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Armenian Assembly of America Hosts Armenian Genocide Symposium in South Florida

AAA FL AG Symp Group

On Saturday, March 14, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) hosted an Armenian Genocide symposium entitled “A Century of Genocide: The 1915 Armenian Genocide and Its Lasting Impact,” during the Assembly’s Annual Members Weekend in South Florida. Over 80 Assembly members, friends, and guests attended the educational presentations and lively question and answer session.

The symposium featured Dr. Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute (ANI) in Washington, DC, Dr. Rosanna Gatens, Director of the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education (CHHRE) at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton, Florida, and Hannibal Travis, Professor of Law at Florida International University (FIU) College of Law in Miami, Florida. The panel was moderated by Assembly Trustee and South Florida community leader Marta Batmasian.

Armenian Assembly of America Board of Trustees President Carolyn Mugar provided welcoming remarks and introduced Marta Batmasian. Batmasian introduced the panel to the audience and recognized members of the audience who have been researching and teaching about the Armenian Genocide in South Florida.

Batmasian introduced Dr. Adalian who presented the topic of “The Armenian Genocide as a Prototype of 20th Century Mass Killings,” detailing the primitive yet effective template of mass killing that was developed by the Ottoman Turkish government. He showed images from the digital exhibit “The First Deportation: The German Railway, the American Hospital, and the Armenian Genocide,” which took the audience back in time to a pivotal location of the deportations. Adalian brought to life the experiences and activities of Dr. Wilfred D. Post who administered the American hospital in Konya, a major station along the Berlin-Baghdad rail line which became the site of a large deportation camp. In defiance of the Ottoman ban on photography of deportees, Dr. Post captured what may have been some of the earliest pictures of deported Armenians.

AAA FL Symposium C1

Next, Batmasian introduced Dr. Gatens who discussed “The Impact of the Armenian Genocide on Holocaust Education.” She discussed how the CHHRE at FAU had been working for years to advance Armenian Genocide education on campus and throughout Palm Beach County. Gatens drew parallels between the Jewish and Armenian experiences and highlighted challenges faced in educating the general public about the crime of genocide.

Professor Hannibal Travis gave the final presentation on “The Armenian Genocide as a Political Act and International Crime.” He discussed the illegality of the crime of genocide under international law, including cases where the charge of genocide was applied retroactively. Travis gave an in depth account of crimes against humanity that have been heard in international courts and discussed avenues for Armenian efforts in this context.

Following the presentations, Batmasian opened the floor for questions. Several were asked of the panel leading to a lively and wide-ranging discussion. Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny gave closing remarks and announced the launch of an online petition calling on President Barack Obama to affirm the Armenian Genocide in his upcoming statement commemorating the 100th anniversary. After the symposium, guests were invited up to view a brand new exhibit entitled “Iconic Images of the Armenian Genocide,” that was on full display during and after the discussion.

“We were pleased to bring this expert panel together for the South Florida community,” stated Bryan Ardouny. “The Assembly is grateful to Dr. Adalian, Dr. Gatens, Professor Travis, and Mrs. Batmasian for their insight and compelling presentations,” Ardouny said.

Additional photographs from the Assembly’s Armenian Genocide Symposium in South Florida are available on the Assembly’s Facebook page here.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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Photo Caption 1: (L-R) Dr. Rouben Adalian, Marta Batmasian, Hannibal Travis, Dr. Rosanna Gatens.

Photo Caption 2: Program speakers at the Assembly’s Armenian Genocide Symposium in South Florida.

(Photographs by Bedo Der-Bedrosian on behalf of the Armenian Assembly of America)

Armenian Billboards Put Touchy Topic on the Road

A billboard thanking countires that recognize genocied against Armenians is seen Wednesday, April 17, 2013, along I-95 in Pompano Beach. Photo courtesy of Joe Cavaretta, SunSentinel

A billboard thanking countires that recognize genocide against Armenians is seen Wednesday, April 17, 2013, along I-95 in Pompano Beach. Photo courtesy of Joe Cavaretta, SunSentinel

By Diane C. Lade
Sun-Sentinel

Four striking billboards, crowded in among beer and cosmetic surgery ads along two South Florida highways, contain one sentence starkly lettered in white on a black background: “Thank you for officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide — April 24, 1915.”

It’s a bold move to bring public attention to an almost century-old tragedy that Armenian Americans say takes a back seat to other large-scale human rights violations: the killing of 1.5 million of their ancestors during World War I in what is now Turkey.

