As the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots political organization, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) works on the ground on Capitol Hill to influence and guide US policy, serving Armenian Americans as a liaison with their elected officials, and advancing issues of concern to the American Armenian community. The ANCA’s current efforts and actions are dedicated to stopping all US military aid to Azerbaijan and to sending emergency humanitarian assistance to Artsakh in the face of the ongoing blockade by Azerbaijan. In conjunction with these pressing issues, the ANCA also focuses its attention on education, and in particular, Armenian Genocide education. By now, our readers have received the 2023 Special Issue Magazine dedicated to genocide education. In preparation for the magazine, the Armenian Weekly conducted an interview with ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian to learn more about the ANCA’s objectives in genocide education and how they correspond to current events in Armenia and Artsakh.
Armenian Weekly (A.W.): Tell us about the Armenian Genocide Education Act and its status.
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian (A.H.): The ANCA welcomed the reintroduction of the Armenian Genocide Education Act on April 24 by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and her three colleagues, Representatives Gus Bilirakis, Ted Lieu and David Valadao. They were joined by more than 40 original cosponsors, a strong showing of bipartisan support. [Note: Since the interview was conducted, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez and Senator Marsha Blackburn introduced the bipartisan companion to the House’s Armenian Genocide Education Act.]
In the last session of Congress, this measure was introduced by former Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a longstanding ally in Congress, who was joined by Congressman Gus Bilirakis in introducing H.R.7555. This measure secured strong bipartisan support, garnering 76 cosponsors and considerable interest and support among diverse Congressional constituencies and also academic, scholarly and human rights circles. It was referred to the Committee on House Administration, since it called on the Library of Congress (an arm of Congress) to promote Armenian Genocide education, but this panel did not have time to act on the measure before the end of the 117th Congress.
The Armenian Genocide Education Act builds upon the President’s (2021) recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the historic passage (2019) of H.Res.296 and S.Res.150 – resolutions that established US recognition of the Armenian Genocide and rejected any official US association with the denial of this crime. This measure aims to appropriate $10 million over five years for the Library of Congress to help educate Americans about the Armenian Genocide. It specifically cites Ottoman Turkey’s systematic and deliberate state-sponsored mass murder, national dispossession, cultural erasure and exile of millions of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Arameans, Maronites and other Christians between 1915 and 1923.
A.W.: How does Armenian Genocide education fit into the ANCA’s legislative priorities?
A.H.: The ANCA has a forward-looking policy agenda, focused on the long-term viability of the Armenian nation. Armenian Genocide education represents a vital component of this work, aligned with our aims of a secure Armenian homeland and a safer world. Increasing awareness of the Armenian Genocide shines a spotlight on the current threats – by the same state perpetrators of the 1915 Genocide – to the very existence of Armenia and Artsakh. More broadly, this type of education makes the world safer by challenging Turkey’s precedent of genocide committed, consolidated and denied with impunity.
A.W.: Given that the ANCA’s advocacy efforts are focused on the existential threat facing the republics of Artsakh and Armenia today, how can genocide education inform those efforts?
A.H.: Genocide education places the current existential threats to our homeland in historical context. Azerbaijan’s aggression – fully backed by Turkey – did not start in the 1980s, but rather has its roots in the genocidal campaigns by Sultan Abdul Hamid, the Young Turks and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to rid Armenian lands of Armenians as part of their twisted pan-Turkish dream of ethnically-cleansing their way to Central Asia. Today, a century after the Armenian Genocide, we hear Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev repeating genocidal threats, and worse yet, acting on their stated intentions to finish the work of 1915. Erdogan and others have called Armenians the “remnants of the sword,” meaning the few they failed to kill, while Aliyev loudly proclaims Yerevan and the rest of Armenia as Azerbaijani land.
A.W.: The ANCA continues to work diligently to zero out US military aid to Azerbaijan and to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its war crimes in the 2020 Artsakh War and to the present day. How do you think genocide education today can help in these specific efforts?
A.H.: It is our hope and expectation that US policymakers – forced to make decisions on US military aid to Azerbaijan out in the open, under the bright light of public scrutiny – will be informed by the long history of Turkey and Azerbaijan working together today to eradicate the presence of Armenians upon their indigenous homeland. That they will not misrepresent this ethnic-cleansing as a “conflict” between two antagonists, but rather a unilateral attack by vastly larger militaries against a blockaded, landlocked genocide survivor state. We are working toward the day that Turkey and Azerbaijan’s genocidal drive to eradicate Armenians will be challenged by American leaders as a moral imperative, not as a geopolitical chess game to be managed. A future State Department whose diplomats all learned about the Armenian Genocide in school would be far more willing and able to prevent a second Armenian Genocide, and more broadly, to help end the global cycle of genocide.
A.W.: According to The Genocide Education Project, currently, 14 US states that require genocide and Holocaust education include the Armenian Genocide as a primary example. What efforts are being made by the ANCA and its local affiliates to promote this requirement in other states, and what states, if any, are a specific focus?
A.H.: Our challenge is to expand the list of states that require Armenian Genocide education and then – just as importantly – to ensure that these states actually implement these programs in each and every school district. We are working with our local chapters to make this happen. We aim to build on the remarkable work that has been done in the civic arena, by Armenian National Committees in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia, to include Armenian Genocide education in public school lesson plans. The Genocide Education Project, in the academic space, is doing groundbreaking work in training teachers and providing educational materials in school districts across the country.
A.W.: Any final comments about the importance of Armenian Genocide education, specifically as it pertains to the work of the ANCA?
A.H.: As William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” That’s doubly true for Armenians. By virtue of our history, our geography, our neighbors and the threats we face, we must confront the past, addressing its gravest injustices, as part of our broader movement forward as a nation.
What’s at stake here is not just historical memory, which is so very vital, but also prospects for a just resolution of the Armenian Genocide and the prevention of future genocides against any peoples, anywhere on our planet. There is no better way to end the cycle of genocide than by teaching about genocide, and there is surely no better place to start than in our schools.
Our efforts in this regard are all the more necessary given the lack of sufficient Armenian Genocide education in school textbooks and lesson plans and all the more urgent in light of the Turkish government’s increasingly aggressive global campaign of Armenian Genocide denial, including active and ongoing efforts to roll back US recognition of this crime.