951) A Historic First : A Turk and Armenian Debate the Armenian Claims of Genocide

On October, 21, 1982, the closing session of a two-day Seminar on the World War II Holocaust was held at the Johnstown, Pennsylvania Campus of the University of Pittsburgh. This final segment was devoted not to the Nazi extermination of the Jews, but rather to the Armenian claims of genocide in 1915.

The spokesman for the Armenian claims was Mr. Gerard Libaridian, the Director of the Armenian Archives in Boston, Massachusetts. Libaridian, a student of Richard Hovannisian at U.C.L.A., has emerged in the past few years as a frequent spokesman for Armenian causes.

In the normal course of events, this activity would have been nothing more than another round in the ongoing Armenian attempt to link their own history to the fate of European Jewry during World War II. However, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, happens to be the home of Dr. Cengiz Kevenk, a Turkish-American physician, who has devoted much of his spare time in the past fifteen years to compiling a ‘library’ of works dealing with Turkish-Armenian relations. Upon learning of Libaridian’s scheduled appearance, Dr. Kevenk volunteered his services as an “amateur historian” willing to present the Turkish viewpoint.

The stage was thus set for what Libaridian was to term: “the first face to face discussion by a Turk and an Armenian” on the events of 1914-15 in the war-torn Ottoman Empire. As the program began, the sympathies of its organizers quickly became apparent. For rather than a simple presentation of two speakers representing opposing points of view, the program began with a twenty minute Armenian propaganda film narrated by Actor Mike Connors, entitled “The Forgotten Genocide.”

The film was followed by a thirty minute presentation of the Armenian case by Libaridian and then a similar time allotted to Dr. Kevenk. Following these opening statements, the moderator widened the scope to questions from the floor. The audience of well over one hundred listeners responded wholeheartedly, and what followed was two hours of interesting and in many respects enlightening debate.

One member of the audience, who identified himself as an American Jew, directed a question to Libaridian which clearly shocked the audience, many of whom were Jewish Americans. Waving a copy of a book in his hand, the questioner asked Libaridian if he was familiar with Christopher Walker’s ARMEN/A: THE SURVIVAL OF A NATION? When Libaridian replied in the affirmative, the questioner continued, pointing out that this generally pro-Armenian work contained the following information of direct relevance to the Nazi Holocaust: a) Dro, the former President of the Armenian Republic, and the most respected of Armenian Nationalist leaders, established an Armenian Provisional Republic in Berlin during World War II.; b) this ‘provisional government’ fully endorsed and espoused the social theories of the Nazis, declared themselves and all Armenians to be members of the Aryan ‘Super-Race;” c) they published an Anti-Semitic, racist journal, thereby aligning themselves with the Nazis and their efforts to exterminate the Jews; and, d) they mobilized an Armenian Army of up to 20,000 members which fought side by side with the Wehrmacht.

“How dare you now, after all this,” the questioner asked, “inject yourselves into a Seminar devoted to the Jewish Holocaust?”

Dr. Libaridian, closer to 1982

Libaridian replied that this evidence dealing with the little known Nazi-Armenian collaboration had only recently been published by Mr. Walker — whom he regarded as a good scholar — and, apparently, his account was true. When the American Jew then asked why the Armenian Americans were trying to make a place for themselves in the planned Holocaust Memorial and “riding the coattails of the Holocaust Council”, Mr. Libaridian replied that he personally felt it was a mistake for Armenians to join the Council’s activities, but that he had been overruled by those who thought otherwise.

The overall effect of this and similar revelations made in the course of Dr. Kevenk’s presentation on the aduience, most of whom had hitherto only been exposed to the ‘Armenian viewpoint,’ is well summed up by the following conversation overheard as two American members of the audience left the hall. Turning to his companion one gentleman said: “If you had told me before this evening that there were two sides to this issue I would have said you were crazy.” His friend, “I’ve just realized that there are not only two sides, but that the Turkish case is very strong.”

It should be of interest to Turkish-Americans throughout this country that among the members of the audience were a number of Turkish-Americans from the Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. areas who had taken the time and trouble to insure that Dr. Kevenk did not appear before a totally hostile audience.

If there is a lesson to be learned from this ‘historic first,’ it is that even a highly paid professional propagandist is no match for an amateur spokesman, when the latter has truth on his side.

ATA-USA/January 1983, p. 18

© Holdwater

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