UC Berkeley professors talk genocide prevention and reparations during panel event

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As part of April’s Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, UC Berkeley professors honed in on the intricacies of genocide to a full classroom during “A Panel on Genocide” event Tuesday.

Co-hosted by the Armenian Students’ Association and Amnesty International at Berkeley, the panel consisted of campus professors Stephan Astourian, John Efron and Darren Zook, as well as professor emeritus Rita Maran — experts in the fields of the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust and the Cambodian Genocide.

The panelists answered a series of questions on topics ranging from genocide prevention to reparations and reconciliation.

“When we talk generally of genocide, that is troubling to me — the devil really is in the details,” Efron said during the panel. “The details that happened to the Armenian people (are) not the same as the details of the Cambodian people (are) not the same as the details of the Jewish people.”

Astourian said genocide is sometimes regarded with “youthful optimism” — that genocides can be prevented; that things can get better with reparations, love and reconciliation — but added that he thinks he is skeptical.

“There won’t be any reparations for the Armenian Genocide,” Astourian said during the panel. “Outside the Holocaust … I don’t think there have been reparations anywhere else. I think this is, again, a nice hope, but maybe a fantasy.”

Efron expressed similar sentiments regarding stopping or preventing future genocides.

“If you study and teach the history of the Holocaust, there isn’t much room for optimism,” Efron said to the audience.

When asked how to have a discussion with those who decide the existence of genocides, Maran said it is similar to speaking with people who deny climate change.

“Give factual accounts — with love,” Maran said during the event. “It is important to remember we are all human beings, … and we all have the capacity to do right and wrong.”

The goal of the event was to raise awareness not only for the Armenian Genocide but also for other genocides that have occurred, according to Armenian Students’ Association cultural chair Hakob Mesropian. The panel was one event in the association’s annual Armenian Genocide Awareness Week.

“There aren’t too many classes that speak about genocide,” Mesropian said. “It’s important to devote one of our nights to genocide and education.”

Efron also spoke of a recent study showing the “stunning ignorance” among millennials regarding the Holocaust.

“It’s a scary thing if the Holocaust, which is the most publicized of the genocides — if that hasn’t made an impression, what do they know about the Armenian Genocide or a genocide that didn’t happen in western culture?” Efron asked.

Amnesty International co-president Michaela Nacht said she was happy with the event’s turnout of about 50 students.

“Each (panelist) brought something different to the table,” Nacht added. “It increased the amount that students could learn.”

Campus freshman Lilly Sarafian said she attended the event because she wanted to be educated about different genocides across cultural lines. She added that the panel was important for having discussions that can prevent similar atrocities and traumas from taking place again.

“When you talk about genocide, there’s not a lot of happy things to say,” Zook said during the event. “What you need … to really move forward is love for the possibility of justice. Have that carry you through when everyone else has given up.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.