Tuesday, October 15

Olive Tree Initiative sanctions Armenian genocide denial

Map of the Armenian Genocide, which occurred in 1915. (Wikimedia Creative Commons | Sémhur)

Map of the Armenian Genocide, which occurred in 1915. (Wikimedia Creative Commons | Sémhur)

It was my mistake.

I didn’t have to walk to Bunche Hall after work on a Wednesday night to attend a meeting where I knew my fellow students would attempt to whitewash the Armenian genocide. But, being the fool that I am, I decided to witness first-hand what I had heard so many others talk about.

That was a stupid idea.

The organization hosting the event was the Olive Tree Initiative: Turkey-Armenia, a group that ostensibly wishes to create a dialogue between Armenian and Turkish students. But “dialogue,” at least for the Olive Tree Initiative, means something akin to “normalization,” a word I use here with the most negative of connotations.

I sat and watched the two co-presidents of the organization, one of whom is herself Armenian, give a brief presentation on the history of Armenia, Turkey and the latter’s predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire.

The talk was full of historical inaccuracies and omissions, especially when the topic of the Armenian genocide came up. The presenters took pains to skirt around the fact that what occurred was indeed genocide, a fact that nearly every reputable member of the global academic community accepts.

Witnessing this awkward presentation was like watching someone tiptoe through a minefield. The presenters somehow avoided mentioning that an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were raped and murdered on the direct orders of the Young Turks regime.

What I heard instead was that there were “two sides” to the Armenian genocide. The presenters said that some think that many civilians, Turks and Armenians, died in the fog of World War I while others claim the event was part a carefully orchestrated campaign of extermination. They presented these two points of view as equal, all under the guise of neutrality.

In their attempt to remain unbiased, they failed to mention that there is near consensus in the academe that what occurred was genocide. The Olive Tree Initiative’s image of neutrality is, evidently, one of willful ignorance and academic laziness.

Naturally, I decided to say something, citing specific dates, events and legislation to make the case so many before me have already made. In return, I got more of the same old “consider both sides” bullshit that so often flows from the mouths of genocide deniers. Such rhetorical tricks are old hat and well-known to many Armenians like myself.

At one point, I turned toward a Turkish student who expressed her doubts and asked her point blank: “Do you think the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against the Armenians?” She responded by telling me she had taken courses in Armenian Studies. After my interlocutor accused me of being too “aggressive,” I repeated the question.

Still, no answer.

Another student then shifted in her seat to defend her, telling me that “denial is not the same as not accepting.” The student who refused to answer my question, outraged that I would suggest she is an Armenian genocide denier – which she is – then stormed out of the room, turning her head just before the door closed behind her to tell me I had made her feel uncomfortable.

The co-presidents echoed this sentiment. Apparently I had made the student “uncomfortable.” Oddly enough, no one considered that, perhaps, hearing an organization and its members attempt to revise the well-documented history of the near elimination of an entire group of people that looked like me and spoke the same language as me solely because of their identity would make me feel just a bit uncomfortable.

To avoid hurt feelings, the Olive Tree Initiative entertains baseless historical revisionism by implying that facts are up for debate, thus officially sanctioning Armenian genocide denial and allowing it to fester on the campuses where the organization operates.

According to its website, the Olive Tree Initiative works with “high academic standards and has a holistic educational philosophy.” What a sham.

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Opinion columnist

Aram Ghoogasian is an opinion columnist and a member of the Daily Bruin Editorial Board. He often opines about labor issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the University of California.

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  • Hermes

    Did the author think he was going to tell everyone at the meeting about “the facts” and then everything would be hunky dory? If facts were all that mattered, politics would look very different. Perhaps if the author had considered going to the meeting to understand why somebody might still resist recognition of the genocide despite the avalanche of evidence, he would have learned a thing or two about the sentiments which defy logical persuasion and how they might be addressed. By his own account, the author was unsuccessful in persuading others to his side.

  • Matthew

    This is clearly a smear campaign against OTI. It is truly unfortunate how this misrepresents the OTI mission and the need for a space to have difficult conversations with individuals who are both informed and not informed. Obviously they are going to be people who do not acknowledge the genocide, HENCE THE NEED FOR THIS ORGANIZATION! Personals statements and opinions made at these forums by participants in no way should reflect the effectiveness of OTI as an organization.

    OTI travels to the region every year with students with all perspectives to engage with experts on the genocide, becoming more informed themselves. OTI even participated in the commemoration this year and this guy wants to bash OTI with being neutral and whitewashing. He came to ONE meeting and wrote this. Pathetic.

  • garyfouse

    Now you know how the OTI handles the Israeli-Palestinan conflict. OTI is a thinly-disguised attempt to sway students to the Palestinian narrative. Why else do they use West Bank tour guides like George S Rishmawi, who are linked to the International Solidarity Movement? Why else did they meet with Aziz Dweik, a Hamas official, in 2009?

    • Charlie Alvarez

      OTI is just a clique of Jew-hating, Islamic terrorist sympathizers who support barbaric Jihadist cutthroat group Hamas. Here is a shocking video from Hamas Childrens TV that brainwashes young Palestinian children into hating and KILLING JEWS; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IueZydnciHM

  • Charlie Alvarez

    OTI is no different than Muslim Student Association and other Islamic terrorist sympathizers, They support the Muslim barbarian group Hamas. Hamas are a bunch of murderous Jew-haters whose goal is to DESTROY ISRAEL. Here is a chilling video of Hamas Childrens TV that brainwashes young Palestinian children to hate and KILL JEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IueZydnciHM

    The fact that OTI serves as an apologist group for Hamas reveals them to be beneath contempt in their pro-Islamist agenda. That’s why they deny the well-documented Islamic genocide of OVER A MILLION Armenians by the Ottoman Caliphate, the last Islamic caliphate before the current Islamic State butchers started to build their evil caliphate.