WATERTOWN, MA – In a major setback for genocide denial, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf today dismissed a case initiated at the prompting of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) that would have compelled the inclusion of historically inaccurate Armenian Genocide denial materials in the Massachusetts education curriculum, reported the Armenian National Committee of Massachusetts (ANC of MA).
“Today’s judgment sends a clear message that the federal court system cannot be abused by genocide deniers to spread their lies across America’s classroom,” said ANC of MA Chairperson Shari Ardhaldjian. “We welcome this decision and the powerful precedent its sets for the future of genocide education here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and throughout the nation.”
The ATAA, according to media accounts, solicited the assistance of two local teachers, a student, and his parents to file the case against the state of Massachusetts in 2005. In February of 2006, the Armenian National Committee joined the Armenian Bar Association, Irish Immigration Society, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, and the NAACP in filing an amicus brief in support of the Massachusetts Commonwealth’s calls to dismiss the case. The brief was filed and presented by attorney Gabrielle R. Wolohojian then of Wilmer, Cutler, Hale and Dorr LLP, who championed the case pro-bono. The Armenian Assembly of America also filed an amicus brief.
In his opinion, Chief Judge Wolf dismissed the case stating that the plaintiffs are “are not entitled to relief in federal court.” The dismissal at this early stage of the proceedings is viewed in legal circles as meaning the cased lacked even minimal merit.
This case is part of a larger strategy by Turkish American groups to use the legal system to harass human rights advocates on issues relating to the Armenian Genocide. The most recent instance is the lawsuit filed against the Southern Poverty Law Center for articles detailing Turkish government efforts to manipulate U.S. academia to deny that crime against humanity.
The Massachusetts Genocide teaching guide was mandated to include the Armenian Genocide, following the August, 1998, unanimous passage of House Bill 3629, “An Act Relative to the Instruction of the Great Hunger Period in Ireland, the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust.” ANC chapters throughout Massachusetts had worked with bill authors, State Senator Steve Tolman and House Member Warren Tolman in support of the measure, which stated that, “The Board of Education shall formulate recommendations on curricular materials on genocide and human rights issues, and guidelines for the teaching of such material.” The law specifically calls for the teaching of “the period of the transatlantic slave trade and the middle passage, the great hunger period in Ireland, the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust and the Mussolini fascist regime and other recognized human rights violations and genocides.”
The ANC of MA continued to work with the Massachusetts Board of Education, providing information on peer-reviewed, teacher tested resources for inclusion in the teaching guide. In June of 1999, the ANC of MA protested the proposed inclusion of denial propaganda in the teaching guide that lobby groups, among them the ATAA, had pressured the Board of Education to add in its second version of the guide. In a letter to Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, the chairmen of the state’s four ANC chapters argued that inclusion of such websites “is directly counter to the intent of the law.” The letter went on to note that, “careless intermingling of genocide denial with the documentary sources it aims to obscure, will only serve to confuse students and undermine academic integrity.”
In August of 1999, in a letter to the ATAA, made public as part of the lawsuit, the Board of Education argued that “since the legislative intent of the statute was to address the Armenian Genocide, and not to debate whether or not this occurred, the Board and Department of Education cannot knowingly include resources that call this into question.” By October of 1999, the denial material was removed from the teacher’s guide.
In 2002, the ANC of MA again took action regarding the genocide curriculum, when a revised version which was up for review in May, against a proposal to remove the Armenian Genocide from the curriculum and replace it with a euphemistic and evasive reference to Armenian “slaughter.” Community leaders again worked with Department of Education Commissioner David Driscoll to ensure that the proper terminology was maintained.