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A Call to Apologize: Giving Vahakn Dadrian the Honor and Respect He Deserves 

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As is well known, Professor Vahakn Dadrian, the founder of modern Armenian Genocide research and the person who first opened our eyes to so many dimensions of the genocide and its historical reality, passed away in the year 2019. His body was cremated per his request; and his sister, the only surviving sibling, was persuaded to allow his ashes to be interred with state honors in a cemetery in the Republic of Armenia. 

In the years since then, Maggie Goschian, the Director of the Ararat Eskijian Museum took great effort to discover the location of Dadrian’s gravesite. Only this August did she finally succeed in discovering the bitter truth of what had transpired in those intervening years. 

Dadrian was officially “thrown” into a state cemetery in Yerevan. His remains were treated like those of an indigent pauper, in an unmarked grave, without even the slightest indication of the identity of the person buried under his tombstone and in a unkept plot now overgrown with weeds and strewn with litter. 

It was only with protracted effort that Maggie Goschian and her friends were only able to locate Dadrian’s final resting place. They used their own means to tidy up the plot and to place a small marker there [see the photographs accompanying this article below]. 

The treatment that was meted out to Vahakn Dadrian and his memory cannot sit well with any person of conscience. 

There is no need for me to mention Vahakn Dadrian influence and importance to my life and work. If my name is today known in the field of genocide studies, this is largely due to him.  My personal and Professional debt to him is immeasurable. As such, the disrespect that he has been shown is not just highly improper: for me, it’s also personal.  

In light of what has been done: that a person who devoted his work—his entire life, for that matter! — to studying and raising the awareness and knowledge of the Armenian Genocide should have their remains dumped in an unmarked (and since neglected) grave in Armenia, we cannot remain silent. We must notremain silent. 

According to what we’ve learned, in August 2019 the Pashianyan government formed a special commission to organize a funeral ceremony for Dadrian’s burial. In fact, you can read about the relevant decisions and the names of the commission members in the relevant editions of Agos. 

Regarding the commission’s actual work, a beautiful ceremony was indeed held for Dadrian… but then his remains were simply thrown in an unmarked grave, without even a grave marker to identify it. Dadrian’s relatives registered complains, but no official notice was taken, and nothing appears to have been done about it. 

Today, the commission’s members may say that the “were only doing their duty”, and that to concern themselves with the gravesite was “not their job”, but their actions stand as a prime example of bureaucratic small-mindedness. How is it possible to separate a funeral ceremony from the actual burial? 

Clearly, the individual members must be held accountable for this neglect. If no one else, the person or persons who convinced Dadrian’s sister to have his ashes brought to Armenian and buried with state honors must be called to account. And perhaps worst of all, there was never any official effort to correct this outrage. Were it not for Maggie Goschin’s persistence, the location of gravesite would remain unknown even today!

Several of the institutions who bear responsibility for the debacle—including a number which are located abroad–are today hiding behind the excuses of COVID and the recent war with Azerbaijan for this neglect. 

From their excuses, an outside observer might suppose that those who make them were away, fighting at the front. 

One of the most virtuous acts that a human can perform is the apologize. Why can the responsible parties not simply say “Forgive us; we are guilty of a great negligence, but promise to amend the situation?”

Every member of this commission, which was established by the Armenian government in 2019, bears some degree of responsibility for this state of affairs.

First of all, by promising to Dadrian’s relatives state honors and a respectful interment, they assumed the responsibility to make it happen. For the disrespectful treatment of Dadrian’s remains and memory, some (if not all) of the commission’s members, must issue an official apology to his relatives and to the general public. 

This is only the first but nevertheless crucial step to honoring Vahakn Dadrian with a proper and befitting gravesite and tombstone. 

Everyone should know that neither Vahakn Dadrian nor his life’s work have been or will be forgotten. 

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