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The Promise Armenian Institute hosts event to raise awareness for destroyed art

Pictured are books featured at Saturday’s Armenian Genocide Research Program event to honor Armenian history while also initiating new discussions on the importance of peace and cultural preservation. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

By Yashila Suresh

Feb. 13, 2024 8:02 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 13 at 10:16 p.m.

Students and faculty raised awareness for art stolen and destroyed during the Armenian genocide at a Saturday event hosted by the Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA.

The Armenian Genocide Research Program was created by the Promise Armenian Institute in 2022. Shortly after the formal recognition of the Armenian genocide by President Joe Biden in 2021, the AGRP led research initiatives and projects to raise awareness about the Armenian genocide. The Armenian Genocide Looted Art and Restitution event was held to honor Armenian history, while also initiating new discussions on the importance of peace and cultural preservation.

Taner Akçam, a historian and the inaugural director of the AGRP, said one of the goals of the AGRP is justice, specifically global recognition and remembrance of the Armenian genocide.

This year’s event followed the inaugural Armenian Genocide Restitution conference held last year. Akçam said the AGRP’s long-term goals are for the Turkish government to formally recognize its country’s role in the Armenian genocide and reach conditions of peace with the Armenian people.

“Mass atrocities, genocides, is still a very important problem in human life,” Akçam said. “Our major goal as educators is to bring awareness for the purpose to prevent these kinds of mass atrocities.”

Stuart Eizenstat, special representative of the United States Secretary of State on the Holocaust, spoke to attendees at the event regarding the significance of recognizing and memorializing the events that took place during the genocide.

“Publicity is the most important way to put an ethical and moral spotlight on the need to find a just and fair solution,” Eizenstat said in his speech. “Historical facts can be covered up and suppressed for a very long time, but in the end, they have a way of bubbling up.”

Akçam added during the event that many of the struggles that relate to raising awareness about the Armenian genocide lie not only in the governments who refuse to recognize it but in the internal divide of the Armenian people. He said though Turkey is unlikely to ever recognize the genocide, he thinks Armenian communities around the world should fight for justice through a united front.

(Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)
Pictured is a sign for Saturday’s event hosted by The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA. (Julia Zhou/Assistant Photo editor)

Nanor Hartounian, an AGRP program coordinator, said the event was held to recognize the cultural history and start a conversation about how a measure of justice can be reached concerning Armenian communities.

Hartounian added that the group hopes to locate and trace the origins of different artifacts and preserve the cultural identity of the Armenian people.

During the event, AGRP presented a documentary by Carla Garapedian, which highlighted the program’s research to uncover stolen and lost Armenian art. The goal of the Armenian Genocide Looted Art and Restitution Event is to use art – such as the film – as a way to remember the past and ensure these atrocities do not happen again, said Gassia Armenian, curatorial and research associate at the Fowler Museum, during the event.

Cat Washington, a second-year law student, said she conducted research for AGRP and chose to attend the event because it helps promote a campus culture of dialogue, discussion and learning.

“When we look at mass atrocity events or genocide, we understand the loss of human life and the horror that comes with that, but I think it’s a special type of pain and harm to see the destruction of culture,” Washington said.

Mischa Gureghian Hall, a third-year global studies student, said he chose to attend the event because of his Armenian background and interest in international law concerning cultural property.

Both Washington and Hall said they appreciated how the event tied the discussion of the Armenian genocide into current events. Hall added that the reason people talk about justice for historical events is a lack of intervention when the events actually occurred.

“Different communities can learn from each other’s efforts toward justice,” Hall said.

Hartounian said it takes a group effort to share history, especially history rooted in genocide. She added that she hopes the program can inspire, educate and encourage people to engage with others in raising awareness and fostering discussion.

Akçam said global universities, such as UCLA, have a crucial role to play in understanding the past, as they are a hub of different nations, cultures and ethnic groups. He added that in the context of the Armenian genocide, his goal is to create a space where people can come together and engage in peaceful conversation.

“Justice is a central human element, and without justice, we cannot establish a peaceful society,” Akçam said. “For all reasons, my purpose as director of this institute is to create a peaceful atmosphere, especially … between Turks and Armenians, so that they can come together and can live in peace together.”

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