Anti-Armenian drawing at Winchester High School prompts two students to take action

On May 30, high school juniors Alex Kebadjian and João-Cameron Hopkinson delivered a presentation to their peers at Winchester High School in Massachusetts about why, in Kebadjian’s words, Mount Ararat is “more than just a mountain” for Armenians

The presentation was the culmination of several steps taken by the students to repair the harm inflicted by an anti-Armenian incident on campus two months earlier.

On March 28, Kebadjian was leaving his morning class, when a classmate stopped him to point out a drawing on the whiteboard. “Look at that. What do you think about that?” Kebadjian recalls the classmate saying. 

A mountain drawn in marker had a Turkish flag hoisted on its peak and the words “Ararat (In Turkey)” scribbled above it. In large, block letters, “ARMO” was written at the top of the whiteboard, along with “WELCOME Armos” further down with an exclamation mark and smiley face. 

“I was surprised. It didn’t feel good. I felt kind of attacked, I guess. There was no sense in what he did,” Kebadjian told the Weekly

While it was not the first time that this student had targeted Kebadjian for his Armenian identity, the drawing was an unexpected escalation. Kebadjian says that this student had teased him for months, deploying the term “Armo,” short for “Armenian,” in a derogatory manner and making light of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. This included jokes about Kebadjian’s family specifically, who descend from genocide survivors, including Karnig Panian, Kebadjian’s great-grandfather and author of the genocide memoir Goodbye, Antoura

The teasing especially struck a nerve with Kebadjian, considering his deep involvement in his local Armenian community. He graduated from St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown, Massachusetts, where he attends church every Sunday. He is also a member of the Armenian Youth Federation and spends his summers at Camp Haiastan. 

“I come home and speak Armenian with my parents and grandparents. It always plays a big role in my life personally. My life is built around the Armenian community, and I think it’s going to stay like that,” he shared.

Drawing found on a whiteboard at Winchester High School on March 28, 2024

After a friend of Kebadjian reported the incident to the school administration, the student responsible for the drawing eventually came forward. The Winchester High School administration took prompt action, suspending the student. It reported a “possible hate incident” to the Winchester Police Department, and the school’s Dean of Student Life launched an internal investigation.

According to a formal report from the Winchester Police Department, the student told the administration that they had “no intention of being hateful towards others and was drawing it for students who were with” them. 

“At this time no students have come forward stating they are threatened by the writings on the whiteboard,” the police report reads. The Winchester Police Department stated that there are “no charges pending” but forwarded the incident to the Director of Racial Justice Initiatives at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office. 

In a forthright message shared with students and their families, Winchester High School Principal Dennis Mahoney called the “hateful graffiti directed towards the Armenian community…unequivocally unacceptable.” “Winchester High School has zero tolerance for hate speech, hate symbology and or acts of bigotry in any format, period, and we condemn hate speech, hate symbology and acts of bigotry of any kind in the strongest terms possible,” Mahoney said. 

The administration then approached Kebadjian and Hopkinson, who are co-officers of the school’s World Cultures Club, and asked them to organize a presentation about the significance of Mount Ararat to the Armenian community. According to Hopkinson, the administration said it is “worried that there is a growing trend of hatred, and we want to educate people about this so it doesn’t happen again.” 

In the presentation, which the students called “Armenian Day of Awareness,” they explained that the “graffiti depicted a mockery of the sacred Mt. Ararat, demeaning it with a Turkish flag (making fun of the Turkish seizure of this biblical site in Armenia). It also contained a hateful Armenian slur written twice on the board, which is commonly used to demean Armenian-Americans.” 

The presentation, which the school’s Armenian club helped craft, described Mount Ararat as a “sacred national symbol for Armenian heritage and aspirations” and a “symbol of the centuries long journey for independence.” It summarized the history of the Armenian Genocide, its continued denial by Turkey and advocacy efforts for genocide recognition.  

The drawing is the latest in a series of anti-Armenian incidents targeting Armenian schools and churches. In September 2023, a note reading “Artsakh is Dead” and “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” was found on the community board at Kebadjian’s church, St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, Massachusetts. In July 2020, KZV Armenian School in San Francisco was vandalized with hateful, pro-Azerbaijan graffiti. Previously in January 2019, two private Armenian school campuses in Los Angeles were draped with Turkish flags.

This experience has been transformative for Kebadjian and Hopkinson. They are both still grappling with the complicated emotions triggered by the drawing. 

“This was the first incident of this nature that I’ve witnessed, such a direct action of hate,” Hopkinson reflected. “It’s been pretty eye-opening. It’s been an unfortunate situation, but I’m glad we’ve been able to make the most out of a bad situation and educate people.”

“You hear stories about things like this a lot, lots of hate crimes on the news, but actually being on the receiving end is a completely different situation. It’s a lot more intense. I’m glad we were able to turn it around and do something positive with a bad situation,” Kebadjian concluded.

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

11 Comments

  1. What matters is that Armenians are loved by other people, if it means giving up Armenian rights.

    That’s why Armenians are in love with phony baloney concepts like “democracy” and “human rights,” so Europeans can love them, even if Artsakh is lost

    • @Anonymous

      What a stupid comment

      If I respond yes, youre going to make some asinine comments about leave the west if you dont like it

      If I respond no, you’re going to make some asinine comment that I dont know what Im talking about

      So anonymous, lets talk about so-called western human rights, and how theyre applied on case-by-case basis, rather than universally, with the same set of principles

      Anonymous, why did the west push so hard for kosovo independence, but helped fund the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Artsakh?

      Anonymous, why are there no sanctions against Turkey after Turkey invaded Cyprus, Syria, Iraq?

      Anonymous, what reparations do Native Americans get after being genocided almost out of existence by the US Government?

      Anonymous, why did the US get to invade Hawaii, and disallow the Native Hawaiian population from seeking self-determination?

      Anonymous, how do these above examples accord with notions of western “human rights”?

      Do you live in the west, and enjoy the fruits of oppressing other minorities mr anonymous?

    • @Anonymous is a troll. His sole purpose is not to put a valid arguement or constructive criticism, put to provoke, cause infighting and sow division. This is exactly what Armenia’s enemies always do, whether it is at state level or individuals like him in news websites and the internet.

  2. The name of the person who made the offensive drawing should be made public.
    It would make this person identifiable when he/she seeks college admission or future employment.

    • Gary, better to teach and get them on the right side of history. I applaud the school’s response.

  3. Thank goodness for the alertness & courage of the Armenian American student and his friend.

    Let’s note that America is a free country whereas Turkey & Azerbaijan are bloody, autocratic, terrorist-supporting messes where a prejudicial incident such as this one would have been ignored by the authorities or even encouraged.

    That’s how Turks & Azeris are brought up by the Turkish and Azeri “educational system.”

    The sick thing is, they’re actually proud of it.

  4. Robert, The ‘Azeris’ are tatars or turkified persians. Azerbaijan is a creation of the bolsheviks in the early 20th century.

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