GLENDALE, Calif.—On Wed., Nov. 18, California State Senator Carol Liu and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson joined the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region’s (ANCA-WR) America We Thank You and Education committees in hosting a reception, screening, and panel discussion for the launch of the organization’s new documentary titled, “America We Thank You” (AWTY), at the Brand Library in Glendale.
Directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Bared Maronian, the documentary tells the story of the first congressionally sanctioned NGO established in the United States—the Near East Relief (NER)—which helped save the lives of more than 1 million refugees and 132,000 orphans of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
The capacity filled room was packed with school board members, superintendents, administrators, and educators from school districts all across Los Angeles. “For many, this was the first time they have heard about the NER, which is why it’s so important to talk about this historical fact in the context of United States history. It’s the first instance in history where we see the U.S. respond to an international crisis, which has today paved the way for the establishment of USAID, US Peace Corps, and other humanitarian efforts,” said Hermineh Pakhanians, co-chair of the ANCA-WR AWTY Committee.
In opening the program, ANCA-WR AWTY co-chair Vanna Kitsinian stated, “Tonight’s gathering is particularly important to our work because as educators, school board members, principals, and teachers, you all are the very audience we hope to share this story with, so that you in turn teach this critical part of history to your student body.”
Kitsinian was followed by Senator Carol Liu, chair of the Senate Education Committee who spoke of historical significance of the Armenian Genocide and the story of the Near East Relief.
In her remarks she noted, “As a former history teacher, same as Tom [Torlakson], I understand the importance of educating our youth about the past, and during my tenure in the legislature I have hosted a number of events at my home to help raise funds and awareness about the Armenian Genocide. I have also strongly supported teaching of the Armenian Genocide in our public school systems. I am proud to have supported Assemblymember Nazarian’s AB1915, which was signed into law by Governor Brown in 2014 [and] which adds Armenian Genocide survivor and witness oral testimonies into the teaching of human rights in California schools. Not only should we teach our students of past atrocities and human loss but we also should highlight the role Americans played and can play in aiding the survivors of atrocities… Unfortunately, current versions of world history textbooks do not go into much depth about the Armenian Genocide. Recently I wrote a letter to some of these history publishers urging them to expand the breath and improve the quality of our textbooks in upcoming additions of world history
“I’m proud to represent the largest population of ethnic Armenians outside of Armenia and as I end my tenure here as a state legislator, one of my priorities is to make sure that by the time I end next year…that we have a genocide education curriculum for all of our students here,” she added.
Superintendent Torlakson took to the stage to thank the ANCA-WR and Senator Liu in working side by side with the California Department of Education to see that Armenian Genocide curriculum is in its rightful place, in classrooms and textbooks. Torlakson discussed the remarkable precedent the U.S. set for the rest of the world by sanctioning the work of the NER. “We note tonight in this documentary that out of the terrible tragedies, the atrocities, the suffering, emerged a bright light of humanity, of love, and of hope and that is the Near East Relief. With kids, politicians, average people, senior citizens, veterans, all lifting a hand to help. I hadn’t heard about the Golden Rule—the Sunday dinner being put aside to be a simple meal so you could put the rest of the cost of your Sunday dinner towards the Near East Relief.” Torlakson is working with the ANCA-WR to ensure that this relevant portion of untaught history is incorporated into the classroom curriculum and that instructors receive adequate training.
“We are grateful to Mr. Torlakson, Senators DeLeon and Liu, Assemblymembers Achadjian, Nazarian, and Wilk, along with many others who have been an instrumental part of this journey as we continue our work beyond recognition and ensure that future generations learn not only about the atrocities of 1915, but the role the United States and the American people in helping save the Armenian nation from annihilation. With their full-fledged and unyielding support, we are one step closer to incorporating perhaps the proudest chapter in American history into the education system and curriculum,” said Elen Asatryan, ANCA-WR executive director.
Following the screening of the film, Los Angeles Unified School District President Steve Zimmer spoke about the timeliness of the film and what lessons today’s youth can take from those who volunteered to rescue the orphans and survivors. He noted how he will play an instrumental role in ensuring that all instructors in LAUSD have ample training and materials to teach about the Armenian Genocide, in both the context of world history and U.S. history.
The screening continued with a panel discussion of what instructors took away from the film and how they felt it can be used in their lesson plans. The panel was moderated by the chair of the ANCA-WR Education Committee, Alice Petrossian.
Petrossian first asked for the panelists’ impression of the film. In almost every case, no one knew about the story of the NER. Maria Gandera, GUSD assistant superintendent, noted how every Mexican American, Afro America, and Armenian American can unite around this story of human philanthropy and grace, as we all came together as a nation to rescue another people. Joining Gandera on the panel were Burbank School Board member Roberta Reynolds, and educators Sean Abajian and Peter Paccone, who showed their overwhelming support in disseminating more information to their teachers and students about the work of the NER.
“This unique and historically important perspective of the Armenian Genocide must be taught to our children in order to remember all those American volunteers, presidents, and average citizens who put aside their own interests and chose to aid an orphaned Armenian overseas,” noted Petrossian.
In closing, the audience was advised that school representatives and teachers could turn to the ANCA-WR and its America We Thank You and Education committees for any supporting materials, films, speakers, or educational tools as they relate to the Armenian Genocide and the Near East Relief.
Attendees were provided a copy of the film, books, state by state fact sheets, and other materials that they can immediately use in their classrooms. To learn more, or to obtain a copy of the materials and the film, visit the www.Americawethankyou.org. To obtain information about the Armenian Genocide, Artsakh, or Turkey, visit the resources section of the ANCA-WR website at ANCAWR.org.
The Armenian National Committee of America Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots advocacy organization in the western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian-American community on a broad range of issues.