On March 25, 2023, a sold out crowd of nearly 250 honored guests, dignitaries, and community members gathered for the 6th Annual Armenian National Committee of America Western Region (ANCA Western Region) Education Committee’s Armenian Genocide Education Awards Luncheon at Legacy Ballroom in Glendale, California. Since 2016, the Luncheon has honored dozens of local and national educators who have gone above and beyond in teaching about the Armenian Genocide within their school’s arts, language, social studies, and theater curriculum.
“The work of the ANCA Western Region’s Education Committee is a stellar example of the vital grassroots mission we prioritize every day,” stated ANCA-Western Region Board Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. “Our Education Committee members, all educators themselves, fully understand the important role that teachers play in shaping the minds of young generations, teaching them about truth and justice, and learning the lessons of history to avoid tragic outcomes in the future. The Genocide Education Awards Luncheon serves to recognize and highlight teachers who set an example for their peers by finding innovative ways to impart age-appropriate lessons about the Armenian Genocide to their students. As the congressional resolutions in 2019 officially recognizing the Armenian Genocide specifically highlighted, encouraging education and public understanding about this pivotal chapter of history is relevant to preventing modern-day crimes against humanity.”
This year, the event kicked off with the performance of the United States and Armenian national anthems by Granada Hills Charter School student, Tatevik Apoyan.
ANCA Western Region Education Committee Luncheon Chair, Taline Arsenian, introduced Araksya Karapetyan, Emmy-award winning FOX 11 news anchor, a beloved and influential voice for our community who graciously served as the Master of Ceremonies for the event and kicked off the afternoon with a heartfelt welcome address. “By teaching students the importance of recognizing the consequences of hate, dehumanization, and violence, educators make a difference in the lives of children with the hope that they become warriors of justice to lead enduring change,” said Karapetyan. The welcome address was followed by a recognition of past years’ honorees by ANCA Western Region Education Committee Member Medea Kalognomos.
The event welcomed dignitaries and officials serving Southern California, including Burbank City Mayor Konstantine Anthony, Glendale City Mayor Ardashes Kassakhian, Glendale City Councilmember Dan Brotman, Glendale City Clerk Dr. Suzie Abajian, Los Angeles City Councilmember for the 13th district Hugo Soto-Martinez, Pasadena City Vice-Mayor Felicia Williams, Burbank Unified School District Board Member Dr. Armond Aghakhanian, Glendale Community College District Board President Dr. Sevan Benlian, Glendale Community College Board Clerk Desiree Portillo-Rabinov, Glendale Community College District Board Members Dr. Armine Hacopian and Yvette Vartanian-Davis, Glendale Community College Superintendent/President Dr. Ryan Cornner, Los Angeles Community College Chancellor Dr. Francisco C. Rodriguez, Glendale Unified School District Board Member Jennifer Freemon, Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education Vice President Scott Shmerelson, Burbank Teachers Association President Diana Abasta, Glendale Teachers Association Vice-President Emily Rogers, and representatives of the offices of California State Senator Anthony Portantino, Los Angeles County Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Hilda Solis and Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Rocio Rivas. Officials from California State University, Northridge, were also in attendance, including Dean of the College of Humanities Dr. Jeffrey Reeder, Chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literature Dr. Adrian Perez-Boluda, Director of Development of the College of Humanities Suren Seropian, Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations Victoria Dochoghlian, and Director of Armenian Studies Dr. Vahram Shemmassian. Prominent professors of higher education in the audience also included Dr. Rubina Peroomian, Dr. Levon Marashlian and Dr. Hasmig Baran.
In addition, certificates of recognition were issued to each honoree by the offices of State Senator Anthony Portantino, State Assemblymember Laura Friedman, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, President of the City Council of Los Angeles Paul Krekorian, and Glendale City Mayor Ardashes Kassakhian.
