A Box on the Ear": The Armenian Genocide

The Armenian Genocide, which took place in the Ottoman Empire, now modern Turkey, is estimated to have killed between 500,000 and 1.5 million Armenians in the years 1915-1917. The Turkish government under the leadership of the Young Turks organized the killings and deportations of most of the Armenian population in Turkey. Armenians were forced on death marches or killed with crude instruments such as picks, knives, and shovels. All of this took place during World War I, in which the Ottomans fought on the side of the Central Powers. After the war the Ottoman Empire was dismembered, and what remained became the Turkish nation. The legacies of the genocide reverberate throughout the 21st century. Adolf Hitler, in his Obersalzberg Speech, when talking about the viability of the extermination of the Poles during the invasion of Poland, reassured his Wehrmacht commanders by saying “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” The very acknowledgement of the genocide is controversial; Turkey denies that it happened, and countries like the United States also refuse to acknowledge the genocide. The group the genocide had the largest impact on were the survivors and their families. Armenians were scattered across the globe, and the genocide figures heavily into their culture, music, and memory. 

Standards & Objectives

Learning objectives: 
  • The student will understand the events leading up to the Armenian Genocide.
  • The student will define the term genocide.
  • The student will recognize the different causes of the Armenian Genocide.
  • The student will create an exhibit piece that analyzes and presents a primary source dealing with the Armenian Genocide.
  • The student will recognize the “Hamidian Massacre.”
  • The student will analyze primary sources to uncover details of the Armenian Genocide.
  • The student will learn about the legacies of the Armenian Genocide, including genocide denial.
Essential and guiding questions: 

How has the Armenian Genocide affected Armenia and what is its legacy on world history?

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 

This lesson plan lends itself to cross-curricular instruction. The Armenian Genocide affected everything from art to music to literature in Armenian culture. This can be applied to other subjects in the following ways:

  • Art teachers can have their students analyze Armenian artwork for influences of the Armenian Genocide. How does the Armenian Genocide show up in these pieces? What type of symbolism is used? What do you think the artist is trying to communicate? You could then have your students create a piece of art with themes/symbolism present from something important/significant in the student’s life.
  • English teachers have a unique opportunity to expose their kids to the rich literature that surrounds the Armenian Genocide. Not Even My Name: A True Story by Thea Halo is a poignant recollection of the Armenian Genocide and what it did to her and her family. Have your students examine the major themes and symbolism present in the selected literature and list them. You can then have yours students compare those major themes and symbols with other survivor accounts from tragic events, like the Holocaust or the more modern conflicts in Africa and Syria.
  • Political science teachers could use this as an opportunity to talk about the United States and its role on the global stage. During the Armenian Genocide, an American relief group called The Near East Relief sent supplies and medical care to Armenian and Greek refugees immediately following World War I. Woodrow Wilson backed these efforts. Have your students debate what the role of the United States should play in the world. Why should we help/not help other nations? Furthermore, you can discuss the politics that surround the denial of the Armenian Genocide. Should we recognize it? Is it any of our business? Why or why not?
  • Music teachers can use this as an opportunity to expose students to Armenian folk music. In fact, the famous singer Cher is of Armenian descent. Much like English and Art, they can examine the lyrics and the way that the music is composed and determine what the composer is trying to convey. 

Helpful Hints


  • Primary Source Analysis Tool & Teacher’s Guide
  • Armenian Genocide PowerPoint
  • Armenian Genocide essay
  • Printed Sources