Fresno School District’s Armenian President Needs Lessons in History and Tolerance

Fresno Unified School District President Brooke Ashjian
Fresno Unified School District President Brooke Ashjian

Fresno Unified School District President Brooke Ashjian

BY ARA KHACHTOURIAN

On Wednesday night, during a heated discussion at the Fresno Unified School District Board of Directors meeting, the board president Brooke Ashjian equated the LGBT community to Ottoman Turks who perpetrated the Armenian Genocide.

The discussion centered on the California Healthy Youth Act, a law requiring schools to teach medically accurate sex education, including lessons on birth control, abortion and LGBT relationships. Ashjian who has opposed the law and has been on a war path with the LGBT community and other city leaders who have not only criticized him but have called for his resignation chose to defend himself by equating opposition to his views with state-sponsored campaign to annihilate an entire race—the Armenian people.

In his remarks, Ashjian invokes his relatives whom he claims were subjected to the genocidal policies of the Ottoman Turks, making his statements absurd by equating a minority community to perpetrators of a crime against a minority population.

“It is sad, they like the Ottomans are trying to be the thought police,” Ashjian said on Wednesday reading from a two-page statement he wrote. “They are trying to make people of faith second-class citizens, as they seek to silence our voices in the public square. Just like what my grandparents and millions of other grandparents had to endure at the hands of the Ottomans before escaping to America.”

It is clear that the lessons of the Armenian Genocide have evaded Ashjian, who also seems to have forgotten the manner in which newly immigrant Armenians were treated in Fresno during the nascent years of our community there. He also seems to have forgotten that the very group he is labeling as genocide perpetrators were themselves subjected to mass killings during the Holocaust.

Rev. Ara Guekguezian, the pastor of First Congregational Church of Fresno pointed out to the Fresno Bee that it was dangerous to minimize the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, adding that the LGBT community should not be compared to Turkish officials who carried out the Armenian Genocide.

“If the Ottoman Turks say, ‘We are trying to silence you or marginalize you or demonize you,’ that is frightening because eventually they end up killing you,” Guekguezian told the Fresno Bee.

The 102-year fight for justice for the Armenian Genocide has called for recognition of the crime, based on a clear premise that the Genocide was the ultimate violation of human rights and the usurpation of people’s basic freedom through murder.

In Turkey, the country that continues to deny the Genocide, Garo Paylan, an Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament representing the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has filed a law suit against the Ankara mayor who used the term “Armenian” to describe one of his opponents. Ashjian clearly has taken a page from our adversary’s playbook.

What is more repugnant in the Ashjian scenario is that he has been elected by the people of Fresno to uphold the highest standards of education in the fourth largest school district in the state. His ignorance calls into question his qualifications for leading the public school system in that city. Fresno voters must take this into consideration at the ballot box if Ashjian seeks re-election.

(It is worth noting that other on the FUSD, as well as the school’s interim superintendent have denounced Ashjian’s comments and have assertively advocated for inclusion and providing a safe educational environment for students in Fresno).

Ashjian’s unrepentant attitude and egregious comments seem to mirror the current national discourse, which, especially during the past two weeks, seems to have veered off course when the president decided to equivocate when those carrying torches and Nazi flags clashed with those who opposed that flagrant breech of humanity.

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25 Comments

  1. Edward Demiraiakian said:

    Not so fast. I belive that an overwhelming majority of parents are against the school board policies of introducing our children to deviant behaviour. Early life desensitising our children to deviant behaviour only serves the deviants, not society.

    • Hrag said:

      Deviant behavior? Yeah, no, not at all. Those of us in the fact-based community think you are trying to hide your dangerous homophobia behind irrational statements.

    • tony said:

      nicely said Edward. Rev. Ara Guekguezian, the pastor of First Congregational Church of Fresno should have instead talked about LGBT nonsense and dark mentality to brainwash Armenian children. Why Armenian clergy is so silent about this anti family organization called LGBT? The next work will be their churches to marry them or otherwise they will force the closure of the church.

    • Hagop H. said:

      The bigger threat to your children is your ignorance, not any “desensitising” you suspect is happening. Your views are as outdated as your weird British spelling. This is America.

      • Hagop said:

        No one hates the gays, it is nobody’s business what goes on in people’s bedrooms. However, parents and only parents are responsible for choosing what type of education is given to their children. No ideology should be forced on any child, at least in the America that I know. American children would do much better in life when they are thought math, languages, science rather than about the lifestyle and the rights of transgenders and their washroom policy.

  2. State of Emergency said:

    It looks like everything in this country is being tailored to appease 3% of the population. Whatever happened to majority rules?
    Besides, the “Antifa” is no better than the rest of the hate groups. Just look at what happened in San Francisco on Monday morning. Antifa violently attacked peaceful demonstrators even after being warned by police not to show up. Enough with PC garbage!

