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Monday May 17, 2010

Discuss Armenian Genocide and its denial

Taner Akcam, Hovnan Derderian, Rabbi Harold Schulweis and J Michael

Rabbi Harold Schulweis Dr. J Michael Hagopian May 6 2010 .

Encino, Calif. - "I don't want to be silenced. I want to tell the truth
while I live," Dr. Taner Akcam, a former political prisoner in his
native Turkey and one of the first Turkish academics to acknowledge
and openly discuss the Armenian Genocide, told a group of more than
300 mostly Jews and Armenians, who came together at Valley Beth Shalom
synagogue on May 6 for an evening of fascinating film and discussion
about the Armenian Genocide.

Akcam, a scholar and author of A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide
and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, traveled to Los Angeles
from Worcester, MA, to join with award-winning documentary filmmaker
Dr. J. Michael Hagopian, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, to tell
stories of survival, courage, conscience and compassion regarding the
Armenian Genocide of 1915 and its long and complicated history. The
two men, who have known each other for 20 years, are among the world's
leading authorities on the history of genocide.

The evening was sponsored by Jewish World Watch, a five-year-old
anti-genocide organization, a coalition of 64 Los Angeles synagogues
working together to combat genocide and other egregious violations
of human rights worldwide. JWW Co-Founder and VBS Rabbi Harold M.

Schulweis led the evening, and was joined by His Eminence Archbishop
Hovnan Derderian, Primate, Western Diocese of the Armenian Church
of North America, and Armenian Consul General Grigor Hovhannisyan,
as well as clergy from the Armenian and Jewish communities.

Akcam focused much of his talk on the "founding legends" of the
Turkish state, explaining the "myths" now protected by laws of the
land. The fourth legend is: "The Armenian Genocide is a complete lie.

It never happened." Akcam said that until the year 2000 there was no
law in the Turkish penal code protecting this legend, because until
recently, "absolutely no one in Turkey questioned it." However, in the
year 2000 the Turkish government passed the "infamous Article 301,"
making it a crime to talk about the Armenian Genocide as 'genocide'."

"The most important reason [for the continued denial of the Armenian
genocide] is that we [Turks] have a lack of historic conscience,"
Akcam explained to the captivated audience. "If a community has to
recognize that its founding fathers, instead of being heroes, have
been perpetrators, who violated the cultural premises of their own
identity, reference to the past is indeed traumatic. The community
can cope with the fundamental contradiction between identity claims
and recognition only by a collective schizophrenia, by denial, by
decoupling or withdrawal.

"As long as the act of perpetration is not consciously accounted for,
all peculiarities of this event will live on in the unconscious,"
he added.

Hagopian, co-founder of the Armenian Film Foundation and JWW's first
"I Witness" Award recipient in 2007, screened "The River Ran Red," the
final cinematic chapter in his "Witnesses" trilogy, which chronicles
the death marches of the Armenians to the Euphrates through haunting
eyewitness testimony. The two other films in the trilogy: "Germany
and the Secret Genocide" and "Voices from the Lake," were screened
previously at Valley Beth Shalom.

"These were to become films that someday might be used in a world
court to prosecute the Armenian Genocide," Hagopian told the audience,
adding that if the crimes committed against Armenians were ever to
be prosecuted, there would be no survivor voices left, creating a
need for his films and archives for eyewitness testimony. Between
1968 and 2004, Hagopian filmed nearly 400 testimonies of Armenian
Genocide survivors and witnesses.

Schulweis told the group that although he had not seen Hagopian's
documentary before Thursday night, "I know it. As a Jew, I know it. I
know its bones, I know its scars, I know its wounds, I know its people.

"We both know what it's like to be locked in a chamber in which no
sound is allowed to escape," he continued. Addressing the question of
some Jews: "What does the Genocide have to do with our Holocaust,"
Schulweis answered: "We will not play the sorrowful game of
one-downsmanship. No one's blood is redder than the rest.

"We must leave here not with a broken heart, but with a spine that
is stiffened. The important thing is that we understand, with all
our might, never again!," Schulweis said.

About Jewish world watch Jewish World Watch, a Los Angeles-based
human rights organization, is a coalition of 64 synagogues working
together to combat genocide and other egregious violations of human
rights worldwide. Since its founding five years ago, JWW has achieved
significant success within its three mission goals: education, advocacy
and humanitarian relief, having allocated almost $4 million in direct
assistance to the survivors of genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Efforts have
recently expanded to the Democratic Republic Congo, as the group is
working for policies that will help women and girls there who have
been victims of mass atrocities. www.jewishworldwatch.org.