BEVERLY HILLS, CA–On April 24, 2009, millions of Armenians had their hearts broken by a leader who they believed represented change and hope.
President Barak Obama disappointed his Armenian American supporters by neglecting to keep his campaign promise to honor and recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915 as a true genocide. Instead, he washed his hands of the situation by pushing the responsibility to the Turkish and Armenian government and shamelessly skirting away from an issue that truly holds in its core all of morality. While the disappointment was sever, the perseverance and determination of the Armenian American people did not deter.
On Wednesday May 27, hundreds gathered around the Beverly Hilton Hotel, in Beverly Hills, California to remind the President of his broken promise as he hosted a Democratic Party fundraiser. Joining them were hundreds of other activists demonstrating for gay rights and an end to the war in Iraq and torture.
Organized by the Armenian Youth Federation and the “Shant” Student Association, the demonstration sought to urge Obama to honor his campaign promises to an Armenian American Community disappointed with at the Presidents failure to properly characterize the Genocide.
We are gathered here to remind the President of his campaign promise to properly and justly recognize the Armenian genocide, said Arek Santikian, a spokesperson for the AYF.We heard about his visit to Los Angeles about three days ago and mobilized as many people as we could even though it was short notice and a difficult time of the day.
As the Armenian Americans gathered and chanted “94 years no more tears” and “Obama, keep your promise,” their loomed a genuine sadness amongst all of them who had firmly believed this yearand this presidentwould have seen an end to the Turkish gag-rule on Americas position on this fundamental human rights issue.
This dissatisfaction, however, has not taken away from the hope and faith instilled within the hearts and minds of every Armenian-Americana feeling so deep rooted that expecting anything other than absolute fortitude and resilience would go against all that they stand for.
We know he is hearing our voices and will eventually do the right thing, Santikian said.
And President Obama did hear the voices. In a speech given that same day at the Democratic fundraiser, he said to his audience that one of the protestors said, Obama, keep your promise, to which he responded, I thought thats fair. I dont know which promise he was talking about.
If Obama genuinely wants to listen to the people and live up to the example he himself set, then we should hold him accountable for not following through on his word. With a comment such as that, it is up to every single Armenian American to make sure the President knows exactly who was chanting “Obama, keep your promise!” and why.
For Meher Aboolian, a young demonstrator who made the drive from Glendale to West Los Angeles, this issue is a fight for truth. I want to see the end of denial within the country of which I am a citizen, he said.
Interestingly, Armenian-Americans were not the only ones demonstrating against Obamas failure to keep his promieses. Susan Adelman, a mother protesting for the anti-war organization Code Pink, said that there is an encompassing lack of major promises not being kept. Whether were here to protest against war or the recognition of a genocide, we stand here as reminders of what we believed in when he was campaigning and how closely to our hearts we held these issues.
Another demonstrator, Marcy Winograd also supported the Armenian-American communitys concerns regarding the denial of the Genocide. Winograd plans on running against South Bay Congresswoman Jane Harman in the June 2010 election. Harman is an infamous Genocide denier who, after signing on as a cosponsor to the Genocide Resolution in 2007, lobbied her colleagues to pull their support from the legislation.
Speaking to Asbarez, Winograd expressed sincere concern and dedication to the cause for Genocide Recognition. When asked how she felt about President Obamas failure to recognize the crime, she said, I believe that the lack of recognition is a sign of making invisible your citizens and as a public official who is responsible for the people, it shows a sign of irresponsibility.
While the anti war protesters held up their signs and gathered to call for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Armenians, as they always have in the past, brought voices, spirit and valiancy to the collage of activists demonstrating across from the President.
Hrag Satjian spent his Memorial Day weekend with members of his AYF chapter, selling Armenian coffee to raise money for the ANCA Endowment Fund. The one-day effort collected nearly a thousand dollars for the upcoming Endowment Fund Telethon and is a testament to the power and potential of grassroots activism.
A member of the Crescenta Valley Zartonk chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation, Satjian, 23, worked alongside his fellow chapter members for some ten hours on Sunday May 24, making and selling cup after cup of Armenian coffee at the Little Armenia Independence Day Festival in anticipation of the telethon on May 31.
From left to right: Aris Hovasapian, Ani Nalbandian, Hrag Satjian.
All it really takes is a team of dedicated individuals to raise that amount of money in such a short amount of time, Satjian explained. Its hard not to be motivated when you know you have a real opportunity to help strengthen an organization that has consistently proven itself vital to our community.
For Satjian, the telethon will not only help the Endowment Funds mission to develop the Armenian-American communitys institutions and activities, but also provide the necessary funding to protect the interests of Armenian-Americans into the coming years.
Gayaneh Avanessian makes a sale.
I think this telethon will help our community by ensuring that we will have what it takes to protect our interests and Armenia’s interests in this challenging time our nation faces, he said.
