ZORYAN INSTITUTE OF CANADA, INC.
255 Duncan Mill Rd., Suite 310
Toronto, ON, Canada M3B 3H9
Tel: 416-250-9807 Fax: 416-512-1736 E-mail:
DATE: January 11, 2004
Dr. Roger W. Smith Elected Academic Chair of Zoryan Institute
Dr. Roger W. Smith, internationally renowned genocide scholar, has been elected chairman of the Zoryan Institute's Academic Board of Directors, namely, Professors Stephan Astourian, Yair Auron, Levon Chorbajian, Vahakn Dadrian, Eliz Sanasarian, Lisa Siraganian, and Khachig Tölölyan. Their responsibility is to recommend and approve new scholarly projects, and to oversee and ensure the overall quality of academic programs undertaken by the Zoryan Institute and its subsidiary, the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.
New Chairman's Vision
Regarding his election as chairman, Smith says, "I have very much enjoyed working with the outstanding scholars on the Zoryan Board over the years. It is a challenge and honor to assume the responsibilities of Chair of the Academic Board of Directors. In the term ahead, I hope to continue to encourage activities that Zoryan has excelled at for many years -- sponsorship of conferences and lectures on the Armenian Genocide, support for research and publication on the Armenian Genocide and Diaspora Studies, and, above all, the Genocide and Human Rights University Program (GHRUP). But I also see Zoryan collaborating more with our colleagues at universities in Europe and North America to offer courses based on the GHRUP model, as we have already done with the University of Minnesota. I wish to encourage students of all nationalities to engage in the study of other genocides in comparison with the Armenian Genocide as a point of reference. In this respect, Zoryan is initiating in 2005 a program providing dissertation fellowships to Ph.D candidates. I think it is also very important that Zoryan continue to reach out to the Armenian community at many levels with lectures and educational programs, and also encourage all Armenian and non-Armenian organizations and individuals to support the Zoryan Institute, morally and financially, in its endeavors to fulfill its mission."
A pioneer and major authority on the subject of genocide, Smith has written widely on its nature, history, and prevention, and, in particular, on denial of the Armenian Genocide. Educated at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, Roger W. Smith is Professor Emeritus of Government at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. There he taught political philosophy and the comparative study of genocide for twenty years. Dr. Smith taught his first course on genocide, entitled "Human Destructiveness and Politics" in 1982. To his dismay, he found that material on the Armenian Genocide was extremely scarce, and due to the Turkish government's tremendous efforts to deny the event, few people outside the Armenian community had even heard of the Genocide.
Describing how he came to his field of specialization, he stated, "My interest in genocide, the ultimate denial of equality, is rooted in my childhood. A moral commitment to equality was entrenched in me while growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. It came partly out of a love for my parents, who were strong and inspiring, despite the hierarchies and valuations imposed on them by society, and partly from witnessing the various socially sanctioned indignities inflicted on black people in a deeply segregated south."
Early Involvement with Zoryan
Recalling how he first got involved with Zoryan, Smith related that he had been invited to attend its one-day conference on "Genocide and Denial" in May 1986. He gave a very well received talk on the psychological roots of denial, which he subsequently expanded and published in 1990 as "Genocide and Denial: The Armenian Case and its Implications." As a result, he was invited to participate in many scholarly and memorial forums thereafter. He began to focus his research and teaching on Turkey's denial of the Armenian Genocide. A groundbreaking 1995 article co-authored by Smith, Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Markusen, entitled "Professional Ethics and the Denial of the Armenian Genocide," exposed the secretive process by which the Turkish government funds academics to discredit scholarship on the Armenian Genocide. The article fueled a major protest by over one hundred prominent scholars and intellectuals against the corruption of American universities by the Turkish government.
Dr. Smith joined the Zoryan Board of Directors in 1988. "I was aware of the institute's Open University Program, Oral History Program, research projects, and publications, including Hitler and the Armenian Genocide, A Crime of Silence: The Armenian Genocide, and The Karabagh File. As a non-Armenian, my understanding from the beginning was that the Armenian Genocide was a crime committed not only against the Armenian people, but also against all of humanity. I found the work on the board that first year exciting, and my understanding of the Armenian Genocide was confirmed, as the experience deepened my knowledge, and perhaps made me even more of an activist on issues of human rights and genocide."
One of the experiences at Zoryan that has become exceptionally engaging for Smith is the Genocide and Human Rights University Program, run annually by the International Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (A Division of the Zoryan Institute). He believes strongly that the form of education necessary to prevent further occurrences of genocide is one that promotes "tolerance, respect for individuals, and a more humanistic view of the world." His vision made him an ideal choice in 2003 for Director of the GHRUP, which explores the major genocides of the 20th century from historical, political, sociological, legal, and human rights perspectives.
Many graduates of the program cite Dr. Smith as an inspiring teacher and mentor. Smith is equally impressed with the students' drive and motivation to make a difference in the world. "Twenty years ago, there were only a handful of us interested in the subject," he recalls. "The success of the GHRUP has made me feel overwhelmingly optimistic for the future of genocide studies. The course plants a seed of knowledge in every student who attends. Whether they use this knowledge to become a human rights activist, a genocide scholar, or simply a person who can influence others through informed dialogue, each and every one of them now has the tools needed to spread awareness about genocide, the world's worst violation of human rights."
The Zoryan Institute is the first international center in the Diaspora devoted to the research and documentation of contemporary issues related to the history, politics, society, and culture of Armenia, Armenians around the world, and the Armenian Genocide, and in conceptualizing Armenia's place within a universal context. It maintains offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Toronto, Canada.