New York Armenian Students' Association
333 Atlantic Avenue
Warwick, RI 02888
(401) 461-6114
[email protected]


May 16, 2005

Contact: New York ASA: [email protected]

NY ASA and the NYU Hokee Club Host Lecture on Art and Testimony With
Professor Marc Nichanian

by Anahid Ugurlyan, Nanor Kenderian and Alec Gevorkyan

As ceremonies of mourning and remembrance for the 90th Anniversary of
the Armenian Genocide were coming to a close, Armenians in New York and
New Jersey gathered on Friday, April 29 for an evening of contemplation
with Professor Marc Nichanian at New York University's Kimmel Center.
In a lecture entitled "Art and Testimony," Professor Marc Nichanian,
(Associate Professor of Armenian Language and Civilization at Columbia
University, 1996 - 2005), delivered an insightful presentation about
the relationship between testimony and literature. After a brief
introduction by Nanor Kenderian of the New York Armenian Students'
Association, Professor Nichanian discussed the definition of testimony
(from the Latin "to witness") in its truest sense, meaning "bearing
witness" to one's own death, an account that perishes alongside the
witness or the victim himself. Thus, the "testimony" of genocide
(or Catastrophe) survivors is not testimony in its true sense
(bearing witness to one's death) but rather the recounting of the
deaths of others as well as one's own struggle to survive. As such,
these testimonies also serve as oral history.

Professor Nichanian addressed the use of testimony as a means to
elicit political gains by bringing accounts as evidence to prove the
perpetration of the Armenian Genocide. He also discussed testimonies'
representation as literature or art. In both instances - political
or aesthetic - he found the treatment of testimonies problematic.
He explained that when testimonies are treated as a means to a
political end, they undergo a perversion, whereby the testimony
loses all intrinsic value by becoming an object for demonstration.
The individual survivor's voice, life, and story lose their integrity
and uniqueness when subjected to an overarching political enterprise,
in which one story is merely another instance in many, one life
indistinguishable from the next. Survivors recounted their experiences
not to prove the existence of the Genocide, for at the time they felt
no need to prove something that was clearly only too real to them.
The need to recount was predominantly a complex psychological
drive to affirm memories and process trauma, among other factors.
Treating these memories and stories solely to combat Genocide denial
instead of studying them in the context of the cultural, psychological,
and social Catastrophe resulting from the event is to undermine the
dignity and individuality of each life.

In terms of art as a means to present testimony, Professor Nichanian
maintained that Armenian writers have, in large part, failed to
write testimony as literature, although he named one instance of
success in this endeavor as Zabel Yesayan's Among the Ruins, which
does not recount the 1915 atrocities, but instead the preceding
massacre in Cilicia. Professor Nichanian contended that the actual
testimonies of survivors should be examined as art or literature
in themselves, with attention to tone, style, content and context.
Professor Nichanian also discussed continued efforts of Armenian
institutions and publishers, including the Zoryan Institute and
the Gomidas Institute, to collect and publish testimonies, namely
memoirs of survivors. He considers these efforts as valuable but only
marginal projects, because the collection of genocide narratives and
memoirs is a very recent undertaking. According to the Professor,
a dynamic and organized effort is necessary to reveal, present,
and study witness testimonies.

An engaging question and answer session followed Professor Nichanian's
presentation, addressing many issues including Turkey's continued
denial and the necessity to use "testimony" to "authenticate" the
Genocide's occurrence until it is politically recognized. One audience
member also mentioned a recent emergence of testimonies from Turks
who have discovered their Armenian genealogy or from Kurds who have
begun writing about their predecessors' accounts of witnessing both
Kurdish and Turkish perpetrations.

The event was an extraordinary success and was fully attended both
by active ASA members and quite a few new attendees, both Armenian
and non-Armenian. The ASA is thankful to the NYU Armenian Hokee Club
for their assistance with planning and organizing the lecture.

The Armenian Students' Association is a nationwide membership
organization that promotes Armenian culture and education by providing
Armenian communities with social, academic, and educational events.
All funds raised by the regional branches contribute to the ASA's
scholarship fund for Armenian students studying in the United States.

For more information about the NY ASA, please visit
From: Baghdasarian