SAMANTHA LAKIN is a current PhD student in Political History at Clark University, USA. She holds a M.A. in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and a B.A. from Brandeis University. Samantha was a Fulbright scholar from 2011-2012 in Switzerland, where she researched the rescue of Jewish children to Switzerland during World War II. She has also worked in Rwanda for the past year, conducting independent research on memorialization of genocide in Rwanda for her Master’s thesis, and serving as a Policy Officer in the Department of Research, Policy, and Higher Education at Aegis Trust and the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Samantha has been invited to present her research on Switzerland and Rwanda at many international conferences, including the Museum of Tolerance New York, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the International Society of Political Psychology, and the University of London. Her research subject as a Raphael Lemkin Fellow focused on the process of recognition of the Armenian genocide, and collective memory of Armenians, as shown through commemoration periods (article forthcoming) with the title: Memorializing Mass Atrocities and Genocide in Armenia: Perspectives from Government, Communal, and Personal Memorial Practices.
- Hi, dear Samantha, congratulations, you have become the second alumni of the Lemkin scholarship in this year. What are your impressions?
My impressions of Armenia and the AGMI have been very good. Armenia has been an interesting place to live for the past few weeks. It seems like Armenia has not experienced full Western or European integration yet, and so many people do not speak English and are still excited to see Americans visiting their country. All of the colleagues, interviewees, and fellow researchers I have met have been nice, helpful, and intelligent.
- You have got a difficult period. It’s the most loaded period for the museum. But I think you're one of those few lucky people who witnessed the creation of the new museum.
After working at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and conducting research at the six national memorial sites in Rwanda, it was difficult to be in a museum that’s still being reconstructed. However, one of the researchers from the AGMI gave me a tour of the original parts of the museum, including the physical memorial, the trees and garden planted, and the other outdoor exhibits. I am looking forward to see the AGMI complete and to tour the new exhibit when I hopefully return to Yerevan in 2015 for the 100th Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, and the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) conference.
- It’s a historical moment. What do you think and feel?
I feel it’s a historic moment for many reasons. First, we are approaching the 100th commemoration of the Armenian genocide, so research has taken a prominent place in the field. I am pleased, excited, and honored to be a part of these research efforts. We are also witnessing many changes in the Caucacus region and the rest of the world, so I believe that studying genocide history can many implications and lessons for current issues and massacres. Honestly, I am humbled and honored to be able to do my work at such an important time in history.
- Would you please, introduce us your research topic?
My research focused on the process of recognition of the Armenian genocide, both by Turkey and other countries. I wanted to understand the relationship between recognition, justice, and reconciliation. Some questions I asked were: is recognition a precondition for real reconciliation? Can Armenian organizations, civil society, and individuals engage in reconciliation and normalization processes without recognition taking place first? What will the results be? Will recognition provide justice for Armenians? Will it alter their sense of restorative justice and symbolic reparations? I was able to answer these questions by interviewing key leaders in civil society and government, who are working on reconciliation and normalizing relations between Armenia and Turkey. I also worked with and interviewed historians to gain a better sense of the history of the process of recognition of genocide in Armenia.
- Could you find the materials you need at AGMI archives?
Yes, I was able to find everything I needed, including books, archival documents, and contacts to interview.
- You travel a lot, but you are the first time in Armenia. Will you share your impressions?
Armenia was one of the most unique places where I have ever lived. As I mentioned earlier, many people did not speak English, and were excited to see Americans visiting their country. I also enjoyed traveling to the main religious sites in Armenia, including some of the old churches and monasteries. I also had the opportunity to visit Nagorno-Karabakh, and was lucky to be able to conduct some interviews there. I also met a famous human rights photographer, and got the chance to learn more about the current conflict.
- Will you come back …?
I hope to come back to Yerevan and the AGMI in 2015 for the IAGS conference! I also hope I will have the opportunity to present the results of my research there!
- Samantha, what give you the Lemkin’s program?
The Lemkin program gave me the opportunity to take my expertise on Rwanda and the study of genocide and mass atrocities, and apply it in a new case. It also gave me the chance to explore my research interests in a comparative context in a new region. Finally, I have many new colleagues and friends from the AGMI, and I look forward to continue working with them.
- And a question that we give to all alumni. What would you like to change in this program?
I would have liked to have more meetings arranged in advance with some people in my subject. It was difficult to arrange the interviews and meetings myself in a short period of time. I would also offer 1-2 months for the fellowship instead of only 1 month.
- What will you wish the next winner and what advice can you give to him?
I hope that the next winner will feel as welcome as I did when I was a Lemkin Scholar. I would tell her or him to try and prepare, read, and find out what they want to do in advance of arriving in Yerevan, as one month for research can feel like a short period!
- Thank you for honest answers and direct conversation. I hope we will continue to cooperate in the future.
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