MUSA DAGH: THEME OF CONFERENCE ON GENOCIDE STUDIES IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Armenian Weekly
July 2, 2012

"Mountains of Moses: Revolt, Resistance and Rescuing of the Victims
of Mass Extermination in the 20th Century" was the theme of the First
International Conference on Genocide Studies in the Czech Republic,
held in the capital of Prague from June 18-20, 2012. The theme drew
inspiration from the Musa Dagh resistance to the Armenian Genocide
in 1915, a saga that was immortalized by Franz Werfel in the novel
The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

The theme drew inspiration from the Musa Dagh resistance to the
Armenian Genocide in 1915, a saga that was immortalized by Franz
Werfel in the novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh.

The conference was organized by the Archaeology of Evil Research Centre
(AERC) as part of the NINE GATES Festival that annually promotes
Jewish culture in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe.

This year's festival, including the conference, enjoyed the patronage
of the president of the Czech Parliament, the prime minister, a number
of ministries, and the embassies of China, Spain, and Sweden.

The mission of the AERC is "to reflect causality and motives of
historical genocides and mass violence on the basis of comparative
interdisciplinary research, to gather specific primary and secondary
data on genocides and mass murders during the world history, and
explore new ways of dissemination of research results. Long-term
objective of the centre is to introduce and establish the Genocide
Studies discipline in the Czech Republic."

The objectives of the conference were to introduce the scope
and method of genocide studies in the Czech Republic; to analyze
historical events of revolt, resistance, and rescue of the victims
of mass extermination/genocides in the 20th century with regard to
the relevant historical context; and to compare selected historical
events on the basis of common aspects.

The opening ceremony took place on June 18 at the Viola Theater. Pavel
Zuna, a well-known Czech TV personality, introduced the conference
participants and invited Tigran S. Seiranian, the ambassador of the
Republic of Armenia to the Czech Republic, to deliver the inaugural
address. In his statement, Seiranian made reference to Werfel as a
native son of Prague, informing the audience that on April 24 of
each year the Armenian community in Prague places wreaths at the
homes where the author was born and lived. Seiranian also indicated
that the Turkish government continues to deny the Armenian Genocide,
thereby continuing the process of genocide. A representative group of
Armenians-including the Very Reverend Barsegh Pilavjyan, spiritual head
of the Armenians in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary; Hakob
Asatryan, chief editor of the local Orer (Days) Armenian periodical;
artists; and professionals-were also present.

The ambassador's speech was followed by an impressive thematic
performance of Czech poet Pavel Zajchek, titled "Lives? Or Vicious
Circles?" with the accompaniment of the underground DG 307 band. The
evening concluded with a reception.

On the following day, June 19, the conference began at the Protestant
Theological Faculty of Charles University with a keynote lecture
by Dr. Paul A. Levine, associate professor and docent of Holocaust
history at the Hugo Valentin Centre, Uppsala University, Sweden.

Titled "Genocide Studies Today: An Overview and Analysis," the
lecture briefly explored "the 'histories' of the two fields [Jewish
Holocaust and Armenian Genocide], their conflicts and areas of
growing comity, and what the future might hold for these two dynamic
and multi-disciplinary scholarly fields, both of which have high and
still growing social relevance."

Next, in order to provide the audience-comprised mainly of professors,
university students, diplomats, and other interested persons-with a
general background about the Armenian extermination and dispossession,
Andrew Goldberg's hour-long documentary, "The Armenian Genocide"
(2006), was shown on a large screen.

After the screening, Dr. Vahram Shemmassian, associate professor
and director of the Armenian Studies Program at California State
University, Northridge, and foremost scholar on Musa Dagh, took
the podium to discuss and analyze "The Musa Dagh (Mountain of
Moses) Resistance to the Armenian Genocide." Based on Ottoman,
German, French, British, American, and Armenian archives, his paper
covered the following issues: causes of the genocide; pockets of
resistance; introduction to Musa Dagh society; conditions on the eve
of the deportation order; existential dilemmas and hard choices;
the resistance machine (consisting of two components, one civil
and one military); major battles; rescue operations by the French
3rd Mediterranean Squadron; the relocation of survivors to a camp
near Port Said, Egypt; echoes of the episode in the contemporary
international press; and the impact of Werfel's novel on Armenians
and Jews especially.

