Lecture draws parallels between Armenian genocide, Holocaust

Jessie Markovetz

The Armenian Youth Organization completed the first chapter of its history Tuesday night by inviting a noted writer and scholar to discuss modern history’s first genocide, which occurred in 1915 in Armenia.

Dr. Hilmar Kaiser, who is also a key player in an ongoing lawsuit filed on behalf of the Armenian victims, gave a history of the genocide, a little-known atrocity that resulted in an estimated 1.5 million civilian deaths.

According to Kaiser, the killings of the Armenians, who live on a strip of land bordered by Turkey, Iran and Russia, qualify as genocide because they were sponsored by the Turkish government.

“It was the first modern genocide in the sense that it was bureaucratically organized and exercised,” he said.

To emphasize this point, Kaiser illustrated a detailed timetable of the various actions the Turks took against the Armenians, starting with occupation and ending in slaughter.

That slaughter, he said, was handled much like the Holocaust of World War II.

“If you look at research on the Holocaust, the S.S. police … were suffering from trauma because they knew what they were doing,” he said. This led to the development of gas chambers and crematoriums.

Having no such technology, the Turks used other means against their victims. Kaiser discussed one such method, a roadway Armenians were forced to travel that the scholar likened to the New Jersey Turnpike.

“There were toll stations where you had to pay for your life,” at various massacre sites, he said. Only those who could afford the price were allowed to survive.

And survival was not achieved by any gentlemanly means.

Today, Kaiser is involved in a lawsuit against New York Life Insurance Co., which charges the company with not making payments to benefactors of policy holders who died in the genocide.

According to the scholar, the insurance company sold a number of policies before 1915 but declined to pay restitutions to beneficiaries — many of whom were also killed in the genocide — or other family members. The money withheld by the company could have saved countless lives, he said, to afford food or medical care to survivors of the holocaust.

“They were dying by the dozens from disease, food shortages and so on,” he said.

“While we can sue them for money, we can’t sue them for homicide.”

Kaiser said he hopes to add another 10 to 20 insurance companies to the suit. The case against New York Life is underway in the 9th circuit court in Los Angeles.

Approximately 85 people attended the lecture held in the CEER building.