Professor offered book deal from Qaddafi


In 1979, Richard Dekmejian, a professor of political science, traveled to Libya for a conference in observance of the 10th anniversary of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s coup d’etat. Dekmejian said the dictator invited him to speak at the conference and then asked him to write a book about his reign.

“I had written a book called Egypt Under Nasser,” Dekmejian said. “He never read the book and thought it was about Nasser, so he invited me to write a book about him. Of course, I shook my head just so I could get out of Libya. Once I got back to the states, I broke off future communication because I really wasn’t interested in writing a book praising him.”

Global · Richard Dekmejian, a professor of political science, was born to Syria, but said he migrated to the United States for a better life. - Photo Courtesy of Richard Dekmejian

Qaddafi was not the only ruler to offer Dekmejian a book deal, but there was never any doubt in his mind that turning down each offer was the right thing to do. The son of two Armenian genocide survivors, writing in praise of these rulers contrasted with his own moral values.

“There are a lot of countries on this earth that will give you big money if you deny genocide,” Dekmejian said. “Despite the fact that you can make thousands of dollars, you can’t play that game. Beyond a certain point, you can’t pull punches when someone is really bad.”

Dekmejian was born in Aleppo, Syria, nearly 20 years after the genocide that killed most of his extended family, but his family’s past helped shape his future. He said he and his family were always on the move — refugees being not entirely welcome in Syria — but he eventually moved to America to live with his uncles, where he furthered his education.

He studied engineering and theology for a few years before enlisting in the U.S. Army. Having grown up in Syria at a time when it shifted from French rule to independence, he learned to speak Armenian, Arabic, French, Turkish and English fluently. He was stationed in France, working at the NATO headquarters near Paris.

“The kind of work I did was intelligence work, because of the languages I knew,” Dekmeijian said. “It determined my interest in politics, international relations, intelligence issues and leadership issues.”

After finishing his military service, he returned to school, studying political science at the University of Connecticut, earning a master’s degree at Boston University in Soviet and Asian politics and a doctorate at Columbia University in Middle Eastern politics. He went on to teach at SUNY Binghamton while also working for the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, preparing diplomats to go to the Middle East.

“The work at Foreign Services was incredibly interesting because you’d get to talk to practitioners,” Dekmejian said. “In political sciences, you deal a lot with theoretical stuff. We’re not practitioners, so when you go to the level of practitioners, you learn a great deal.”

Dekmejian came to USC in 1986, and now teaches political science, including a course called Terrorism and Genocide, where he teaches students to recognize preconditions of genocide and how to prevent it. He teaches through case studies of past incidents of terrorism and genocide, but also gives students the opportunity to briefly experience it in class, with the help of former graduate student and U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Ken Graham.

“He comes every year to do a military-style takeover, where a number of students with masks take over the class,” Dekmejian said. “I literally lay on the floor. It’s about a five-minute operation. But then I go through our mistakes in the past and what’s the likelihood of some new forms [of terrorism].”

Dekmejian also worked on documentaries about genocide and terrorism with the Discovery Channel and said it is important to document and learn from these incidents.

“It’s important, I tell my students, to inoculate ourselves with the anti-genocidal vaccine so that we can prevent this from happening as we grow up on this planet,” Dekmejian said. “It’s so important to learn about the tragedies of the past and hope that will teach us something about not doing it in the future.”

  • Hrant Varozian

    Fight On Dek!

    @Ergun – It’s ironic to hear you call the Armenian Genocide “a discredited political claim”. The main reason it is not recognized in most countries is because of the political pressure the current Turkish Government is exherting on the foreign governments due to its leverage as a major political ally in the Middle East. I suggest you pick up a book from Nobel Prize willing Turkish scholars like Orhan Pamuk who are fighting censorship from a government that is willing to oppress its own people in order to keep all this hidden and hope the people will eventually stop caring.

    But we won’t. We will continue to teach. We will continue to tell the stories of our ancestors. And we will never forget.

