On Friday, September 20, 2019, the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Michigan hosted a town hall meeting to update the community on Michigan’s Genocide education law that passed in 2016. The law requires students in grades 8 to 12 to learn about the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, as well as the other genocides. This town hall was the first in a series of planned meetings by the ANC of MI to inform the community about various local and national issues pertaining to Armenian American policy priorities.
ANC of MI co-chairwoman Lara Nercessian welcomed the attendees and emphasized the role of ANC of MI and ANCA at large, as a main news resource to get information about Armenia as well as about local issues. She also mentioned the importance of the community’s feedback and the role of ANC of MI as an organization that serves the Armenian people, hence the purpose of having various town hall meetings for the community to have the opportunity to come in and ask what is needed and how to be involved. Nercessian highlighted how important the role of the community is in furthering Armenian issues, mentioning how ANC of MI rallied the community from 2015 to 2016 to lobby our local legislatures, which resulted in Governor Rick Snyder signing the Genocide and Holocaust Education legislation bill into law on June 14, 2016.
The Governor appointed a 15-member council comprised of the Armenian Genocide Education Committee (AGEC) and Holocaust Memorial Center representatives to provide resources for teachers and students specifically on the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. The AGEC is a Michigan corporation formed in 2015 which included representatives from main religious, civic, cultural and political Armenian institutions and organizations. These representatives came together to secure the passage of House Bill 4493, requiring the teaching of the Armenian Genocide in Michigan schools.
Nercessian welcomed the speaker of the day, Ani Kasparian, who is a member of the AGEC. She is also a Genocide Educator and adjunct professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Kasparian is very involved in the Armenian community in Michigan. She is an independent researcher with a focus on the Armenian communities in Western Armenia post-genocide.
Kasparian talked about the difficulties and challenges the AGEC faced even after the passage of the bill into law. She mentioned how the Armenian Genocide was omitted from the standards, and they had to reintroduce and rewrite the standards for it to reflect specifically the Armenian Genocide. In July 2018, AGEC took action against the omission of the Armenian Genocide from the Social Studies standards. The Michigan Education Board decided to send it back for public feedback, which she attended along with other AGEC to present the case to include the Armenian Genocide. Later on, she wrote a letter on behalf of the Armenian community to the Board including a 16 page academic article written by Richard Hovanissian and other scholars talking about “total war” ideology, and how the Armenian Genocide is the best example of how that policy and ideology came about resulting in the Armenian Genocide in WWI. In June 2019, the Michigan Education Board passed the proposed Social Study standards where Armenian Genocide will be included under WWI in World History and Geography courses. In 2021 Armenian Genocide questions will be on the state standardized test, and the curriculum reflects that. Kasparian emphasized how this made a difference, and it is making an impact, giving the example of the state social studies conference this past year, where the Armenian Genocide was presented by Dr. Dikran Khaligian. “The room was packed because the teachers learned about the Armenian Genocide being a mandatory subject to be taught,” said Kasparian. “That is why it is important to provide reliable resources and training to the teachers.”
In July 2018, the AGEC sponsored and hosted the first teacher training session at St. John Armenian Church with guest speaker Taner Akcam. The second training was in March 2019 at the St. Sarkis Armenian Church. Educators at both events were served traditional Armenian lunch and were offered tours of the churches for a full Armenian cultural infusion. Future workshops are in the planning stages, and a website is going to be launched soon. Kasparian emphasized the importance of having classroom speakers go to different schools to present on the Armenian Genocide which is a new topic to a lot of Michigan teachers. She invited all the youth organizations to be a part of this educating process by having a list of volunteers that can be sent to different schools to do presentations about the Armenian Genocide. She also mentioned how the presenters will be trained by AGEC. Kasparian pointed out that one of the issues that the AGEC is faced with is the lack of lesson plans on Armenian Genocide, and how it is important to make it specific to Michigan with survivor accounts from the state.
She concluded her presentation by asking the community for their involvement and help by contacting their schools and districts to make sure they are teaching the Armenian Genocide, by creating a Teacher Training Team and by using all connections to teachers in different districts to have professional developments about the Armenian Genocide. Again, she emphasized the role of the youth in being part of the training team and contributing in educating other teachers in all of Michigan. After the presentation, Kasparian answered questions addressed by the attendees.
ANC of MI will host its next town hall meeting next month. The guest speaker, Hayg Oshagan, who was granted $1.2 million to boost the state’s ethnic and minority resident participation, will give an update on the 2020 census.