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Student brings Armenian heritage to light

BRANFORD – At the beginning of every year, Branford High School holds its annual “parade of nations,” a celebration of the different ethnic backgrounds of each student in the school. One by one, the flags of various nations are brought before the student body, later to be displayed in the student cafeteria for all to see. It is a way, officials claim, to encourage students to embrace cultural diversity and to explore their own heritage.

But every year, for four years, when the flags have been paraded by, one student has felt a little left out. Senior Charlotte Coulter, 18, has watched as each flag, with their brilliant colors and unique symbols, has been hung in the cafeteria with honor and pride. All the flags of her peers. All the flags, except hers.

Coulter’s ethnic background is Armenian, less common among her classmates than, say, Irish heritage, and thus lost in the litany of nations represented in the display. For four years, Coulter has dealt with that omission. This year, however, the senior decided to do something about it.

On Feb.18, Coulter added her family’s flag to the school display as the senior presented the school with the Armenian flag, to be hung along side the other symbols of her classmates heritage. The flag presentation was a part of Coulter’s senior exhibit, where Coulter focused on Armenian history and how it has been covered by the world media over the years.

“I wanted to explore my own heritage and educate other people about it,” said Coulter. “I knew something about my background, but I really wanted to focus on something specific and see how that information has evolved.”

BHS history teacher James Patella, who has worked with Coulter in Model Congress, applauded her for her dedication in bringing to light a little known culture that is rarely studied by most students.

“She is one of our best,” said Patella. “She approached this like she does everything else. She is just one of the most genuine, good people you will meet.”

Assistant Principle David Maloney also praised Coulter and her presentation. Maloney, who organizes the parade each year, stated that the event had become an emotional one for many students, who could be found crying when their flag passed by.

“We are absolutely thrilled. She chose to research this and she did a remarkable job. This display is a symbolic representation of all the ethnic backgrounds of the High School community. We don’t want the students to give up their heritage when they come through the doors, we want them to embrace it,” said Maloney.

Specifically, Coulter focused on the media coverage of the Armenian genocide of 1915. On April 24, 1915, commemorated worldwide by Armenians as Genocide Memorial Day, hundreds of Armenian leaders were murdered in Istanbul after being summoned and gathered by the “Young Turks” government, hell bent on extinguishing the Armenian race.

Thousands of Armenians were raped, starved, dehydrated, murdered and kidnapped along “death marches,” orchestrated by Turkish officials. In total, more than 6,000 Armenians were killed.

What amazed the senior most, when researching the project, was how little was now known about the tragedy that affected millions of people.

“For my grandparents’ generation, this was common knowledge,” said Coulter. “Everyone knew something about it because it received a lot of coverage. Now, however, I was shocked to learn how few people know about this time in history. I was amazed how much information had been lost over the years.”

That, for Coulter, made researching, and eventually presenting her findings to her classmates all the more important. It proved to the senior that much of history could not be found in history text books, but rather could be uncovered by hard work.

Though Coulter will not have the opportunity to see her flag paraded before the school at the beginning of next year, she will see it displayed everyday in the cafeteria. That, in itself, was worth the project

“Just to know that it is up there, hanging up there, is a nice feeling,” said Coulter. “I feel a lot of pride when I think about that.”

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