From left, Kitty Dukakis, Gov. Michael Dukakis, Provost and Senior Vice President of Tufts University Jamshed Bharucha and Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, the Darakjian Jafarian Chair of Armenian History at Tufts
By Anna Yukhananov
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
MEDFORD, Mass. — To justify the planned brutality of his invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler allegedly told his commanders, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”
Michael Dukakis, the former governor, repeated the same question on Tuesday, April 6, at the Tufts University Day of Remembrance lecture titled “Do We Really Remember the Armenians?”
At the turn of the 20th century, Americans donated millions of dollars to save the Armenian community in the Ottoman Empire, Dukakis said.
However, President Woodrow Wilson abandoned the fight against the Ottoman and later helped the Young Turk leadership involved in the Genocide in order to push the League of Nations through Congress after World War I, Dukakis said.
“The United States essentially capitulated to Kemal [Ataturk],” Dukakis said. “US isolationism took over. No wonder Hitler asked, ‘who remembers the Armenians?’ as he planned his own genocide.”
Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, and his wife, Kitty, shared their personal and moral connections to the Armenian Genocide in the lecture, sponsored in part by the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).
Michael Dukakis told the story of his father, a Greek immigrant, and others in his family who were affected by Turkish aggression. Dukakis’s father left the Greek islands to study in the United States, and his grandfather was deported from Turkey in 1916 before dying in the flu epidemic of 1918.
“I’m in many ways a child of the history we talk about today,” Dukakis said. “Like the Armenians, the Greeks and Assyrians suffered horribly at the hands of the Turks.”
Kitty Dukakis also shared her own reasons for fighting genocide. She told the story of how her late father, Harry Ellis Dickson, left Boston to study conducting at the Berlin Conservatory in 1933. He was in Berlin when Hitler took over.
“His German friends said Hitler was just a buffoon, he’ll leave,” she said. “But we all know what happened.”
She added, as a result, “Sensitivity to injustice, to racial and ethnic prejudice, that has always been a part of me.”
As a member of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and the Holocaust Memorial Council, Kitty Dukakis pushed to include the Armenian Genocide as part of the US Holocaust Museum.
She recalled confronting another genocide in the 1970s, during the period of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when more than a million Cambodians were killed in a civil war.
Kitty Dukakis said that she went to the border between Thailand and Cambodia to seek the release of Cambodian children who had lost their parents. As a result, 250 Cambodian orphans arrived in the United States to build new lives.
While serving on the Task Force on Cambodian Children, she received a letter from a Cambodian woman who came from a family of nine children. All but one of her siblings had died, and she asked Kitty Dukakis for help in finding her one surviving brother.
Through a priest in a refugee camp, she managed to locate the boy and, six months later, reunited the siblings.
“I tell you all this not only to give a sense of my own commitment to and involvement with genocide, but also to share to enormous frustration I feel as another genocide wracks the world,” she said. “Do we really remember the Armenians? I have my doubts.”
She also spoke of the genocide she said is ongoing in eastern Congo, as the government persecutes its own ethnic minorities and the world for the most part remains indifferent. While she shared inspiring stories of survivors and rescue efforts, she also issued a call to action.
“As more are raped and assaulted and die in the eastern Congo, one must ask the question again and again: Do we remember the Armenians? What have we learned? It will be deeds, not words, that answer that question.”