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Armenian Assembly Mourns the Loss of Pioneering Human Rights Educator William S. Parsons

Updated: Jun 23, 2021


Former USHMM Council Member Diane Asadorian, USHMM Chief of Staff William S. Parsons, and his wife Sylvia Parsons at the ANI Conference “The American Response to the Armenian Genocide” in 2000.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) mourns the loss of William S. Parsons, who passed away on the morning of December 23. He worked at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) for 25 years where he served as chief of staff and director of education.

“Bill Parsons did a fantastic job at the Holocaust Museum, working diligently to promote genocide education. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the Armenian National Institute (ANI) Academic Council and will always remember his dedication and perseverance in the fight against denial of the Armenian Genocide,” said Assembly Vice Chairman and Counselor Robert A. Kaloosdian. “Bill was an excellent speaker and a friend of the Armenian Assembly. He will be greatly missed by us and the entire Armenian-American community,” he added.

The Memorial Service for William S. Parsons will be held on Saturday, January 7, 2017 at 11:00 AM in the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.

Speaking at the Assembly’s National Tribute Gala in 2000, Parsons told the guests: “To omit the history of the Armenian Genocide is to present a distorted and false history to our youth. I also know that those who deny this historical truth represent the final assault on those who were slaughtered, those who survived, and those of us who want future generations to remember and to learn about the capability of governments to commit genocide.”

On various occasions, Parsons stressed the importance of standing up against all crimes against humanity. “We need to push back against the perpetrators of hate, anti-Semitism, violence, mass murder, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Because that’s the only lesson they’ll listen to,” Parsons said during a 2008 lecture in Dallas, Texas at St. Sarkis Armenian Church. “The push is hard, it’s really hard, it’s hard to deal with the lies of history, governments are really good at lying to us, constantly all the time and if anybody or anybody you run into buys into the lie that the Armenian Genocide is not a genocide you need to say something, because the archives of the world are full of the documentation,” Parsons continued.

Prior to joining USHMM, Parsons co-founded Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that specializes in training teachers in human rights education in order to help students confront the lessons of genocide and the Holocaust, and learn the value of tolerance. Facing History and Ourselves developed the first national curriculum on the Armenian Genocide in the U.S., which serves as the template for all educators today.

In 1987, Parsons developed an educational video and study guide titled Everyone’s Not Here: Families of the Armenian Genocide. The 28-minute video includes historical photographs and the reflections of three survivors on their experiences during the genocide, as well as the impact of the grandchildren listening to the testimonies of their grandparents.

Parsons reached thousands of teachers across the United States and around the globe. He co-authored the teachers’ resource book Facing History and Ourselves: The Holocaust and Human Behavior. He also co-edited, along with other significant educators, Centuries of Genocide: Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, which has gone into its fourth edition and sold tens of thousands of copies, making it the most popular college textbook on human rights and genocide. ANI Director Dr. Rouben Adalian has contributed the chapter on the Armenian Genocide for all editions of this textbook.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia’s Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute awarded Parsons with the Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Medal on behalf of the government of Armenia. In a formal ceremony at the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, previous Armenian Ambassador to the U.S. Tigran Sargsyan and Dr. Adalian presented the award to Parsons for his exceptional service to humankind through education on the Armenian Genocide and the defense of human rights.

“It was my great honor to participate in the awarding of a longtime friend of the Armenian people,” stated Dr. Adalian. “Perhaps no other person in the United States has done more and achieved more as a human rights educator than William Parsons,” added Dr. Adalian.

Parsons is survived by his wife, Sylvia; his son, Scott; his two grandchildren; brothers, James and Brad; sister, Ellen, and many other relatives.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501©(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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