California Assembly Panel Unanimously Adopts Genocide Curriculum Measure

SACRAMENTO, CA —Standing strong against Armenian Genocide denial, the California State Assembly Education Committee unanimously adopted AB-659 on Wednesday, a measure introduced by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian which would bolster the commitment of the State of California to teach of the Armenian Genocide to public school students in Grades 7-12.

Following the hearing, Nazarian said, “It was with great pride that I introduced AB 659, a bill that will call for the adoption of an oral testimony component in teaching students about the Armenian Genocide. I would like to thank the ANCA-WR for their assistance with this bill and look forward to their continued support as AB 659 makes its way to the Assembly floor. I would like to also commend my fellow colleagues on the Assembly Committee on Education in voting unanimously on the side of truth and justice”

Testifying forcefully in support of the measure was ANCA Western Region Legislative Affairs Director Haig Baghdassarian. Turkish American groups presented a diatribe of genocide denial, which compelled Committee Chairwoman Joan Buchanan and fellow Committee members Rocky Chavez and Shirley Weber to set the record straight about the importance of speaking clearly about genocide and historical injustices.

In his remarks, Baghdassarian commended the Assembly members “for recognizing Turkey’s transparent attempt to distract [them] by engaging in genocide denial campaigns every time that the issue comes up before the Legislature. Following a 30 minute discussion, the Education Committee adopted the measure with a unanimous vote of 7-0. The bill now goes to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations for consideration.

In addition to the Armenian Genocide, the bill also “encourages the incorporation of survivor, rescuer, liberator and witness oral testimony into the teaching of human rights, the Holocaust, and genocide, including but not limited to, the Armenian Genocide, Cambodian, Darfur, and Rwandan genocides.” Furthermore, it encourages activities which would provide training and teaching resources to be able to more thoroughly teach about the Armenian Genocide.

This measure may also enhance the opportunities for the Genocide Education Project (GenEd), a non-profit organization, to conduct more teacher training sessions and further disseminate teacher resources.

Last year, The Genocide Education Project and the California Department of Education surveyed California high schools and learned that social studies teachers are lacking the resources and training they need to incorporate the Armenian Genocide appropriate in their curriculum. “Teachers seem very eager to teach about this important history, if provided the necessary tools,” said GenEd’s Roxanne Makasdjian. “Social Studies educators have told us that instruction on the Armenian Genocide is a good means of demonstrating to students that there is a continuum of genocide and human rights, not just isolated acts of evil. Learning about them in isolation, without studying the Armenian Genocide deprives students of an understanding of how denial, accountability, and reconciliation can significantly influence the tide of history.”

Video of introduction, statements, and adoption of the bill may be found at http://youtu.be/Ce0GTvLDBC0

Below is the text Baghdassarian’s testimony in Sacramento

Madame. Chair and distinguished members of the committee:

I appear before you today to speak in support of this bill on behalf of Armenian-American community of California. In the brief time that I have I’d like to touch on three points. The first is to commend you for recognizing the transparency of the genocide denial campaigns that occur every time that the issue comes up before the Legislature. The second is to stress the significance of the Armenian genocide in 20th century history. And third, to take note of the fact that this legislation isn’t a departure from existing policy with respect to our meeting genocide education, but simply further codifies it those policies.

With respect to genocide denial, I don’t feel that it’s necessary to engage in a debate with deniers. As the grandson of four Armenian Genocide survivors, and the great-grandson of one of its victims, I can tell you unequivocally that there is question as to the truth. The only issue of controversy is to determine the consequences of those genocidal acts. And at the end of day that’s what the denial is about, the fear of consequences.

With respect to the significance of the Armenian genocide, scholars will tell you that there is a clear nexus between the Armenian genocide which precipitated the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler notoriously said immediately before setting the Holocaust in motion in 1939, “Who remembers the annihilation of the Armenians today?” When we consider that statement, in addition to the German complicity in the Armenian genocide, and many other factors, the totality suggests that the Holocaust and subsequent genocides cannot fully be understood by our children without an understanding of the Armenian Genocide.

Third and last is the fact that the legislature and the Board of Education have acted on this issue consistently over the years. In fact is also included in the History-Social Science Curriculum Framework which provides as follows:

Within the context of human rights and genocide, students should learn of the Ottoman government’s planned mass deportation and systematic annihilation of the Armenian population in 1915. Students should also examine the reactions of other governments, including that of the United States, and world opinion during and after the Armenian genocide. 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.

So the only thing that this bill will do is to bring the Education Code closer in line to the existing framework and content standards. Once again, I urge you to support this bill, and I thank you for your time.

The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

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