Lesson 5
Duration:
2 class periods

American Responses to the Armenian Genocide

Overview

As American newspapers turned attention to the unfolding horrors within the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, leaders in the United States and other countries struggled to find an appropriate response to what was recognized as a massive violation provides an opportunity to recognize the ways people can work today to prevent neighbor from turning against neighbor. This lesson focuses on two American responses to the Armenian Genocide: the diplomatic response of Henry Morgenthau Sr., American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and the humanitarian response of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East.

This lesson addresses the following essential questions:

  • What were American responses to the Armenian genocide? What factors influenced their response?
  • What is sovereignty? Are there situations when a foreign nation should intervene in another government's affairs? If so, when? Is military intervention ever justified?

Learning Goals

In this lesson students will...

  • Analyze choices made by the United States and its representatives during the Armenian Genocide;
  • Understand the concept of sovereignty and how it applies to US intervention during the Armenian Genocide;
  • Discuss the range of options available to Americans at that time.

Materials

Selected readings from Crimes Against Humanity and Civilization:
The American Ambassador in Constantinople, pp. 127-130
Armenian Relief, pp. 139-141

Maps:
Historic Poster: Near East Relief (included in The Armenian Genocide Multimedia Resource for Teachers)

Activities

Warm up:
Ask students to reflect in their journals about a time when they saw or were aware of an injustice but did not try to stop it. Have them describe the situation and try to remember why they responded as they did. In small groups, have students share their responses. As a group, develop a list of reasons why people may not try to stop an injustice. Ask representatives from each group to share their list with the class. Keep the list students generated as they read about the responses of a nation to an injustice. You can refer to this later as it connects to issues raised in the readings.

Main activity:
1. Explain to students that they will be reading about the choices faced by the United States government and Henry Morgenthau Sr., American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during the Armenian Genocide. This text is written for advanced readers, but can be accessed by less sophisticated readers if read in smaller chunks. You may want to divide the text into sections, assigning a group of students to paraphrase a specific excerpt. Each group can share their summary with the whole class.

2. This reading illuminates several important questions about sovereignty and a nation's responsibility to protect citizens of another nation, including:

  • President Wilson did not encourage intervention because the Turks had not violated the rights of Americans. What do you think of this action? Should nations only act when their own citizens are in jeopardy?
  • What did the Turks do to limit Morgenthau's actions?
  • What options do government officials have when they are aware of an injustice in another nation?
  • When does one nation have the right to intervene into the internal affairs of another sovereign nation?
  • What was Morgenthau's dilemma? What choices were available to Morgenthau? Why do you think he made the choices he did?
  • How would you respond to Teddy Roosevelt's assessments of Morgenthau's efforts?

Use these questions to guide a discussion of the reading. You might ask students these questions as they go through the reading. Or, you can assign groups a question to discuss and then students can share their answers with the class. Students could also respond to these questions in their journals.

3. Government officials were not the only Americans to respond to events in the Ottoman Empire. Show students posters created by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East to raise American's awareness of the plight of Armenians. First, ask students to observe what they see in these posters. Record a list of images on the board. Then, ask students to interpret the meaning of the posters. What do they think was the purpose of these posters? Students can read "Armenian Relief," Reading 9 in Chapter 5 to deepen their understanding of Americans' humanitarian response to the Armenian Genocide.

4. Now students have two examples of American responses to the Armenian Genocide. Some people argued that American officials, like Morgenthau, and American citizens, such as those involved in the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, did not do enough to stop the violence against Armenians. Ask students if they can find this critique in Reading 5. For example, President Roosevelt argued: To allow the Turks to massacre the Armenians and then solicit permission to help the survivors and then to solicit the fact that we are helping the survivors as a reason why we should not follow the only policy that will permanently put a stop to such massacres is both foolish and odious.

5. To help students analyze American responses to the Armenian Genocide, you might want to have students engage in a "barometer" activity:

  • On one side of the room post a sign that reads, "The US should have intervened military to stop violence against the Armenian community." On the other side of the room, post a sign that reads, "The US had to respect the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. Morgenthau and others responded as best they could."
  • Tell students that you will ask them to stand at a point between the two signs that most represents their views. Positioning themselves in the middle of the room represents ambivalence. To encourage students to take a clear position, you might make the rule that no one can stand exactly in between the two signs.
  • Before having students leave their seats, ask them to write in their journals about where they plan on standing and why. This will prepare them to speak during the activity.
  • Once all students are standing, ask students at different positions to explain their views. Tell students it is okay to move if someone says something that causes them to change their mind.

Option: You might want to repeat the barometer activity by replacing the phrase "Armenian community" and "Ottoman Empire" with more contemporary examples of violence and injustice in the world. To what extent do students' opinions about intervention change based on the context?

Follow through:
Debrief the barometer activity by having students connect this material to their own lives. Have students return to the journal entry they wrote at the beginning of class. Given what they have learned in class today, how would they now analyze their response to acts of injustice? Did they do enough? Why or why not? Have students share their journal entries. Or, you might ask each student to contribute one interesting idea or question raised by today's class. What did this lesson make them think about?

Extensions

1. Despite Morgenthau's frustration, many people consider him a hero for his response to the Armenian Genocide. Have students write an essay or engage in a discussion focused on the following questions, "Was Morgenthau a hero? Was he successful? What is the criteria they use to judge if somebody is a hero? Does one have to succeed to be a hero?"

2. Ask students to compare American response to the Armenian genocide to a current response to injustice (i.e. an event students have witnessed in their school or community or a national or global event, such as the genocide in Darfur). What can we learn from the past to improve our responses to injustice in the future?

Assessment

Ask students to write an essay expressing their opinion on Morgenthau's comment: Technically, I had no right to interfere...the treatment of Turkish subjects by the Turkish Government was purely a domestic affair, unless it directly affected American lives and interests, it was outside of the concerns of the American Government.

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