But until now, the identity of those behind the signs was a mystery. Small wording at the bottom of the 672-square-foot billboards states only that they were “paid for by individuals concerned about the plight of Armenians.” They list no names.

(Also on FLArmenians: Armenia Avenue Anyone? The Story of Armenia Venue in Tampa Bay, Florida)

That’s because it’s not about publicity, it’s about bringing larger awareness to the issue, said George Pagoumian, 70, a Fort Lauderdale businessman and philanthropist who came forward only after the Sun Sentinel began researching the signs.

The four billboards are located at Florida’s Turnpike-Interstate 595 interchange; and on Interstate 95 at Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach, at Atlantic Boulevard in Pompano Beach and at Northwest 79th Avenue in Miami. And the campaign was organized and financed through Armenian community members, said Pagoumian, declining to list the other contributors or how much was donated.

“We don’t want money to dictate this,” said Pagoumian, whose parents were Armenian and who lost his grandmother and other relatives to the killings. “Our grandmothers, our family who died are paying. They are sending checks from heaven.”

Twenty countries have officially recognized the killings as genocide, and those nations’ flags are on the South Florida billboard, under the words “thank you.” The United States is not among them — something Armenian Americans have fought passionately to change for years. They are pressuring President Obama to make an executive declaration.

(Also on FLArmenians: The 113th Congress, a Look at the 2014 Mid-Term Elections & the Countdown to the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide)

But calling what happened in Armenia almost 100 years ago a “genocide” is a very touchy subject — especially in South Florida. About 4,000 people of Armenian descent live in Broward and Palm Beach counties, according to the Census, alongside about 5,000 of Turkish descent. Turkey denies that Armenians were targeted because of race or ethnicity.

Fuat Ornarli, past president of the Florida Turkish American Association, has not seen the billboards but dislikes what he considers a politicization of the issue.

“I would like to express my deep sorrow to see such billboards around us, since this subject is so politicized, and so biased,” said Ornarli, of Miami.

Genocide declarations should be made by scholars, not politicians, Ornarli said, adding that not all historians agree the Armenian deaths should be labeled genocide. Like the leaders of his native country, he said the deaths were casualties of war, exacerbated when the Armenians aligned themselves with Russia, Turkey’s enemy.

Rosanna Gatens, director for the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education at Florida Atlantic University, said the removal and killing of Armenians by the Turks is taught along with the Holocaust and other modern genocides in the state-mandated human rights education program. Each year, a few teachers get complaints from upset Turkish parents “who think their children are being taught that Turkey is a terrible place,” she said.

“It’s really important for people in our area to understand what happened in Armenia. All scholarly definitions say it was a genocide and we need to quit playing politics,” she said.

(Also on FLArmenians: University of Florida Hillel Raises Genocide Awareness)

Marta Batmasian, a Boca Raton real estate investor and Armenian community leader, agreed.

“This is a human rights issue, not an Armenian issue. We are not going to let history be buried,” said Batmasian, a former educator who sits on the state task force for Holocaust and human rights education.

The South Florida signs are very similar to an effort run by Peace of Art Inc., a nonprofit founded by Armenian American artist Daniel Varoujan Hejinian. Since 1996, Hejinian has created and installed dramatic billboards each April in suburban Boston, his hometown, calling on the United States to recognize the killings as genocide.

Rosario Teixeira, Peace of Art’s executive director, said the organization was not involved in South Florida’s efforts. “I am sure their efforts are well intended and we wish them good luck,” she said.

Armenian churches and peace activists in South Florida every year host prayer or commemoration services on April 24, the day when the Ottoman government arrested 250 Armenian intellectuals and leaders, and began deporting them.

St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Hollywood will have a public service and commemoration Wednesday; St. Mary and St. David Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church in Boca Raton trade off hosting the event annually.

(Also on FLArmenians: 98th Anniversary Armenian Genocide Commemorations in Florida)

This year, the billboards created a buzz when the signs appeared but no one claimed the credit. Speculation ran wild among South Florida’s Armenians for weeks. “The emails I’m getting! They are saying something like this has never happened,” Batmasian said.

The Rev. Vartan Joulfayan said his St. Mary’s parishioners last week were peppering him with questions about who the anonymous billboard contributors might be. The pastor told them it didn’t matter — that he assumed the donors wanted to stay out of the spotlight.

