Teaching the Armenian Genocide
With more than 40 percent of the more than 200,000 people in Glendale coming from Armenian ancestry, the Glendale Unified School District considers the teaching of the Armenian Genocide and its impact to be of great importance for its diverse student population.
History and Teaching Context
Chapter 15 of the State of California’s 2016 History-Social Science Framework provides an overview for the context in which students in 10th-grade world history should study the genocide. Following are three excerpts from the Framework which provide an historical overview of the genocide and provide suggestions for how the genocide should be taught in the context of world history.
Causes and Course of World War I
In 1915, as the Ottoman Empire declined, the Turkish government carried out a systematic genocide against the Armenian population that had been living on its historic homeland in what is now eastern Turkey. Turkish authorities first arrested hundreds of Armenian political and intellectual leaders, sending them to their deaths; Armenian men were conscripted into work camps where they were killed outright or died of exhaustion. The remaining Armenians were ordered onto death marches into the Syrian desert, where they were subjected to rape, torture, mutilation, starvation, holocausts in desert caves, kidnapping, and forced Turkification and Islamization. More than 1.5 million Armenians, more than half of the population, was eliminated in this way; virtually all their personal and community properties were seized by the government, and more than 500,000 innocent people were forced into exile during the period from 1915 to 1923. When the war ended in 1918, the Armenian population was reduced by 75 percent and their historical lands were confiscated by the Turkish government.
Students may examine the reactions of other governments, including that of the United States, and world opinion during and after the Armenian Genocide. Teachers can introduce the history of the Near East Relief organization established by the former U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau. Near East Relief came to the aid of hundreds of thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors through the establishment of orphanages, food and vocational programs, and the like. Teachers can also use the example of the first international aid project of the Red Cross in helping Armenian Genocide survivors, and the phrase, “Remember the starving Armenians!” as a means to demonstrate to students the profound effect the Armenian Genocide had on the American public. The Red Cross’s aid to Armenian Genocide survivors also demonstrates the worldwide humanitarian response to the crisis and the emerging role of the International Committee of the Red Cross as an international nongovernmental humanitarian organization. They should examine the effects of the genocide on the remaining Armenian people, who were deprived of their historic homeland, and the ways in which it became a prototype of subsequent genocides. To connect the effects of war, students can consider the following question: What were the consequences of World War I for nations, ethnic groups, and people? (History-Social Science Framework , 343-344)
Causes and Consequences of World War II
Before and during the worldwide conflict, the Nazis implemented racial policies across the portions of Europe they controlled. The question How was the Holocaust enacted? can guide students’ exploration into the magnitude, terror, and loss of life caused by Nazi policies. These policies drew upon racial and eugenicist ideologies. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, and political activists faced harassment, imprisonment, and death. Jews were the particular targets of Nazi violence. Adolf Hitler said to his generals on the eve of the invasion of Poland, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Numerous German military officers who had been stationed in Turkey during World War I were aware of the Ottoman regime’s plan to destroy the Armenians, and some of them even issued orders for the deportation of Armenians. Without penalty, some later became leaders in the Nazi military apparatus that carried out the Holocaust. Nazi policies and actions evolved over time with the initial stripping of rights through the passage of the Nuremberg Laws, an escalation of persecution through events such as Kristallnacht, the establishment of concentration camps, and then genocide. Germans and their allies ultimately murdered six million Jews and millions of others through starvation, forced labor, and by shooting and gassing victims. (History-Social Science Framework , 354)
Nation-Building in the Contemporary World
In their study of the two world wars, students examined the origins and consequences of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. Students should understand that genocide is a phenomenon that has continued throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. Students examine the root causes of the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur. They should be able to engage in discussions about how genocides can be prevented by the international community. They should also be able to examine arguments and evidence for and against intervention, the role of public support for the intervention, and the possible consequences of such interventions. In covering this topic, teachers may integrate survivor, rescuer, liberator, and witness oral testimony to students, but should be aware of how images and accounts of genocide may be traumatic for teenagers. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has published guidelines for teaching the Holocaust that can be applied to other genocides as well. (History-Social Science Framework , 364)
There are many videos on the genocide and its denial. The Genocide Education Project page on YouTube contains a list and links. In addition, here are a couple of video overviews of the Armenian Genocide.
ABC News | The Century (w/ Peter Jennings) https://youtu.be/8WlN7BQrrYg [1999, color, 5 mins.]
In a news series devoted to major events of the 20th century, ABC News' World News Tonight with Peter Jennings featured a story about the Armenian Genocide on April 30, 1999. The video includes Armenian Genocide survivors Mary Omartian and Perouze Ipekjian, historian Jay Winter, author Peter Balakian, and photos by Armin Wegner.
"The Armenian Journey: From Despair to Hope in Rhode Island" https://youtu.be/xzTpuXVgOEU [2012, color, 13 mins.]
A film by The Genocide Education Project (GenEd), directed and edited by Armen Varadian (AMVCreative.com), tells the story of Armenian Genocide survivor Margaret Garabedian Der Manuelian, told through the narrative voice of her great-granddaughter, 21 year old Dalita Getzoyan.
Facing History and Ourselves seeks to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. The organization’s website features an in depth study of the Armenian Genocide that is available for teachers and has provided several trainings for GUSD teachers over the years.
Genocide Education Project assists educators in teaching about human rights and genocide, particularly the Armenian Genocide, by developing and distributing instructional materials, providing access to teaching resources and organizing educational workshops. The organization’s website features useful links to resources and has provided staff development for teachers in GUSD.