Finding Truth, Reconsidering Roles, and Pursing Justice: A Conversation with Genocide Scholars

AHA Session 67
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Empire Ballroom East (Sheraton New York, Second Floor)
Deborah Dwork, Clark University
Taner Akcam, Clark University
Sara Brown, Center for Holocaust, Human Rights & Genocide Education
Alex Hinton, Rutgers University, Newark

Session Abstract

In our modern world where we consistently see acts of violence, persecution, and efforts to eradicate other peoples, what role and responsibility do scholars of genocide have? What drives their work and what areas of research are they currently pursuing to enrich our understanding of genocide and further our goal of prevention? This roundtable addresses these questions in a relaxed interview format where three scholars of genocide, Ben Kiernan, Taner Akçam, and Sara Brown, will discuss questions.

Each participant will begin by sharing their own unique research pursuits before exploring the ways in which these separate pursuits share common themes and purposes. Sarah Brown discusses her research on women's agency during the genocide in Rwanda. Her work shatters the man=perpetrator, woman=bystander/victim paradigm. Asking basic questions like "Where are the women?", "How did they get there?", "What were they doing?" and "Why?" led her to a new understanding of the role of women during the genocide. Instead of expressing skepticism about a woman's ability to participate in genocide, she argues, we should be asking “why wouldn't women be participants?” Her goals are to develop effective education strategies that foreground the human story of genocide and to develop effective genocide preventive mechanisms and responses that will help turn the oft cited adage 'Never Again' into a reality. Taner Akçam will focus his initial discussion on the relationship between facts, truth, and opinion and the denial/silencing of the history. Rather than seeing denial of genocide as a product of denying facts or ignorance of facts, Akçam argues that denialism marshals its own facts and it has its own truth. He says a unique feature of the Armenian Genocide has been the long-standing efforts of successive Turkish governments to deny its historicity and silencing the past-truth. First, they created their own facts and archives; secondly, they hid and/or destroyed materials that would have belied their ‘version;’ and thirdly, they questioned the authenticity of some existing materials. Akçam has discovered a private archive of documents containing orders to kill that should effectively silence any attempt to present alternative facts supporting denial. Finally, Ben Kiernan will share his work documenting the crimes of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime for over thirty years. He also provides insight into the role of the genocide historian, a role outside the ivory tower. Kiernan was the founding Director of Yale’s Genocide Studies Program and the founder of the Cambodian Genocide Program. The latter established the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, uncovered the archives of the Khmer Rouge secret police, detailed the case for an international tribunal, and through this led to the sentencing of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan for genocide in November 2018. Each scholar will then, through a relaxed interview style, consider how their work and their writing share common imperatives to educate the public, marshal evidence, reveal a more accurate picture of the past, and prevent genocide today.

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