NEW JERSEY- In continuation with the New Jersey State mandate on genocide education, Armenian National Committee of America, Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) Executive Director Karine Birazian presented a series of lectures to The Academy of the Holy Angels in Demarest, New Jersey and Chatham High School in Chatham, New Jersey on the topic of genocide.
“It is always a true honor to be invited to speak at local high schools. The impact we can make by educating students on this important human rights issue is vital to the prevention of the crime genocide,” commented Birazian.
In mid April, the Academy of Holy Angels invited Birazian to be part of their annual Awareness Day, where this year, the title of the one-day workshop for students was called “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Students were able to select from a variety of workshops pertaining to global issues and problems our society faces and ways to take action. Birazian’s topic entitled “Never Again?” touched upon genocides that have occurred throughout the 20th century and the ongoing genocide today in Darfur. Students also gained insight on how they can get involved and take action.
Jennifer Cucchisi, a social studies teacher at the school commented: ”It is important that every generation learns about genocide in order to achieve the goal of “never again.” Some students may not want to hear about it, they may turn their heads at the pictures, but the only way to stop genocides from happening is to make sure that everyone is educated on the horrors of them. The pictures and stories, however graphic they may be, are necessary and they help us to ensure that what happened during these senseless slaughters is never forgotten.”
On May 7, 2008,, Birazian also spoke to the students at Chatham High School at their annual Holocaust Remembrance Program where she presented on the history of the Armenian Genocide and the current battle in Congress on trying to pass legislation recognizing this atrocity. Steve Maher, Social Studies Supervisor for the high school has worked to coordinate activities revolving around genocide awareness and remembrance. In the past, the school has studied the Killing Fields in Cambodia, as well as Darfur, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia. “We seem to have our greatest success in touching the lives of students when we bring history closer to their experience, particularly with survivors of the European Holocaust,” commented Maher.
Birazian, who has been lecturing at high schools for close to a decade, first started lecturing on genocide at the age of 15 to her classmates at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, IL. Since then, Birazian has lectured to thousands, both students and teachers, on genocide and the importance of becoming active. Birazian has presented and exhibited at the Illinois and National Council for the Social Studies, as well as organized and hosted genocide education workshops for educators.
During her lectures, Birazian touched upon a recent event that took place at the Springfield Library. Last month, Birazian, ANC of NJ members, community activists, along with Dr. Seymour Siegler, Ed.D, Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Brookdale Community College, spoke before the Library Board regarding the decision by the Library to allow a special hosting of the film the “Armenian Revolt” followed by a question and answer session led by Dr. Guenter Lewy, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Lewy, who has written several articles questioning the history of the Armenian Genocide, was invited by the Society of Turkish-American Architects Engineers and Scientists (M?M).
Birazian and others expressed deep concern that showing the film and having an Armenian Genocide denialist come and speak at the library would be detrimental and constitute a form of “hate speech,” pointing to the example that the library would never have allowed Holocaust deniers come to speak on Holocaust denial at the library. The members of the Library Board still agreed to host the event, and responded by indicating that if Holocaust deniers want to come to present at the library, they would be permitted because it is freedom of speech.
Birazian stressed to the students that “freedom of speech” can eventually turn into hate speech and denial of history when pushed to the limit, and as informed citizens, we must do all we can to make sure that genocide denial be confronted.