The Zoryan Institute Announces the Recipient of the 2023 Roger W. Smith Memorial Prize

24 Nov 2023

November 24, 2023, TORONTO: The Institute is pleased to announce that the recipient of the inaugural Roger W. Smith Memorial Prize has been selected. The Zoryan Institute extends its congratulations to Raisa Ostepanko, a graduate of the 2023 Genocide and Human Rights University Program (GHRUP) who demonstrated immense passion and dedication for the field of Genocide Studies and a strong academic rigour.

From L-R: K.M. Greg Sarkissian, Dr. Elisa von Joeden Forgey, Raisa Ostapenko, Dr. Doris Bergen, Dr. Alex Alvarez

The Roger W. Smith Memorial Prize was established earlier this year in memory of the longtime Academic Chair of the Zoryan Institute and GHRUP Program Director, Prof. Roger W. Smith, who passed away in late 2022. Prof. Smith was a deeply humane, charismatic, and committed individual, with a very strong moral compass. His dedication to comparative genocide studies continues to be unmatched, and his passion for the Institute’s work with the Genocide and Human Rights University Program was undeniable. Roger often referred to the GHRUP as a “utopia”, where committed, like minded people could come together and work through some of the world’s hardest subjects imaginable with the goal of preventing future pain and suffering. Each year, he earned not only the respect, but  also the affection of a new cadre of budding genocide scholars.

Joyce Apsel, Course Director for the GHRUP, and Clinical Professor for Liberal Studies at New York University spoke to the legacy and impact of Roger Smith:

“Roger W. Smith’s commitment to teaching and dialogue along with resistance to denial of the Armenian Genocide and of a range of other genocides and human rights violations is central to his legacy. As Director of the Genocide and Human Rights University Program at the Zoryan Institue for over decade, his guidance and teaching created an environment for students and scholars to listen, create dialogue  and foster a meaningful, unique learning experience.”

Prof. Roger W. Smith teaching at the Genocide and Human Rights University Program (GHRUP)

The Roger W. Smith Memorial Prize is awarded annually to one deserving graduate of the Genocide and Human RIghts University Program who has demonstrated a strong commitment to continuing their studies and work in the field of Genocide Studies. The recipient of the prize is selected by a committee of Zoryan Institute executives and GHRUP faculty, based on their classroom participation in the program, their oral presentation, and an op-ed that is submitted on a topic of their choice.

The Zoryan Institute received many submissions for the 2023 Roger W. Smith Memorial Prize, and of these applicants,  the committee was able to narrow down their selection to a short list of three students, with Raisa Ostapenko ultimately receiving the prize. The selection committee awarded honourable mentions to Sanaullah Chowdhury and Andrea Wagh for their contributions throughout the program and their submitted work.

Raisa Ostapenko is a final-year doctoral researcher at Sorbonne University in Paris. Her work is focused on the methods, motivations, and moral psychology of Ukrainian rescuers of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. An enquiry into the “how” and “why” of rescuing in a landscape where helping Jews was punishable by death, this research also provides insight into social responsibility, social trust, and the difficult ethical and logistical choices people make in times of war and mass violence.

When asked about the significance of receiving this prize from the Zoryan Institute, Ostapenko stated the following:

“I am deeply touched and grateful to have been selected as the 2023 recipient of the Roger W. Smith Memorial Award, a prize established to honour the Zoryan Institute’s long-time Academic Chair, Professor Roger W. Smith.”

She further commented on the significance of this work, especially current climate of war, atrocity and genocide today:

“There is so much work to be done and it is my hope that our efforts, both individual and collective, will be fruitful and beneficial over the years to come.”

The Zoryan Institute believes strongly that Prof. Smith would have been honored to see a student of the GHRUP to receive such a prize in his memory, as he was such an integral part of the program’s development. The winner of the prize receives a US $1,000 cash award to be used towards furthering their education and work in the field of Genocide Studies. Their winning submitted Op-Eds will be published on the Zoryan Institute website. Read this year’s winning Op-Ed here in English and translated versions in French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Ukrainian.

Applications for the 2024 GHRUP open on January 1, 2024.  The Zoryan Institute is seeking the assistance of its Friends and donors to help support the Zoryan Institute in allocating funds towards the annual Roger W. Smith Memorial Prize for the 2024 year. Please consider making a donation at