"The Musa Dagh struggle continues after 97 years," Shemmassian
concluded. "It is a fight against the denial of the Armenian Genocide,
because denial is the last act of any genocide. This struggle belongs
to all of us, not just the Armenian people. If the slogan 'Never
Again' should mean anything, we must unite to prevent criminal minds
from being born. No economic, political or strategic considerations
should take precedence over the recognition and prevention of
genocides. Realpolitik cannot be more important than humanity itself;
a line must be drawn to preserve civilization. It is my ardent wish
and hope that international conferences such as this will bring us
closer to forming a united front, not just intellectually but also
practically, in defeating genocidal tendencies before they are hatched
and actualized."

Shemmassian also gave a PowerPoint presentation of vintage photos
from his extensive private collection depicting the rescue scenes by
the French Navy, the Port Said refugee camp, the Red Cross flag that
saved the Musa Dagh-ians, and the inauguration in 1932 of a memorial
monument at Damlajik on Musa Dagh dedicated to the heroic feat, as
well as a fenced graveyard for the 18 fighters who had lost their
lives during the 1915 battles. A question-and-answer session followed.

Tatevik Lazaryan of "Azatutyun" (Liberty) radio in Armenia and Hakob
Asatryan of Orer magazine then interviewed Shemmassian separately
on a broad range of Armenian issues including, but not limited to,
the controversial protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey, and
planned activities pertaining to the 100th anniversary of the genocide
worldwide. Shemmassian similarly granted an interview to Reflex, a
respected weekly magazine published in Prague with a wide circulation
(60,000 printed copies and a total readership of 270,000 as of January
2010, according to Wikipedia). The interview is scheduled to appear
in mid-July 2012.

The "Nanjing Massacre" video presentation constituted an introduction
to the Chinese component of the conference. Zhang Boxing and Li
Jiangyong from the Nanjing Massacre Museum in China, subsequently
lectured on the "Nanjing Safety Zone: The Rescue of Citizens during
the Massacre in Nanjing." They analyzed the establishment, role,
and significance of that zone in the context of the Sino-Japanese
War in the 1930's. The day ended with Charlie Chaplin's 1940 movie,
"The Great Dictator."

On June 20, Alejandro Baer, from the Institute of Sociology, Ludwig
Maximillians-Universitat, Munich, Germany, talked about "The Rescue
of Jews by Spanish Diplomats during the Holocaust: Facts, Myths,
and Memory Politics." He explained that the close ties that Spain
maintained with Germany throughout World War II enabled some diplomats
to grant protection to the victims. This fact was later used as an
argument by the Franco government to try to escape from the isolation
to which the international community had condemned Spain after the
war. The myth that Franco helped the Jews during the Holocaust is
sustained in Spain until today.

A related subject was examined by Prof. Paul A. Levine, namely, "Raoul
Wallenberg's Rescue Activities in Budapest: Myth, or History?" He
clarified the fascinating but often troubling relationship between
myth and history, a distinction that is of particular importance for
the field of Holocaust/genocide studies.

The afternoon session began with two documentaries, "Revolt
in the Sobibor Camp" and the "Living Dead." Dr. Igor Bartosik,
a historian-researcher at the Museum Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland,
then delved into the "Underground Activity and Revolt of Prisoners
from the Sonderkommando KL Auschwitz" in a comparative approach, all
along showing hitherto unknown documents and pictures. The conference
ended with concluding discussions and remarks by the organizers and
participants.

Following the conclusion of the conference, the Turkish Embassy in
Prague contacted and held a meeting with two of the main organizers
of the conference, Simon Krbec and Pavel Chalupa, to lodge a complaint
regarding the inclusion of Musa Dagh (i.e., the Armenian Genocide) in
the program. It was a "controversial historical event," the Turkish
officials contended, and therefore other scholars should also have
been invited to tell the "other side" of the story. Krbec responded:
"We are not dividing historical research into some national or
opposite sides, that we follow the mainstream of research on genocide
studies in the world. ... [t]he International Association of Genocide
Scholars recognized the Armenian Genocide as genocide. So we don't
see a reason to invite some Turkish researchers." Krbec and Chalupa
also mentioned President Barak Obama's annual statements about the
"Great Calamity." At the end of the encounter the two organizers
were given books about the Turkish version of what happened, and were
invited to Istanbul to study the Turkish archives.

"Mountains of Moses" was a serious and successful event, one that
added to the growing number of international conferences on the subject
of genocide. The organizers plan to publish the proceedings and hold
similar symposia annually, with different themes.