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From the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust: Foundations of Modern Human Rights

Organized by the Armenian Studies Program, University of Michigan
Co-sponsored by Human Rights Initiative
April 2-4, 2015

The Twentieth Century has paradoxically been both the time of the greatest human tragedies -- the Holocaust and other genocides, ethnic cleansings, and mass killings -- as well as the century in which the discourse and legal institutionalization of human rights developed.  The tragedies and the humanitarian response are intimately connected, for it was in the wake of horrors that had no name that Raphael Lemkin originated the concept of massive ethnic and religion-based murder as genocide.  In the aftermath of Turkish massacres of Armenians in the1890s, 1909, and in the course of the Armenian Genocide during World War I, European and American humanitarians began discussions and formed organizations to deal with the tragic victims, particularly orphans, and to provide aid to survivors.  The word “holocaust” was first applied to mass killing of an ethno-religious group in 1909 after 20-30,000 Armenians were massacred in Adana, Turkey.  From these beginnings, concerns about the practice of sovereign states toward their own citizens, particularly cultural minorities, became widespread.  The discussion was international from its earliest days, but in the period after the Holocaust it was taken up by international organizations like the United States, and in recent decades human rights have become a major subject of legal, political, and scholarly interest.

The workshop brought scholars of the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, and human rights together in a common discussion of scholarly papers to illuminate the connections between the events of the two world wars and the emerging subject of human rights.  It featured younger scholars working on these themes, as well as established scholars whose work had pioneered the thinking on genocide, Holocaust, and human rights.