On Wednesday night, during a heated discussion at the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) Board of Directors meeting, the board president, Brooke Ashjian, equated the LGBT community to Ottoman Turks who perpetrated the Armenian Genocide.
The discussion centered on the California Healthy Youth Act, a law requiring schools to teach medically accurate sex education, including lessons on birth control, abortion, and LGBT relationships. Ashjian, who has opposed the law and has been on a warpath with the LGBT community and other city leaders who have not only criticized him but have called for his resignation, chose to defend himself by equating opposition to his views with state-sponsored campaign to annihilate an entire race.
In his remarks, Ashjian invoked his relatives, who he claimed were subjected to the genocidal policies of the Ottoman Turks. By equating a minority community to perpetrators of a crime against a minority population, he essentially made his statements absurd.
“It is sad, they like the Ottomans are trying to be the thought police,” Ashjian said on Wednesday reading from a two-page statement he wrote. “They are trying to make people of faith second-class citizens, as they seek to silence our voices in the public square. Just like what my grandparents and millions of other grandparents had to endure at the hands of the Ottomans before escaping to America.”
It is clear that the lessons of the Armenian Genocide have evaded Ashjian, who also seems to have forgotten the manner in which newly immigrant Armenians were treated in Fresno during the nascent years of our community there. He also seems to have forgotten that the very group he is equating to genocide perpetrators were themselves subjected to mass killings during the Holocaust.
Rev. Ara Guekguezian, the pastor of First Congregational Church of Fresno, pointed out to the Fresno Bee that it was dangerous to minimize the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, adding that the LGBT community should not be compared with Turkish officials who carried out the Armenian Genocide. If the Ottoman Turks say, ‘We are trying to silence you or marginalize you or demonize you,’ that is frightening because eventually they end up killing you,” Guekguezian told the Fresno Bee.
The 102-year fight for justice for the Armenian Genocide has called for recognition of the crime, based on a clear premise that the Genocide was, through mass murder, the ultimate violation of human rights and the usurpation of people’s basic freedom.
In Turkey, the country that continues to deny the genocide, Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament representing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has filed a lawsuit against the Ankara mayor who used the term “Armenian” to insult one of his opponents. Ashjian clearly has taken a page from our adversary’s playbook.
What is more repugnant in the Ashjian scenario is that he has been elected by the people of Fresno to uphold the highest standards of education in the fourth-largest school district in the state. His ignorance calls into question his qualifications for leading the public school system in that city. Fresno voters must take this into consideration at the ballot box if Ashjian seeks re-election.
(It is worth noting that others on the FUSD, as well as the school’s interim superintendent, have denounced Ashjian’s comments and have assertively advocated for inclusion and providing a safe educational environment for students in Fresno.)
Ashjian’s unrepentant attitude and egregious comments seem to mirror the current national discourse, which, especially during the past two weeks, seems to have veered off course when the president decided to equivocate when those carrying torches and Nazi flags clashed with those who opposed their flagrant breech of humanity.
Ara Khachatourian is the editor of our sister publication Asbarez News (English), where this piece first appeared on Aug. 28.