California State Senator Carol Liu and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson joined the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region’s “America We Thank You” and Education committees on Wednesday in hosting a reception, screening, and panel discussion for the launch of the organization’s new documentary titled “America We Thank You” at the Brand Library.
Directed and produced by award-winning filmmaker Bared Maronian, the documentary tells the story of the first congressionally sanctioned charity established in the United States, the Near East Relief, which helped saved over 1 million refugees and 132,000 orphans of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
The capacity filled room was packed with school board members, superintendents, administrators anca 171and 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,” commented 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, 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 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 textbooks,” stated Liu in her remarks. “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 is to make sure that we have a genocide education curriculum for all of our students here,” she added.
Superintendent Tom Torlakson took to the stage to thank the ANCA-WR and Senator Liu in working side by side with the CA Department of Education to see that Genocide curriculum is in its rightful place, in classrooms and textbooks. Torlakson continued as he 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,” stated Elen Asatryan ANCA Western Region Executive Director.