New York Turned into an Armenian City for a Few Days Last Week

Harut Sassounian


New York City, the unofficial Capital of the World, became the hub of major Armenian events last week, on the eve of the Armenian Genocide Centennial.

On Tuesday, March 10, the 100 LIVES initiative was launched by Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York, jointly with entrepreneurs Ruben Vardanyan of Moscow and Noubar Afeyan of Boston.

The organizers plan to collect the remarkable stories of Armenian Genocide survivors and their rescuers, including some Turks. The 100 LIVES project is establishing a $1 million annual prize to be given to those who risk their lives to save others in any part of the world. Prominent actor and activist George Clooney will award the inaugural ‘Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity’ in Yerevan on April 24, 2016. The winners of the prize named after Genocide survivor Aurora Mardiganian, who starred in a 1919 film called “Ravished Armenia,” are expected to transfer the $1 million gift to an organization that has inspired them in their humanitarian endeavor.

The selection committee of this special award is co-chaired by George Clooney and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. The committee also includes former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, UN Secretary-General’s Advisor on Genocide Prevention Gareth Evans, human rights activist Hina Jilani, and Dr. Gregorian.

The initiators of 100 LIVES also plan to take on the monumental task of digitizing millions of Armenian Genocide-related documents stored in the archives of numerous countries.

Present at the launch were Hollywood celebrities, prominent journalists from CNN, CBS 60 Minutes, Time magazine, and PBS, and Who’s Who of New York. George Clooney and Ruben Vardanyan participated in a panel discussion moderated by Gwen Ifill, managing editor of Washington Week and co-anchor and co-managing editor of PBS NewsHour.

Here are brief excerpts from George Clooney’s comments:

“I got to learn about Armenia through a friend of mine named Bob Manoukian, who probably picking on my innocence at the time, said ‘you know some Senators, maybe you can talk to them to see if they can talk about the Armenian Genocide on the floor of the Senate.’ So I tried. That did not play so well, as you can imagine. We have some military bases apparently in Turkey, I did not know about. Incirlik — who knew? I was shocked. So you become sort of informed about Armenia through friendships. I was slow to the game on this one. Genocide — just because the word wasn’t invented for 30 more years, doesn’t mean that it did not happen! … My wife had no idea that I had been meeting with Ruben. She was in the middle of going to Strasbourg to the European Court to fight a real interesting Armenian battle. I went to park my car in L.A., and the valet guys are all Armenian, and they come over and say, ‘I want to kiss your wife … you don’t have to pay for parking.’”

The launch of 100 LIVES was covered by the global media, including the New York Times. I was surprised to find my picture shaking hands with George Clooney on the front page of The Hill newspaper, a major Washington publication. During my conversation with Amal Clooney, I thanked her for representing the Republic of Armenia, along with prominent international lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, at the recent European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

During the last weekend, the ‘Responsibility 2015’ Armenian Genocide Centennial Conference was held in New York City, lasting three days with the participation of over 50 renowned scholars, lawyers, authors, artists, journalists and activists from around the world, covering a wide range of issues related to various genocides. Among the prominent speakers were: David Balabanian, David Barsamian, Eric Bogosian, Chris Bohjalian, Israel Charny, David Gaunt, Aram Hamparian, Richard Hovannisian, Raymond Kevorkian, Charlie Mahtesian, Marc Mamigonian, Khatchig Mouradian, Mary Papazian, Geoffrey Robertson, Roger W. Smith, and Henry Theriault. I was honored to be included in such distinguished company, to speak on “Individual and Group Reparations.”

Among the presenters at the conference were several Turkish scholars who delivered highly informative papers on the Armenian Genocide.

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