Armenian-Americans to intervene in Massachusetts lawsuit over teaching of the Armenian Genocide

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A concerned group of Armenian-Americans has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit concerning the state's curriculum and teaching of the
1915 deportation and murder of 1.5 million Armenians from Turkey during World War I.

Controversy swirls around the event as people argue whether or not it constitutes genocide.

The maternal 98-year-old grandmother of Geri Lyn Ajemian, director of Instructional Services at Marlborough Public Schools, is a descendant of the killings.

"I have a special interest and training in history and history education," said Ajemian, who holds a doctoral degree from Harvard University on the philosophical foundations of history. "In my doctoral dissertation, I focused on the habits of mind, the methods of inquiry and the central concepts that structure history as an academic subject. These same guiding principles ’frame’ the state curriculum frameworks."

Ajemian said she felt "compelled" to lend her experience in curriculum development and her understanding of the frameworks to the intervening motion.

The group filing for intervention includes Boston University President emeritus Dr. Aram Chobanian, Geri Lynn Ajemian, Zori Babroudi a student at Lincoln-Sudbury High School, Armine Dedkian, Loretta Gelenian, survivor John Kasparian, Shaunt Keshishian, a student at Lincoln-Sudbury High School, Heather Krafian and the Armenian American Assembly.

The lawsuit filed by Lincoln-Sudbury High School history teacher Bill Schechter and senior Ted Griswold against the state regards the Department of Education’s curriculum guide concerning inclusion of the Turkish perspective in the teaching of the 1915 slayings of approximately 1.5 million Armenians during their deportation from Turkey.

Griswold, founder of the high school’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter, and Schechter argue the Turkish perspective should be included in teachings.

Malick Ghachem, lawyer for Griswold and Schechter, said he has filed a complaint against the group’s motion to intervene.

Arnold Rosenfeld, a lawyer representing the intervening group, said they will respond to Griswold’s and Schechter’s objection, at which point the judge should respond.

"The judge can schedule an oral argument," Griswold said. "But that is not required, but it’s up to him."

"Under the rules of the court and case law, somebody who has an interest in the case can file a motion to intervene, you have to show certain requirements to intervene," Rosenfeld said.

These requirements include the ability to not impede in the case’s progress as well as present the interests of another party not already represented. In other words the interests of the state do not necessarily represent the interests of the Rosenfeld’s group and the Armenian American Assembly.

Rosenfeld said that the group he represents, along with the Armenian American Assembly, all have an interest in the case.

"Because the Armenian Genocide, that’s required to be taught under state law, shouldn’t be taught improperly," he said.

Rosenfeld said along with the motion to intervene, the group, in conjunction with the attorney general’s office, has filed a motion of dismissal.

"We’re preparing our response by Feb. 6," Ghachem said. "There will most certainly be an oral argument on the motion to dismiss."

"The plaintiffs [Griswold and Schechter] are suggesting in their claim that the state has to include the Turkish point of view, which is that it [the Armenian genocide] didn’t happen," Rosenfeld said, "which we think doesn’t make any sense."

Rosenfeld said the group’s argument to dismiss the case is well founded.

"Essentially there is no First Amendment right on their part," Rosenfeld said of Griswold and Schechter. "They’ve manufactured a case where one doesn’t exist. We’re very confident that the motion to dismiss will be successful. We have an excellent legal argument, and so does the attorney general’s office. I don’t think they have a legal argument at all. I think it’s manufactured. It’s based on what they’d like the law to be, but it isn’t."

"Inclusion of Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide within state curriculum guides would not, as the plaintiffs claim, provide a more objective foundation for the teaching and learning of history within our school classrooms," Ajemian said. "Instead, it would present a distorted view of the nature of historical inquiry and the factual record of events in 1915."

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