Genocide discussion engages Wilmington High students
Published: Tuesday March 16, 2010
Wilmington, Mass. - Khatchig Mouradian painted a vivid picture of how his family experienced genocide.
Speaking before 350 students at Wilmington High School Feb. 26, Mouradian told of a grandmother whose face would contort as she watched television footage of a Turkish official discrediting the very genocide she had experienced.
His message was loud and clear: educating the next generation is paramount.
"We're paving the way for a better world," he told the gathering. "Every student has the power to do something. The sooner you care -- the earlier you start -- the better for you and humanity."
Mouradian was part of a panel discussion sponsored by the Armenian Genocide Education Committee of Merrimack Valley and the school's National Honor Society.
He was joined on stage by Janet Singer Applefield, a Holocaust survivor; Claude Kaitare, who fled Rwanda in 1994 after his country was decimated, and Sayon Soeun, a Cambodian trained to be a child soldier.
Together, the four gave their personal accounts with deep emotion and understanding as educators, administrators and outside guests also looked on. The event was fully covered in area papers under the banner headline, "Genocide survivors share their pain --- horror stories in Wilmington."
Mouradian is a journalist, writer, translator and devout student-educator currently in pursuit of his doctorate in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, Worcester, where he is attending on scholarship when not editing The Armenian Weekly.
"Having someone say that everything you experience about genocide is a lie remains an insult, not only to the individual but to humanity itself," he brought out. "Genocide is a crime against humanity. Denial is the last phase. We're waiting for closure."
Mouradian spoke of the immigrants who came to this country under extreme hardship, providing for their families and creating a new life. He called for recognition on the part of Turkey and the United States in this --- the 95th anniversary.
"It is our duty to tell their stories," he informed the students. "A genocide forgotten is destined to repeat itself."
Applefield was a 4-year-old living in Poland when the Holocaust occurred. She changed her name three times to protect her identity. Had it not been for her blond hair, she might have become another statistic.
"My family was made to march and dig its own grave before being shot and killed," she said. "My childhood was one escape and beating after another. For years, we were forbidden to talk about it."
As an 8-year-old, Soeun was taught to hate and kill in Cambodia.
"My family was my enemy," he admitted. "There was no such thing as love. My life was darkness. I was brainwashed. Professionally, I have adjusted very well. Personally and emotionally, I still have difficulty."
Today, Soeun resides in Lowell and is a member of the State Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, along with numerous other community service projects.
Kaitare was 16 when turmoil raged throughout Rwanda. He recalls burying the dead and changing IVs in hospitals to help children like himself survive. He fled in 1994 and came to live with an aunt in Maine.
"People that were once my friendly neighbors were waving machetes at makeshift roadblocks," he groaned. "These days I still have issues of psychological disorder. As for my country, it's a new Rwanda from what I left. "
Instructors Lisa Desberg and Maura Tucker have designed a curriculum around "Facing History and Ourselves," based in Brookline. This marks their third semester and the students are enamored by it.
"It's all about creating awareness," said Desberg. "The input we've received has been profound. I see social activism being promoted through all this."
Tucker concurred. She feels obliged to help change the world through honest education and careful perception.
"In order to have leaders making positive changes, they need to be told today," said Tucker. "I see instances of bullying, teasing, groups not getting along. It escalates. We see it in the world with places like Darfur. If we can get a spark going here, it could turn into an inferno."
Among those whole-heartedly supporting genocide education is Principal Eric Tracy. When the idea of a genocide forum came up, he gave a quick endorsement to it.
"These forums give students an opportunity to hear first-hand information that can help them better understand the realities of the world," he noted. "By getting involved and inspiring others their age, such an education becomes a powerful tool."
The Merrimack Valley Education Committee has been making the rounds to various high schools throughout the area in an effort to inculcate genocide education, more notably the Armenians. Members have been met with approval upon each visit.
"Our mission is to prevent history from repeating itself," said Dro Kanayan, chairman, who moderated the panel discussion. "Any ethnic group should not be exposed to it. "We're here not to resolve history but to discuss it."