Mgrublian Center marks 20th anniversary, hosts annual Armenian Studies lecture
The Mgrublian Center for Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College commemorated its 20-year anniversary by honoring the Center’s founding history, mission and achievements during an evening event at the Athenaeum that coincided with the national Days of Remembrance. In addition, the evening featured Turkish historian Taner Akçam, who presented the Center’s annual lecture dedicated to Armenian Studies.
Prof. Wendy Lower, director of the Mgrublian Center, set the tone for the evening, which balanced reflections upon the Center’s past accomplishments, with an appreciation of the vital work the Center currently does to foster a deeper understanding of human rights, and prepare students for human rights work. As attendees arrived and mingled, a slide show montage of newspaper clippings, photographs, and flyers from academic travel trips, internships, activism, research symposia, exhibit openings, and film screenings hosted by the Center over the past 20 years — chronicled the Center’s history.
Lower, who is the John K. Roth Professor of History and George R. Roberts Fellow at CMC, welcomed the full room: “Tonight we are here, together in this beautiful place, marking many milestones, honoring those who made this all possible, and celebrating our College and our common commitment to human rights.”
Lower then paused to remember those who “have fought, suffered, and died to defend” human rights around the world, including victims of genocide — Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Mayans, Native Americans, and Ukrainians. “We remember them,” she said.
As pianist Sebastian Quadrini, son of CMC Government Professor Hilary Appel, performed works by Armenian and other prominent composers, guests took their seats, where they were greeted with gifts — a remembrance candle, and a selection of books, either published by the Center, or written by speakers who’ve visited the Center, and appeared at the Ath over the years.
The Mgrublian Center for Human Rights (formerly the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights) had its origins in teaching and researching about the Holocaust that CMC Professor Emeritus John Roth began in the early 1970s. In 2003, Roth became the Center’s founding director and is a current member of the Center’s advisory board. In 2015, through a gift from Margaret Mgrublian P’11 and David Mgrublian ’82, P’11 the Mgrublian Center for Human Rights was formally named.
While Roth could not attend the celebration in person, his presence was felt. “To put it succinctly if there was no John Roth, there would be no Center,” said Prof. Jonathan Petropoulos, who succeeded Roth as the Center’s director in 2007.
Before reading remarks submitted by Roth in absentia, Petropoulos noted that when the Center was founded, Roth “had been at CMC for 37 years. And he understood the institution, and he knew what we needed. And so, it was his vision that allowed us to establish a Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights,” he said.
“For 20 years, the Center has served students by opposing anti-Semitism and racism, resisting genocide, and defending democracy and human rights. My hope and conviction are that the Center will grow from strength to strength,” Roth wrote.
To commemorate the official date of remembrance for the Armenian genocide on April 24, Taner Akçam, the inaugural director of the Armenian Genocide Research Program at the Promise Institute at UCLA, took the stage to discuss the national security implications of Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide on stability and reconciliation efforts in the region today.
Akçam grew up in Turkey, where he was imprisoned for editing a political youth journal and was subsequently adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 1976. He is widely recognized as one of the first Turkish scholars to write extensively on the Ottoman-Turkish Genocide of the Armenians in the early 20th century, including A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility.
Speaker quote: “What I really believe is that any national security policy in the Middle East today that excludes morality cannot ultimately be a realistic policy… . Indeed, if one knows Turkey and the Middle East…one will easily recognize that history and historical injustices are not just issues from the past, the past is the present, and moral values — in this instance, the specific one of acknowledging historic wrongdoing [the Armenian genocide], must be integrated into our national security policy.”
“The developments in Syria, or the recent development between Azerbaijan and Armenia, shows us very clearly that historical injustices and the systematic denial of this injustice by a state or ethnic religious group, is a major stumbling block, not only for the democratization of the region, but also for the establishment of stable relations between different ethnic and religious groups. My central argument is that a failure to confront history honestly, is one of the major reasons for insecurity and instability in the region.”
From the audience: Students asked a range of probing questions related to history, and human rights. Anya Syed ’23, who is majoring in international relations and economics, queried Akçam about how the United Nations’ formal declaration and codification of the Armenian genocide shifted “any domestic or internal rhetoric within Turkey about how the genocide is discussed? And did it change the level of international attention it received?”
“Yes and no,” Akçam responded. “In the end, the Turkish Government … will continue to deny the Armenian Genocide, but they don't need to give billions of dollars in Washington to lobbying campaigns. Today, not only is the international atmosphere in favor of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. I would argue that for those who were in favor of recognizing historic injustices — we won the psychological war.”