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Teacher's Guide for COBBLESTONE Armenian Americans

May 2000

Teacher Guide prepared by: Lucine Kasbarian, co-consulting editor of this issue and author of Armenia: A Rugged Land, An Enduring People (Discovering Our Heritage series, Dillon Press/Simon & Schuster).

Explain the following names, words and phrases excerpted from this issue:
  1. colonial rule

  2. persecution

  3. second-class citizen

  4. Talaat Pasha

  5. genocide

  6. extinction

  7. recognition

  8. denial

  9. national independence

  10. economic blockade

  11. resistance

  12. survival
(companion to article on pp. 3 - 7)


The year is 1915 and the government of Turkey has implemented their plan of Genocide. Tens of thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors have been driven from their native homeland and are seeking refuge in America. Instruct students to write an essay in the first person recreating a day in the life of an Armenian refugee aboard a boat headed for Ellis Island. The essay should answer the following questions:

  1. What is your name?
  2. How old are you?
  3. Where were you born?
  4. Where has the ship departed from? Are you traveling with your immediate family? If not, why not? Who are you traveling with?
  5. How did you obtain (or afford to buy) the fare for your trip? What possessions have you brought with you?
  6. Describe your surroundings and accommodations on the ship. Describe the other passengers on board. Who are they and how many are there? Where do you eat and sleep? How do you pass the time?
  7. What language do you speak? If you do not speak English, how are you communicating with your fellow passengers, crew, and American immigration authorities?
  8. Why are you seeking U.S. citizenship? What sorts of inspections do you have to pass to be admitted into the United States?
  9. What are your plans when you arrive in America? Where will you live? If you don't know, how will you find a place to live? How will you support yourself? If you do not speak English or have a trade, how will you find work?
  10. How do you think your life will be different from the one you left behind in your homeland? What will you miss? What will you look forward to?

To obtain information about early Armenian immigration, and review sample immigration experiences, students may consult the following resources:

Web sites:

Books for Grades 4 and up:

  • Aram's Choice by Marsha Skyrpuch (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
  • Call Me Aram by Marsha Skyrpuch (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
  • My Name is Aram by William Saroyan (Capuchin Classics)
  • Men Without Childhood by Andranik Zaroukian (Ashod Press, NY)
  • Nobody's Child by Marsha Skyrpuch (Boardwalk Books)
  • The Road from Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl by David Kherdian (Greenwillow Books)
  • Some of Us Survived: The Story of an Armenian Boy by Kerop Bedoukian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Books for grades 8 and up:

  • Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (Doubleday, Page and Co.)
  • Armenia: Survival of a Nation by Christopher Walker (St. Martin's Press)
  • Black Dog of Fate: An American Son Uncovers His Armenian Past by Peter Balakian
    (Broadway Books)
  • Forgotten Fire by Adam Baghdasarian (Laurel Leaf)
  • The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel (Carrol & Graf)
  • Passage to Ararat by Michael Arlen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • Rise the Euphrates by Carol Edgarian (Random House)
  • Summer Without Dawn by Agop Hacikyan (McClelland & Stewart)
  • Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide by Lorna Touryan Miller
    and Donald Eugene Miller (University of California Press)

(companion to article on pp. 8 - 9)

Activity #1

Consult the U.S. map in COBBLESTONE . Does your city or state contain a significant Armenian population? If so, assign students to write an outline describing early (or present-day) settlements in America which answer the following questions:

  • When did Armenians settle in these areas and why?
  • What trades and businesses did Armenians enter in these regions and why?
  • What visible characteristics indicate that Armenians live in this community?
  • What economic and social contributions have they made to their respective American and Armenian communities?
  • How many Armenian churches can you locate in your selected city or state?

For further research, students may consult the following resources:

  • An Armenian Family by Keith Elliott Greenberg (Lerner Publication Co.)
  • ARMENIA: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People by Lucine Kasbarian (Dillon Press/Simon & Schuster)
  • The Armenians: Their History and Culture by Ara Baliozian (Ararat Press)
  • The Armenians in America by Arra Avakian (Lerner Publication Co.)
  • The Armenians of Worcester by Pamela E. Apkarian-Russell (Arcadia Publishing)
  • The Fresno Armenians: History of a Diaspora Community by Berge Bulbulian (CSUF University Press, Fresno, CA)
  • The History of Armenia by Simon Payaslian (Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Like One Family: The Armenians of Syracuse by Arpena Mesrobian (Gomidas Institute, Princeton, NJ)
  • New Britain's Armenian Community by Jennie Garanedian (Arcadia Publishing)
  • Torn Between Two Lands: Armenians in America 1890 to World War I by Robert Mirak (Harvard University Press)
  • Worcester is America: The Story of Worcester's Armenians - The Early Years by Hagop Deranian (Bennate Publishing)

Activity #2

Instruct the class to study the inset map on page 9 and plan a virtual trip to Armenia. Using the following step-by-step project, students will obtain visas, pack for their trip, plan a tour itinerary, and more. This project was prepared by Randy Clawson for the K - 12 Sedgefield Elementary School in Greensboro, N.C. - access it here: http://its.guilford.k12.nc.us/webquests/armenia/armenia.htm.

