By Stephen Ghazikhanian and Matthew King
This Saturday, a prominent Armenian Genocide denier will deliver a lecture on campus. This event stands at odds with Duke’s leadership on human rights issues, especially the legacy of Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who fled his native Poland in 1939, started teaching international law at Duke in 1941, and forever changed his field by coining the term “genocide.”What do you think?
The young Lemkin closely followed the events of World War I. In the spring of 1915, grisly accounts started to emerge out of eastern Turkey. These horrific events began on April 24, 1915 when, as Samantha Power recounts in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book “A Problem from Hell”, the Ottoman Minister of the Interior ordered the arrest and execution of 250 Armenian intellectuals.What do you think?
In the following months, the New York Times detailed the mass atrocities against the minority Armenians, charging that the Ottoman Empire was “acting deliberately” to implement a “policy of extermination.” Properties were confiscated. Men were either immediately executed or used as laborers until their death. Women, children, and the elderly were forced on deportation marches through the Syrian desert to the concentration camps of Deir ez-Zor. Along these routes, as Donald Bloxham describes in his book “The Great Game of Genocide”, the Armenians were “subject to massive and repeated depredations—rape, kidnap, mutilation, outright killing, and death from exposure, starvation, and thirst—at the hands of Ottoman Gendarmes.” Up to 1.5 million Armenians, many of them women and children, perished.What do you think?
From this point on, Lemkin sought to understand, research and combat this “crime without a name.” In 1944, with the publication of Lemkin’s “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe”, he coined a name that captured the horror of the crime—genocide. Race murder. Genocide, in Lemkin’s view, referred not only to Hitler’s Final Solution, but also to the fate of the Armenians that had first inspired Lemkin’s research. Twenty-two countries, 43 U.S. states, including North Carolina, a vast majority of genocide scholars and countless human rights organizations have since agreed with Lemkin, and recognized the heinous crimes against the Armenians as genocide. What do you think?
Today, Lemkin must be turning in his grave.What do you think?
The same university that once welcomed Lemkin will soon play host to Tennessee Tech Professor Michael Gunter, whose works dismiss the “alleged genocide” of the Armenians. Professor Gunter will present a lecture, “Turkish-Armenian Conflict: A Historical Perspective,” on Saturday, January 24th.What do you think?
Gunter’s timing could not be more inauspicious. We will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 24th, three months to the day of Gunter’s visit.What do you think?
Specious arguments abound in Gunter’s works. For example, he argues that because some Armenians living in western Turkey were spared deportation, what happened to the Armenians in the east could not have possibly been genocide. “Is it possible,” Gunter writes, “to imagine Hitler sparing any Jews in Berlin, Munich, or Cologne from his genocidal rampage…?” Here Gunter makes the fallacy of assuming that every genocide must match the logistical caliber of Hitler’s Final Solution. Gunter also elects to ignore the UN Genocide Convention’s official definition of genocide as an act with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” What do you think?
Denial marks the ultimate stage of genocide, a victory lap for genocide’s perpetrators. Denial is not limited to erasing victims’ names from the history books—it also means sweeping their footprints from the sands of Deir ez-Zor, denying their suffering a place in our collective memory.What do you think?
Inviting a prominent genocide denier to our campus goes against Duke’s stated “commitment to learning, freedom and truth.” It gives Professor Gunter’s positions legitimacy they do not deserve, spreads misinformation about one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century and tarnishes Duke’s proud legacy of human rights scholarship and activism.What do you think?
Elie Wiesel once said of his experience in the Holocaust, “In the place that I come from, society was composed of three simple categories: the killers, the victims, and the bystanders.” By hosting Gunter and legitimizing his denialist views—warped interpretations of history that re-frame a one-sided extermination campaign as the ambiguous “Turkish-Armenian Conflict”—Duke is acting as a bystander to genocide.What do you think?
Therefore, we ask Duke to rescind Gunter’s invitation. Furthermore, we call on the university to issue a statement formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Duke must honor Lemkin’s legacy.What do you think?
Otherwise, Duke’s indifference will make it an accomplice in one of the 20th century’s greatest crimes. What do you think?
Stephen Ghazikhanian is a Trinity junior. Mathew King is a Trinity freshman.