AGBU Marks International Day of Commemoration of Victims of Genocide

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AGBU continues to stand with the United Nations in its efforts to raise awareness on genocide and human rights issues through thought-provoking discussions in Beirut, New York and Paris.

To broaden the discourse on genocide and crimes against humanity and to help spark action to prevent future atrocities, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) held insightful events across the globe, featuring well-known activists, pundits, journalists, scholars and witnesses of war crimes.

December 9, the United Nations-designated day for remembrance of genocide victims, is another opportunity for us, as one Armenian nation, to be a leading voice in this global conversation and to help shape a world free of these preventable human tragedies,” said AGBU President Berge Setrakian. “AGBU remains committed to supporting the efforts of the international community to prevent genocides and wars against humanity, and to promoting a critical dialogue based on lessons learned through our history of survival.”

In September 2015, the United Nations passed a resolution— introduced by Armenia—declaring December 9 as the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime. It aims to raise awareness of the UN Genocide Convention.

Beirut

On December 7, a day-long seminar titled Preventing and Combatting Human Rights Violations: A Responsibility for All took place in the American University of Beirut (AUB), focusing on the role of education, civil society and media in genocide prevention. The seminar was held in partnership with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at AUB and in collaboration with the Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights in Lebanon, UN Global Compact Lebanon Network, UMAM Documentation and Research Center, CEMAM Research Center for the Modern Arab World at the Saint Joseph University and L’Orient-Le Jour.

Dr. Keith David Watenpaugh, professor of human rights studies at University of California, Davis, opened the conference delivering a keynote speech on satirist Yervant Otian, who was among the few Armenian intellectuals to survive the genocide. Watenpaugh further examined comparative genocide studies during the first panel, which also included scholars Dr. Vicken Tcheterian, a lecturer in history and international relations at the University of Geneva and Webster University Geneva, and lawyer Dr. Nidal Jurdi, the deputy regional representative at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. They emphasized the importance of including genocide and human rights themes in the university and school curricula as it would promote transitional justice and end impunity.

Speakers on the second panel discussed the role of civil society in raising awareness of human rights violations and shared Lebanon’s experience of overcoming the consequences of the civil war. It featured Leila Zahoui, a founding member and secretary general of the Lebanese Association of History (LAH); Maitre Carmen Hassoun Abou Jaoude, a professor at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik and a researcher at the Saint Joseph University’s Research Center for the Modern Arab World (CEMAM); Hoda Barakat, the regional human rights education project manager at Amnesty International; Lokman Slim, the political activist and founding member of the UMAM Documentation and Research, and Fadi Abi Allam, Lebanese Prime Minister’s consultant on human security issues. Jaoude presented a pilot project in the Lebanese schools, which helps teach children about the Lebanese Civil War. “We wanted to encourage dialogue between the generation of war and the younger generation to know what has happened and to avoid possible future war and violence,” she said.

The conference concluded with a panel featuring Youmna Fawaz, a prominent investigative reporter and journalist at Al Jadeed TV; Jeanine Jalkh, the Grand Reporter and Lorient le Jour; Preethi Nallu, the founder of Refugees Deeply; and Ayman Mhanna, the executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, who shed light on the role of the media in genocide prevention and the incitement of hatred. Fawaz shared her experience covering conflicts and examined journalists’ alignment and objectivity. “I am biased to humanitarian issues and I do not believe in neutrality,” said Fawaz.

The panels were moderated by Dr. Ohannes Geukjian, the acting chairman of AUB’s Political Science and Public Administration Department; Wail Kheir, the managing director of Foundation of Human and Humanitarian Rights in Lebanon, and Habib Battah, the founder of Beirut Report and an instructor at AUB.

New York

Advancing Civilian Protection: Human Rights in Times of Upheaval, which took place on December 6 before a capacity crowd at the Harvard Club in New York City, shed light on past and ongoing atrocities with the goal of engaging stakeholders and the public to take action. The panel event co-hosted by News Deeply focused on the importance of documenting crime against humanity as they happen, listening to the communities on the ground, ensuring a timely response and, most importantly, preventing the atrocities before they even happen.

Both sessions were moderated by Anna Therese Day, an award-winning independent reporter and social media researcher. The first session featured Evan Cinq-Mars, the United Nations advisor at Center for Civilians in Conflict; Omer Ismail, senior advisor at Enough Project; Akshaya Kumar, deputy United Nations director at Human Rights Watch; and Dr. Bridget Moix, US senior representative at Peace Direct. The speakers explored ongoing crimes against humanity, early warning signs and the role of local experts and civil society activists in the prevention of mass crimes.

In the second session, the conversation focused on the power of storytelling and the role of films and the media in documenting atrocities and educating the public, as well as encouraging people to take action. Award-winning directors Evgeny Afineevsky (Winter on Fire and Cries from Syria) and Terry George (The Promise and Hotel Rwanda), as well as Sherine Tadros, representative and head of New York (United Nations) Office, Amnesty International, engaged in a meaningful discussion, sharing their experiences of shaping narratives around human suffering.

Paris

On December 9, AGBU Europe, the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM)/ Elie Wiesel Network and Nouvelles d’Arménie held a conference entitled How to Stop the Killing.

The conference was comprised of three panels and featured practitioners, scholars, journalists and witnesses who explored topics ranging from the responsibility to protect and early prevention to post-conflict reconciliation and eye witness accounts about crimes in the Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria. Speakers also highlighted the continuing controversy around the legitimacy and effectiveness of external interventions to protect the victims of atrocities.

The conference featured Frank Engel, member of the European Parliament and chair of the Elie Wiesel Network for the prevention of mass crimes; Dr. Cristina Stefan, director of the European Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (ECR2P); Jack Mayerhofer, chief of staff at the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (USA); Delkhwaz Haciy, director of the global Yazidi non-profit Yazda (Sweden); Godefroy Mokamanede, board member of the Interfaith Platform in the Republic of Central Africa; Beate Klarsfeld, a well-known German activist; Nadia Gortzounian, President of AGBU Europe; and Benjamin Abtan, President of European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM).

Among the many excellent points raised, Jack Mayerhofer focused on the practice of establishing task forces responsible for the prevention of atrocities in Latin America. “Genocide is a process, it requires planning and organization. The good thing about that is that planning can be interrupted. The earlier you start, the more effective you can be,” said Mayerhofer. Haciy, a young Yazidi woman originally from Iraq, shared a harrowing account of the Sinjar massacre by the Islamic State, saying, “Although it has been over three years since the attack on Sinjar, thousands of Yazidis remain in Islamic State’s captivity, but the Iraqi authorities and the international community have failed to take meaningful action to assist or rescue them.”

The panels were moderated by Niclas Tavitian, director of AGBU Europe; Christopher Metz is staff coordinator and development officer at EGAM, and Ara Toranian, editor-in-chief of Nouvelles d’Arménie.

For more information on the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, please visit http://www.un.org/en/events/genocidepreventionday/

Established in 1906, AGBU (www.agbu.org) is the world's largest non-profit Armenian organization. Headquartered in New York City, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually touching the lives of some 500,000 Armenians around the world.

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