The Value of Humanity

Reflections on the Impact of Genocide on Society.

The 103rd Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day coincided with the April 2018 Science Lecture. I debated with myself whether or not to cancel the science lecture in respect of the memory of the Armenian Genocide victims. Then a question occurred to me, what happens to intellectual capital post Genocide? I reached out to Political Science Professor and Journalist, Azzie Mekhitarian to start this impactful conversation, in the science lecture, Disruption, Survival and Innovation: How Genocide Affects Intellectual Capital in Science and Culture. Read excerpts from this significant conversation in the following Q&A, where she also speaks about academia and her advice to students.  

Impacts of Genocide

Q: Is it possible to regain the loss of human worth when this worth is taken away from the targeted group of people by the perpetrators of genocide?  

A: One of the distinguishing characteristics of our species is the search for value and purpose. It is in this search of reinstating value and worth that, given the proper circumstances, groups that have suffered genocide have had some accelerated innovation and production.

Q: Can the aftermath of genocide be described as a period of productiveness in science, innovation, and other cultural areas?  

A: Not necessarily. As I explored in my lecture, some groups seem to have accelerated productivity and others do not. Rwanda, for example, was able to demonstrate rapid development and productivity post genocide mainly because the government developed systemic foundations for this. Cambodia, for example, has developed at a much slower pace in terms of technological and scientific innovations. Armenians have demonstrated rapid development and productivity post genocide in Diaspora communities that were in countries that had the infrastructure to support innovation and development.  

Q: What is essential in understanding why the act of genocide repeats?

A: It’s important to understand phenomena that impair us from advancing as human beings. Humans behave in patterns. If we can isolate patterns of political and social behavior, we may be able to spot the potential for genocide in a socio-political system. This way, perhaps, we can try to avoid potential genocides and wars.

Q: How important is the voice of women in genocide studies?

A: Woman and men suffer different types of traumas during genocide and war. Often women are seen as the bearers of culture, through among other things, birth, and thus are raped, kidnapped and forced to assimilate the perpetrator’s culture. Women’s voices in both the stories of genocide and the recovery post genocide are crucial. But perhaps, even more importantly, women’s voices in the rebuilding and innovating post genocide need to be supported. Unfortunately, the scholarship in this area is very thin for now. But, again, we can look to Rwanda as an example of women playing a crucial role in the reconstruction and success of that county.  In fact, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in its National Legislature in the world.

Q: What is your story of the Armenian Genocide?

A: My grandfather was an Armenian Genocide orphan at the age of five. He either had 3 or 5 sisters, but we don’t know if any of them survived. He ended up at an American Near East Relief orphanage in Lebanon. Sidon Orphanage was known for teaching orphans how to bake, and my grandfather was a master baker so we think he may have ended up there. In Lebanon, he met my grandmother, who was most likely there because her family fled the earlier Hamidian Massacres of the late 1800’s. Our story has many missing puzzle pieces because of the Armenian Genocide.  

Q: Share some of your thoughts regarding the recent People’s Revolution in Armenia and the events that followed afterward. Is this connected to genocide studies?

A: The history of the suffering of the Armenian people has for so long been our only story. The recent People’s Revolution has given us another story line, not of cultural trauma, but of victory. The People’s Revolution in Armenia is also important on a global level because it has captured the imagination of the world as a symbol of victory of a people against the machine of big business interests and corruption. Politicians were unable to turn the people against each other, to create factions amongst the people. There was solidarity among the masses against the machine. This struggle is not unique to Armenia.

The people’s struggle against unjust systems is taking place around the world. For example, in America, there is the Black Lives Matter movement, which is the same in so many respects. In Nicaragua there is the people’s struggle against injustices perpetrated by the powerful. All around the world today we have people standing up against oppression and asymmetry in power; this victory in not only a victory for the Armenian people but a victory for all people feeling the oppressive boot of injustice on their backs.


Q: How did you get started on the path of academia?

A: I started my academic life at Glendale Community College, where I had some of the most inspiring professors. I explored many subjects at GCC that truly expanded my understanding of the world. I then transferred to UCLA. I started out with majors in Comparative Literature and International Development, and transitioned to Political Science.  I have always been curious about people and their stories, and the impact of systems on those stories.

Q: Did your previous journalism experience bring you success in academia?

A: My experience as a journalist has been a great asset to me in the academia. It has really helped me communicate course material to the students in a relevant and, hopefully, exciting way. Once a journalist, always a journalist; I am always in search of the story that reaches my students and helps them connect the subject matter very clearly to their lives and their experiences.

Q:What does your current research revolve around?

A: Currently, I am researching the correlation of gender equality and violence or the potential of violence in a group or country. I have also very recently been researching this dynamic in refugee communities.

Advice to Students

Q: What is your advice to students who study political science, communication studies, humanities, genocide studies, and other interdisciplinary subjects?

A: [Learning and teaching these subjects are relevant in our] complex and often times perplexing world. These are dynamic and ever changing subjects and students will never be bored as long as they stay curious and have the ability to research and question everything.

So much of how we as humans have organized ourselves doesn’t make sense. For example, war and hunger are absurd, nonsensical realities. It’s important to be able to connect the dots of world events, the distribution of power and resources, the methods of communication and outreach, so that we can try to make sense of all that is going on around us and attempt to mitigate the potentially harmful outcomes. It is true that knowledge is power and therefore we cannot afford not to be informed and proactive. We have to attempt to create better outcomes for humanity, to create a culture of understanding that fosters curiosity and innovation.

Q: How important are study abroad programs in developing as a thinker who can bring forth social change?

A: I think study abroad programs are an essential part of education. In fact, it should be a part of students’ educational plans. Traveling abroad is the best way to really understand world affairs, varying perspectives, socio-cultural nuances, and get insights as to how and why they could make a positive impact on the world.

Final Thoughts

We are living in challenging and exciting times and it is important to keep your finger on the pulse of the changes occurring in the world. It is easy to become overwhelmed with news of human destruction and chaos, but there are many incredible innovations and advancements taking place as well. We have to open our eyes to see that today’s youth is an incredible force for positive social, scientific and technological advances because they have the ability to process information and be critical in a way that I think past generations have not.  


Note: When the lecture took place, Azzie Mekhitarian was teaching political science at ELAC. She was recently hired as a full-time tenure track faculty at Pasadena City College.