Taner Akcam, scholar of Armenian Genocide, presents new book

Published: Wednesday October 31, 2012

Prof. Akçam signs copies of his new book.

New York - For decades, Ottoman Empire archives have been central to Armenian Genocide studies, and few scholars know those annals of history as well as Taner Akçam.

One of Turkey's first academics to publicly acknowledge and discuss the genocide, Akçam is a leading authority on the subject whose work has been published internationally.

His latest book, "The Young Turks' Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire," which sheds new light on one of the darkest periods in Armenian history, was presented at a New York event co-sponsored by AGBU Ararat.

On October 18, a crowd over 120 gathered in the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in New York to hear Akçam introduce his recent publication, which is filled with some 600 once-classified Ottoman-era documents. Before Akçam took the podium, Diocesan Council chair Oscar Tatosian delivered the welcoming remarks. He applauded both Akçam and Peter Balakian, the award-winning poet and author who introduced the lecture, stating, "neither man is a stranger to the Diocesan Center. That's because this center has been the true hub of our community over its four decades of existence. So many great and influential figures of our generation - Armenian and otherwise - have come here, to meet the people, and address our concerns. Tonight is no exception."

Balakian, who himself has been praised as a leading voice for Armenian Genocide advocacy, was next to take the microphone. He recounted Akçam's student activism on behalf of Turkey's minorities, which resulted in his 10-year prison sentence in 1976 - a term cut short by his unlikely escape to Germany, where he began his groundbreaking research on Turkish nationalism. As Balakian explained, while Armenian Genocide scholarship has increased in recent years, what has been missing is a Turkish voice. Akçam's dozens of articles and several books, Balakian stressed, have "helped to add that crucial piece to the evolving discourse on the Armenian Genocide...and opened up courageous spaces for young Turkish scholars who see the work he's done and begin to find their own way into their own country's past."

A critical look of the past is exactly what "The Young Turks' Crime Against Humanity" provides through Akçam's analysis of scores of original Ottoman telegraphs and internal memos. They make the case, Akçam reiterated throughout the evening, not only for the Armenian Genocide, but for the well-orchestrated plan to resettle and assimilate Armenians, as well. As Akçam pointed to decoded texts, he presented one of the book's central arguments: that population statistics was a main component of a "genocidal process." By establishing this link between demographic policy and the atrocities committed against Armenians at the turn of the 20th century, Akçam has placed his work once again at the forefront of genocide studies. The audience, who engaged Akçam with a series of questions and comments following his presentation, made this clear.

Attendees also had the opportunity to speak with Akçam at a reception immediately after his talk. Very Reverend Father Simeon Odabashian ended the event, noting that the Diocese was honored to bring together two great intellectuals and thanking the evening's sponsors, AGBU Ararat, C.A.R.S., Eseyan-Getronagan Alumni, Hye Doon, the Knights and Daughters of Vartan, the Tekeyan Cultural Association, and Tibrevank Alumni.

Akçam also gave a talk at St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, the following evening, which was co-sponsored by AGBU Ararat once again, the church and a number of local Armenian organizations.

Established in 1906, AGBU (www.agbu.org) is the world's largest non-profit Armenian organization. Headquartered in New York City, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually touching the lives of some 400,000 Armenians around the world.

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