This spring, CHGS offered a class titled, “The Armenian Genocide in the Age of Alternative Facts.”  This course was designed to discuss the historical origins, the social context, and the consequences of the Armenian Genocide in a modern key. As such it consisted of three parts: the Genocide itself, it effects on the Armenian and Turkish communities, and the persistent denialist discourse, i.e. the alternative facts angle. In all, the class had about a dozen students, each bringing different backgrounds and knowledge of the Genocide to the class discussions.We read two books, Goodbye, Antoura: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide and Open Wounds: Armenians, Turks and a Century of Genocide,  by Karnig Panian and Vicken Cheterian respectively. Panian’s book recounted the author’s childhood experiences in the desert of Der el Zor and subsequently in the orphanage at Antoura, set up by the Ottoman government to Turkify orphaned Armenian children. While Cheterian’s work dealt with the historical and political component of the aftermath of the Genocide. Cheterian also guest lectured to the class via Skype from Switzerland. The latter part of the class dealt with academic denialism of the Armenian Genocide grounded in an alternative or parallel interpretational framework that seeks to justify, negate, question, or minimize its reality.

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Natalie Belsky is Assistant Professor at the Department of History at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include migration, minority politics in the USSR, Soviet citizenship, and East European Jewish history. She has conducted research in Russia, Kazakhstan, Israel and the United States. Invited by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, she recently gave a lecture titled, “Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union.” After her talk, Belsky shared more insights with Meyer Weinshel (UMN Graduate Student, German, Scandinavian and Dutch).

 

The multilingualism central to Jewish life and culture in Eastern Europe is fascinating, especially as it was shifting over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Can you speak to how Jews fleeing to the interior of the Soviet Union fared linguistically? Could they continue speaking the languages they knew, or did they have to adapt to their places of exile?

Soviet Jews are a particular case. Before 1939, Soviet Jews were relatively assimilated. But more broadly my research also includes Polish Jews, who had some knowledge of Russian but lived in rather multilingual communities. One of the things that I look at, is the encounter between Soviet and Polish Jews. In some cases, younger Soviet Jews found Polish Jews to be somewhat exotic, and it was difficult to see them as Jews like themselves. Over the course of those twenty years [between the Russian Revolution and the outbreak of the Second World War], the divergence taking place was profound. On the home front during the war, Central Asian languages factored into the equation as well. Jews who only spoke Yiddish, or who did not have the linguistic skills to navigate the Soviet system, faced additional challenges.

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Six years have passed since I joined the University of Minnesota and in a few weeks I will be starting my first sabbatical research leave.

In keeping with its founding goals, the Center has kept busy over these last six years.  We have welcomed new graduate students, hosted captivating scholars, developed new outreach initiatives, and built a robust intellectual agenda around the vital theme of responses to, remembrance and prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes. Through lectures, symposiums, courses, exhibits, and teacher workshops we have been privileged to learn, teach, disseminate research findings and expand the community of engaged students, researchers and genocide educators. We have built new partnerships – at the U of M, nationally, and internationally — and nurtured fruitful relationships with community organizations, schools, and cultural institutions in the Twin Cities.

I have immensely enjoyed being part of the exceptional CHGS team, comprised currently of its terrific Program Coordinator, Jennifer Hammer, Outreach Coordinator Joe Eggers, Research Fellow Artyom Tonoyan, and graduate students Miray Philips (Sociology), Brooke Chambers (Sociology) and George Dalbo (School of Education). The team also includes an outstanding board of affiliate faculty members, whose continuous input and collaboration is instrumental in making CHGS a major academic center in the country, distinguished both by its international scope and local sensitivity.

This newsletter celebrates the achievements of the Center in this academic year. I look forward to following the continuation of outstanding work of the Center next year from afar, and to rejoin my colleagues in the fall of 2019.

We are fortunate and grateful that Dr. Klaas van der Sanden, Program Director of the Institute of Global Studies, will serve as CHGS’s interim director during the academic year 2018/2019.

Thank you for the many ways you support the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Alejandro Baer is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Ali Ahmida is Professor at the Department of Political Science in University of New England. His research interests are in political theory, comparative politics, and historical sociology. His scholarship is cross-cultural and focuses on power, agency and anti-colonial resistance in North Africa, especially in modern Libya. He is currently working on two books, one about genocide in colonial Libya and the other a biography of the Libyan freedom fighter Omar al-Mukhtar. Ahmida recently gave a lecture titled, “When the Subaltern Speak: Researching Italian Fascist Colonial Genocide in Libya, 1929–1934” as part of the African Studies Initiative Symposium on Reframing Mass Violence in Africa: Social Memory and Social Justice. After his lecture, Ahmida shared more insights with Miray Philips (UMN Graduate Student, Sociology).

 

What happened to the Libyans during 1929-1934 at the hands of Italian fascists?

110, 000 were interned in concentration camps for four years as a strategy to cut the base of support for the anti-colonial resistance. They were starved and denied medical treatment, and only 40,000 came alive after 1934.

Why is this genocide unknown?

The fascist Italian government denied any international media access to the camps. The allies covered up any trail of war crimes, and the fascist government was never put on trial. Libya remained a colony until 1951. However, since the foundation of Libyan Studies Center in 1977, there has been Libyan scholarship and documentations of the genocide in Arabic. The Center collected archival material and oral history from that year until 2000.

