Forgiveness Lecture at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Post Trauma Growth, Cultivating the Seeds of Forgiveness and Meaning-making: Utilizing the Biopsychosocial and Eco Spiritual Model
Summary of John Jay College of Criminal Justice Presentation
Dec 3, 2009

How does a country, community, family or an individual learn to heal from trauma, betrayal, humiliation, or a heartbreak caused by another during historical crisis, global wars, genocides, or in interpersonal relationships? How can the generational transmission cycle be transformed into a healing journey and lessons learned?

Dr Ani Kalayjian, presented research findings demonstrating how practicing forgiveness is essential for not only individual health, but for collective health and transformation of horizontal violence. Forgiveness releases people from a paralyzing past by helping them to enjoy the present, and envision a future without judgment, resentment, anger or sadness. According to Kalayjian’s research conducted 80 years after the Ottoman Turkish Genocide of the Armenians, resentment and anger continued in the hearts of many survivors due to the ongoing Turkish government’s denial of the Genocide. Validation of a traumatic experience is an essential step toward resolution and closure. An explicit expression of remorse by a perpetrator to a victim has enormous healing value (Sullivan, 1953). Against a background of losses and atrocities well beyond the realm of usual life experience, these aged survivors reflected a sense of personal and communal accomplishment, tempered with anger regarding the perpetrators’ denial of how they were victimized (Kalayjian, et al 1996).

Individual case studies in psychotherapy practices have revealed that holding a grudge is detrimental to one’s physical, mental, emotional, ecological, and spiritual health. When individuals have anger against themselves, someone else or a group of people (such as perpetrators) this anger forces them to feel helpless, as they are expecting something that has not happened for over 94 years (in case of the Genocide of the Armenians). The power of transformation is important to embrace as if not we are doomed to pass it on to seven next generations (Kupelian, D., Kalayjian, A. S., & Kassabian, A. 1998).

One therapeutic way to shift this helplessness into empowerment is through forgiveness, empathy, self-validation, and meaning-making. In spite of all the positive findings regarding the effectiveness of practicing forgiveness there is growing confusion about how to practice forgiveness, if forgiveness is indicated when the perpetrator does not express remorse, or even when they are in denial (Kalayjian & Paloutzian, 2009).

This presentation addressed post trauma growth, meaning-making and the challenges of practicing forgiveness. The challenge of how to integrate past traumas into our psyche, how not to react to old hurt and pain, as well as, building peace in one’s self and therefore, building peace in the community and the globe. Dr Kalayjian presented her case of being threatened to be tortured and to be killed by extremists in Turkey while she was attempting to present her research findings on the aforementioned study with Armenian Genocide survivors (Kalayjian, 1999). She said:

“I submitted a paper to an International European Traumatic Society’s Congress on Psychotraumatology and Human Rights that took place in Istanbul, Turkey. Being fully cognizant of the Turkish government’s denial propaganda, I entitled my abstract “Mass Human-Rights Violations: Resilience vs. Resignation.” At the conference, the keynote speakers talked freely regarding the host country’s more recent human-rights violations against the Kurds. I felt encouraged by this and decided to distribute my original abstract on the genocide against Armenians. At this point, the threats began. First, my life was threatened by the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT), to whom I responded with skepticism that I did not believe that anyone would dare kill me in front of the 600+ scholars from 48 countries who were present at the conference. The following day, I was threatened to be tortured if I talked about the genocide. On the third day, the abstracts of my presentation were snatched from my hands. On the last day of the conference I was called by the organizers from Istanbul and the (British) then-president of the European Association for Traumatic Stress Studies for a private meeting. At this meeting, I was presented with an ultimatum: Either I must sign the letter stating that I would agree to refrain from talking about the genocide of the Armenian, or forcibly leave the conference escorted by the Turkish police (who were waiting at the door) without addressing the conference. Although I reminded the police and president that they were attending a human-rights conference and that they were in fact violating my human rights as a presenter, it was to no avail. They reiterated that because of the political situation, they were obliged to “protect the conference organizers from the government.”

