June 23, 2005

The State of New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education announced on June 20, 2005, the introduction of a new human rights and genocide curriculum focusing on the Armenian Genocide. The curriculum represents a new threshold in public education on the Armenian Genocide – making NJ the first state in the country to recommend comprehensive courses on the subject to teachers in public and private schools.

Holocaust and genocide education has received strong support from both legislators and educators in the state. As such, the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education developed one of the earliest models for teaching the Armenian Genocide and this year, on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, adopted the outstanding new resource book entitled Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians developed by Facing History and Ourselves Foundation (FHAO) of Brookline, Massachusetts, as its new curriculum. Additionally, the Commission developed a special teacher’s guide for the FHAO resource book, which it is distributing to educators statewide.

Executive Director of the Commission, Dr. Paul Winkler, who announced the new curriculum at a press conference in the State House, thanked the Armenian National Institute (ANI) for its cooperation in developing the NJ teacher’s guide and for originally alerting the Commission of the new advances in teaching about the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Winkler also recognized the Armenian Assembly of America for bringing this initiative to the attention of then NJ Governor James McGreevy two years ago.

The Commission on Holocaust Education is an official body of the state of New Jersey, which was established in 1982 under Governor Tom Kean as the Council on Holocaust Education. Later, Governor McGreevy, as a state Assemblyman, voted to make the council a permanent commission and introduced the original mandate legislation. In 1991 Governor James Florio signed the legislation establishing the Commission and in 1994, Governor Christine Todd Whitman enacted the law mandating the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide. Current acting Governor and President of the Senate Richard J. Codey has been a strong advocate of Holocaust and genocide education.

Prior to the announcement on the new curriculum, the General Assembly passed a resolution commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The resolution was cosponsored by Assemblywoman Joan Voss and Assemblyman Robert Gordon. Introducing the resolution, Assemblywoman Voss, a former history teacher, spoke about the importance of remembrance and education. “The world closed its eyes to the Armenian Genocide,” Voss said. “It is frightening how similar the Holocaust was to the Armenian Genocide.”

Assemblyman Gordon, in his remarks on the floor noted that “the emotion runs strong in the Armenian community for their losses in the Armenian Genocide.” They were joined by colleagues who made additional floor statements. Assemblyman William Payne, also an educator, invoked the memory of Reverend Martin Luther King in defending human rights. Assemblyman Bill Baroni spoke of the challenges Armenia continues to face in its relations with modern-day Turkey.

Former New Jersey Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian was also on hand as a special guest for the bill’s passage. He was recognized in the Assembly by the current speaker, Albio Sires, and given the floor after a standing ovation by former colleagues from both sides of the aisle. He spoke movingly of the losses in his family during the Armenian Genocide and of the importance of continuing to stand witness to the memory of the victims and the survivors. He was joined in the gallery by other guests from the Armenian-American community, clergy, and students from the Hovnanian School in New Milford, New Jersey.

The bill’s passage was followed by a press conference. Voss told members of the media that New Jersey is one of the few states that has mandated teaching on human rights and genocide and commended the Commission for its leadership role. ANI Director Dr. Rouben Adalian, for his part, thanked all the educators and curriculum developers of the New Jersey Commission including Helen Simpkins, Vernoy Paolini, Gary Kulhanjian, and Dr. Joan Rivitz, for their commitment to human rights education, and Dr. Mary Johnson of FHAO who coordinated with the Commission. FHAO was represented at the press conference by Shannon Planck.

The Armenian National Institute is a Washington-based organization dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.