“So their message can come through,” he said. “A message that is strong and true.”

This story originally appeared in the Sun Sentinel on April 21 and is reprinted with the permission of the author.

Nova Southeastern University Actively Fundraising for Armenian Genocide Studies

By Aram Arkun
Armenian Mirror-Spectator Staff

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL — Armenian Studies is a small field, with a small number of academic specialists. The number of academic specialists on the Armenian Genocide is even smaller, and there are very few positions for them at universities in the United States. While this situation is unlikely to change drastically, occasionally efforts are made to initiate new academic programs and positions. Nova Southeastern University appears on the verge of making such an effort, if sufficient support and funding are found.

NSU LogoNova Southeastern University (NSU) is a relatively young university, founded in 1964, but it already is fairly large, with more than 28,000 students. Dr. Susanne Marshall, senior associate dean of operations and student services at NSU, explained that the university has had graduate programs in conflict resolution for many years. There are more than 800 students enrolled in them now. The focus of these programs has been on the international and governmental level. A few years ago, NSU hired a young faculty member, Jason J. Campbell, as a professor in these programs. Campbell had already founded a non-profit activist organization, the Institute for Genocide Awareness and Applied Research, in 2009. His research happened to focus on genocide and he suggested that it needed to be a more defined curricular focus. NSU agreed. (Despite repeated efforts to contact him, Campbell was unavailable to be interviewed for this article.)

It was already necessary to provide historical and sociopolitical backgrounds for analysis in the multidisciplinary field of conflict analysis, so genocide studies fit in well here, but the university wishes to expand its offerings further. Marshall said, “We would like to have a more independent framework for genocide studies and genocide prevention, and establish a separate degree program, or at least a concentration in master’s and doctoral programs. We are not quite there yet.”

The interest in Armenia came about through research into modern genocide. Marshall points out that “as Dr. Campbell demonstrates in his research, the Armenian Genocide is a blueprint for the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries. You see all the factors here mirrored in later genocides, so you can learn a lot about prediction and prevention by studying this genocide.” In this sense, Marshall said, in-depth studies of the factors leading up to the Armenian Genocide can be quite useful. The approach at NSU is an activist one, so graduate students want to learn what can be done for prevention.

At the moment, the Armenian Genocide is a component of the courses on genocide being offered. It does not have a faculty member whose research specifically has been on the Armenian Genocide and does not offer Armenian language classes, but it has hosted relevant guest speakers and lectures. For example, Florida resident Margaret Ajemian Ahnert, author of the memoir A Knock at the Door, spoke there in 2008.

Not only does NSU want to expand its genocide studies programs, but it also wants to expand their Armenian component. At the moment, Marshall said, “A lecture series on issues connected to the Armenian Genocide or the early modern genocides is something we are considering. We could bring in people without making a faculty line available. We would like to make more resources specific to the Armenian Genocide available to our students.” However, due to financial difficulties, she stated that “whether we could get a full faculty position without additional funding available is unclear.”

Marshall added, “We are actively seeking funding. It would be a dream to be able to hire someone whose specific academic background is in Armenian Studies.”

Armenian language courses would be possible too, if funding was sufficient to hire an independent faculty member for this.

Marshall is not worried about any potential interference from the Turkish government. She said, “It is hard to envision resistance from a foreign government reaching what we are doing here at Nova SU in the curricular area, though I know it can happen. In any case, we are poised to move ahead at this point.”

NSU has a grant proposal pending with one Armenian foundation, and is looking at other grant sources as well as private donor funding. The university has a definite time frame in mind. Marshall explained that “the firm curricular framework that I would like to establish should really be announced at the one hundredth anniversary of the Genocide. That would be the most appropriate time for a new outreach program or a firm faculty member.”

There is at least one prominent Armenian-American already involved with NSU who would be supportive of such programs. Marta T. Batmasian is a member of the Board of Governors of the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern. Furthermore, she and her husband in the past donated a large memorial to the Armenian Genocide, which stands at the entrance of the school.

Marshall concluded, “We are an attractive host for this sort of thing. We have a working program already. Our program in conflict resolution is available fully on line. The university is young and is able to move in the direction of where there is a need for learning. We have identified the Armenian Genocide and genocide in general as an area of critical importance to learn about.”

This article originally appeared in the Armenian Mirror-Spectator and is reprinted with the permission of the author.