    • Aram Porter said:

      Majority rules, but when it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of the minority. What this column has to do with Antifa I have no idea.

  3. Patlamish said:

    Christians (Armenians and otherwise) should not be penalized if they stand by their Christian beliefs. Lately, we see LGBT activists bullying rather than being bullied (see incidents in which such groups seek to put Christian florists, bakers and others out of business for standing by their religious beliefs). I do see the parallel that Brooke Ashjian is drawing.

    • hasmik geghamyan said:

      I am sorry, this is a secular government, not a theocratic place. Yes, practice your faith as your like but don’t impose it on others or dehumanize just because your religious belief (or an interpretation of it) says Homosexuality is not natural. I know SO many homo Christians, by the way.

    • Aram Porter said:

      He can have his private Christian beliefs all he likes, however, when acting as a public official for public schools, he must obey the law.

    • Brock Neeley said:

      We are NOT a nation of “Christian Law”. We have a Constitution that guarantees certain rights to ALL persons no matter race creed religion ethnicity sexual orientation or sexual identity. We Can Not choose to “Pick and Choose” which laws we want to follow like supposed “christians” choose to “pick and choose” what part of the Bible they want to follow. The Unruh civil rights act governs public accommodation in the State of California. I suggest you go to https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2017/06/DFEH_UnruhFactSheet.pdf and read more about it before you spout off.

  4. Armen Abelyan said:

    We demand an apology for suggesting that if a child is gay or as you worded – sex education “swayed the kid to go that way.” – is a less desirable outcome. Is it because of your church’s teachings, Mr. Ashjian? Suggesting that the likes of Alexander the Great, Leonardo da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, Bayard Rustin, Tammy Baldwin, Sally Ride, Berney Frank, Sergei Parajanov are somehow less than your idea of what’s right is an insult to the intellect of your constituents. It’s 2017. We deserve better.

  5. Diran said:

    Thank you for saying what cried out to be said about Mr. Ashjian’s appalling and destructive display of ignorance!

  6. hasmik geghamyan said:

    thank you for penning this sobering article about the awful and misguided false equivalence made by this Board President as well as tying it to the current state of hateful rhetoric towards so many people including our own. I’ve heard a number of recent hate speech directed at Armenians in the Sunland area of Los Angeles. White supremacists are emboldened in many places. Also, it is quite unfortunate that this person thinks their religious beliefs should come before secular governance, equality under the law, which includes and respects ALL peoples.

  7. Aramik Kamali said:

    Wow these comments are extremely startling. We as a people have tried to teach others about intolerance and hate and where that can lead to, yet me are doing the exact opposite in this situation. Talk about going backwards man, this is just sad. I feel like I’m responding to a bunch of uneducated right wing loons.

  8. Kristin Cass said:

    My Christian faith has taught me love and compassion. Jesus made room for everyone in our faith. Everyone.

    Please do not insult and degrade the sacrifices made by my family and millions of others in order to survive the hatred that spawned the Genocide. Loving and including all people, as Jesus taught us to do, has nothing to do with what the Ottomans did to my family and yours. In fact the hatred being spewed by Ashjian in order to boost his popularity or improve his chances of re-election is a shameless slur on the sufferings of my people. I would say he sounds just like a Turk.

    It’s 2017, not 1915, shame on any Armenian who perpetuates hatred. We are better than that.

  9. Lousine Shamamian said:

    Why is this this hypocrisy lost on Armenians, who for centuries have been minorities and have been victim to genocide due to their minority status? To hate spewing Armenians to feel so justified in judging those who are different from them, I say, look at the plank in your eye. Being gay is not deviant behavior. If you are Christian, let this not get lost on you:
    James 4:11-12
    Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you- who are you to judge your neighbor?

  10. Alex Sardar said:

    It is always curious that those whose views seek to conserve and regress social progress use unaccountable and amorphous words like ‘overwhelming majority’ or ‘3% of the…’

    If you have evidence of these so called facts, then post them. If you don’t, then you’re no better than those you purport to criticize. Have you actually looked at the evidence and public policy data on any of these issues, or have you simply bought into a partisan cheat sheet of mediocre talking points. Time to have real debate about the issues, not juvenile, 2nd grade school yard whining. Get with it.

    Asbarez, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re in the right side of this issue.

  11. Nora K said:

    Wow, I am continuously shocked by the ignorant and intolerant views of Armenians. How can a group of people who have been through so much oppression and racism be so hateful? How do you call yourselves Christians? Ashjian has clearly got to go. I hope the people of Fresno will choose wisely next time.

    Thank you Ara and all those at Asbarez for speaking up and being on the right side of history!

  12. MamanBayti said:

    Whether you’re “fact-based” or “faith-based,” you live in what is called REALITY. In REALITY, peoples’ sexuality is a personal freedom (whether it is a choice, or inborn, it remains a personal freedom).

