FAIR LAWN, N.J. — Historian of the Armenian Genocide Taner Akçam was honored at a banquet organized by the Knights and Daughters of Vartan Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee on October 25 at St. Leon Armenian Church's Abajian Hall.
Akçam holds the Robert Aram and Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Endowed Chair of Armenian Studies at Clark University and is one of the first Turkish scholars to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and write extensively on it.
Dr. Vartan Abdo served as master of ceremonies at the well-attended event. Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, gave the invocation, while guests were welcomed by Hirant Gulian, banquet chairman and organizer.Gulian said, "People often ask me why are you so ardently working for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The Republic of Turkey will never recognize it." He said that he would respond, "Nothing pursued, nothing gained. ...The world will forget the Armenian Genocide only if we let them forget. Our cause is alive, we are alive, and we are determined to achieve our goal and believe me, we will."
As part of this effort, Gulian stated, "Today we have translated [Akçam's 2018 book] Killing Orders into 10 languages. There are 5 more to go. That means over 800 million people have the opportunity to read Killing Orders in their respective languages. Our goal is to reach four billion people – b for billion — by 2021, and without your help, we cannot do it." This outreach will include India, China and Japan. He said he believed that the day was coming when the Republic of Turkey would recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Gulian announced that Dikran Cherchian, 99-years-old, was present. He is the son of Vahram Cherchian, who taught art classes in the American Robert College in Istanbul and created the famous signature of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Cherchian came to the stage to congratulate Akçam in person.
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in Washington, DC, proclaimed his thanks to the many Turks who are suffering and working for peace and justice. He then exclaimed that Taner Akçam deserves to get the Nobel Peace Prize.
Khatchig Mouradian, the first doctoral student of Akçam at Clark University, said that one of the things that really moved him is the acknowledgment of the role of mentors and scholars who had paved the way, such as Andonian, Rev. Guerguerian and Vahakn Dadrian, in Akçam's case. In turn, Mouradian said he was happy to acknowledge Taner Akçam's help to him. Scholars like Akçam, he said, do not just produce new scholars, but also provide an example of engagement in the life of the community and world, shaping society around them.
Dr. Ümit Kurt, another student of Akçam at Clark, thrilled the audience by speaking in Armenian. Kurt acknowledged Akçam's personal guidance and help from the very start of his doctoral career. He stressed Akçam's personal warmth, morality and humanitarian nature. His pleasant nature and encouragement made Kurt want to work all the harder.
Dr. Mary Papazian, president of San Jose State University, California, was the keynote speaker. She said that it was not a foregone conclusion for someone like Akçam to come to the place he is at today. His sense of justice led him, when young, to work for the Kurds in Turkey, and for true democracy. This led to prison, and his famous escape to Europe, where he continued his education. He chose to do serious academic work to bring the truth out in the open. As always, he wanted to bring about a better Turkey.
The encouragement of Vahakn Dadrian played a key role in Akçam's academic development, Papazian said, and also led to Papazian and her husband Dennis hosting him during his first weeks in Detroit.
Papazian explained, "The wonderful thing about Taner, as I said, is that it never was about him. It was never about the accolades. Taner would actually be more comfortable going through life without the accolades we are giving him. He is a truly humble man who is doing the work because it is the right work to do, because the story has to be told, because truth still is the foundation for building a just and honest society....It is our obligation as a community to say thank you, but it is not a thanks that he is seeking."
Papazian concluded that Akçam's work can eventually bring harmony and peace to the current Republic of Armenia, when Turkey accepts the truth concerning the Armenian Genocide and no longer fear Armenians.
Akçam took the podium to thank all those who organized the banquet, starting with Hirant Gulian. He said that ironically the celebration of his work that night was a byproduct of the Turkish government's longstanding policy of denial. Furthermore, the silence of the majority of the Turkish people makes his voice in contrast strong, he said. He continued, emphasizing that he longs for the day that truth-telling is no longer anything out of the ordinary.
Akcam said the simple answer to why he does what he does was his father, who said that if you see injustice, don't ignore it—you must be the first one to speak out. His father also would say that if you are not willing to pay the price for what you have written, don't write it.
Akçam said that he was arrested five times as an activist for social justice in Turkey and experienced torture. When he began to research the Armenian Genocide, he received death threats, was subjected to physical attacks, and even in the US had to deliver lectures under police guard as the inevitable price for standing up for his beliefs, as his father taught him. He said that it was thanks to the help of many, many people along the way that he was able to stand before the audience this night.
The first person Akçam mentioned was Professor Vahakn Dadrian. He then noted Dennis and Mary Papazian, Fatma Müge Göçek, Greg Sarkissian, Stephen Feinstein, Eric Weitz, his colleagues at Clark University and the creators of the chair he holds now. The support and love of the Armenian community have energized him, he said, over the years, along with numerous friends in Turkey whose names he could not mention for the sake of their safety. Akçam continued to name many Armenian individuals and organizations whose support were important for him.
He highlighted the name of Hrant Dink, who wanted to live in Turkey as a fully equal citizen of Armenian background together with Muslim Turks. Dink wanted the truth of the Armenian Genocide acknowledged and some measure of justice achieved, Akçam said, so that a shared future could be created for Armenians like him in Turkey. Dink was murdered because he was an Armenian and because he spoke the truth, Akçam said.
The denial policy of over a century must be eliminated, Akçam exclaimed. As an academic, his duty is to wage a "war of enlightenment" against this by advancing existing and creating new institutions. There is a huge denialist industry operated by the Turkish government which exploits universities. The side of truth is badly underfunded.
An Armenian Genocide research center is badly needed for the truth to prevail, Akçam said. There are many Armenian history chairs, Clark has a great program, but there is not even one Armenian Genocide research institute in North America in an American university. In comparison, roughly 250 Holocaust programs and institutions exist.
While denialism can not only be defeated academically and it must be politically defeated, Akçam said, the power of knowledge is critical too. The creation of a research center is the necessary next step in this process, he concluded.
Grand Commander of the Knights of Vartan Steven R. Adams and Vice Commander Hoplazian presented Akçam with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) gave the closing remarks and benediction. He thanked the Knights and Daughters of Vartan for their leadership in the Armenian Church, and stated that Akçam's award was a very well-deserved distinction, not only on the basis of his scholarship but because all his work has been in service to the truth. He said that, "We also know that it is his fearless commitment to the truth that sets him apart from others."
Findikyan concluded: "Seeing such an individual gives us hope that the larger problems of history confronting us and confronting all people can be approached indeed in a spirit of truth and generosity, and that those larger problems can ultimately be resolved. Professor Akçam, the Armenian people will always honor your dedication and conviction and we will always cherish your warm spirit of friendship."