Ninety-five years after the start of Armenia’s genocide, a USF symposium will attempt to examine the country and World War I mass murder with insight from individuals with ties to the nation, including a traveling scholar and a USF professor.
The USF Library’s Grace Allen Room will host the Rediscovering Armenia Symposium from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 29, which will accompany Tampa Bay area outreach events later that weekend.
The Armenian Genocide refers to the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1918 under the Ottoman Turk Empire.
Mark Greenberg, head of the USF Libraries Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center, said that Hitler’s statement, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” partly inspired the symposium.
“It is important to understand the implications of our silence and that historical events are connected,” Greenberg said. “The statement we are trying to make is, ‘Who now talks about the Armenian Genocide?’ We do at USF.”
USF mathematics professor Manoug Manougian will speak from 11 a.m. to noon on “Armenians in the Holy Land” – a subject he learned as an Armenian born and raised in Jerusalem.
Manougian said his experience with genocide survivors began as a young boy, when a woman who helped his mother with chores in exchange for food would sometimes sit him on her lap and weep.
“Being 3 or 4 years old, I didn’t understand what was happening,” Manougian said. “Years later, I told my mother about it and then asked her, ‘What did I do wrong to make her cry?'”
Manougian’s mother later told him the woman was an Armenian genocide survivor.
“When the Ottoman Empire decided to exterminate the Armenians, they went to her house, destroyed her door, killed her husband on sight … put her six children on her lap and killed them one by one,” he said. “Like many Armenians, she walked through the Syrian Desert and was one of the few who managed to walk all the way to Jerusalem.”
Manougian said he then knew he had to promote awareness of these atrocities. The St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune both published a column of his on the continuing denial of the Armenian Genocide, and he teaches a summer class on genocide history for the Honors College.
“I can’t stand on the sidelines and see what is going on and not do anything about it,” Manougian said. “If there is advice I give my students, (it) is to never be bystanders.”
Manougian is also the co-author and associate producer of “The Genocide Factor: The Human Tragedy” – a four-hour, PBS-aired documentary that featured Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and Anne Frank’s stepsister Eva Schloss.
UCLA Armenian scholar Richard Hovannisian will offer two lectures at the symposium – “Descended from Mount Ararat” and “The Armenian Genocide as Prototype” – in his 50th year of teaching the country’s history. The event also reunites Manougian and Hovannisian, whose interview was included in “The Genocide Factor.”
Hovannisian will then speak at Kol Ami Synagogue during a 6:30 p.m. dinner, then Oct. 30 after 9:30 a.m. Sabbath morning services and lunch. Both discussions will detail the connections between Armenia and Judaism. The lunch event is free.
The symposium’s final speaker will be Chris Sassouni, a community organizer at Pinellas Park’s St. Hagop Armenian Church who will talk from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. about how he discovered his family’s heritage.
The church will host the last event with Hovannisian – a cocktail reception, dinner and commemoration of his life’s work at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 30. The event costs $25.
Greenberg said that beyond its speaker events, the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center also offers permanent oral and visual histories, and students can volunteer.
“Depending on their skills and our needs, students can help with translating documents and cataloging material, among other tasks,” Greenberg said.
Jennifer Rosete-Busby, a senior double majoring in international studies and interdisciplinary sciences, also serves as the president of STAND, a student anti-genocide advocacy group. She said the symposium is important because it addresses a lesser-known atrocity and offers possible preventions for current genocides.
“I think that the Armenian genocide symposium is a great stride, as it’s bringing together academics to share ideas – such as how we can learn from inadequacies of the past and make better progress in the future,” Rosete-Busby said.
Although STAND is not involved with the symposium, Rosete-Busby said the group plans on creating a partnership with the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center.
“I personally feel that if we stand by and do nothing, it is as if we perpetuated the atrocities ourselves by our inaction,” she said.
For more information on the symposium, visit guides.lib.usf.edu/hgsc.