BOSTON, Mass.—A coalition of over 25 organizations including the ANCs of Eastern Mass., Central Mass. and Merrimack Valley, the Genocide Education Project, Facing History and Ourselves, Mass. Coalition to Save Darfur as well as several Jewish advocacy groups including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) all convened at the Massachusetts State House on Monday to provide support and testimony in front of the House/Senate Joint Committee on Education in its public hearing for bills H.566/S.327.
The bills mandate that Massachusetts students are educated about acts of genocide including, but not limited to, the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, Famine-Genocide in Ukraine, Pontian Greek Genocide, & recent atrocities in Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Sudan. The legislation gives discretion to school districts to incorporate genocide education during appropriate times in the middle school and/or high school curricula.
Professor Taner Akçam of Clark University offered that not recognizing genocide has allowed violence to other people to continue. “We cannot claim human rights as a moral value only when convenient.” He also stressed that the Armenian Genocide is an integral part of United States history given the large presence of American missionaries who were working in the Armenian provinces of the Ottoman Empire.
Representing the ANC of Eastern Mass., Dikran Kaligian testified that the failure to educate students about the Armenian Genocide plays into the hands of Turkey’s worldwide denial campaign and encourages autocrats, like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to commit more human rights atrocities.
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, holding the 1909 wedding photograph of his grandparents from Marash, said, “It is our collective opportunity to raise awareness of these atrocities, teach the lesson of when they happened, why they happened and how.” State Representative David Muradian also spoke of his grandparents survival of the Armenian Genocide and urged the passage of the bill.
Implementing genocide education will help stem the rising tide of hatred and bigotry by reaffirming the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring that young people understand the historical significance of genocide, as a reminder of what happens when hatred and intolerance go unchecked.
Former Boston City Councilor Mike Ross spoke about his father Steve, a survivor of ten concentration camps who also championed the building of the Holocaust memorial in Boston. City Councilor Ross spoke of the memorial’s glass construction and how for 25 years the memorial remained unharmed, until it was vandalized twice in 2017. He spoke of the urgency of needing this bill to go through, to ensure students understand hate crimes.
Social Studies coordinator for the Watertown Public Schools Kraig Gustafson testified that the diversity of Watertown ensures that the Armenian Genocide is taught in schools, but a mandate is needed for those cities and towns that do not have a large Armenian population.
Seda Aghamianz of the Genocide Education Project described their work in training teachers and providing lesson plans about the Armenian Genocide in states that have passed a genocide mandate like Michigan, Rhode Island, and California. She stressed that “we must arm our students with the knowledge they’ll need to recognize the warning signs and feel empowered to prevent genocides in the future.”
A Holocaust survivor, genocide scholars, activists, religious leaders, school teachers, and teen educators offered personal stories and testimony in support of the bills in front of the committee.
The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, spoke of the urgency for the bill now, as the memory of these atrocities is getting weaker as the number of survivors dwindle. Without a mandate to include in our children’s curriculum, it’s possible that these topics are not covered and we have youth who are unaware of the facts including the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, and the many genocides that followed.
Robert Trestan, Executive Director of the ADL of New England testified about the recent nine percent increase in hate crimes in Massachusetts. He urged that education is the key to combating hate and students who do not understand history will not understand the impact of the hate or discrimination.
Eric Cohen of Save Darfur provided the history of genocide education and the importance of public engagement for social justice as a benefit of society as a whole.
A teen educator spoke of antisemitism as being normalized and how genocide education teaches the result of hatred.
A very full hearing room in front of the Joint Committee on Education offered compelling testimony for the need for genocide education to be mandated in the Massachusetts curriculum for middle school and high school. The only opposition to the bills came from a handful of Turkish Americans who repeated the Turkish government’s specious claims that what happened from 1915 to 1923 did not constitute genocide.