For the past semester, students in Lori Fisher’s 10th-grade Animas High School humanities class studied a complex and dark subject in history: genocides.
What they learned is a mixture of stresses, both long-term and short-term, often form a toxic combination that leads societies to turn on weaker groups, culminating in murder on a mass scale.
“I think the students learned that genocides are complex, and it forced them to look at what is in us to cause us to do these horrific things,” Fisher said Wednesday night at her students’ exhibition of their work at AHS.
Billie Brand, 15, the daughter of Staci and Greg Brand, studied the Turkish genocide of Greeks because she said so few people have heard about it.
Brand said the genocide occurred from 1914 to 1923, the same period when the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, the Turkish Republic, was also killing Armenians, a genocide that is more widely known.
“To this day, the Turkish government denies this ever happened,” Brand said.
Brand said Kemal Ataturk’s effort to modernize Turkey after he came to power in 1918 only accelerated efforts to purify Turkey of non-Turkish minorities that had begun in the Ottoman Empire.
Nicholas James Gilmore, 15, the son of Tamara and Jacob Gonzales, and Joseph Rioux, 16, the son of Jennifer and Alan Rioux, studied the Holodomor, the policy of the Soviet Union and its dictator Joseph Stalin in 1932-33 to starve the Ukraine in an effort to weaken it so it could be conquered and absorbed into the Soviet Union.
Rioux said between 3 million and 7 million Ukrainians died in the famine after Soviet soldiers cleared grain and other food sources from Ukrainian farms.
The New York Times at the time reported that the Russians were treating the Ukrainians well after a reporter was duped when shown model villages, “Potemkin villages,” and little was reported about the Soviet-imposed famine, Rioux said.
“I found it interesting that they could keep the deaths of 3 million to 7 million people hidden from Europe and the United States and most people in the West,” Rioux said.
Fisher said students came to realize genocides are complex and involve multiple factors, and she said she hopes students are able to recognize how genocides start and how people can work to prevent them from ever happening again.
“I think the students realize there are a confluence of factors, and people are not necessarily evil, but they give into pressures.”