Genocide Seminar for High School Students Held in Fresno

FRESNO–One hundred and ten students from junior highs and high schools around Fresno and Clovis participated in a successful Genocide Seminar on Saturday–May 13–at the Armenian Community Center in Fresno.

The Seminar speakers Dr. Matthew Ari Jendian and Hasmig Tatiossian addressed the similarities between the mass killings–political ramifications–and social issues surrounding the Armenian–Cambodian–Darfur–and Rwandan genocides. They also discussed the implications for individual and collective responses to these events.

Hygo Ohanessian–chairperson of the Armenian National Committee of Central California–introduced the speakers. The event was organized by the ANC and funded by the Bertha and John Garabedian Foundation.

Sato Sanikian–learning director from Selma high school–advised the students on conduct–rules–and regulations to abide by at the seminar.

The speakers began the day with an ice-breaker exercise that celebrated the diversity in the room and emphasized that we are all part of the human race–the most similar of all species on the earth.

They then discussed the word "genocide," (literally "race murder" from the Greek word "genos" and the Latin "cide") coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944.

The Genocide Convention adopted by the United Nations in 1948–defined genocide as certain "acts committed with the intent to destroy–in whole or in part–a national ethnical–racial–or religious group."

The great irony–however–of the 20th century and genocide is that the 20th century saw many treaties defining and codifying genocide–yet it was one of the bloodiest centuries in human history.

Unfortunately–after almost every case of genocide–denial has been a common response. This denial–Tatiossian said–can grow over time and come to define the identity of the person or people who are denying the events. As Cornell West has said–"Denial of history represents a lack of maturity." The first step towards healing is to acknowledge the wrong we have done.

With each case of genocide discussed–Armenian–Cambodian–and Rwandan–the speakers pointed to the lack of intervention of the international community and–specifically–the United States. As Samantha Power notes in her book "A Problem from Hell," the most common response to the question of "Why does the world and the United States stand so idly by when genocide is occurring" is–"We didn’t know" or "We didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the situation." But these answers are demonstrably not true. However–Power says–the real reason the United States has not done what it could do and should do to stop genocide is that US leaders lacked the will to do something–they believed it was wrong–but they were not prepared to invest the military–financial–diplomatic–and domestic political capital needed.

The speakers also gleaned lessons from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King–Jr.–teaching that we all have a human responsibility to prevent injustice when we see it:

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it."

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe–nor political–nor popular; but one must take it because it is right."

As Dr. Jendian said–"Knowledge is potential power; it becomes powerful when it is acted upon." Taking action on behalf of others requires empathy–putting yourself in the other person’s place and identifying strongly with the circumstances and pain of another human being.

One of the greatest lessons from Dr. King that should be passed on to students is that the struggle for justice is not pitted against people; rather–it’s against injustice itself. Instead of having students think that they need to do the right thing by fighting against a person–the "enemy"–the student must understand that the real enemy is injustice–not the person committing it.

In light of that–Tatiossian shared a quote from King’s "Walk for Freedom": "Love must be at the forefront of our movement if it is to be a successful movement. And when we speak of love–we must speak of understanding good will toward all men. We speak of a creative–a redemptive sort of love–so that as we look at the problem–we see that the real tension is not between the Negro citizens and the white citizens of Montgomery–but is a conflict between justice and injustice–between the forces of light and the forces of darkness–and if there is a victory–and there will be a victory–the victory will not be merely for the Negro citizens and a defeat for the white citizens–but it will be a victory for justice and a defeat of injustice. It will be a victory for goodness in its long struggle with the forces of evil."

Dr. Jendian is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the American Humanics Nonprofit Administration Program at California State University–Fresno. He received his Baccalaureate degree from CSU–Fresno in Sociology with minor degrees in Psychology and Armenian Studies–and his Master’s and Doctoral degrees from University of Southern California. Dr. Jendian teaches courses on race and ethnicity–terrorism and genocide–and contemporary social issues at California State University–Fresno.

Hasmig Tatiossian is the Southern California Regional Assistant Coordinator of The Genocide Education Project–a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to assist educators in teaching about human rights and genocide–particularly the Armenian Genocide–by developing and distributing instructional materials–providing access to teaching resources and organizing educational workshops (see www.TeachGenocide.org). Tatiossian received her Baccalaureate degree from UC Berkeley in International Relations with an Emphasis on Genocide and Human Rights Violations.

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