    • Ergun

      1917

      “…For fourteen days, I followed the Euphrates; it is completely out of the question that I during this time would not have seen at least some of the Armenian corpses, that according to Mrs. Stjernstedt’s statements, should have drifted along the river en masse at that time. A travel companion of mine, Dr. Schacht, was also travelling along the river. He also had nothing to tell when we later met in Baghdad… …In summary, I think that Mrs. Stjernstedt, somewhat uncritically, has accepted the hair-raising stories from more or less biased sources, which formed the basis for her lecture…”

      Source: H.J. Pravitz, A Swedish officer, Nya Dagligt Allehanda, 23 April, 1917 issue
      (A Swedish Newspaper published from 1859 to 1944)

  • Johnny

    Thank you Ergum, now you can climb back into whatever hole you sick vile genocidal deniers crawl out of anytime any mention of a basic historic fact is made in the media. Your so called historians were all directly paid by the Turkish government and lobby and they didn’t publish an “open letter”. The publication of the announcement was made as paid advertisement by the Committee of the Turkish Associations. You sick disgusting pathological animals can try to fool the world, but the the whole world will one day know what you did, and we will take back our holy lands that you stole, one way or the other. You can be damn sure of that.

    • Ergun

      1928

      “…Few Americans who mourn, and justly, the miseries of the Armenians, are aware that till the rise of nationalistic ambitions, beginning with the ‘seventies, the Armenians were the favored portion of the population of Turkey, or that in the Great War, they traitorously turned Turkish cities over to the Russian invader; that they boasted of having raised an Army of one hundred and fifty thousand men to fight a civil war, and that they burned at least a hundred Turkish villages and exterminated their population…”

      Source: John Dewey, The New Republic, 12 November 1928

  • Tommy Trojan

    I took Dr. Dekmejian’s Terrorism & Genocide course when I was a political science student at USC in the late 1980s and I am glad I did. I will never forget the first day of class when he was introduced as a guest lecturer/terrorist. The students were in an uproar as he was giving his “lecture” until he finally admitted that he was actually the professor. Classic.

    There will always be whacko conspiracy theorists who claim that a genocide never happened or “if” it did, it was somehow justified. It’s important for all of us to be aware that there are pseudo-scientists out there making these claims and doing their best to revise history. Bravo to Dr. Dekmejian for educating people about these ruthless groups who perpetrate heinous crimes against humanity.

    • Ergun

      1923

      “…In some towns containing ten Armenian houses and thirty Turkish houses, it was reported that 40,000 people were killed, about 10,000 women were taken to the harem, and thousands of children left destitute; and the city university destroyed, and the bishop killed. It is a well- known fact that even in the last war the native Christians, despite the Turkish cautions, armed themselves and fought on the side of the Allies. In these conflicts, they were not idle, but they were well supplied with artillery, machine guns and inflicted heavy losses on their enemies….”

      Source: Lamsa, George M., a missionary well known for his research on Christianity,
      The Secret of the Near East, The Ideal Press, Philadelphia 1923, p 133

  • Ergun

    Armenian genocide is a discredietd politcal claim, not a court proven fact. For scholarly accuracy, one should say “Turkish-Armenian conflict”. On May 19, 1985, about 70 American scholars published in New York Times and Washington Post an open letter, addressed to the Congress, urging them not to recognize the Armenian claim as the sole truth and nothging but the truth, because the impartial evidence unearthed so far show “…inter-communal warfare fought by Christan and Muslim irregulars…” against a bacdrop of the WWI raging. Armenian took up arms against their own government, terrorized defenseless Turkish villages, joind the invading enemy armies, and the the Ottoman government moved them out of the frontlines where the war was waging. This was a defensive measire taken during a wartime. Genocide claims ignore Turkish suffering at the hands of Armenians and dismisses Armenian revolts, treason, and terrorism, and hence inherently racist and dishonest.

    • I.J.

      Turks and their backers can twist the events the way they see them fit their own pocket books. Yet the Armenian genocide issue still remains as that; nothing but an attempt to annihilate Christians (whom they until today call non-believers) and Christianity all together. The Ottoman Empire started executing their long term agenda with massacring the nearest Christians to their twisted and war mongering people. When that did not work, they took the easy way out; that is denial and reversal of blame.

      • Ergun

        1976

        “… The deafening drumbeat of the propaganda, and the sheer lack of sophistication in argument which comes from preaching decade after decade to a convinced and
        emotionally committed audience, are the major handicaps of Armenian historiography
        of the diaspora today…”
        Source: Dr. Gwynne Dyer, a London-based independent journalist, 1976

  • Lillian Diane Davis

    Professor

  • Lillian Diane Davis

    oops. Meant, professor

  • Lillian Diane Davis

    Please tell the good doctor not to worry about the book Gaddafi wanted him to write. They are many of us who will take up his slack, myself included. Gaddafi was an awesome man and he will be remembered fondly by millions. So, take a load off, Orofessor.