Impact in Profile: Alice Petrossian

Alice Petrossian

After visiting USC Shoah Foundation for the first time, Alice Petrossian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is excited to begin a new partnership to promote education about the Armenian Genocide and other atrocities.

Petrossian is the chair of the ANCA Western Region Education Committee, which works to promote understanding regarding issues of concern to the Armenian American community across nine states. She served as deputy and assistant superintendent at the Glendale and Pasadena unified school districts during her more than 30 years as an educator and reformer.

Petrossian and her colleagues from the Education Committee joined staff of the Armenian Film Foundation (AFF) for a visit to the USC Shoah Foundation on July 2. The visit included a presentation about IWitness, a demonstration of the Visual History Archive and a tour or the technology facilities where 53,000 testimonies of genocide survivors are catalogued, indexed and preserved. ANCA, AFF and USC Shoah Foundation staff discussed ways in which they can collaborate in the future, such as developing educational materials about the Armenian Genocide.

AFF delivered its digitized collection of 400 Armenian Genocide survivor testimonies, recorded by the late J. Michael Hagopian, to the USC Shoah Foundation in April to be integrated into the Visual History Archive. The first batch of testimonies will be viewable in April 2015, the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

The visit was truly inspiring, Petrossian said. She and her colleagues were amazed by the Visual History Archive and its potential to teach students about genocide and intolerance. ANCA hasn’t always been impressed by the lessons about genocide and human rights that are available for teachers, she said.

“We haven’t had a way of putting faces to those stories [of genocide], and we all know how crucial it is for children to relate to a child or an adult telling the story,” Petrossian said. “Seeing the resources [of the USC Shoah Foundation] and its depth of commitment to telling the story and making sure history does not repeat itself was probably one of the most rewarding days of my life.”

Moving forward, Petrossian hopes ANCA can work with the USC Shoah Foundation and AFF to share resources and expertise, and create and promote educational materials.

In April, the California State Assembly passed AB 1915, which requires the inclusion of the Armenian Genocide in the list of studied subject areas for the adopted courses of study in Social Science for 7th to 12th grades in California. Petrossian and ANCA are committed to making sure educators have access to firsthand accounts of survivors to aid in their teaching about genocide, and USC Shoah Foundation’s testimonies and resources will be some of the first they turn to, she said.

Working together, along with AFF and other genocide education organizations, Petrossian hopes ANCA and USC Shoah Foundation can have a real influence on what students are taught about the past and what they can do to prevent atrocities from happening again.

“Unless children learn, and learn to speak up, to be active participants, change won’t occur,” Petrossian said. “Teaching children the truth is what makes the difference.

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