We interviewed Dr Khatchig Mouradian, lecturer at Columbia University, and expert on the Armenian Genocide.
On October 11th, some members of the Genocide80Twenty awareness raising group hosted an online interview with Dr Khatchig Mouradian, an expert on the Armenian genocide. This topic is one which is particularly personal to him. His grandparents were child survivors of genocide and his parents experienced the effects when growing up. Talking to Dr Mouradian emphasised the personal damage to all those impacted a genocide can cause, and reaffirmed the importance of working to prevent it. The Armenian genocide sought to entirely eradicate the Christian Armenian population under the Ottoman Empire, and occurred under the cover of war. This massacre saw the deaths of over a million people, with some experts, including Dr Mouradian, estimating that the death count was as high as 1.5 million people. However, to this day, there remain governments around the world who refuse to recognise this genocide, most notably the Turkish government. The purpose of Dr Mouradian’s work is twofold. He seeks not only to better inform the world’s population about the atrocities of the Armenian genocide and hence encourage people to act to stop genocides occurring today, but also to pressure governments into formally recognising the Armenian Genocide, to give a sense of justice to families still impacted a century later.
His recent book titled The Resistance Network: The Armenian Genocide and Humanitarianism in Ottoman Syria, 1915-1918, looked in particular at the actions of those who resisted the Armenian genocide. He focused on the resistance of those on the ground, who had the most to lose if they were caught. Dr Mouradian wishes to challenge the viewpoint that those who are victims of genocide give no resistance and as he said: ‘[go] to their deaths like sheep’. It is for this reason that his book tries to tell the story of genocide by focusing on those who it impacted and those who tried to fight it. During the interview, he said that he wrote the book in order to ‘[give] the voice to victims’. To Dr Mouradian, it is extremely important for everyone to remember that people always resist, despite of a lack of weapons or resources. By showing the myriad of different actions people took to resist this genocide, risking their own lives in the process, his book gives people hope that they can combat injustice themselves.
Initially, concentrating on these people particularly made writing his book more difficult, because finding sources from these people was made harder, not only because their resistance work was performed in secret, but also because it was relatively undocumented in comparison to the actions performed by foreign missionaries, who recorded their work alone with little recognition for the sacrifices made by people living in Armenia. Dr Mouradian looked in detail at the sources of all groups, reading through the minutes of meetings or accounting books to find information. However, by doing so, he gained new understanding about how the genocide was experienced. This newfound knowledge allowed him to write his historical account from a different perspective, with those who fought the injustice at the centre of the story.
Dr Mouradian was entirely aware that steps have been taken in the right direction by many nations in the process of genocide awareness. In the past 5 years, many prominent world nations (including the USA) have formally recognised the Armenian Genocide. He understands that formally recognising genocide is something which must not become merely a political token, but on the other hand, he is a believer of small steps in the right direction. Persuading governments is a difficult and lengthy process, and so when advancements are made in the right direction, this must be viewed as a positive. When nations such as Turkey continue to deny genocides, it allows states to get away with their crimes and lead them to believe that violence can be a way to operate, something which is undeniably wrong. As long as the consequences of a crime are still being felt, people are still being effected.
Throughout the interview, Dr Mouradian continually emphasised the importance that the work students and schools do with regard to preventing genocide. As he stated, ‘[it] is incremental work’ and is ‘not the kind of work that will make headlines’, but gradually, things begin to change thanks to the work that has been put in. His words illustrate the importance of doing whatever actions are possible, regardless of how small they are, as it all comes together to make a difference. To quote Dr Mouradian: ‘Much of what your generation does goes a long way’.