BOSTON — A coalition comprising Armenian, Jewish, educational and activist groups has banded together in support of a bill put forward by state Rep. Jeffrey Roy that, if passed, would make teaching about the Jewish Holocaust, Armenian Genocide, as well as the Ukrainian, Pontian Greek, Bosnian, Cambodian, Rwandan and Sudanese genocides, part of history curriculums.

The bill has the strong backing of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

Working with the two groups is the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts. Dikran Kaligian, a member of the ANC of Eastern Massachusetts, said, “All bills are drafted and written and submitted in January. A bill like this has been submitted for eight to ten years. Usually it does not go far, but the ADL took the lead, got the JCRC involved and then they approached the ANC and the Armenian Assembly [of America].” He added, “The ANC said it was a great idea and they started working together” with the Assembly on it.

Later, he said, other organizations came on board, including Facing History and Ourselves, Armenian Genocide Education Committee of Merrimack Valley and the Genocide Education Project.

The bill has 94 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

There will be a public hearing on Monday, October 7 at 11 a.m. at Hearing Room A-1 at the State House. Three panels composed of educators and activists will testify that day.

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Robert Trestan, the executive director of the ADL’s Boston office, said in an interview on Monday, September 30, he hoped that the Education Committee, after the public hearing, would report favorably on the bill, helping it clear the House.

“We have a couple of steps to jump through,” Trestan noted, adding that “this is the most amount of support” the bill has received compared to previous attempts.

“At a time when many, many groups are being targeted, it is critically important for students to learn about past genocides and the impact they have.”

“Fewer and fewer people can speak about the need to learn about the impact of hatred,” he added.

“We are hoping the legislature will recognize the importance of teaching students about genocide,” Trestan said.

Robert Trestan


High school and middle school students in the state are solely required to learn about US history; other chapters of history are not required to be taught.

Currently, the state of Massachusetts has a law that was passed and signed into law in 1998 by then Gov. Paul Cellucci, which places advisory recommendations on teaching the Armenian, Jewish and Irish mass deaths.

Under this law, “An Act Relative to the Instruction of the Great Hunger Period in Ireland, the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust,” House Bill 3629, the state advised the use of specific websites to teach the material, especially in light of the online proliferation of anti-Semitic and anti-Armenian websites, both of which have the perverse dual purposes of denying the Holocaust/Genocide and also suggesting that the victims deserved it.

The ban on suspect denialist websites was taken up by Turkish Genocide deniers who cloaked their intent under the guide of defending the First Amendment. In the case, known as Griswold v. Driscoll, First Amendment lawyer Harvey Silverglate, backed by the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), battled the Massachusetts Board of Education over whether the removal of “contra genocide” materials from a curriculum guide amounted to a violation of free speech.

The case was initially dismissed in June 2009, three years after a judge first heard the motion. A three-judge panel upheld the motion in August 2011. The case went as far as the US Supreme Court in 2011, but the court refused to hear it.

In the opinion that upheld the dismissal, former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, noted Silverglate’s contention that the guide amounted to a “virtual school library” and that it was an element of the overall curriculum had differing ramifications for his argument, since the latter is allowed to be controlled by politics.

“The revisions to the Guide after its submission to legislative officials, even if made in response to political pressure, did not implicate the First Amendment,” Souter wrote.

“After it got passed, it was up to the State Department of Education to put together the framework,” Kaligian explained. “They talked to the groups that were involved.”

Therefore, now, he said, only a framework exists. “Now we have states turning to mandates 12 states have mandated it,” he said, and are working toward education on the Holocaust and genocides, including the Armenian case.

Anthony Barsamian, the co-chair of the board of the Armenian Assembly of America, also expressed his pleasure with the bill. “We are 100 percent behind it. It is important that Massachusetts teaches genocide in its entirety and it should be a part of the curriculum along with the Holocaust” and so many other genocides.

“We have been talking to the parties that are sponsoring the bill. It is a part of our history and the  fabric of what Massachusetts has done. Massachusetts has always been at the forefront of human rights and it is wonderful to see the coalition partners working together to mandate genocide education,” Barsamian concluded.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York is a vital organization in this cause, Kaligian noted.

Kaligian added that the Armenians have warned many of their partners in the current proposed bill that the Turkish lobby would try to divide and conquer the coalition, in order to get the Armenian Genocide dismissed again. He said they have warned their colleagues that the lobbyists would approach them and offer their support for the bill as long as the Armenian section is taken out.

The Armenians’ partners, Kaligian noted, have shown tremendous resolve and not budged.

The proliferation of online and real-life hate crimes and hate speech is bringing more urgency to the bill, Kaligian said. “In recent years there has been an uptick in anti-immigrant, racially motivated and anti-Semitic actions. There is a major increase in mass shootings and anti-immigrant crimes,” he said, “From the run-of-the mill yelling to mass shootings, it is a huge concern that this is how human rights violations and acts of genocide start.”

“It starts with dehumanization, other-ization. That’s why genocide education is so important,” he added. “This is how it starts and only by educating states and making them understand” can hate crimes and genocides be prevented.

The emphasis on the importance of learning from history was stressed by all those interviewed. Roxanne Makasdjian, the chair of the Genocide Education Project, in a statement said, “As we see genocidal acts continuing to be perpetrated around the world today, it has sadly become all too clear 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. That empowerment can only come through an understanding of the process and stages of genocide, and the histories of numerous major instances of genocide that can communicate both the particular and universal lessons that each can impart. Including the Armenian Genocide is such an endeavor is critical, as it is considered by historians the modern-era prototype, during which new, 20th century technologies were used with horrifying efficiency to move and destroy massive numbers of people in a very short period. The fact that it inspired the invention of the word ‘genocide,’ Hitler’s own pronouncement that the Armenian Genocide had already been forgotten, and the devastating effects of continuing genocide denial, are all important lessons above and beyond the history itself. Today’s students are tomorrow’s voters, elected officials, and global citizens.”

Other members of the committee including Tsoleen Sarian and Tsoler Avedissian of the ANC of Eastern Massachusetts and Seda Aghamianz of the Genocide Education Project.

The hearing on October 7 is open to the public and committee members urge supporters to attend it on Monday.

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