As the faculty adviser to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Turkish Students Association, I help with cultural interactions among students from Turkey and our Nebraska friends and colleagues.
Today, I want to comment on LB640, which includes the phrase: “[M]ulticultural education includes, but is not limited to, …. the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, which may include, but not be limited to, such acts in Armenia, Ukraine, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan.”
While we commend the intent of LB640 to provide Nebraska students with an understanding of horrible loss-of-life events in human history and how they occurred, we feel that the bill has been constructed without sufficient research on whether all of the countries and instances listed have been classified as genocide by the United States and by the United Nations.
This bill will provide directives on historical materials to be used by the educational systems in Nebraska. It is therefore important that the materials be accurate.
While the deaths of possibly 1 million Turkish Armenians during World War I marked a horrible and catastrophic loss of life, the U.S. and UN have not classified this as a genocide. The large loss of Armenian people occurred near and during the time of World War I when Turkey was aligned with the German alliance and was fighting against Russia.
There were large losses of life among all cultures and people groups involved, including Turks and Russians. Many Armenians in Turkey were relocated during the war because of fear that some may align with Russian military actions, where Russians largely shared the Armenian Orthodox heritage and promoted Armenian independence for parts of Turkey. Many deaths occurred from starvation because of very poor logistics in Turkey and chaos caused by war and the forced relocations.
I do agree that this was a period of regrettable, catastrophic loss of life by both Armenians and Turks, and I strongly empathize with the Armenian people. As a former Turkish citizen, I apologize to them for these losses. I love and respect the Armenian people and culture.
Even though the bill contains the words “may include, but not be limited to," we are concerned that countries and situations listed will be given priority in the directive and emphasis in educational materials. The education of children is important to Nebraska, as they are our future and we want to give them complete and unbiased truth and understanding of human history.
All catastrophic losses should be studied by Nebraska students to provide an understanding that these horrible events can occur under a broad range of circumstances and that we must not allow them to be repeated. If our children are informed that only specific countries have experienced genocide, or that catastrophic events are mislabeled as genocide, it can imply that only those countries are ones to criticize and to harbor negative feelings against.
We hope that LB640 can remove “Armenia," since that regrettable WWI-era loss of life has not been universally concluded to be a genocide.
The LB640 list of countries does not include genocides ongoing right now in Myanmar that Nebraska students can work to prevent. It does not list the very large atrocities by Japan against Chinese and Koreans during WWII that massacred millions. It does not refer to the catastrophic reductions in the Native population that occurred as a result of western expansion.
As a mother of two daughters in Lincoln Public Schools, I desire that Nebraska's K-12 students not be inappropriately impacted in their hearts and minds against the Turkish culture. Turkey, today, is a modern democracy founded in 1923 (after WWI) and, although it is currently suffering from some abuses of journalists, academics and opposition parties, it is reaching out to all cultures, including the more than 4 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey.
We also don't want this bill to affect future cultural exchanges between Nebraskans and Turkish people; for example, an ongoing archaeological project in Turkey that involves a large number of academicians and students from UNL and Turkish universities. This has been one of the most internationally recognized excavations in Turkey and brings international recognition and exposure to UNL scholars and researchers.
Therefore, the list is neither balanced nor complete. It may be possible to remove specific mention of any country from the list and still maintain the directive to teach about catastrophic loss of life events around the globe and through history.