Thursday, January 26, 2012

History is not Dead

I fell into the field of American Studies more by accident than on purpose.  And what a happy accident it turned out to be.  In high school History had always been my favorite classes, but my favorite subject was always American History and Literature, Government and Economics, and how they all fit together.  Hence American Studies sounded perfect.  Later in my college career, I discovered I hated the History Department and it's view of history, as though history was finished, complete, done with, over; dead.  For me, in my study of history, this is definitely not the case.

In 2010, while I was at home for an 8 month break from school, there was a day I can remember rather clearly when the Armenians in my neighborhood flew flags on their cars and outside of their houses, had parties, were celebrating something.  Most of the flags I saw were of an Armenian flag, which made me assume a holiday of some sort, but later in the day I saw the Armenian flag with the words 'ARMENIAN GENOCIDE' printed onto them.  I remember my younger sister asking my why the Armenians would be celebrating genocide--let alone genocide of their own people, and all I could respond with was, 'I doubt they're celebrating it, exactly...'

Then in winter 2011 when I took a Political Science class, I did research on my home congressman Brad Sherman, and looked at some of the Resolutions he had been involved in passing, and among them--in March of 2010--was the official recognition of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, despite the Turkish refusal to recognize it as such.  Sherman addressed the House saying, "We can not be cowered into denying the first genocide of the twentieth century, because genocide denial is not just the last step of the genocide is the first step in the next genocide.  That is why Hitler, when faced with wavering compatriots, could say 'We can get away with the Holocaust, for after all, who today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?'"  What the Armenians in my town were celebrating was the recognition that the massacre they suffered was in fact one of the first war-crimes of the Great War.

Over a decade ago, in 2001, France passed a law recognizing the Armenian genocide, despite the economic retribution promised them by the Turks.  Now, only 3 years from the 100-year mark of the Armenian Genocide, France is voting to pass a law making it illegal to publicly deny that the 1.5 million killed in Armenia was genocide.  Sarkozy is criticized for deciding to pass this law, as it is seen as an attempt to regain popularity among the Armenians for the coming elections, but regardless, the Armenian President, Serge Sarkissian wrote, "La France a réaffirmé sa grandeur et son pouvoir, son dévouement pour les valeurs humaines universelles."  ("France has reaffirmed her greatness and power, her devotion to universal human values.")

Recognizing the war crimes committed against the Armenians as genocide is an important subject to me, and is why I read up about it for my current-event newspaper article.  But what is more important to me is the idea of history in retrospect, that some great wrong committed in the past can still be acknowledged in the present, and that learning about it in the present changes the past in some small way.  History is not dead, for if it were, the world would not be moving toward the recognition of the Armenian genocide.  History is still being used to swing political favor, to validate economic goals, and to correct past "social wrongs."  And it's not just happening in a vacuum: Armenians affect Armenians and the French affect the French, and the Americans affect the Americans.  We're more connected than that, and history is more connected to our present than we give it credit for.

This is a small taste of what I would like my project to do: look at history in a new way with the intent of changing how we interpret the present.

Brad Sherman:
In English:
In French:

1 comment:

  1. I am a former field studies student and facilitator. Sarah told me to read this post since it is about Armenia, which is where I served my mission. I appreciate your idea of historical events as being static, not finished. That is an interesting and appropriate way of looking at them. Of course, it is never finished because people still have to live with and deal with the repercussions. History never dies. It carries on like a ripple through each generation.