After a difficult deliberation, I chose to sign the letter so that I would not lose the opportunity to address the conference. Colleagues helped me revise my transparencies by covering the controversial words with a special marker provided by the audiovisual department. When I began delivering my lecture and the first transparency was projected, I apologized for the black lines without looking at the screen, and then noticed that many of my colleagues had smirks on their faces. The Turkish audience was enraged. When I turned around to look at the screen, I saw that the censored words were showing through the black marks. I then spontaneously said: “Whoops, the light is so bright it is coming through. I guess we cannot hide it any longer.” Tension grew in the audience. At that point, I told the audiovisual department to turn off the projector, and reinforced that I was there to focus on transcending hatred and embracing forgiveness through dialogues. I focused on the importance of empowerment and moving on to the next phase of dialogue, education, and collaboration. I asserted that the admission of genocide is a very difficult task to take on, especially when survivors of the perpetrators have been misinformed for almost a century. I then asked the scientific community to assist the Turkish community to accept responsibility and apologize for the wrongs of their ancestors. They too, need to forgive their ancestors in order to overcome denial and accept responsibility. After the lecture, numerous international colleagues came forward and hugged and congratulated me for my courage and for the depth of my message. I cried in their arms out of relief, happiness for being alive, and for having delivered that important message.

I returned safely to the United States. Then a devastating earthquake hit Turkey. I decided to go and assist, in spite of my colleagues’ assertions that I must be crazy to take such a risk. For me, a humanitarian outreach eschews geographic and political boundaries. I developed the Mental Health Outreach Project for Turkey, and spearheaded a team that worked for several weeks under tents with more than 500 survivors via group therapy, debriefing, and application of the Biopsychosocial and Eco Spiritual Model (Kalayjian, 2009).


Currently Kalayjian has collaborative research on post trauma forgiveness and healing in Sierra Leone, Armenia, & US, and has organized and delivered over 25 post disasters humanitarian outreach projects.

The seven-step Biopsychosocial and Eco Spiritual Model was shared, developed by Kalayjian, and used in over 25 post disaster humanitarian outreach projects (Kalayjian, 2002). Through these 7-steps various aspects of dispute, conflict, betrayal, humiliation, or disagreements are assessed, identified, explored, processed, worked through, and reintegrated. Dr Kalayjian also shared the new released book on Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Psychological Pathways to Conflict Transformation and Peace Building, edited by Kalayjian and Paloutzian, (Springer, 2009). Paper back is available for $24.99 through

Kalayjian shared some of the myths regarding forgiveness compiled from her lectures and research around the world:

1. If I forgive, I will forget

2. If I forgive, you will do it again

3. If I forgive, the enemy will be set free

4. If I forgive, I will hurt those who died

5. If I forgive, there will be no justice

6. If I forgive, I will no longer be a victim

7. I need the anger to survive

8. I have to wait for the enemy to acknowledge and ask for forgiveness first

9. Only survivors themselves can forgive, offsprings should not forgive

10. Only God/Allah or other deity can forgive, not humans.

Kalayjian concluded that practicing forgiveness is essential for creation of peace on the interpersonal and intrapersonal levels as well as ultimately for creating peace and reconciliation worldwide. As Dalai Lama had said: Peace, for example, starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us.


Kalayjian, A. (2009). Forgiveness in Spite of Denial, Revisionism, and Injustice, In Forgiveness & Reconciliation: Psychological Pathways in conflict transformation and peace building, Eds. Kalayjian & Paloutzian. New York: NY: Springer Publishing.

Kalayjian, A. (2002). Biopsychosocial and Spiritual Treatment of Trauma. In R. Massey & S. Massey (Eds.), Comprehensive Handbook of Psychotherapy. Vol. 3, Interpersonal/Humanistic/Existential. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Kalayjian, A. (1999). Forgiveness and Transcendence. Clio’s Psyche. 6(3).116-119.

Kalayjian, A S., Shahinian, S. P., Gergerian, E., & Saraydarian, L. (1996). Coping with Ottoman-Turkish Genocide: An Exploration of the Experience of Armenian Survivors. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9(1), 87-97.

Kupelian, D., Kalayjian, A. S., & Kassabian, A. (1998). The Turkish Genocide of the Armenians: Continuing Effects on Survivors and Their Families Eight Decades After Massive Trauma. In Y. Danieli (Ed.), International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma (pp. 191-210). New York: Plenum Press.

Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry. NY: W.W. Norton & Co.

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