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For the past few years, CHGS has been engaged in a research project on newspaper accounts from over 155 years related to the 1862 US-Dakota Conflict.

Through an analysis of more than 400 articles from newspapers of the Twin Cities and from towns in the Minnesota River Valley (Mankato and New Ulm), we trace how different generations of Minnesotans remembered, or in some cases chose to not remember, the six-week conflict itself and its dramatic consequences for the Dakota community.

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The Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence (HGMV) Interdisciplinary Graduate Group continues to be a thriving community of graduate students, faculty and visiting scholars. This year, we decided to split the time between two speakers, to more accurately reflect presentation lengths in conferences, and to still be able to provide thoughtful feedback. We had a total of 20 presenters – the largest number to date!

We started off the year welcoming everyone back from the summer by sharing information about HGMV funding and other professional development opportunities. Our first speaker, Maria Jesus Fernandez, a CHGS visiting scholar, started us off with a fascinating talk on translations of Anne Frank into Spanish. Throughout the year, we were also visited by captivating scholars and educators, such as Jodi Elowitz who led a timely training session on how to teach about right-wing extremism, Carlo Tognato who argued for a civil pedagogy of solidarity for highly polarized societies, and Martha Stroud, who gave an engaging account of the lingering stigma after the 1965 killings in Indonesia, followed by a training session on how to use the Genocide Survivor Testimonies at the USC Shoah Foundation. Our student speakers came from 8 different departments throughout the University of Minnesota, and covered a wide range of topics, including Holocaust education, an analysis of Peruvian cinema and the genocide in Indonesia and . Students presented work in various stages, and they deployed a variety of interdisciplinary qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

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Brooke is from the small town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a double BA in Sociology and Psychology and a minor in Italian. Before beginning graduate school, she worked at the 2015 World’s Fair in Milan, Italy and interned with the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. She is now a Sociology PhD student at the University of Minnesota, where she is minoring in Human Rights. Brooke serves as a member of the graduate editorial board for The Society Pages, manages the Genocide Education Outreach (GEO) program, and works for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Brooke’s research interests include knowledge, violence, and reconciliation in Africa. Her research seeks to better understand generational trauma in contemporary Rwanda. She completed pre-dissertation research this past summer in Kigali, where she interviewed young Rwandans about their understandings of the 1994 genocide. She is interested in the commemorative process and has conducted ethnographic work at a number of memorial sites and ceremonies. For her research on the Rwandan genocide, Brooke was awarded the prestigious 2018-2019 Bernard and Fern Badzin Fellowship! In addition to her dissertation work, Brooke is involved on projects about denial of the Armenian genocide and the Rwandan gacaca courts.

Brooke in Kigali, Rwanda!

Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. As is customary, the Armenian communities around the world and in the Republic of Armenia gather to commemorate the extermination of their kin and kith in the Ottoman Empire in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenian Christians perished as the result of the state organized mass murder. Despite the growing body of incontrovertible evidence about this horror, the government of Turkey still continues to deny the fact of the Armenian Genocide, finding refuge in “the sanctuary of steadfast denial,” to borrow from Truman Capote. Denial then takes many shapes, ranging from the minimization of the number of victims to victim blaming. The survivors of the Armenian Genocide and their descendants have had to confront an entire universe of state produced alternative facts before Kelyanne Conway made alternative facts a thing. As the great French philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne has put it, “If a lie, like truth, had only one face we could be on better terms, for certainty would be the reverse of what the liar said. But the reverse side of truth has a hundred thousand shapes and no defined limits.”

Armenian Genocide Monument in Yerevan, Armenia

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If you have visited Warsaw, Poland, you have seen it majestically rising up from the square, between a Soviet era style apartment complex and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. On a sunny afternoon in Warsaw, people sit on benches, read papers, converse and eat lunch; others walk their dogs, or simply stroll along Mordechai Anielewicz Street. The Warsaw Ghetto monument a backdrop to their daily existence, barely noticed.

Politicians and dignitaries lay wreaths, and Jewish visitors leave stones and light Yahrzeit candles. For them, it is a memorial, a way to remember those who fought from April 19-May 16, 1943; who chose how they would die when death was the only option.

For 70 years, Nathan Rapoport’s Warsaw Ghetto Monument has marked the Uprising, first bursting out from the rubble of the ghetto on the spot linked to leader of the resistance Mordechai Anielewicz’s death. From the rubble, a neighborhood has grown around the monument which now faces the new museum dedicated to educating visitors about the thousand years of Jewish life in Poland.

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Kentucky recently became the eighth state in the nation (joining a small but growing list of states) to mandate Holocaust and genocide education for all middle and secondary students. The Ann Klein and Fred Gross Holocaust Education Act recently passed the Kentucky General Assembly and was signed into law on April 2nd, 2018. The law states: “Every public middle and high school’s curriculum shall include instruction on the Holocaust and other cases of genocide, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, that a court of competent jurisdiction, whether a court in the United States or the International Court of Justice, has determined to have been committed by applying rigorous standards of due process.” While such well-intentioned legislation aims at countering increasing anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world, the bill may well fall short of lawmaker’s intentions in its implementation in classrooms. The legislation makes no provision for supporting the state’s teachers in complying with the law. Further, the law’s language may curb teachers from robust explorations of genocide by limiting permissible case studies.

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