Jewish and Armenian young people will embark on a joint educational program that will combine study of the Holocaust and the massacre of Armenians 100 years ago.
The program was announced March 12 by Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, following a lunchtime session on the Armenian genocide at the Aidekman campus in Whippany.
She is enlisting other agencies in the Greater MetroWest community to join in the educational effort, saying it would be “a good idea to get our kids and Armenian kids together to learn about the two genocides.”
No concrete details have been developed; the program, said Wind, “is just in the planning stage.”
Wind is also hoping that Jewish and Armenian participants will join in planting forget-me-not seeds outside Saint Mary Armenian Church in Livingston and the Sister Rose Thering Garden at the Lester Senior Housing Community, also on the Aidekman campus.
The flower is a symbol of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, when Turks were accused of brutal forced deportations and massacres that annihilated an estimated 1.5 million Armenians.
Wind said she hopes to enlist as participants in the new venture the Diller Teen Fellows, a program for young leaders sponsored locally by the GMW federation, and young people who have “twinned” with Jewish Holocaust survivors through the council as part of their bar and bat mitzva projects.
“Our role will be to encourage teens and their families to participate,” said Robert Lichtman, executive director of The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, the federation’s Jewish identity-building organization.
Wind said the Armenian and Jewish atrocities have deep historical parallels. She noted that much of the outside world failed to react to reports of mass slaughter between 1915 and 1918.
“Hitler was empowered by the Armenian genocide to do whatever he wanted to the Jews because nobody ever reacted” to the earlier tragedy, said Wind.
Wind’s observations were echoed by two Armenian guest speakers at the midday program, whose audience of 40 was composed largely of Jewish Holocaust survivors.
“If the world had treated the Armenian genocide with more outrage and took a position on it there might not have been a Nazi Holocaust,” said Roy Stepanian, a health-care consultant from Chatham whose great-grandparents were murdered by Turkish soldiers.
Stepanian’s grandfather, who survived the attack, watched as his own father and three of his siblings were knifed to death.
Father Arshen Aivazian, who retired as pastor of Saint Mary Armenian Church in 2000, said he has heard testimony by “hundreds if not thousands of witnesses to the Armenian genocide. My father was one of them. He was four years old when my grandfather, who was the town crier, was the first to be rounded up. They never saw him again.
“Almost invariably, every night at the dinner table my father would make sure we heard his life experience and that we did all we could to make sure not to allow anyone to destroy our dreams,” said Aivazian. “My father died as a monument to shattered dreams.”
Aivazian compared the destruction of Armenian culture and Jewish culture during the last century.
“Hundreds, thousands of churches and monasteries, the whole life of a community, was destroyed entirely. Isn’t that what happened in the Holocaust?” he said.
Turkey has never recognized the slaughter as genocide, although the United Nations and at least 22 nations, including the United States, use the term to describe the events.
“There is a rapidly growing group of scholars and intellectuals who are coming forward and asking their government to stop the stupidity of denial,” said Aivazian. “Rest assured, nobody can deny the Nazi Holocaust because the evidence and eyewitnesses are too vast to deny. The same with the Armenian genocide. The evidence is too vast to deny.”