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The Extraordinary Humanitarian Legacy of the Near East Relief and Three Generations of Kerrs, Warriors of Peace

Kerr Family Lecture

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Stanley Kerr, Elsa Reckman, Marion Kerr (sister), and other members of the American Near East Relief, Marash,1921.

The Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA is pleased to present the inaugural Kerr Family Lecture, to take place on the UCLA campus on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 at 7 PM (Pacific Time). This endowed lectureship is named in honor of the Kerr family, whose progenitors include Professor Stanley and Elsa Reckman Kerr, who helped to rescue and provide exemplary humanitarian care for survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915–23.  The annual Kerr Family Lectureship is designed to amplify the stories of heroes and heroines who dedicated themselves to saving and supporting victims and survivors of violence and mass atrocities in times of crisis.

The inaugural Kerr Family Lecture will feature documentarian Ani Hovannisian, who will speak on the extraordinary contributions of Stanley and Elsa Kerr during and after the Armenian Genocide in Marash, Aleppo and Beirut, as well as the legacy carried on by their descendents.  Introductory reflections on the contributions of the Kerrs and other American humanitarians will be offered by Richard Hovannisian, Ph.D., emeritus Professor of History at UCLA and the inaugural holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Chair in Modern Armenian History. The event will be held in person and also will be available remotely via the Zoom webinar platform.

This event is co-sponsored by the Ararat-Eskijian Museum (AEM) and the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR).

Wednesday, April 12, 2023
7:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Pacific Time)
Mong Learning Center (Engineering VI Building)
404 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095
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The Extraordinary Humanitarian Legacy of the Near East Relief and Three Generations of Kerrs, Warriors of Peace

Presentation by Ani Hovannisian

This audio-visual presentation, featuring rare archival material, photographs and video clips, sheds light on the massive life-saving impact of the Near East Relief and more specifically, the Kerr family, on a generation of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Responding to horrific eyewitness accounts and urgent pleas for help, the U.S. mobilized an unprecedented campaign of humanitarian assistance led by the Near East Relief (NER) and given legs by a small army of relief workers who risked their lives to help the destitute survivors in distant, dangerous lands. Among the volunteers was Stanley Kerr, a young biochemist in the U.S. Army who, learning of the opportunity to join the relief effort, in 1919 boarded a ship to the crumbling Ottoman Empire. From Washington to Aleppo, Aintab, Marash and beyond, Stanley documented his epic experiences and history unfolding as he took the responsibility in deadly scenarios to protect and usher thousands of Armenian refugees and orphans to safety. At the same time, brave Elsa Reckman had also traveled alone to this foreign land and was teaching Armenian girls in the Marash Girls' College when she and Stanley met. They married in Beirut in 1922 and became instant parents to hundreds of Armenian boys at NER's Nahr Ibrahim orphanage. After the orphanage closed, Stanley and Elsa continued their lifetime of service at American University of Beirut (AUB). So the Kerr legacy was born and continued with their own children. At AUB, their son Malcolm met his match in fellow student Ann Zwicker, whose adventurous spirit had led her there from Occidental College. Malcolm, who became a leading Middle East expert and president of AUB, spent his life with Ann building bridges of international understanding and educating future leaders. Though Malcolm was assassinated in 1984, Ann continued working for their joint life mission and raising their four children. While NBA Coach Steve Kerr is the most well-known, Susan, John and Andrew also carry on the Kerr family legacy, with Ann, their matriarch, leading the way, still deeply involved with AUB and heading UCLA's Fulbright Scholars program for more than 30 years... growing a kind army of warriors of peace across the globe.  

Americans as Eyewitnesses of the Medz Eghern Great Crime 

Commentary by Richard G. Hovannisian, Ph.D.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, hundreds of American men and women went to the Ottoman Empire as missionaries, physicians, and teachers under the aegis of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Many of them became the agonized eyewitnesses of the destruction of the Armenian people between 1894 and 1922. Their reports constitute primary sources relating to the Armenian Genocide—the ‘Great Crime.’ Following World War I, American philanthropic efforts to relieve the “Starving Armenians” and other needy peoples in the region were channeled primarily through the Near East Relief (NER) organization, for which hundreds of idealistic young Americans volunteered, including Stanley and Elsa Kerr. They, too, were eyewitnesses to the postwar renewed Armenian tragedy in Cilicia. Their correspondence and first-person narratives are compelling. Fortunately, their good works and idealism have continued through succeeding generations of the Kerr family.


From operating rooms in Siberia to green rooms at the Grammys, Ani Hovannisian has traveled the world producing and directing stories for non-fiction television programs. She was also a reporter on Tele-Nayiri and Horizon Armenian News for more than a decade. Most recently, after four journeys to uncover silenced stories awaiting discovery in the forbidden ancestral Armenian homeland, Hovannisian made the documentary, The Hidden Map. In 2022, the film achieved the rare distinction of national distribution on PBS, airing about 2000 times in the U.S. The Hidden Map has earned more than a dozen international awards and honors at festivals and special screenings, notably in the UK Parliament, and was considered for three Primetime Emmys. Hovannisian is currently working on a project that highlights the extraordinary humanitarian legacy of the Kerr family which began more than 100 years ago when Dr. Stanley and Elsa Kerr saved thousands of Armenian orphans after the Genocide. Ani is a member of the Directors Guild of America, Television Academy and International Documentary Association, and is actively involved with the Armenian community worldwide. She earned a BA in Mass Communications (UCLA, Phi Beta Kappa) and MA in Broadcast Journalism (USC). Ani and husband Armenio have two children, Sophene and Daron, named after the ancestral Armenian lands of their great-grandparents.  

Richard G. Hovannisian is Professor Emeritus in History at UCLA and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. With a B.A. and M.A. in History from UC, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in History from UCLA, he developed both the undergraduate and graduate programs in Armenian history at UCLA. A Guggenheim Fellow, he served many years as the Associate Director of UCLA's Near Eastern Center, authored the chapter on the Armenian Genocide in the California State Model Curriculum on Human Rights and Genocide, and was the initiator and six-time president of the Society for Armenian Studies. Richard Hovannisian has published The Republic of Armenia in 4 volumes, several volumes on the Armenian Genocide, and 15 volumes in the series Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces. With his students, he conducted more than 1,000 interviews with genocide survivors, now entrusted collection to the Shoah Foundation for preservation and distribution. Dr. Hovannisian is the recipient of hundreds of honors and awards from around the world.  

This event will take place at the Mong Learning Center (Engineering VI Building)

Visitor parking available at UCLA Parking Structure 8.

  1. Park on the roof of Parking Structure 8
  2. Pay for parking at a Paystation
  3. Take the stairs or the elevator to Level 1/Westwood Plaza
  4. Cross the street diagonally, then turn slightly left, continuing north, past the bus stop
  5. Engineering VI will be on your right as you walk north on Westwood Plaza

Please note: This event will be photographed and recorded for documentation and distribution. All audience members agree to the possibility of appearing in these photographs and recordings by virtue of attending the event or participating in the event.