Lesson 7 of 8
One 50-minute class period

Nation Building

From the Unit:

Learning Objectives

In this lesson students will:

  • Understand the terms mandate and League of Nations;
  • Evaluate the role of the United States in building nations in other parts of the world;
  • Defend an argument with persuasive evidence.


This lesson examines the role of the United States in nation building, and specifically the US role in facilitating the establishment of an independent Armenia. After World War I, the "League of Nations" used mandates to rebuild conquered nations (see Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations). A League of Nations mandate gave one of the Allied nations authority (i.e. permission to protect, manage public services, establish a government, etc) over territory gained during WW1. The Allies were willing to support an American mandate for Armenia. Congress was considering whether to accept the League of Nations' mandate over this area. In July 1919, the United States sent Major General James Harbord to Turkey to investigate the status of Armenians in the area between Russia and Turkey. Ultimately, Congress voted not to accept the League of Nations mandate. The independent Republic of Armenia lasted from 1918-1920. Without adequate protection and resources, the Armenian Republic was swallowed by Turkey and the Soviet Union. Armenia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

This lesson addresses the following essential questions:

  • What is self-determination? Do all groups of people have the right to their own nation?
  • Under what circumstances should foreign powers, such as the US, be involved in nation building?





Warm up:
After WWI, Armenians wanted to establish their own nation where they could be free from persecution. US President Woodrow Wilson promoted the idea of "self-determination" in which groups would be able to decide their own future and form their own government. Should all groups have the right to form their own nation? Under what conditions, if any, should the US play in helping groups form their own government? Who should determine which people or groups should be given their own nation? Ask students to silently write about these questions then give students a few minutes to discuss their responses with a neighbor.

Main activity:

  1. Set the context for students: It is 1918. WWI just ended. The Ottoman Empire lost. The area has been devastated by war. Armenians want their own country. Discuss the following questions: What resources do Armenians have to build their own nation? What might they need? Who should help them? Option: Show students photographs by John Elder taken between 1917-1919 to help them consider the question, "In 1918, what resources did Armenians have to build their own nation?"
  2. Introduce students to the concepts League of Nations and mandate before asking them to paraphrase Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations: Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.

  3. Provide students with the following information: In 1919, the US Congress discussed whether or not to accept the League of Nation's mandate over Armenia. Should the US accept this mandate? This question will be the focus of a class debate. Refer students to the summary of the Harbord Report in A Mandate for Armenia?. In his report, Harbord listed reasons for and against accepting the mandate. Assign students (or pairs) to one of Harbord's reasons. Ask students to do the following:

    • Rewrite Harbord's reason in your own words.
    • Elaborate on Harbord's reason. Brainstorm evidence that supports his argument.
    • Practice a 1-2 minute persuasive statement that you will present to the rest of the class as part of a debate. The statement should present Harbord's reason and supporting evidence.
    • Students can present their arguments following the structure in Harbord's report (i.e. a pro-US mandate argument followed by the corresponding con argument).
  4. Following the debate, ask the students to imagine that they are senators voting on whether or not the US should accept the US mandate over Armenia. How would they vote? Then let students know what actually happened: The US did not accept the UN mandate. The independent Republic of Armenia survived from1918-1920. In 1920, the Armenian Republic was swallowed by its more powerful neighbors, Turkey and the Soviet Union. Armenia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

    Follow through:
    Reflect on the activity in writing on in a class discussion. Sample reflection questions:

    • Under what circumstances, if at all, should the US participate in nation building? How do governments decide on appropriate responses, particularly after collective violence has occurred?
    • Professor and genocide scholar Helen Fein coined the term "universe of obligation" to refer to the circle of individuals and groups to whom you feel a degree of responsibility - "toward whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply, and whose injuries call for [amends]." At the time following WW1, were the Armenians within Americans "universe of responsibility?" Should they have been? Who is within your "universe of responsibility?" Why?
    • Here is an excerpt from the final point Harbord included in his report (See page 152 for the complete version of this point): "Here is a man's job that the world says can be better done by America than by any other. America can afford the money; she has the men; no duty to her own people would suffer; her traditional policy of isolation did not keep her from successful participation in the Great War. Shall it be said that our country lacks the courage to take up new and difficult duties?" Ask students to reflect on this point in light of current events.


Ask students to prepare a speech as if they were a US Senator in 1919 giving a speech to Congress about whether or not the US should accept the League of Nations mandate over Armenia. Students should draw on arguments and evidence from the class debate.


Have students apply their understanding of nation building to more contemporary examples, such as the following:

  • The decision the United States to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan after the events of Sept. 11th, 2001
  • The decision of the United States to intervene in the former Yugoslavia during in the 1990s.
  • The decision of the United States to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.


Lesson 1 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

Identity and Belonging

Students are introduced to the Armenian Genocide and the concept of identity through the artwork of Arshile Gorsky, an Armenian American artist and refugee.

Lesson 2 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

We and They, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire

Students learn about the Armenian people and the challenges they faced as they advocate for certain rights within the Ottoman Empire.

Lesson 3 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

Analyzing Historical Evidence

Students explore the ways in which historical evidence has been used to construct a narrative of the Armenian Genocide

Lesson 4 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

The Range of Choices

By studying the dilemmas facing individuals, groups, and nations in response to genocide, students deepen their understanding of the range of choices made during the Armenian Genocide.

Lesson 5 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

American Responses to the Armenian Genocide

Students study two US responses, one diplomatic and one humanitarian, to the human rights violations that occurred during the Armenian Genocide.

Lesson 6 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

What is Justice after Genocide?

While learning about the post-war trials that occurred in Turkey, students study the challenges of seeking justice in the aftermath of genocide.

Lesson 7 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

Nation Building

Through a debating activity, students contemplate the United States' participation in nation building abroad. They will focus on the case study of Armenia after World War I.

Lesson 8 of 8
Genocide & Mass Violence

Denial and Free Speech

Students examine why and how some government officials have refused to acknowledge the crimes against the Armenians as acts of genocide.

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