Photo Exhibition Commemorating the Armenian Genocide at SOAS

On Tuesday, March 11th, over 200 people gathered in the Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) to view a timeline exhibition commemorating the centenary of the Armenian Genocide, which was hosted by the SOAS Armenian and Kurdish societies, University College London (UCL) Armenian Society, the SOAS Students Union and the Armenian Genocide Centenary Commemoration Committee (AGCCC).

The photographs depicted the pain and suffering the genocide inflicted on its victims, but they also paid homage to the brave Turkish and Kurdish souls who risked their lives to save their Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian countrymen. Themes of humanity were emphasised in the pictures, as well as the speeches that complemented them.

The event opened with a speech from Raphael Gregorian, President of the SOAS Armenian Society, who described how the idea for the exhibition came together. Raphael then recalled the story of his great-grandfather’s survival of the Genocide, which was due to the kindness of his Turkish and Kurdish compatriots. Vahe Boghosian, President of the UCL Armenian Society, spoke next about how the genocide relates to global notions of justice and morality; the pursuit for recognition of past horrors is crucial to ending present, and preventing future, crimes against humanity.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Geoffrey Robertson QC, one of the world’s foremost human rights barristers. He examined his recent case, representing Armenia in the European Court of Human Rights for an appeal of the Swiss court’s decision, which allowed a Turkish citizen to publicly deny the Genocide in Switzerland (Perinçek v. Switzerland). Elaborating on the various discrepancies and inaccurate pitfalls of the initial ruling, Robertson also discussed at length the various reasons for why denial of the Armenian Genocide does not hold. He has detailed many of these arguments in his book,“An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Remembers the Armenians?” about Britain’s views on the Genocide in the larger context of foreign diplomacy.

Next to speak was Barış Kalay, a member of the SOAS Kurdish Society, who explained the Kurdish outlook on the Genocide, and its context in the development of modern Turkey. He too stressed the need of the Turkish government to deal with its previous crimes against minorities, in order for the future of Turkey to be brighter for all of its citizens.

The final speaker of the event, Garen Arevian of the AGCCC, gave an interesting perspective on why this specific case is so important, even 100 years on. He described the Ottoman gendarme’s use of proto-gas chambers – caves sealed with smoke that would suffocate victims – as a means of placing the Armenian Genocide in the context of all other genocides that followed, in particular, the Holocaust. He also related the killings of Armenians in the Deir ez-Zor desert in Syria (referred to as “the Armenian Auschwitz”) a century ago to the victims of ISIS today, who are being butchered on the very same lands. Accepting and understanding the past is crucial to shaping the future. Arevian also ended with a call to recognise these past atrocities, so that future ones may be averted. After all is said and done, this is the ultimate aim of genocide and human rights activists.

The event stood out from other past events due to the varied nature of the attendees. Under one roof we saw Armenians, Kurds, Turks, old and young, students, academics, professionals and school students. This is an achievement in itself, to see this many people from such varied backgrounds coming together to educate themselves on the Armenian Genocide.

The photo exhibition is free and open to the public, and will be on display through March 20th in the main foyer of the SOAS Main Building, and will make its way to UCL the following week (March 22-27).

This event was part of a series of events taking place at SOAS and UCL as a part of their Genocide Awareness month. Upcoming events include a screening of the documentary,“Grandma’s Tattoos,” (March 25th), and a book launch of “Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks, and a Century of Genocide” by Vicken Cheterian (March 26th). For more information, follow the SOAS and UCL Armenian Society pages on Facebook.

—Lilly Torosyan (Guest Writer)

A native of the Boston area, Lilly is reading for a MA in Human Rights at UCL. She has written for the Armenian Weekly newspaper in Watertown, Massachusetts as a staff writer, and a contributor for the Armenian Chronicles publication in Los Angeles. Upon completion of her degree, she hopes to pursue a PhD in Socio-Legal Studies, studying domestic violence in the Caucasus.

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