NEW APPROACHES TO ARMENIAN GENOCIDE STUDIES
GEORGE DULGERYAN

Asbarez
Apr 21st, 2010

Symposium participants: Umit Ungor, Elizabeth Grigorian, Dr. Richard
Hovannisian, Matthias Bjornlund, Wolf Gruner

WESTWOOD, Los Angeles-Dr. Richard G. Hovannisian, AEF Chair in Modern
Armenian History at UCLA, hosted two on-campus events in commemoration
of the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The first event was a
public lecture on April 13 by Matthias Bjornlund titled "Smyrna/Izmir,
1914-1916: 'A Special Case' during the Armenian Genocide." The second
event on April 15 was a public lecture by Dr.

Ugur Ungör titled "Confiscation and Colonization: The Young Turk
Seizure of Armenian Property." In addition to these two events, Dr.

Hovannisian also organized a symposium at the Glendale Public Library
on April 18 titled "Looking Backward, Moving Forward." The symposium
was cosponsored by the Library's Armenian Outreach, headed by Ms.

Elizabeth Grigorian, and was supported by the AEF Chair's Souren and
Verkin Papazian Fund and UCLA Centers for Near Eastern Studies and
for European-Eurasian Studies.

The Bjornlund Lecture

An archival historian from Copenhagen, Denmark, Matthias Bjornlund has
explored Scandinavian sources relating to the Armenian Genocide. These
archives contain many detailed reports about the genocidal process
and its aftermath. Bjornlund continues to research and develop an
in-depth analysis of specific regions during the genocide, such as
Smyrna (Izmir). A significant point he raised in his lecture was
that one of the goals of the Young Turk Party, also known as the CUP
(Committee of Union and Progress), was to rid the region of Smyrna of
Christian Greeks and Armenians and to replace them with Muslims. This
act, otherwise known as "ethnic-cleansing," was not very "clean,"
said Bjornlund. Still, there was in 1915-16 sufficient resistance from
the Turkish governor of Smyrna and the local German commander, General
Liman von Sanders, to make the city a "special case" and to exempt most
of its Armenian population from the deportations and massacres that
engulfed the rest of Asia Minor and the historic Armenian provinces
of the Ottoman Empire. But Smyrna's turn would come in 1922, when the
city was occupied by the armies of Mustafa Kemal, and the population
was literally dumped into the sea as the city burned.

One of Bjornlund's studies titled "A Fate Worse than Dying: Sexual
Violence during the Armenian Genocide," is included in the book
Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe's Twentieth Century.

In his chapter Bjornlund argues: "There is ample evidence that the
destruction of the Ottoman Armenians was characterized by distinct
gendered aspects, especially the particular timing and the methods of
killing women and children, that females were subjected to massive,
systematic sexual abuse, and that a number of women and children were
allowed to survive as Muslim Turks."

The Ungör Lecture

Dr. Ugur Umit Ungör, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for
War Studies, University College Dublin and an associate of the Center
of Holocaust and Genocide Studies in Amsterdam, defended his Ph.D.

dissertation in 2009 at the University of Amsterdam. It is titled
"Young Turk Social Engineering: Mass Violence and the Nation State
in Eastern Turkey 1913-1950." Ungör specializes in the historical
sociology of mass violence and has published on the Armenian and
Rwandan genocides. His presentation at UCLA on April 15 focused
on several aspects of his forthcoming book, Confiscation and
Colonisation: The Young Turk Seizure of Armenian Property. One of
his initial points was the Young Turk objective to create a "National
Economy," Milli Iktisat, that would be based on a new Muslim class of
entrepreneurs. Ungör stated: "National Economy was impossible without
the disappearance of the Armenians." He went on to explain how Young
Turk legislation in 1915 used "the justice system for injustice"
in order to confiscate the goods and properties of the Armenians
and distribute them to new Muslim proprietors or to escheat them to
the state.

Dr. Ungör followed with an in-depth analysis of Diyarbekir, the
historic Armenian Dikranagerd region, and its specific misfortune
under zealous Young Turk officials who also enriched themselves
at the expense of the Armenians by organizing and conducting the
genocidal operations. He emphasized that, aside from the businesses
in the city, the plunder revolved around three major economic fields:
vineyards, copper mines, and silk and textile works. His research is
unique in the sense that it examines and analyzes a specific region
and specific henchmen of the Turkish regime, such as the governor,
Dr. Mehmed Reshid, and the Pirinjizade clan.

Glendale Public Library Symposium

As for the "Looking Backward, Moving Forward" symposium, a capacity
audience gathered in the Glendale Public Library auditorium on Sunday
afternoon, April 18, for a very stimulating discussion commemorating
the 95th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Richard G.

Hovannisian initiated the program by giving a brief introduction of the
history of Armenians and the modern day issue of genocide recognition
and remembrance. He declared: "The history of the Armenian people is
not just one of tragedy but also and even more one of survival and
optimistic rebuilding." He outlined the progress made in the study
and understanding of the Armenian Genocide and pointed to critical
aspects that still require explanations and answers.

After Hovannisian's brief introduction of the guest speakers, Mr.

Bjornlund, Dr. Wolf Gruner, and Dr. Ungör, each had the floor
to discuss a specific topic followed by a brief question and
answer session which truly engaged the audience. Bjornlund spoke
on "Scandinavia and the Armenian Genocide: Prelude, Eyewitnesses,
Aftermath." He stated that recent archival studies in the Scandinavian
countries have documented a great degree of contemporary knowledge
of the "Armenian Question" in general and the Armenian Genocide in
particular. Some among missionaries, relief workers, diplomats,
politicians, organizations, and "ordinary citizens" from neutral
Denmark, Sweden, and Norway personally witnessed the massacres
and death marches. Many others were involved in the aftermath of
destruction, not least in funding, organizing, and participating
in relief efforts among surviving Armenians in exile. On the state
level, some tried to prevent the genocide and its aftermath from
becoming a potentially embarrassing political issue. His presentation
contextualized this largely unknown or ignored history.

Professor Gruner, Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor
of History at the University of Southern California, addressed the
question "What Could Germans in the Third Reich Know about the Armenian
Genocide?" He showed that, based on the literature and publications
of the time, the German public was well aware of the victimization
of the Armenian people only one or two decades earlier.

With a Ph.D. degree from the Technical University in Berlin, Gruner
has written extensively about the Holocaust, including forced labor
under the Nazis. His research interests focus on the comparative
study of mass violence, genocide, and state discrimination against
indigenous populations.

Following a brisk discussion from a fully engaged audience, Dr.

Hovannisian thanked the participants and audience and Glendale Library
Armenian Outreach director Elizabeth Grigorian. He concluded: "We now
are witnessing a new generation of scholars who are exploring the
genocide from the bottom up, from micro to macro point of view. We
look forward to new and valuable studies of this type from a new
generation of well prepared, conscientious scholars."