Amy Perkins, a 2019-2020 MENA-SEA Teacher Program fellow, traveled to Armenia this past summer to join a delegation of 15 teachers in a comparative study of genocide. Hosted by The Genocide Education Project, Perkins and her cohort spent 10 days in Yerevan, attending lectures prepared by distinguished professors and traveling to sites central to Armenian history and culture.
“Each morning, we engaged in academic discussions of historical evidence and theories associated with the Armenian Genocide,“ Perkins recounts. As the teachers examined the stages of genocide implemented by the Ottoman Empire amidst the backdrop of a world war, they also investigated the motives behind Turkey’s persistent denial of the Armenian Genocide. Their intensive study revealed as much about the historical context of the early 20th century as it did about the geopolitical landscape of the present.
Forging a connection between Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide and recent opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory within the United States, Perkins concludes, “A nation’s unwillingness to confront its brutal past—be it genocide, slavery, or the like—causes these historical wounds to fester. No nation can effectively extricate itself from the shackles of past wrongs if it is unwilling to confront those wrongs thoughtfully, critically, and honestly.” Perkins and her colleagues spent their afternoons touring churches, battle sites, museums, local markets, and memorials. Each location reflected the resilience of Armenian culture and identity. Impromptu meetings with Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Academy Award-winning director Terry George further enriched participants’ understanding of genocide. Perkins explains, “The perpetrators of genocide are not madmen. Rather, they are ordinary citizens who, through the process of cultural and social indoctrination, rationalization, and dehumanization of the ‘other,’ devolve into mass murderers. This disturbing reality underscores the importance of examining the contexts in which genocides occur. If we can identify clear patterns, we are better positioned to prevent future genocides through education.” Perkins plans to share her insights and research with fellow Social Studies educators at the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference in Philadelphia this December. She remains grateful to The Genocide Education Project for the opportunity to study in Armenia and to the University of Michigan for enriching her understanding of the Middle East through the MENA-SEA Teacher Program.