    The fact that he’d draw the type of analogy he did between Ottoman Turks and people of the LGBT community only helps to illustrate how twisted his innate reasoning – as informed by his personal worldview – must be. There is no correlation. He’s grasping for straws. As an elected official, one should be careful not to try to make any possible connection one can make in order to advance one’s view, when the person’s rationale itself is not rational, or logically informed.

    All I’ve read here so far is apologetic nonsense: “GOOD FOR HIM! WE DONT WANT OUR KIDS BEING SUBJECTED TO DEVIANT BEHAVIOR AT A YOUNG AGE!”–> and therefore, whatever he said is okay to say because children living in the 21st century should be raised in a controlled, intellectually policed environment where they’re shielded from reality, rather than be exposed to what exists in REALITY, and therefore be equipped to live reasonably, intelligently, and (most importantly) PEACEFULLY in a world that is very, very diverse.

    If you raise a child without any understanding or education of aspects of cultural diversity – example: peoples’ sexual orientation – they grow up and experience personal, moral, ethical, sexual, and cultural shock later in their life when they go out into the world (outside of the filtered, sheltered bubble they’ve spent their formative years in)…it is not uncommon for an adult to then deal with such a shock by responding with hatred, violence, and intolerance. These are common, normal psychological defenses. Their entire worldview, their concept of what IS in the world (and in reality), and everything they’ve therefore built their personal values system on is being confronted with the facts of life as they stand in reality – and if someone or something called your entire conception of what is “normal” and what is “right” into question, you’d have a pretty strong reaction too.

    So, to the ones who say “Don’t desensitize children at an early age with deviances like these,” I say: GOOD. Let them be desensitized, but not later in their lives when they will be shocked, and in a position to do harm to others. What if, instead, you educated them from a young age to be compassionate and tolerant? The bible might have lots to say on what’s right and wrong, but for anyone going down the Christianity rabbit-hole, maybe stop and ask yourself whether Jesus had any strong convictions about homosexuality? Mainly, what I remember from the classes I was taught in Armenian school growing up, I recall the virtues of compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and loving one’s neighbor…and leaving judgement and condemnation to God, alone.

    So, the real question becomes: What do these parents, and ignorant people like this Ashjian dude, really fear? I wonder, would their inability to deal with, cope, and explain (to themselves and their children) issues like LGBT/sexuality/gender identity have something to do with their vehement objection to educating children with facts?

  13. Tsakoug said:

    Please do not force your ideologies on others. I am speaking to all groups posting here.

  14. Lori said:

    I caution all of you who are putting forth the “majority rules” argument to reconsider your point. It’s a very narrow minded way to look at this issue. We saw exactly what happened when the majority ruled in the Ottoman Empire. When the majority rules, those in the minority were repressed, persecuted and discriminated against. Armenians, Christians, Greeks, Kurds, and Jews were the minority in the Ottoman Empire. Should we assume you’re ok with how they were treated and what happened to them because majority ruled? Do you see the flaw in what you’re saying?

    Being an Armenian constitutes being a minority so if an Armenian is discriminated against or bullied for being different is that ok because Armenians aren’t the majority? NO!!! The same applies to the LGBTQ community and any group that is in the minority. You can’t pick and choose when “majority rules” gets to apply based on when it benefits you.

    As a “Christian” you are instructed to love thy neighbor. There isn’t an asterisk in the scripture about only loving thy straight neighbor. It all goes back to “You don’t get to pick and choose what works for you”.

    • Hagop said:

      Lori, we Christians should love all without discrimination. However, we should respect the freedom of speech, even burning the flag. No Christian that I know is hates gays, but they are against gay activists. There is a difference. The Bible condemns homosexuality and quoting the scripture is the right of any individual and no one should be harassed by hate slogans from activists. Years ago, I had a gay assistant, I respected him and protected him from others who tried to ridicule him. On the other hand, I did not shy to tell him what Bible writes about homosexuality. When I quit my job, he came and gave me a big hug and we stayed friends.

      • Lori said:

        Hagop, I agree, Christians should love all without discrimination, but unfortunately that’s not the case in the Armenian Community or Armenian church. The church doesn’t fully accept homosexuals as full members of the church. To your point about how the bible condemns homosexuality I just want to point out that the bible also condemns DIVORCE and REMARRIAGE AFTER DIVORCE. The church has decided to pick and choose what from these 3 it considers an acceptable violation of scripture and homosexuality didn’t make the cut.

        A majority of the bible is open to interpretation and the church takes great liberties with that. You and I can read the same passage from the bible and interpret it in two completely different ways so for this exact reason I don’t agree with you that it’s the right of any individual to quote scripture. We should keep our interpretations and quotes to ourselves and only discuss them or voice them to people who have shown an interest to listen willingly.

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