Armenia’s Unsung Story and the U.S. Public Curriculum

It’s 2018 — the day is slow, and my number two pencils are sharp. History, while my favorite class, is still tedious. Although, I can’t complain much because in fifth grade, learning about World Wars is light work. In fact, it is, in hindsight, light content. So was eighth grade history, and so was news channel CNN10, which we’d watch before the end of the school day every year. Only, history has never been anything but heavy.

I find new pros to being an Andover student on the daily. This enormous privilege comes with three sports complexes and an art gallery. Most recently, I’ve come to appreciate the freedom in our curriculum as an independent school. The latitude in our classrooms to discuss not only what we need to learn as students, but as members of society. It’s a liberty often overlooked.

In Hyeryoung Rhee’s History 100B class, we often divert from the original topic of discussion. Learning about the Crusades during class on April 25, no one was surprised when we inevitably switched topics. However, I was more surprised that the new matter of conversation was the Armenian Genocide (1915-1923), which according to the Armenian National Institute, was a tragedy of epic proportions that I’d never heard of. I was even more shocked to learn that the remembrance day of the massacres was April 24 — the day prior. Over 100 years ago, the Ottoman Empire started a campaign against Armenians, and these efforts of ethnic cleansing are maintained by Azerbaijan and Turkey, or the present-day Ottoman Empire. And to round off this in-class Google search, I found the genocide was not only a horror of the past but that the murder and torture of Armenians are ongoing, according to Time Magazine’s article “Don’t Just Remember the Armenian Genocide. Prevent It From Happening Again.”

The most heartbreaking detail is that while an entire group of people is facing decapitations, sexual mutilation, cultural destruction, dehumanizing statements by authorities, and a constant threat of attacks — there’s a severe lack of not only media coverage but even basic education. Even on remembrance day, Armenians were overlooked by the vast majority of major American news publications, with only The Times, Washington Post, U.S. News, and Politico reporting on the situation this past week. The truth is, the government in the United States of America does not even provide assistance to the Armenians during the 1915 atrocities, as they chose not to intervene to not make unnecessary enemies. It was only in 2021, 106 years after the massacre began, that President Joe Biden officially acknowledged the genocide, according to the The New York Times.

I’m not fluent in the relations the U.S. holds with Azerbaijan or Turkey, nor am I capable of designing a school curriculum. But to those who are, whose job it is to decide whether to educate — do better. Because I know one thing: no money the U.S. government makes from oppressors holds a candle to the lives being stripped from undeserving Armenian victims. Those who lack the necessary education have the potential to cause far greater destruction than any supposed “concern” about exposing youth to violence. To be clear, this is violence — but it is also a humanitarian crisis.

We, as a country, must pause, take in these aforementioned priorities, and evaluate whether our societal systems are aiding in meeting these priorities. (Hint: they’re not!) 

It’s imperative that we approach education the way it’s been intended: to prepare the youth to succeed and improve the world. We must redesign school curriculums to not only build empathy through lessons on all appalling historical incidents but also to eradicate existing barriers that could infringe on educators’ abilities to teach thoughtfully. Memorizing the South Carolina counties didn’t enhance my education as much as understanding how colonists in the Carolinas eradicated Native American tribes. Glazing over the most horrific details of World War I, because it doesn’t align with the theme of American excellence, isn’t conducive to my development as a compassionate member of society, in the way discussing all events, including the Armenian Genocide and the U.S.’s lack of a response for nearly a century is. A standardized test shouldn’t have been the reason my fifth grade teacher chose to teach about X from the exam, rather than diving deeper into important historical events and building the character of her students. Once we rectify the issues in our school curriculums, and prioritize people — we can begin to truly educate our youth.