For further research, consult the following Web sites:

(companion to article on pp. 15 - 17)
Every April, Armenians around the world organize mass gatherings, memorial services, educational workshops, and cultural programs to study the past and remember that despite tragedy, their nation survived and continues to prosper. Here are some projects you and your students can participate in to learn about - and commemorate - the Armenian Genocide.
  1. Students may write a book report about Armenia, the Armenian Genocide, or survivor experiences (see previously listed book titles). Students may write to their school librarians and public librarians requesting that they purchase books about Armenia and the Armenian Genocide (see titles found in this study guide).
  2. Students may participate in an interactive fact-finding mission. Have students consult Armenian Genocide survivor testimonies to piece history together. Ask students to write down questions they feel would be helpful to ask survivors in order to conduct this investigation. Instruct students to further develop their questions by consulting www.cilicia.com/armo10b1.html. It highlights actual interview questions used by the authors of the book, Survivors: An Oral History of the Armenian Genocide.

    Have each student select a survivor's oral history to study from the following audio archive: www.theforgotten.org.

    Instruct students to record their findings and submit a crime report. Select one crime report for classroom discussion. What have authorities done in the past to penalize those who commit crimes against humanity? What sorts of sentences have been carried out? In what ways have authorities compensated survivors for damages endured?
  3. Most Americans are familiar with the hit TV show SURVIVOR. Following is a link to a lesson plan that helps students compare the survivors featured on the television program to real-life survivors of traumatic events so that they may draw conclusions about both: www.nytimes.com/learning/teachers/lessons/20010504friday_print.html.

    Teachers should select key eyewitness accounts by Armenian Genocide survivors for students to read and analyze beforehand. Again, audio testimonials by Armenian Genocide survivors are available online through: www.theforgotten.org.
  4. Teachers may screen a documentary called The Armenian Case. This 43-minute educational film, complete with survivor testimonies, recalls the historical events surrounding persecution, atrocity, deportation, and exile. To learn more, visit: www.armenianfilm.org
  5. Have students break up into groups. Each group will select a genocidal event occurring to ethnic peoples to research and discuss in class. Some other examples include the Cambodians, Darfurians, East Timorese, Jews, Native Americans, Palestinians, Pontic Greeks, and Rwandans. Or, teachers and students may write to their school superintendents about adding multi-ethnic genocide instruction to their state and school Holocaust curricula. Some Teaching Resources and Curriculum Guides to recommend regarding the Armenian Genocide are listed at www.teachgenocide.org/websites/index.htm
(companion to article on pp. 20 - 23)

Activity #1

This article describes how the Hovnanian School students are bi-lingual. Have students construct a fact sheet about the Armenian language in which they answer the following questions / instructions:

  1. Who invented the Armenian alphabet?
  2. In what year was the alphabet formed?
  3. What languages did Armenians read and write in before the alphabet was created?
  4. How many letters are there in the Armenian alphabet?
  5. Write your own name in Armenian.
  6. What are some advantages of speaking more than one language?

For more information on the history of the Armenian alphabet, a list of each letter and how it is pronounced, as well as common guides for grammar and usage, go to:

Activity #2

This article documents an Armenian Independence Day commemoration at the Hovnanian Armenian Day School. Break up into groups and discuss the following:

  1. Compare social and economic conditions in Armenia under Soviet rule and under democratic rule. Discuss similarities and differences in customs as they relate to the cost of education and health care, entrepreneurship, employment, freedom of speech and religion, and Russification / Westernization.
  2. In what ways was the Armenian struggle for independence 1918 and 1991 similar to the American struggle for independence? How were they different?
  3. How did Armenian Americans react upon hearing that Armenia gained its independence in 1991? If your school is near an Armenian community, ask the same question to a Genocide survivor, a first-generation American born Armenian, and a second-generation American born Armenian and compare your answers.

Special thanks to Garine Zeitlian and AIM magazine for questions 2 and 3.

