Jun 2, 2023

Genealogy: “Useful in the Toolkit of Genocide Education”

The following is from an article by George Aghjayan and published in The Armenian Weekly:

The impact of genocide lingers long after the initiation of the crime. Genocide scholarship today delves into the more nuanced ways in which victims are subjected to genocidal acts in addition to murder. Sexual violence against women and de-ethnicization of children are just two examples. Entire societies are destroyed through genocide and the surviving remnants separated and scattered, resulting in the magnitude of the crime being difficult to quantify.

While research into a person’s ancestry was traditionally reserved for nobility, and in the United States there were societies devoted to descendants of specific groups, for example Daughters of the American Revolution or Mayflower Descendants, since the 1970s there has been an explosion of genealogical research into all ethnic groups regardless of societal class. The publication of Roots: The Saga of an American Family and the television mini-series based on the book brought forth tremendous interest in genealogy, the family history of African Americans, specifically, and all ethnic groups universally. 

In addition, there was controversary over the accuracy of the oral history included in Roots and the ability to document through source records the family history of victims of slavery that is equally relevant for all victims of genocide. 

Initially, my involvement in genocide education focused on demographics and the ways in which a numbers game is utilized in genocide denial. A primary recurring theme in the denial of genocide and ethnic cleansing is to minimize the victim population. Presumably, if less Armenians were alive and living in the Ottoman Empire in 1914, that would mean that less were subjected to murder, rape, slavery, etc.

My research has focused on three aspects. First, I work on documenting the location and previous Armenian population of the villages of Western Armenia, given the destruction of many of these locations and the Turkish government’s changes in names and locations. Second, there is a common misconception that the various source documents are in conflict over the pre-genocide number of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Instead of viewing them in conflict, my research has attempted to show under what assumptions the sources can be brought into agreement. Lastly, I have used micro-studies to better evaluate the quality of the various sources. 

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