SELMA – When it came time to teach about World War I and the events surrounding the Armenian Genocide, David Wright knew there was much more to tell than the one paragraph in his textbook.
“It only has one paragraph and it’s not even accurate. The book makes it sound like it was a war, not genocide. When you take people, women and children, out to the desert and kill them, that’s not a war,” Wright said.
Because of Wright’s efforts to teach more of the history of this, and other genocides, he is being recognized by the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region’s Education Committee. Wright and 10 other educators were awarded the Armenian Genocide Education Award Feb. 24 at a luncheon in Burbank’s Deluxe Banquet Hall.
“I’ve always been interested in history and injustice. I like to expose past injustices because I want the students to realize there are bad things happening, even now.”
Wright has taught social studies at Selma High for the past 29 years and was nominated for the award by the school’s Assistant Principal Sato Sanikian. She said his efforts should be recognized as he’s helping shape a more empathetic, informed and tolerant generation.
“I commend Mr. Wright for teaching our students the importance of remembering all genocides, including the Jewish Holocaust, the Sikhs, Rwanda tribal killings, the Syrians, the Kurds of Iraq. [He] focuses on all examples of genocide and the suffering of people based on their religion, culture, and ethnic heritage,” she said. “His lessons enable students to better understand the human story as it relates to crimes against humanity.”
Although the Armenian Genocide happened 100 years ago, Wright shows students how these events directly affect their lives today.
“I let [students] know of all their teachers now, and in the past, who are of Armenian descent. We have a lot of teachers and administrators who are here because of these events. Their parents or grandparents, if they were lucky, they escaped. Somebody escaped and this is what they went through. Our textbook doesn’t give it justice.”
As an infant, Wright was adopted by Scottish and Irish teachers who worked for the Department of Defense. They were living in Spain when they traveled to Greece and found him.
Wright’s biological parents are both Greek. Although the circumstances of his birth were tragic, Wright said he’s grateful he was adopted and lived life in the United States.
His biological father was a Greek refugee from northern Turkey.
“He either had to leave or die,” Wright said. “Armenians, Greeks, Kurds and Assyrians were all massacred for being non-Turkish and for being Christian instead of Muslim. [My father] moved to Athens and then 50 years later, he meets this teenager trying to recover from World War II. He took advantage of her and now, here I am.”
Wright’s biological mother, Maria Manganari, was a teenager trying to find work after the Nazis had devastated Greece. Her sister helped her find a job as a live-in maid for a family, Wright said.
“The husband got her pregnant. He was 56 and she was 15. She’s told me all this.”
Manganari was sent to an orphanage to give birth and later his parents adopted him. Afterward, Manganari had to return to work as a maid for that same family.
“The man was very nice to her, but the wife was very mean,” Wright said relaying what his mother told him. “The wife would make her scrub the floors over and over and keep tips from her when guests came over. When her daughter married, my birth mother was part of the dowry. I just found this out two summers ago.”
Manganari only speaks and writes in Greek, but over time and with the help of translators, Wright is learning more and more about his biological parents’ history shaped by the devastation of genocide and war in Europe.
“We went back in 1989 and met her two children. I know which island she’s from. I’ve been all over with my wife and kids,” he says of that first meeting. At first, his mother’s other adult children didn’t realize the circumstances but were finally told after Wright’s wife offered to give the daughter a wedding dress.
“She didn’t tell her family until a year and a half ago. For the first time ever, she was introducing me as her oldest son to her siblings, relatives and friends. For the first time they’re hearing this story and I was standing right there.”
Wright said it’s estimated that anywhere from 500,000 to 900,000 Greeks, 1.5 million Armenians, 200,000 Kurds and 300,000 Syrians were killed by the Turks during the 1910s.
“All these bad things happened, but I have these parents here that were fantastic and a bunch of siblings here. Everything good happened to me but these tragedies happened to them,” he said.
Wright is now locating relatives from his biological father’s side of the family and is eager to learn more about the events shaping his life.
As a teacher, Wright said he hopes his personal history helps students realize they shouldn’t waste or take for granted the opportunities they have in this country.
“If you come here, you have all these opportunities. Don’t squander it because you don’t realize what people in other countries don’t have. Even if you’re not an immigrant, that’s really my message. My mother was basically a slave and only had a sixth-grade education. I want these kids to not be taken advantage of. The only way to prevent that is to educate yourself. If you don’t make choices, someone else is going to make them for you.”