January 11, 2023

AHA Alumna, Husband Discuss Armenian Genocide with History Class

The Armenian Genocide came into sharper focus this month, as Academy of the Holy Angels alumna Talin Baghdadlian (’09) and her husband Armen Sahakyan addressed Jennifer Cucchisi’s Advanced Placement U.S. History II class. Both speakers are descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors, and now live and work in Armenia. They promote education about the loss of 1.5 million Armenians, and work toward reparations and recognition of this genocide, which is still an issue after a century.


“Injustice is my core motivator,” said Talin, who works with Teach for Armenia. She noted that those who carried out the genocide were determined to deny others’ identities.



Armen, an adjunct professor at the American University of Armenia and project director at Westminster Foundation for Democracy, knew he enjoyed this type of work when he was a teen. 


“I had a dawning recognition that I was born in an independent country known as Armenia,” he said, noting that he felt a responsibility to pass information to the next generation, add to the Armenian economy, and teach at the local university. He previously lobbied on behalf of the Armenian community with the Armenian National Committee of America.


The speakers presented a condensed history of Armenia, which has been a kingdom, part of the Ottoman Empire, part of the Soviet Union, and an independent nation. They explained that the Armenian Genocide began with massacres of Armenians and other minorities, including Assyrians and Greeks, that took place in the late 1890s. Most historians, they said, recognize April 24, 1915 as the start of the multi-year genocide, because that is the day the “Young Turks” (the Committee of Union and Progress), attempted to solidify Turkish rule and rounded up minorities who were leaders and part of the intelligentsia. World War I was underway, and people were told they were being moved to safe locations. In reality, they were being led on death marches.


Some people buried their riches with the expectation that they would return for them, Talin said; however, treasure hunters stole many of the hidden items. Landowners also lost their properties, even if they still had their deeds. Armen estimated that $2 trillion in land was absorbed by modern-day Turkey.


The American media, missionaries, and telegrams from those in the area warned the outside world of the death marches. Grassroots efforts in the U.S. helped save 500,000 Armenian lives. As first lady of the United States of America, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson established Golden Rule Sunday Brunches. Patrons ate orphanage-style meals and donated what they would have spent on a full meal to Armenian relief efforts.


“The humanitarian effort was clouded with politics,” Talin added. She said U.S. President Woodrow Wilson wanted to resolve the issue by mapping out an area that would be an independent Armenia. When part of the designated land was subsumed by the Soviet Union, “Wilsonian Armenia” went away, Talin said.


“The Armenian Genocide must be actively taught,” she urged, noting that many countries, including the Turkish government, deny the genocide happened. She wants to see societies reform so history will not repeat.


Armen pointed out that the Armenian Genocide led the Germans to believe they could get away with the Holocaust during WWII. He noted that there was a court martial in relation to the Armenian Genocide, but the Turks who were sentenced hid in Germany (the Ottoman Empire’s WWI ally), and never faced any penalty. 


Ms. Cucchisi has hosted Talin several times before. This year’s visit was very well timed, Cucchisi said, since her class had just started its study of WWI.


“As an alumna, Talin is able to provide our current students with so much perspective: what to expect in college, suggestions on trying things such as taking new classes they would never have thought to do before, studying abroad, doing an internship, and what job opportunities are available to them.


“Talin and Armen provided the students with invaluable information regarding the Armenian Genocide, and I truly appreciate that they were willing to share their families’ stories and their personal experiences with trying to gain recognition for the genocide, which is truly so important for our students to hear. As a history teacher, I find that when the issues are made more personal to the students, it impacts them more and this is a topic that is so important for them to learn and understand.”