkish people in regards to the Armenian Genocide. And until you remember, you can’t start to forgive,” he said.

Hoffmann contrasted Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide to the remembrance of the Holocaust by Germany and the slow restoration of personal and communal property.

“We were able to reclaim the field, but not the gravestones,” he said.

Prof. Peter Balakian, English, Colgate University, also gave the audience a history of Armenia pre and post-genocide.

“The year 1915 is lauded as the year of modernity. It’s an extraordinary moment for certain breakthroughs, but there’s the great irony of the war with being the largest techno-killing to this day,” he said. “This violence accompanies the modernity, and what accompanies the Great War was genocide, both at the western fronts and in Ottoman Turkey.”

The program ended with recitation of poems, written in Armenian and Hebrew and translated into English, followed by a casual question and answer panel with the speakers.

The event was part of Hillel’s recent intercultural events, which aim for Jewish students to engage in dialogue with non-Jewish communities, according to Nina Gershonowitz ’16, chair of Hillel’s cultural programming committee.

“We started meeting in February, and then got more serious about making a program that would be meaningful for both the Jewish and Armenian communities on and around campus,” she said.