For background information on Armenian Independence in both 1918 and 1991, visit:

For background information about the Independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, visit:

For background information about the Armenian earthquake of 1988, visit:

Students may also consult the following children's books:

  • The Transcaucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia by Thomas Streissguth (Former Soviet Republics series / Lucent Books)
  • The Armenian Earthquake by Chris Engholm (World Disasters series / Lucent Books)

Activity #3 - Current Events

Organize a classroom discussion around the following articles. How has the Republic of Armenia evolved since the Armenian earthquake of 1988 and its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991? What challenges and hardships does it face?


(companion to article on pp. 26 - 29)

Have students visit the library or conduct an Internet search about one of the following people featured in the May 2000 edition of COBBLESTONE :

  • Arshile Gorky
  • Alan Hovhaness
  • William Saroyan
A list of other famous Armenian Americans to choose from appears on the following link: www.cilicia.com/armo22.html

Instruct students to research a famous Armenian American and write a biographical sketch answering the following questions. They may then submit written reports or deliver oral reports to the class.
  1. What are / were their professions?
  2. How, when, and why did their families emigrate to the United States?
  3. Did these famous people encounter hardships or challenges as immigrants or children of immigrants?
  4. If so, what were they and how did they persevere?
  5. What contributions did they make to both American and Armenian societies?
(companion to article on pp. 32 - 36)
This interview documents one family's immigration history. Instruct students to construct a family migration map by collaborating with their parents to track their ancestors' arrival in America. Using a map of the world, students can draw the emigration routes that their ancestors took. They may use a different colored pencil to distinguish their father's and mother's sides of the family. They should label the cities or countries their ancestors came from as well as the town or city they live in now. Upon completion, students can compare their family's experiences by presenting their findings to the class. Students should answer the following questions on a piece of paper:
  1. When did your ancestors begin their journey to America? How long was the process, from start to finish?
  2. Why did they move?
  3. What preparations did they make before departure, if any? If not, why not?
  4. What methods of transportation did they use?
  5. How old were they when they left?
  6. Who were they traveling with?
  7. What belongings did they bring with them?
  8. Was the immigration experience a pleasant one? Why or why not?
  9. How did they gain U.S. citizenship?
  10. How did they support themselves upon arrival?
Special thanks to the Armenian National Education Committee and the Armenian Relief Society for this project suggestion. To obtain suggested interview questions children can ask their parents as they construct a family tree, order a copy of from: email@armenianprelacy.org.

A sample family tree outline is available here: www.teachnet.com/lesson/misc/familytrees040199.html

The Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA): A Cultural Center
(companion to article on pp. 37 - 39)
ALMA's purpose is to preserve and promote Armenian history and folk tradition. ALMA (http://almainc.org) also demonstrates what Armenian culture was like before the Genocide uprooted Armenians from their historic homeland. Since many survivors of the Armenian Genocide were made homeless and orphaned at a young age, descendants of these survivors do not always have heirlooms or documents with which to study their family histories. The possessions their ancestors were able to carry with them during their escape are quite valuable and tell us a lot about life in Armenia before the Genocide. ALMA is a repository for Armenian artifacts. Many objects in their collections of rare items on display consist of heirlooms donated by individual families. ALMA's museum component presents exhibits, events and workshops to the general public. Its library component has print, audio and video materials for study. ALMA's gift shop contains posters, books, videos, artwork, crafts, jewelry, and toys for sale. To receive ALMA's free e-newsletter, visit the website and enter your email address.
Activity: Be a Photo Detective!
  1. Ask student volunteers to retrieve an old photo (preferably one that is at least 70 years old). If a copy of the original photo is not available, students should obtain parental permission to bring the photo into the classroom, and wear protective gloves to safeguard the photo.
  2. Ask students to take turns explaining their photos. The person who shows the photo should sit in the center of a circle and hold up his or her picture. He other students should take turns making concrete observations about each photo.
  3. Going around the circle, ask each student to describe what s/he sees, using one noun only (e.g. a man, dancers, a yard).
  4. Going around the circle again, ask students what they can deduce from the picture. For example, if there is more than one person in the picture, what relationship do the people have with each other? What clues give observers that impression? Have each student comment on the activity in progress.
  5. Going around the circle again, ask students to estimate the year in which the photo was taken. Can a year be determined by the styles of clothing worn or by other objects in the picture? What clues give this impression?
  6. Now the student who has brought in the picture can tell the class what he or she knows about the picture based on his / her knowledge of family history. Be sure to tell students in advance that if a snapshot date is written on the back of any photographs, volunteers should not announce the year until the exercise is complete.
  7. Thanks to photo archivist Ruth Thomasian for advice about this exercise. To invite Ms. Thomasian to give a presentation to your school, contact Project Save Armenian Photo Archives at: archives@projectsave.org

To learn more about Armenian history, arts, culture and cuisine, consult the following sites:

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