WATERTOWN, MA — A Washington-based Turkish organization has enlisted the support of two teachers and a student in a lawsuit against the State of Massachusetts that would compel the inclusion of historically inaccurate Armenian Genocide denial materials in the state’s education curriculum, reported the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Region (ANC-ER).
In a brief filed with the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA), a lobbying group which works closely with the Turkish government in fighting against U.S. recognition of this crime against humanity, calls for the inclusion of their website in a list of educational sources provided to teachers, as part of a teacher’s guide on genocide education provided by the State. The court document also calls for the addition of other websites, including that of the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, which the ATAA had lobbied to include in the guide, but were disqualified because they denied the Armenian Genocide, in direct contravention of the Massachusetts statute requiring the teaching of the Armenian Genocide.
According to an October 27th Wall Street Journal article, the ATAA lawyer, Harvey Silverglate, argues that the removal of the genocide denial sources violates First Amendment rights to free speech.
“The Armenian National Committee will counteract this effort on the part of the ATAA to use the courts to legislate state curriculum for the purpose of denying genocide to public school students. We are confident that we will prevail,” said Dikran Kaligian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee for the Eastern Region.
The Massachusetts Genocide teaching guide was mandated to include the Armenian Genocide, following the August, 1998, unanimous passage of House Bill 3629 “An Act Relative to the Instruction of the Great Hunger Period in Ireland, the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust.” ANC chapters throughout Massachusetts had worked with bill authors, State Senator Steve Tolman and House Member Warren Tolman in support of the measure, which stated that, “The Board of Education shall formulate recommendations on curricular materials on genocide and human rights issues, and guidelines for the teaching of such material.” The law specifically calls for the teaching of “the period of the transatlantic slave trade and the middle passage, the great hunger period in Ireland, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust and the Mussolini fascist regime and other recognized human rights violations and genocides.”
The ANC Massachusetts continued to work with the Massachusetts Board of Education, providing information on peer-reviewed, teacher tested resources for inclusion in the teaching guide. In June of 1999, the ANC-MA protested the proposed inclusion of denial propaganda in the teaching guide that lobby groups, among them the ATAA, had pressured the Board of Education to add in its second version of the guide. In a letter to Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, the chairmen of the state’s four ANC’s argued that inclusion of such websites “is directly counter to the intent of the law.” The letter went on to note that, “careless intermingling of genocide denial with the documentary sources it aims to obscure, will only serve to confuse students and undermine academic integrity.”
In August of 1999, in a letter to the ATAA, made public as part of the lawsuit, the Board of Education argued that “since the legislative intent of the statute was to address the Armenian Genocide, and not to debate whether or not this occurred, the Board and Department of Education cannot knowingly include resources that call this into question.” By October, 1999, the denial material was removed from the teacher’s guide.
In 2002, the ANC of Massachusetts again took action regarding the genocide curriculum, when a revised version which was up for review in May, proposed the removal of the Armenian Genocide from the curriculum, to be replaced with a more euphemistic and evasive reference to Armenian “slaughter.” Community leaders again worked with Department of Education Commissioner David Driscoll to ensure that the proper terminology was maintained.
According to the District Court of Massachusetts Clerk’s Office, as of Friday, October 28th, the ATAA lawsuit had not yet officially been filed, although the attorney for the ATAA has provided several press interviews. ATAA lawyer Harvey Silverglate, who has made a career of First Amendment cases, has taken on a string of fringecauses and clients, including the American Nazi Party during the school-busing crisis in Boston. In 2000, he defended NAMBLA, an organization advocating sexual relations between men and underaged boys, in a case involving the 1997 assault and murder of a 10-year old child.