The famous George Santayana quote goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That is the thinking behind 100 Lives, a new initiative that partners businessmen and philanthropists Ruben Vardanyan and Noubar Afeyan with actor George Clooney’s Not On Our Watch Project to eliminate genocide. Clooney, along with his wife Amal, appeared at the launch of 100 Lives at the Harold Pratt House in New York City Tuesday.
Vardanyan and Afeyan, both businessmen of Armenian descent, founded 100 Lives to commemorate their shared history and culture. An estimated 1.5 million died during the Armenian genocide between 1915 and 1923, but the 500,000 Armenians who survived have gone on to make a big impact around the globe. In addition to remembering and honoring the heroes who saved Armenian lives and culture during the genocide, 100 Lives also seeks to prevent future atrocities with the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, a $1 million annual prize that will go to contemporary genocide fighters.
The launch event Tuesday featured a series of speakers as well as videos telling the stories of Armenian survivors.
Afeyan kicked off the event, saying, “[Armenians] are here because we were given a second chance,” before going on to talk about the accomplishments of Armenians around the world. “We are scattered by trauma but united by gratitude,” he said.
PBS’ Gwen Ifill interviewed Clooney and Vardanyan onstage as part of the event's main program.
“When you’re famous, all you can do is bring attention to something,” Clooney said. And he stated that the goal of 100 Lives was “looking for prevention, not triage” for genocide.
The 53-year-old actor admitted, however, that in the 24-hour news cycle, it can be hard to hold people’s attention on a tough issue such as genocide.
“At [Clooney’s 2006] Darfur rally, almost 100,000 people showed up, a huge turnout, and we thought, ‘This is it, this is the moment,’” Clooney said. “Then, everyone went, ‘OK, Darfur is done!’”
Amal Clooney was in attendance to support her husband. During his speech, George joked that while first meeting with Vardanyan and Afeyan about 100 Lives, Amal, unbeknownst to him, was in Strasbourg, France, at the European Court of Human Rights, arguing on behalf of recognizing the Armenian tragedy as an act of genocide.
“When I got out, all of the [Armenian] drivers were saying, ‘I want to kiss your wife,’” Clooney recalled.
"Everybody wants to kiss your wife," Ifill quipped.
The first recipient of 100 Lives’ Aurora Prize -- which George Clooney will choose, along with a panel that includes Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel -- will be announced in 2016. Meanwhile, it seems that the Clooneys are working in tandem to combat genocide around the globe.