Armenian Genocide

Recently, I’ve received several emails in the form quoted below, opposing the teaching of the Armenian Genocide. I have been replying as follows.

I do support Jon Hecht’s bill, House 420 which would mandate teaching about historical genocides, including the Armenian genocide.

I think it would be reasonable to add other historical genocides to the list of tragedies in the bill, but I certainly feel that Armenian genocide belongs on that list. There is a deep body of historical evidence which confirms that genocide.


I am extremely troubled by the recent introduction of the House Resolution 420 by Jonathan Hecht (Watertown) which calls to amend Chapter 15 of the General Laws regarding genocide education. Link to the proposed amendment:

The problem is that Mr. Hecht and the co-sponsors of H420, David M. Rogers, John J. Lawn, Jr. and Denise Andrews, want to mix court- and tribunal-proven genocides, such as the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps, the genocide of Bosnian Muslims, and the genocide of Rwandan Tutsis, with a spurious, unproven and highly controversial charge of “genocide of Armenian Christians”. This type of mixing and dilution is unacceptable in for a legal and academic environment of our legislature and schools.

H420 spurs a historical allegation of “genocide” that has not been historically or legally substantiated to this date. Numerous American and international scholars, most experts in the history of the Ottoman Empire, dispute Armenian allegations, leading to the conclusion that while Armenian civilian losses during World War I were tragic, the events of 1915 were not tantamount to genocide. The 600,000 Armenians did not suffer alone, at least 523,000 Turks and other Muslims were massacred starting already in 1914 by the Armenian army. Similar fate befell on the Azerbaijanis and other Muslims who lived in the Caucasus and northern Iran – approximately half a million were killed by Armenian generals Andronik, Dro (who later served as a Nazi general), and others (culminating in what is referred to as the Azerbaijani Genocide).

The alleged “genocide of Armenian Christians” has never been proven in a court of law. Genocide is a crime with a legal and binding definition codified in the UN Genocide Convention of 1948, which the U.S. has ratified as a treaty, as well as under the U.S. criminal code, 18 USC 1091 – thus acknowledging the sole jurisdiction to hear genocide allegations is the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague. The so-called “Armenian genocide” does not fit the UN and U.S. genocide definitions, and has never been heard at The Hague.

As a voter and taxpayer, I do call upon my legislature to ensure that our educational system, our schools and our curriculum reflects appropriate and academic understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the U.S. record. This is why I insist that we be precise and refrain from mixing and dilution of well-established legal terminology and concepts.

To reiterate, I strongly oppose H420, and encourage greater and more balanced study of genocides by all lawmakers.


Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

10 replies on “Armenian Genocide”

  1. Historians, not politicians, should determine the history curriculum for our students. I would also like politicians to stay out of decisions about which topics should be covered in physics, health, welding and other classes in the public schools. Rather than engage in amateurish debates on topics for which you are not expert, instead set high standards for those who should decide these things.

  2. Thanks, Brian. I agree that it is for historians to assemble the evidence and make judgments about what happened in the world’s past. I do think that there is a role for politics in deciding what, among all the things that have happened in the world, our kids should be educated about.

  3. There is a role for elected officials in determining the appropriate curriculum for students in our public schools: on the local School Committee or School Board. Keeping education decisions as local as possible is a longstanding tradition in the Commonwealth, which bills like House 420 erode. Micromanaging curriculum decisions from on high leads to the politicization of education. If people disagree with their local school’s curriculum, they can have a direct and immediate influence by attending their local school board meetings, supporting a school committee candidate, or running for this office themselves. I resent powerful groups doing an end run around this process by pressuring elected State officials to pass legislation that mandates curriculum changes statewide.

    I am a student of history and international politics, and a great admirer of the people and culture of Turkey, and its role as a secular Islamic nation. I believe the government of Turkey does itself a great disservice by continuing to be an Armenian Holocaust denier. I would relish the opportunity to discuss this issue, but NOT HERE, not in the context of state or federal educational mandates.

  4. Brian,

    I have reviewed the bill, and it appears the legislation would allow for the retention of much local control. The bill does not mandate the teaching of any particular genocide; it mandates the inclusion of the topic of genocide in general in Massachusetts curriculum. It suggests, but does not mandate, the inclusion of at least two case studies to illustrate the topic and articulates a non-exclusive list of genocides (including the Armenian Genocide) that may be included as case studies- but allows that others may be included, as well.

    You can review the bill here:

    Anne Johnson Landry
    Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor
    Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger

  5. Yes the bill in and of itself seems completely inoffensive. Who would argue with the need for our children to learn about the historical incidents of genocide? Not me.

    I *would* argue that it’s not the state government’s role to mandate this.

    “The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.” – Edmund Burke

    The quote is a little over-dramatic I’ll admit, but the point is valid: this legislation takes another nibble out of each town’s latitude to choose it’s children’s curriculum.

    If this is where we’re heading–the State paternalistically reminding each town what it’s important to cover in their school’s curriculum–I vote for mandates to cover:

    –the Massacre at Wounded Knee
    –Japanese atrocities in Asia in the first half of the 20th century
    –Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica
    –the development of Hip Hop in urban America in the 1970’s
    –the role of quinoa as a sustainable source of protein in our diets

    Just try to tell me these topics aren’t important too.

    C’mon everyone (especially powerful special interests, well-organized ethnic groups, industry associations, etc.)–get your topics in while the legislative pen is poised.

  6. The Department of Education (DESE) has addressed including the Armenian Genocide in the curriculum and has survived many legal challenges to thier action. We thank you for your support on this ssue and for your attendance each April at the State House Recognition and Commemoriation of the Armenian Genocide. My wife and I both have a parent who was a survivor of the 1915 Genocide.

    Very truly yours,
    Edward and Mary Ann Kazanjian

  7. The Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923 is not alleged – it is a fact of recorded history and it should be taught as part of the curriculum in Massachusetts. This will teach young people the effects and horrors of Genocide or Holocaust and the repercussions to the victims and future generations – for the Armenians almost a century, for the Jews of Europe 80 years.
    One of the striking similarities is that they both occurred during the turmoil of World Wars and both had durations of about eight years and they both had trials of the guilty.

    For reference and short history of the Armenian Genocide, check the following site:

    History repeats itself if steps are not taken to learn from it and alter it.

  8. “Those who deny history are doomed to repeat it”. What harm is there to teach our students about historical FACTS documented by countless German and other eye witnesses? Have you consulted Amb. Henry Morgenthau’s writings and letters to then U.S President Woodrow Wilson? Do you realize that the term “genocide” was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin, who was surely extrapolating parallels from the Armenian Genocide to the Jewish Holocaust ? Children should be taught about significant world events and about man’s cruelty against humanity, so that they are more sensitized about what it means to be responsible, educated citizens.

    And no, teaching history does NOT nibble away at an individual’s freedom.

  9. Should we teach our children about historical instances of genocide? Absolutely. The Armenian Genocide? In my opinion, yes.

    Should each town decide for itself what specific curriculum to offer? Yes. That’s why we have School Committees in each town. If you have strong feelings about which topics should covered in your town’s schools, then attend your school committee meetings and make your views known.

    Should the Commonwealth of Massachusetts MANDATE that each town include this subject matter in its schools curriculum? No. It’s not the state’s proper role. It “nibbles away” at each town’s control of its own schools. I don’t doubt that the state *can* exercise this power, I just think it shouldn’t.

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