By Dro Kanayan
For those people who feel that our elders and the youth cannot work together, you may want to stop and read this article.
For five years, myself and two of my peers (Albert Movsesian and Tom Vartabedian) have been working together to have the Armenian Genocide included in the high school curricula on human rights in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts. We are 41 years old, 71 years old, and 84 years old, and we have continued pushing forward with our efforts. We work well together, as we have a mutual respect for each other’s thoughts, actions, and personal lives. We come from different churches, political backgrounds, and age groups, yet have one mission—to teach students about the Armenian Genocide and our culture. And we are succeeding.
We have been to over 10 schools, providing individual classroom presentation and panel discussions on genocides. If anyone questions that we’re making a difference, here are some highlights:
–Wilmington High School. The students here began a letter writing and stamp designing campaign to the postmaster general for a commemorative stamp recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. They also wrote their congressmen about supporting the genocide resolution in Congress. When the French bill on criminalizing the denial of the genocide came about, a former student who had graduated two years before and had heard our lecture, emailed her teacher, saying she hoped the bill would go through for all Armenians throughout the world.
–Chelmsford High School. Students here were so moved about the presentation we made that they all made a donation to a charity in the name of our cause.
–Haverhill High School. A student here was so moved by the panel discussion on comparative genocides that he asked his history professor to start a Human Rights Club. The club is going to a third-world country to build homes with Habitat for Humanity.
–Newton High School. Deaf students here learned about the Armenian Genocide and our culture through sign language.
This is an endeavor that the entire Merrimack Valley has come together to support. All three local clergy have attended and participated in our events. Der Khachatur Kessablyan from St. Vartanantz spoke at Chelmsford High School and as the high school was up the road from St. Vartanantz church, invited the students to come to the school and view the khatchkar (cross-stone) and tour the church. The students were thrilled.
Der Karekin Bedourian from St. Illuminator’s in North Andover spoke at Austin Preparatory School, reinforcing the religious issues surrounding the Armenian Genocide and other crimes against humanity, while Der Vart Gyozalian from the Armenian church at Hye Point spoke at Northern Essex Community College about the effects on our culture.
This year we have extended our educational process to universities, colleges, and middle schools.
Our efforts can only reach so far due to limited resources and manpower. Genocide education should not be done in pockets of the country. It should be a national movement. As Armenians, we have been very fortunate to have organizations like the Armenian National Committee and the Armenian Assembly pushing our issues through Washington and governments. However, we all need to take ownership of our cause. All it takes is a little sacrifice of our time, personal lives, and learning how to work together.
The development of Armenian Genocide teaching programs through Facing History & Ourselves, and the GenEd project out of California, as well as legislative rulings allowing the formalizing of a curriculum, provides us the tools to push this through. However, tools are only great if they are used, and we need to begin using them.
In some parts of the country the movement is greater than others. In August 2011, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction appointed Murad Minasian to serve as the office’s liaison to the Armenian American community.
We can all learn from each other. I am sure that Murad, myself, Tom, Al, and any other person who is working with the school districts would be happy to provide a guiding hand to people who need help in starting this endeavor. All that has to be done is to ask.
People will only know what they learn, and if our cause is to continue to be moved in the right direction, then we all need to be out there educating the students and public about our cause.