Six High Schools Receive Genocide Education

SIX HIGH SCHOOLS RECEIVE GENOCIDE EDUCATION
Tom Vartabedian

Armenian Weekly
Wed, May 12 2010

Merrimack Valley, Mass.-Better late than never.

Albert S. Movsesian of the Merrimack Valley Armenian Genocide Education
Committee gives a presentation to one of six high schools this spring
in conjunction with a curriculum being proposed by the Governor’s
Council on Education.

Six high schools throughout this region north of Boston received a
heavy dose of Armenian Genocide education this spring in conjunction
with a curriculum proposed by the Massachusetts Governor’s Council
on Education in 1998.

Members of the newly-formed Merrimack Valley Genocide Education
Committee have covered the area, offering classes, presentations and
panel discussions on the subject, looking to get a formal curriculum
established.

Schools that have welcomed the talks include: Haverhill, Westford
Academy, Lowell, Chelmsford, Bedford and Wilmington. Others are also
being approached during the next school year in an effort to reach
every community. North Andover and Tewksbury also reciprocated last
year. The area boasts some two dozen high schools.

The 1998 law allows for the development of a curriculum framework to
teach the genocide alongside the Irish Potato Famine, Jewish Holocaust,
African Slave Passage and other crimes against humanity.

The organization Facing History and Ourselves based in Brookline
developed a curriculum in conjunction with various genocide experts
which has proved a valuable resource to educators involved.

Founded in 1976, it is an international educational and professional
development non-profit organization which interacts with students of
diverse backgrounds to promote a more open-minded and informed society.

Three years ago, a small group of Armenian community activists formed
the Merrimack Valley committee whose mission it was to prevent future
crimes against humanity through education. Members have worked with
local school districts to help teach students about the Armenian
genocide and the effects it had upon survivors, the community and
rest of the world.

"By studying the historical development of genocides, it will help
students make the connection between history and the moral choices
they may deal with in their own lives," said Dro Kanayan, committee
chairman. "We have the full support from state officials, university
professors and all facets of community life, including the churches."

During this time, members have appeared before individual and combined
classrooms with lectures first, followed by panel discussions in
subsequent visits. The panels have included a genocide scholar,
along with survivors of the Jewish Holocaust, Cambodia and Rwanda.

"These sessions have had an immediate impact upon the students since
many of them have experienced genocide in their own communities,"
added Kanayan. "More saddening is the fact that many of the students
had never heard of the Armenian Genocide and had an awakening to this
horrific event and the long-term effects it has upon society."

In conjunction with the presentations, classrooms were invited to
take a pro-active stand against genocide through collective action,
beginning with a halt to bullying and other forms of peer abuse in
their schools, including ethnic diversity.

Students at Wilmington were so moved by the subject, they initiated a
letter-writing campaign to the Postmaster General for a commemorative
stamp in memory of the Armenian Genocide.

"The world would be a better place if we all learned to live in
harmony," said a student named Marting. "The Armenian Genocide was
an event in history that should set a precedent among other troubled
nations. It’s important for students like us to raise awareness
and maybe someday get Turkey to repay the Armenians for the crimes
they committed. An admission of guilt would be a step in the right
direction."

Another student named Nira equated the genocide with similar turmoil
in her native India.

"The cultural and religious ties with Armenia intensified the feelings
I have for my own Indian culture," she said. "Although I was born
and raised in India, I, too, am struggling to keep my identity intact
as I assimilate into the American mainstream. The Armenian Genocide
must not go unpunished and coincides with the problems that face our
society today."

At Chelmsford, Holocaust education attracts a number of students.

Instructors at that school also incorporate other genocides, including
Armenians, but only in a superficial nature. The fact that outsiders
were willing to come into their school and donate their services
boded well with the staff.

Former Principal George Simonian was instrumental in setting up that
contact. At Lowell, 12-year world history instructor Lisa Menasian
laid out the groundwork at that school and got other Armenian teachers
involved.

At Bedford, two full days of classes evolved with only a break
for lunch. Armenian educators stood up to the challenge and walked
away with a feeling of accomplishment. In several cases, the school
principal will observe and offer thanks.

When word of the school visits hit the media, other speaking
invitations cropped up from service clubs in the cities. A presentation
to the Haverhill Rotary Club on Armenian Genocide conjured up several
questions from the audience which offered its support.

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