Leaders in the Armenian Diaspora, preparing to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, have collaborated with Hollywood celebrities and human rights advocates to create a prize to be awarded annually to those who put themselves at risk to ensure that others survive, The New York Times writes.
Actor George Clooney will award the inaugural prize at a ceremony to be held in Yerevan next year, it emerged on Tuesday.
The humanitarian prize is part of an expansive effort by prominent Armenians to ensure that the history of the Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Turkey, which has been disputed by successive governments in Ankara, is documented and archived through the stories of survivors and their saviors, in ways similar to the chronicling of the Jews’ suffering in the Holocaust.
About 1.5 million Armenians died from 1915 to 1923 in what is widely acknowledged as the first genocide of the 20th century. About 500,000 survived, many because of interventions by foreign individuals and institutions.
“The humanity, generosity, strength and sacrifice shown by those who saved so many Armenians compels us to tell these stories,” The New York Times quotes Ruben Vardanian, a Russia-based Armenian businessman, who is a co-sponsor of the commemoration effort known as the 100 Lives Initiative.
“My grandfather was saved by a missionary,” Vardanian said.
Along with commemorating the survivors and those who saved them, the effort will establish a $1 million award, to be called the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, to be given starting next year. The winners will not keep the money, instead presenting it to the organizations that they identify as the inspirations for their work.
The award is named after a survivor of the genocide, Aurora Mardiganian, who as a child was forced to witness the deaths of family members. She devoted her life to raising awareness of the genocide and starred in a 1919 film called “Ravished Armenia.”
Vardanian and his associates collaborated with Not On Our Watch, an organization founded by George Clooney and other celebrities — including Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt — that seeks to prevent mass atrocities. Its principal undertaking in the past few years has been to document, through satellite imagery, evidence of possible atrocities in parts of Africa; the effort is known as the Satellite Sentinel Project.
In a statement, Clooney said his group shared a common goal with the Armenian sponsors, “to focus global attention on the impact of genocide as well as putting resources toward ending mass atrocities around the world.”
Members of the selection committee for the prize, which has yet to be finalized, include Clooney as well as the Nobel Peace Prize winners Elie Wiesel and Oscar Arias; Mary Robinson, a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights; Gareth Evans, an adviser to the United Nations on genocide prevention; and Vartan Gregorian, an Iranian-born American academic who is president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Clooney is to award the inaugural prize at a ceremony to be held in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on April 24, 2016, the sponsors said in a statement.