Armenians slam Ahmadinejad honors

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at Columbia University, Sept. 24, 2007<br />
 (Daniella Zalcman)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at Columbia University, Sept. 24, 2007
(Daniella Zalcman)

NEW YORK (JTA) – Armenian Americans slammed the decision by a university in the Armenian capital of Yerevan to honor Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad during a state visit to Armenia last week was presented with a gold medal and an honorary doctorate Monday from Yerevan State University.

An editorial in the Armenian weekly, the house organ of the Armenian National Committee of America, condemned the university, noting that Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier who has disregarded historical research.

“The university’s decision to bestow an honorary doctorate is simply unacceptable,” the editorial said. “We are surprised that as the officials in charge of the alma mater of a nation that rose from the ashes of another genocide, they did not take this fact into consideration before deciding to award the honorary degree.”

Ahmadinejad’s visit came as Armenian Americans and their supporters continued to press for a resolution in Congress recognizing the World War I-era killings of Armenians by Turkey as genocide.

Part of their campaign has focused on the Anti-Defamation League, which initially refused to use the word genocide to describe the killings but backtracked amid opposition from its leadership in the Boston area – home to one of the highest concentrations of Armenians in the country.

The ADL called the massacre of Armenians “tantamount to genocide.”

Despite the shift the ADL, along with other major U.S. Jewish groups, continue to oppose a congressional resolution out of concern for its impact on Turkish ties with Israel and the United States.

Consequently, the Armenian activists’ campaign against the ADL has not eased.

A Web site, No Place For Denial, continues to accuse the ADL of genocide denial, alleging that its statements on the subject have been ambiguous, a charge the ADL denies. The continuing momentum has led several communities in the Boston area to end their partnerships with a highly regarded anti-bigotry program sponsored by the ADL.

Dikran Kaligian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America’s Eastern Region, rejected the suggestion to mount a similar campaign against Yerevan State University, asserting that such a comparison was “apples and oranges.”

The proper analogue to the ADL, Kaligian said, is not Yerevan State but ANCA, which is the largest Armenian grass-roots organization in the United States. The organization is an affiliate of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an international political party founded in 1890.

Kaligian said ANCA has never taken an ambiguous position on the Holocaust. The ADL, by contrast, has endorsed a proposal for Armenia and Turkey to form a joint commission to arrive at a resolution of the issue, a step Armenians adamantly reject.

“The ANCA has never called for further study of the Holocaust,” Kaligian said. “That’s the analogy you have to make, and I think we’ve been very clear on it.”

Both Kaligian and Sevag Arzoumanian, who runs No Place for Denial, agree that it was appropriate for Ahmadinejad to be invited to Armenia, a landlocked country that depends on good relations with its neighbors for trade and energy. But they said bestowing an academic honor was one step too far.

In an e-mail to JTA, Arzoumanian wrote, “How can Yerevan State University give an academic degree, however symbolic, to someone who takes the intellectually dishonest position that there needs to be further research and academic conferences to determine if the Holocaust occurred? What were they thinking? I think the YSU made a terrible error of judgment, both academically and morally.”

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