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Righting a Wrong ... 02/19/2003
Righting a Wrong Done to Genocide Scholar, Dr. Auron

By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

Two weeks ago, over 100 delegates and dignitaries from 20 countries
participated in the "Pro Armenia International Conference" organized by the
European Armenian Federation for Justice and Democracy in Paris, France.
This unprecedented gathering of scholars and international political leaders
took place at the historic Clemenceau Hall of the French Senate on January
31-February 2, 2003.

Among the speakers were: the former President of
Argentina Raul Alfonsin, the President of the French Senate Christian
Poncelet, the former Prime Minister of the Soviet Union and current member
of the Russian Duma Nikolay Ryzhkov, the Vice Speaker of the Russian Duma
Artur Chilingarov, the Vice President of the National Assembly of the
Republic of Georgia Givi Shugarov, Member of Parliament and former Foreign
Minister of Greece Theodoros Pangalos, Member of Parliament and former
Minister of Interior of Lebanon Michel el-Murr, French historian Yves
Ternon, several delegates and legislators from the United States, Canada,
Uruguay, Cyprus and Brazil, and various ambassadors and consul-generals.

The Armenian dignitaries present at this conference were: The Catholicos of
the Great House of Cilicia Aram I, the Chairman of Armenia's National
Assembly Armen Khatchatrian, Deputy Speaker Tigran Torossian, Foreign
Minister Vartan Oskanian, Minister of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchian,
Minister of Urban Planning David Lokian, Economic Advisor to Armenia's
President Vahram Nercessiants, the Speaker of the Karabagh Parliament Oleg
Yessayan, Minister of Culture and Youth of Karabagh Armen Sarkissian,  and
representatives of various Armenian political parties.

The conference was highly successful. It brought together prominent friends
of Armenia and the Armenian Cause from around the world. They exchanged
views and expressed their solidarity with the Armenian people.  This
brilliant undertaking was somewhat tarnished, however, by the fact that, on
the eve of the conference, a member of the organizing committee phoned Dr.
Yair Auron, an Israeli scholar, and asked him not to attend.  Delegates from
an Arab country had apparently told the organizers that they could not be
present at a conference attended by someone from Israel.

This act of exclusion must have understandably hurt Dr. Auron who had been
invited to speak at the conference as an expert on the Armenian Genocide.
Dr. Auron is such a staunch advocate of the recognition of the Armenian
Genocide that he has even courageously and repeatedly criticized his own
government for its shameful denial of the Genocide.  Those who defend the
truth, and do it at a great personal sacrifice, should be highly
appreciated, not insulted.

Even though he had every right to be offended, Dr. Auron handled himself
with utmost decency and compassion. In a letter he wrote to the conference
organizers, he said that it was "unacceptable" that his invitation be
canceled because he is "an Israeli Jew." He reminded them that "Armenians
and Jews were both victims of racial hatred and later genocide." He went on
to say, "our common struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide
bears, at least for me, a major moral significance." He pledged to continue
his "struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Israel and by
the world. This is my obligation to myself as a human being; this is my
obligation as a Jew and an Israeli."

Dr. Auron's letter was read to the participants of the conference by Dr.
Yves Ternon who himself was one of the speakers on the Armenian Genocide.
Dr. Ternon, a staunch advocate of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide,
was so enraged by the unfair exclusion of Dr. Auron from the conference that
he wrote an article in the French-Armenian newspaper, Haratch, on Feb. 6, to
make his indignation public.

On that same date, the Zoryan Institute issued a press release in which it
denounced the conference organizers for canceling the participation of Dr.
Auron who is a member of Zoryan's Academic Board.
On Feb. 7, the organizers of the Pro Armenia International Conference,
issued a statement in which they highly valued Dr. Auron's efforts on behalf
of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. They acknowledged their error
and expressed their profound regret for excluding him from the conference.
They pledged to place on the website of the conference the full text of the
paper that Dr. Auron was to have delivered. They said that they have secured
for him an official invitation from Armenia where he would deliver a series
of lectures on the Armenian Genocide.  Furthermore, in a letter made public
by the conference organizers, they told Dr. Auron that an Armenian
delegation would shortly travel to Israel in order to set straight this
whole unfortunate situation in a personal meeting.
On Feb. 8, the Zoryan Institute issued a second press release stating that
it was gratified "with the prompt action" of the organizers of the Pro
Armenia conference. The release quoted Dr. Auron as stating, "I am deeply
moved by the immediate show of support I have received from so many
concerned Armenians. I must give special thanks to Dr. Yves Ternon, as well
as my colleagues on the Board of directors of the Zoryan Institute, who were
instrumental in raising awareness of this issue, and in facilitating a
dialogue and a resolution." Dr. Auron was also quoted as stating that that
this issue is now "behind all of us" and expressed the hope that "such a
thing would never recur."

A week later, on Feb. 13, Dr. Auron issued his own very gracious statement.
He expressed his satisfaction that "what happened to me was an error of
judgement, an aberration, and not intended as an attack by the Armenian
organizers against me personally, or racially." He readily admitted, "people
are human and prone to error. We should condemn serious mistakes when they
occur, but be ready to forgive when contrition is apparent."
Furthermore, Dr. Auron castigated some unnamed Armenians and Jews who took
advantage of this "unfortunate incident" to condemn "anti-Semitism among the
Armenians, as if they were a monolithic people.... In their zeal to defend
Israelis and Jews, such people are committing blatant racism, themselves."
Dr. Auron concluded his statement by making a "firm ...commitment to
struggle against denial of the Armenian Genocide wherever it occurs, because
it is my obligation as a human being, as a Jew, and as a citizen of Israel,
which was created out of the Holocaust. This is a large human rights issue
that goes beyond just the Armenians. If someone denies the Genocide of the
Armenians, he is creating an environment in the world in which it can be
acceptable to deny the Jewish Holocaust. Genocide denial is an assault on
truth, and on human dignity. As a human being, an Israeli, and a Jew, I must
be consistent. We must all be consistent."

Fortunately, this highly regrettable incident has come to a close. The
organizers made an error in excluding a great defender of the truth of the
Armenian Genocide. They acknowledged their mistake and expressed their
profound regret to Dr. Auron who graciously accepted it. Those who objected
to Dr. Auron's invitation should have been made to realize that they were
invited to an international conference that intended to bring together ALL
prominent friends of Armenians from around the world, including Israelis!
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