NEW YORK – Many groups that have been victims of genocide and other atrocities during the past century have cried out separately “never forget,” but there has been a recent hopeful shift towards cooperation and mutual support that augurs well for their separate recognition causes and for the larger goal of preventing future holocausts.
On May 21-22 scholars and citizens gathered for the “Conference on World War 1 and Beyond: Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Minorities” at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).
The conference was hosted by the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) and the Graduate Center, and it was co-sponsored by the Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research Center (AMPHRC), with moral and financial support of the Pan-Pontian Federation of USA & Canada and the Zoryan Institute based in Toronto.
The gathering of 17 scholars from around the world presenting original papers on the Ottoman Turkish genocides against Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks – including the Hellenes of Pontos – was organized by Anny Bakalian, co-chair of the department of Middle Eastern Studies, George Mavropoulos and George Shirinian, the director of the Zoryan.
George Mavropoulos told TNH there have been four conferences since 2008, and this year’s is the second with an international character. The one in Chicago in 2013 was organized by the local Greek, Assyrian, and Armenian communities.
Mavropoulos, a retired Electrical engineer whose parents were from Trapezounta and whose grandfather Themisthocles died at 44 years old in the Turkish labor battalions, told how AMPHRC was born.
He said that “in order to carry out our objectives, based on the Armenian model,” the board decided to make it a 501 c 3 organization so they could to raise more funds.
The goals include redressing the dearth of English language publications, including reprinting historic and recent books.
They are also committed to producing new material. “We had to have conferences and lectures to do that,” he said.
Gathering historical books and documents, including archival material is another important objective.
AMPHRC also strives to introduce the history of the Asia Minor genocides into school curriculums to inform the general population through teaching guides they have published. One is for 10-12 year olds and tells the history of Hellenism in Asia Minor, and the other is for high schools and colleges, which tells of the Ottoman genocides.
AMPHRC also reaches out to Greek-American students through a lecturer who travel to community schools. Educators can download the guides at www.hellenicresearchcenter.org.
The Center, which has a very active Board, was established in 2011. Among the prime movers is Prof. Anastasia Giannakidou, professor of linguistics at U. of Chicago, Kathy Hareas legal advisor who helped with the 501 c 3 paperwork.
The late Ted Spyropoulos proved vital material and moral support, as did Board members including businessmen Kostas Stavropoulos and Dimitris Kourkouvis.
SHIRINIAN : WORK TOGETHER
Simon Davis, who teaches history at the Graduate Center, welcomed the guests and introduced Shirinian, who thanked the volunteers, including the panel moderators, and the schools for their participation.
In his remarks he emphasized the importance of solidarity of the groups “who have endured the overwhelming trauma of genocide.”
He expressed hope that the conference will have taught participants thee lessons: 1) That genocide is a shared human experience, and as such is a concern of every human being; 2) By telling our story and sharing the emotional trauma, even generations later, the pain becomes a little more bearable; 3) The history of the genocide is not unique to Asia Minor, it is shared by all too many and is ongoing today…people from far from the scene of the killings now realize tha when one peoples’ rights are trampled, their own are not secure. When we forget one injustice, we make it easier for others to occur and we must all promote awareness of genocide,” he said.
He emphasized that further research is needed “to create the body of scholarship necessary,” but he noted that what exists now has been created with minimal institutional and private support,” with the researchers themselves picking up the costs.
“Ultimately, the Armenian, Greek and Assyrian communities must step up,” to help fund the fellowships, scholarships and research grants that are necessary… that is why AMPHRC and the Zoryan institute have established the institutional infrastructure to support the critical research, and today’s conference is part of the larger effort,” he said.
“When we work together we can accomplish great things,” and he concluded by thanking the past presidents of the Pan-Pontian Federation, Dimitri Molohitis, Elias Tsekerides, Panos Stavrianides, George Tsiflides, President of the Pontian Society of Connecticut, and Gus Tsiflides, the current president of the Federation. He said they were “instrumental in securing the financial support for the conference and providing for transportation and hospitality and other logistical issues.”
Tsiflides thanked Shirinian and said it is not enough for descendants of the victims to only know the story. “It is up to us to share it with the rest of the world so that through recognition and education we can co-exist and help create a better future by ensuring such tragedies do not occur again.”
He concluded by praising “George and George – Mavropoulos and Shirinian – who are the two catalysts who brought this event together,” he said.
What was also on display was potentially powerful alliance for truth, justice, and peace if the relevant communities can harness their energy and deploy their knowledge to change the policy of the United States by providing officials and elected representatives with information.