The following is an open letter from historian Dr. Taner Akçam on the need to “institutionalize” Armenian genocide research.

June 24, 2020

According to a report in the June 23, 2020 edition of Hürriyet, Turkey has taken the decision to establish “a new autonomous and civil institution” in order “to respond to the accusations of genocide and to develop a strategy [to counter them].” The decision was taken at the 5-hour meeting of the President’s High Advisory Board on June 16, 2020.

At the meeting it was determined that Turkey’s principal failing in this regard was that it did not possess a single institution to deal directly with the Armenian claims and develop a [counter-argument] and strategy” and that it “had not developed a comprehensive strategy”. Therefore, it was decided to form a new institution to address this shortcoming.
The “sole task” of this new organization would be to “view the various dimensions of the topic—such culture, history, propaganda, and law, not merely politics—as a whole.” Additionally, as part of the decision it was also stated that “the institution would be an autonomous and civil [society] initiative without direct connection to the government or state”.

Ultimately, this news must be greeted with the acknowledgment of another, bitter truth: Today, in all of North America there does not exist a single research center or academic program at a University that deals solely or directly with the Armenian genocide or that has been created for this purpose.
There are approximately 250 programs at American universities devoted to studying the Holocaust. Some of these are simply research institutes. Against this background, the complete absence of such programs—research or otherwise—that deal directly and exclusively with the Armenian genocide is all the more marked and a bitter pill to swallow.
Let us again stress: apart from the devoted and priceless efforts of various independent and civil society Armenian institutions and individual scholars that make valuable contributions to Armenian Studies, including the study of the Armenian Genocide, there is no institutionalization within American academia of this field, and a relative paucity of research and studies. The biggest challenge for the further advancement of this field is the absence of institutional structures within American universities.

In the last years, at all events to which I have been invited, at all opportunities I have had to speak publicly I have dwelled at length on the need to “institutionalize” Armenian genocide research. I have highlighted the impossibility of responding effectively to the Turkey’s extensive and well-funded “denialist industry” without the existence of competing organizations or institutions. It would be foolish to assume that merely because we have the truth of historical facts on our side that this is the only factor determining who will prevail in the long run.

I wish I could say that my pleas have thus far fallen on fertile ground, but it has not been the case. Perhaps this latest initiative by the Turkish government will finally set off an alarm bell, one that allows others to see the critical importance of this matter.

Let’s hope that Ankara’s action will somehow drive home the urgency of the matter and rouse those concerned from their complacency. One of the most important ways to counter Turkish denialism and Turkey’s new initiative is precisely this: the institutionalization of Armenian genocide research within an academic setting.

Prof. Taner Akçam
Kaloosdian/Mugar Chair Armenian History and Genocide
Clark University

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