Armenian genocide has long been largely hidden: Now, California schools might change that

“New history lessons adopted by the California Board of Education this year may especially resonate with Fresno students and families,” Mackenzie Mays writes in an article published by The Fresno Bee.

Schools are now required to teach about the Armenian genocide – an important history in the Fresno area, which has a large Armenian American community. Teachers also are to provide information on the “unprecedented American humanitarian response” to the genocide: relief efforts raised more than $117 million in the aftermath, saving more than 1 million refugees.

The new content, which is more inclusive and aims to teach students to think critically about historical events, is expected to show up in textbooks by 2018.

“Turkish authorities first arrested hundreds of Armenian intellectuals who eventually were killed. The remaining Armenians were ordered onto death marches into the Syrian desert, during which they were subjected to rape, torture, mutilation, starvation, holocausts in desert caves, kidnapping and forced Turkification and Islamization,” reads the curriculum framework for California’s 10th-graders.

“The Armenian genocide has been ignored in history textbooks,” said Barlow Der Mugrdechian, director of Fresno State’s Center for Armenian Studies. “I know several local teachers who have already been providing materials on it, but it’s absolutely essential for all teachers. It brings to light an example of how government can choose to go down a path toward genocide and what conditions allow that to happen.”

Der Mugrdechian pointed to Adolf Hitler’s quote before invading Poland, in which he asked who remembered the annihilation of the Armenians – leading many to believe that it encouraged him to proceed with plans to kill millions of Jews.

That alone “is a clear statement about the necessity to remember history,” Mugrdechian said.

Fresno Unified school board member Brooke Ashjian’s great-grandmother survived the Armenian genocide. He says contributions made by Armenian Americans have shaped the city and beyond, pointing to famous writer and Fresno native William Saroyan.

“It’s a valuable lesson because it’s something you don’t want to repeat,” Ashjian said of the Armenian genocide. “Armenian people are resilient.”

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