and Individual Responsibility
By ROBERT O. KRIKORIAN
people who are familiar with the Armenians and their history
and culture have received their knowledge from an Armenian friend,
neighbor, or co-worker. This is so because there is little other
opportunity for the average American to be educated about the
Armenians, their history, and their culture. There is little
or no reference to the Armenians in the overwhelming majority
of textbooks used in the United States. Armenian history has
largely been consigned to oblivion, and there are those with
political economic, and strategic agendas, who would like to
see this situation remain as it is.
of us who consider ourselves Armenian are, by necessity, ambassadors
of Armenia, which carries with it a significant responsibility.
First and foremost, we must be at least minimally conversant
with our own history. We frequently criticize others for their
distortion and misrepresentation of Armenian history, yet very
few people in the Armenian community are sufficiently knowledgeable
about their own history to engage in serious debate and thus
counter such distortions.
Just as it is an obligation for new citizens of the United States
to pass an exam on the fundamentals of American politics and
history, so too it is necessary for each and every Armenian
to be able to discuss the fundamentals of Armenian history.
I am not talking about whether Armenia was actually Christianized
in 301 AD or some other date, or whether Movses Khorenatsi was
fifth- or eight-century author, or whether Paustos Buzand was
an actually historical personage.
I am talking about more fundamental issues, such as Armenian
geography and the role it has played throughout history, how
Armenia's geographic position at the crossroads of empires influenced
its historical and cultural development. I am thinking of the
importance of the Armenian language and alphabet for the preservation
of a distinct national identity, and the enormous role of the
Armenian Church played as a national institution when all other
national institutions such as a state structure had been destroyed.
Similarly, I have in mind the harsh conditions under which the
Armenian peasantry in Western Armenia lived - these peasants
who comprised a majority of the Armenians living in the Ottoman
Empire. When pundits claim that the Armenian elite in Constantinople
was typical of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, we must be armed
with the knowledge to dispute these simplistic notions.
When pundits and so-called analysts claim that the Russian imperial
government, and the Soviet government which succeeded it, favored
the Armenians, we must be prepared to point out the harsh repression
that Armenians suffered under many of the czars and how Armenians
were suspected, just like the Jews, of being a subversive element
in the Russian Empire.
When the nature of the Karabagh conflict is distorted by those
intent on misrepresenting it as fundamentally religious in nature,
Islam versus Christianity, or as the continuation of ancient
hatreds and tribalism, Armenians must be prepared to set the
COMBATING DISTORTION WITH KNOWLEDGE
With the establishment of an independent Republic of Armenia,
the country and its people are no longer as obscure as they
once were. But this is a double edged sword because, while Armenians
have regained their independence and re-entered the family of
nations as an equal, there is also more of an incentive to falsify
and distort Armenian history, given the political and economic
factors motivating international interest in the Caucasus. As
we have seen with the egregious distortion of the reality of
the Armenian Genocide, there are those who will stop at nothing
to deny, diminish, or trivialize the suffering of a people in
order to serve their own political agendas.
It is no longer sufficient to believe that because our cause
is just and truth is on our side that we shall prevail. There
are far too many examples in history of the fallacy of such
thought to need elaboration. The Turkish government has made
it known that they will be making a concerted effort to produce
more works refuting the veracity of the Armenian Genocide. This
means that more sophisticated efforts will be made to deny and
distort Armenian history. A battery of former high-ranking US
government officials has been hired to aid in this effort, and
the Armenian community needs to prepare itself for the inevitable
onslaught of revisionism.
Armenians should be capable of refuting revisionist arguments
about the Armenian genocide, always using logic and evidence,
and keeping emotion to a minimum. We should be able to refute
Turkish arguments that the Genocide was actually a civil war,
in which both sides suffered terribly. We must be prepared to
demonstrate the falseness of the Turkish claim that the Armenians
were all collaborators with the Russians and other Western powers
and betrayed their Ottoman homeland.
Armenians should know how to argue against the notion that sources
such as Ambassador Morgenthau, or missionary reports, are all
politically motivated and thus biased against the Turks. We
must be capable of bringing forth evidence in order to demolish
the false claim that there could not have been a genocide because
the Armenian communities of Constantinople and Smyrna were not
DISTORTION OF HISTORY TOUCHES ALL
All of this might seem academic and irrelevant, but the distortion
of the Armenian experience touches all of us. It seeks to trivialize
the suffering our parents and grandparents, thus opening the
door to further crimes against humanity. One is reminded of
Hitler's quote regarding the Armenians. If, indeed, the world
powers had punished those responsible for the destruction of
the Armenians at the time, it is not implausible to argue that
those contemplating the annihilation of Jews, Slavs, Gypsies,
homosexuals, and other so-called "undesirables" might have thought
twice a generation later. Having had their lives and property
taken from them during the Genocide, now the Armenians' history
is being stolen as well.
Even though it is too late to resurrect the dead, we can still
prevent the destruction of their memory. It is not enough that
organizations and scholars continue to fight against revisionism.
It is up to each and every conscious Armenian to be pro-active
and seek out the necessary knowledge to aid in this struggle.
Perhaps just as important, it is incumbent upon us to refute
those who would distort Armenian history with facts and not
emotion. Only rational discourse, supported by facts, and persistent
effort can change the balance of power in favor of those who
seek the truth.
EDUCATE OURSELVES, THEN OTHERS
We must educate ourselves before we try to educate others. The
Armenian community is fortunate, in a sense, because unlike
other groups, it actually has a body of scholarship and literature
form which it can gain knowledge and understanding. The many
books devoted to various aspects of the Armenian experience
are the result of decades of work by scholars, specialists,
and research centers.
Although there are some voices criticizing Armenian Studies,
lamenting its current state, and predicting its imminent demise,
there are many devoted individuals who have shunned more lucrative
professions in order to devote themselves to the scholarly study
of Armenia and its people. These scholars and research centers
are invaluable resources that the community should use to educated
itself. The knowledge and expertise of these scholars and research
centers must be cultivated and supported in order to blossom
Organizations such as NAASR, and its Institute for Armenian
Studies and Research along with its Armenian Book Clearing House,
are ready and willing to aid in the process of education and
the dissemination of knowledge, but these goals can never fully
succeed without the active involvement and participation of
the Armenian community and its friends and supporters.
The time has come for the Armenian community to reassess its
priorities and commitments. Along with membership in a community
comes responsibility. It is our communal responsibility to ensure
that Armenian Studies in the US continues to develop and produce
high-quality scholars and scholarship .For without scholars
and specialists to interpret and perpetuate Armenian history
and culture, the ultimate goal of the Armenian Genocide will
have been achieved: the consignment of Armenia and Armenians
to historical oblivion.
It is not sufficient to donate books on Armenian subjects to
libraries or give books about Armenia as gifts. It is also incumbent
upon us to read them as well.