On Oct. 31, the Joint Committee on Education of the Massachusetts State Legislature held a public hearing on H. 420, “An Act Concerning Genocide Education”, which received support from the Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts (ANC-MA).
The bill was introduced by State Representative Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown) and requires that genocide studies, including at least two case studies, be included in the history curriculum for all public schools.
While the teaching of genocide and human rights has been part of the history and social studies curriculum since an earlier bill in the 1990s, inclusion of genocide is currently optional and not required.
ANC-MA Chairman Dikran Kaligian testified in support of the bill, noting the limited awareness of most cases of genocide among high school graduates. He stressed the importance of the bill in the case of the Armenian Genocide; it is unique, he said, in that is has a foreign government conducting an international campaign to deny it ever happened.
“The long arm of the Turkish government’s denial campaign has reached here into Massachusetts. Not just in the denialist testimony we heard earlier today, but also in the lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Education, initiated by an affiliate of the Turkish government, that was dismissed in federal court,” testified Kaligian.
Erkut Gomulu of the Turkish American Cultural Society of New England had testified in support of the bill but against the inclusion of any reference to the Armenian Genocide, using standard denialist talking points. He claimed that legislators cannot make judgments about historical events because they “only cover the Armenian side of events.”
Rep. Hecht testified that, since the only required subjects in the social studies curriculum are basic civics, and since the Department of Education has already issued guidelines for the teaching of genocide, adoption H. 420 is not only essential but also has readily available instructional materials.
Pauline Getzoyan, the co-chair of the Rhode Island branch of the Genocide Education Project, submitted written testimony to the committee, giving the example of Rhode Island, where half of the public school systems include genocide education in their curriculum.
Eric Cohen, the president of the Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur, testified on the need for genocide education to build a permanent constituency to combat human rights violations. Five students from Harwich High School, members of Massachusetts STAND, the student-led movement to end mass atrocities, testified about the urgent need to raise awareness about genocide, and warned that genocide could happen again if despotic leaders believe they can get away with it. Awareness and genocide education is the way to ensure that they know they cannot.
The Joint Committee on Education is currently considering the bill. The committee is co-chaired by Representative Alice Hanlon Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston), who presided over the hearing.