ANCA-Western Region Board Member Anahid Oshagan, Esq., who serves as Board Liaison to the Education Committee, delivered the organizational message for the event, highlighting the importance of understanding that the century-long failure to hold Turkey accountable as perpetrator of the Armenian Genocide has directly led to the continuation of genocidal intent by both Turkey and Azerbaijan against the Armenian People more than a century later. The modern-day aggression by Turkey and Azerbaijan against Armenia and Artsakh and the ongoing inhumane Azeri blockade since December 12, 2022 of the Lachin Corridor whereby 120,000 innocent Armenian civilians in Artsakh have been cut off from the rest of the world, are present manifestations of their intent to annihilate the Armenian Nation and remove Armenians from their ancestral homeland with impunity. “The genocide and attempted annihilation continues, we must and we will soldier on by continuing to educate the world and recognize the outstanding educators who go above their call of duty to ensure the dark chapter of this history is taught and not forgotten, to ensure that justice prevails,” said Oshagan.
To highlight an opportunity for educators to participate in hands-on training for Armenian Genocide education, a video clip was shown from the Armenian Genocide Project’s GenEd Fellowship Program: a two phase program in partnership with the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute in Yerevan which allows secondary school social studies and English teachers to visit Armenia for workshops and cultural field trips to then develop curriculum and teach and share with other educators what they have learned about the Armenian Genocide and its repercussions. Mr. Manuel Lopez, one of the honorees for the Armenian Genocide Education award was a Teacher Fellow who now teaches about the Armenian Genocide to his students at Alisal High School in Salinas, California, described his experience: “Those ten days in Armenia completely transformed who I am as an educator. Knowing I was in the classroom for 20 years and never doing as much as I could have done to bring this important episode to light embarrasses me. I have already seen dividends at my school and community since I have trained several teachers about what I have learned in Armenia,” said Mr. Lopez.
ANCA Western Regional Education Committee Member Lucy Martirosyan introduced sponsors of the event and thanked them for their contributions, after which Education Committee Members Katia Karageuzian and Arpi Krikorian introduced significant Armenian figures who were arrested, displaced, or murdered by perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide and whose images are featured on the honorees’ certificates as a tribute to their legacy.
Araksya Karapetyan presented the Armenian Genocide Education Award, awarded to educators teaching in K through 12, who have gone above and beyond to educate their students about the Armenian Genocide. The Armenian Genocide Education Awards were presented to four educators who spoke about their Armenian Genocide teachings in their acceptance speeches. Violet De Luna of Toll Middle School (GUSD) accepted her award by saying, “Having these conversations (in classrooms) about genocide helps the students to have a strength in their voices as they express their views on the crimes of genocide, human rights, and social justice.” Celeste Lau of Valley View Elementary School (GUSD) shared her investment into future generations, “Our students are the future, and we must make every effort to create peace and connection among them. And this is what I teach.” Ana Quintanilla of Mountain View Elementary (LAUSD) talked about her teaching goals saying, “I am so honored to work with such an amazing community, and my goal is going to continue to be to empower my Armenian students and the rest of my students.” Manuel Lopez of Alisal High School (Salinas Union High School District) said, “In the time that I still have as an educator, I will do my very best to work with my colleagues, community, and other people who want to learn about the Armenian Genocide.”
Following the first round of awardees, Karapetyan presented the Zaruhy “Sara” Chitjian Armenian Heritage Award, named after educator Sara Chitjian, who dedicated her life to public school education and spent nearly 40 years teaching for the LAUSD and creating curriculum officially formalizing courses in Armenian history and culture. The Zaruhy “Sara” Chitjian Armenian Heritage Awards were presented to three deserving honorees: Anita Kazaryan of Burbank High School (BUSD), accepted the award saying, “I believe that it’s important to educate future generations about the dangers of hatred and discrimination and the importance of standing up against it so that future atrocities never happen again.” Talar Keoseyan of Sunland Elementary School (LAUSD) shared her responsibility as a teacher saying, “In today’s world of intolerance, an educator must teach compassion and empathy. We have an obligation and a duty to ensure the Armenian Genocide and atrocities like that never happen again.” Taline Satamian of Benjamin Franklin Elementary School (GUSD) expressed her gratitude for the award and said powerfully, “As an educator, my approach to a violence-free world is celebrating diversity, giving voices to silenced communities, instilling respect and tolerance for difference, and encouraging critical thinking. This kind of education can undercut hatred and racism, which are the drivers for mass violence.”
The Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr. Courage Award, presented to individuals who embody strength, courage and determination, was presented by Araksya Karapetyan to her friend and FOX 11 colleague, Christina Pascucci. In September 2022, Pascucci reported on the devastating consequences of war in towns where Armenian men, women, and children had their homes destroyed by shelling from Azerbaijani forces, and delivered those untold stories of devastation to American audiences, providing an educational connection for current day genocidal events. “Courage is what led me to reporting on the blockade that is happening in the Republic of Artsakh that has now passed 100 days, but it wasn’t my courage, it was the courage of the Armenian people … and it was the courage of Dr. Grigorian, my high school Spanish, teacher who was so brave to talk about the Armenian Genocide.”
Presenting the Richard G. Hovannissian Armenian Genocide Higher Education Award to Dr. Khatchig Mouradian was ANCA-WR Education Committee Secretary Laura Gaboudian. While Dr. Hovannisian, a renowned scholar and premier historian on the Armenian Genocide, was unable to attend the event in person, he sent a heartfelt message which was read to the audience in which he congratulated the organizers and honorees and stressed the importance of Armenian Genocide education. “I am gratified that there are those who refused to lose their purposeful spirit and commitment and have had the willpower to reorganize and go forward. The recognition of educators who have continued to enlighten and advocate during these trying times is most commendable,” wrote Hovannissian. In accepting this prestigious award, Dr. Khatchig Mouradian shared a realization he had while writing his book, The Resistance Network, “As I learned more about that region, as I learned more about the way Armenians organized in that region, those survivors who were in terrible conditions when they were arriving in Syria, the way way they formed this underground resistance network, trying to save as many lives as possible, it essentially transformed this book which I was imagining to be extremely dark into a book that was dark, but also highlighted and emphasized the agency of Armenians, their ability to fight back and push back.” Mouradian emphasized the need to keep pushing and being hopeful saying, “More than a hundred years after the Armenian Genocide, today with the war on Armenia and Artsakh, and its aftermath, and the horrors that are being committed on a daily basis, it is important to think about one critical element … we do not see a path forward but in times like this, I want more than anything else to share that as a historian … knowing so well what the Armenian people went through and pushed against with their resilience and resistance, the best thing we can do to ourselves, our community, and our nation, is to think that if they could do it back then, we can do it today.”
The Armenian Genocide Education Legacy Award was presented by ANCA Western Region Education Committee Vice-Chair Sedda Antekelian to Dr. Stephan Astourian, a prominent historian and educator who recently retired after more than two decades as founder and director of the Armenian Studies Program and Associate Adjunct Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley. The Award is presented to educators who have dedicated a lifetime of efforts aimed toward educating and providing resources for their students and other educators about the Armenian Genocide and its lasting legacy for humanity. Dr. Astourian highlighted the everlasting effects, or rather unending quality of the Armenian Genocide saying, “All things have a beginning, but do all things have an end? For instance, the Armenian Genocide. I leave you with this question during a time when genocide denial is still flourishing in Turkey and genocidal rhetoric is proliferating in Azerbaijan: a country where criminals and war crimes are extolled, and kids are brainwashed in schools hating Armenians.”
At the conclusion of the luncheon, ANCA Western Region Education Committee Chair Alice Petrossian gave closing remarks, thanking Araksya Karapetyan for her continued support of the Education Committee and the Armenian Cause and encouraging the honorees to continue their efforts to educate about the Armenian Genocide, highlighting that as the Armenian Nation is once again facing an existential threat in Armenia and Artsakh as Azerbaijan’s aggression and war rhetoric continue, each of us has a role to play to amplify our message and educate others about our plight in order to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Announcing the ANCA Western Region Education Committee’s next great endeavor, Committee Member Zarik Hacopian stated, “Now we are moving forward to lead a most critical program in partnership with Rooted and Rerouted to document the Baku Pogroms in a formal manner. It is critical to further have evidence that the Genocide has never stopped and continues today. We are passionate about this project and today your support means we can grow this project and help provide our students with first person accounts of the Baku Tragedies. While evil dictators revise history, we will document and preserve history.”
The Armenian National Committee of America- Western Region (ANCA-WR) is a grassroots public affairs organization devoted to advancing issues of concern to the Armenian American community. For nearly a century, the ANCA-WR has served to educate, motivate and activate the Armenian American community in the Western United States on a wide range of issues.