Ani Nalbandian, another member of the AYF ‘Zartonk’ chapter who sold coffee on Sunday, said she felt as though her efforts at the festival were going to make a difference for the Endowment Fund and its activities. Being a contributor to the telethon through work and money makes me feel like I have a real role in it and my community, she stressed. It’s an extremely good feeling and I hope everyone else can find the time to help out.
This feelingthat each of them would have a role in something greater than themselves–is what motivated the chapter to pitch in for the fundraising effort, Nalbandian explained. Members worked different shifts throughout the day, some making the coffee and manning the booth, while others roamed the festival with coffee pots and cups in hand.
Because the profits from our booth were going towards a good cause, it created a concerted effort throughout the AYF “Zartonk” chapter to donate supplies and help with our efforts, Nalbandian said. “Our customers also appreciated the vallue of what we were doing. Many people happily bought cup after cup of coffee because they knew the proceeds were going to the ANCA Endowment Fund.
Levon Abrahamian prepares to make his first round of sales.
It would be impossible to have this level of fundraising while working on an individual level, according to Aris Hovasapian, the chapters chairperson. The network of members that we can tap into is extremely valuable because it’s a group of enthusiastic individuals that are ready and willing to put in a great deal of work for a common purpose.
“Its only natural that the AYF takes up projects such as this,” explained Zartonk alumnus, Vicken Sosikian, who donated the coffee to be sold at the event. “The Armenian Cause, is the people’s cause, so it makes sense that they took the message of the telethon straight to the festival, encouraging each person there to donate just two dollars to something they believe in.”
“Through this coffee booth, members collectively contributed more than 30 collective hours of their day to generate financial capital to contribute to the telethon. One should never underestimate the potential of the youth to grasp the urgent need to take ownership of our cause,” he added.
This same group of individuals will be working to raise more money for the telethon this Saturday, washing cars at the 76 gas station on 3402 Foothill Blvd in La Crescenta from 10am to 3pm.
To make a financial gift today to support the vital mission of the ANCA Endowment Fund, visit the AYF ‘Zartonk’ Car Wash on Saturday or donate directly to the telethon at: http://www.2009telethon.org/donate.php
Dr. Ara Khanjian discusses the history of the American labor movement as part of the Crescenta Valley "Zartonk" AYF's "Blueprint for Progress" educational series. Photo by Vache Thomassian.
The eight-hour day, sick leave, paid vacation, maternity leave, elimination of child labor, overtime pay, minimum wage laws, and even the weekendthese are just a few of the many benefits that society enjoys today thanks to the struggle of workers and the untold sacrifices of the American labor movement.
In order to shed light on the history and goals of this important movement, the Crescenta Valley Zartonk chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation hosted a community lecture this past Sunday featuring Dr. Ara Khanjian, Professor of Economics at Ventura College. This discussion centered on the history of organized labor and was the first installment in the chapters Blueprint for Progress educational series, an ongoing set of community lectures which will highlight themes and issues stemming from a progressive agenda.
Dr. Khanjian really exposed us all to a new issue, and his presentation explored so many different facets of organized labor, said Aris Hovasapian, Chair of the AYF Zartonk Chapter. I have no doubt that everyone that was present learned something new about an issue that is at the forefront of American politics.
The talk began with a review of some of the basic reasons behind why workers organize. Dr. Khanjian noted how the essential interest of employers is in maximizing their profit while employees, on the other hand, seek to improve their wages and working conditions. Given their relative powerlessness in comparison with those who hold the means to employ them, workers soon realize the importance of coming together and standing up for their rights through collective action. They form unions to leverage their demands and defend their interests on a more equal footing with those who control their workplace.
Given this empowering effect that organizing has on the working masses, it is no surprise that employers tend to be naturally antagonistic towards workers unionizing. Khanjian explained how unions are seen as a threat to profit and are often fought tooth and nail by employers. The cases of McDonalds and Wal-Mart eliminating entire locations and departments simply due to unionizing efforts were presented as illustrations of this often extreme hostility by employers against any attempts by their workers to organize.
AYF members listen attentively as Dr. Ara Khanjian goes over the history and dynamics of union organizing. Photo by Vache Thomassian.
Indeed, this hostility has combined with a legacy of political persecution of socialists and labor activists in this countryas occurred during the infamous Red Scare of the 1950sresulting in one of the lowest rates of workplace unionization in the entire industrial world.
Its hard to ignore the alarming fact that only about 13% of American laborers are a part of organized unions, said Sanan Shirinian, a member of the Zartonk AYF who was in attendance for the lecture. This reality exemplifies the unjust distribution of power in our workforce.
As Khanjian pointed out, this rate is especially abysmal when compared to countries in Europe, where unionization sometimes reaches as high 70 to 80 percent of the workforce. Such differences are part of the reason why people in the US work longer hours than most others in the industrial world, yet enjoy only a fraction of the benefits and have seen their real wages stagnate over the last 3 decades.
However, despite this comparative weakness of the American labor movement today, workers in this country have long been at the forefront of a host of important progressive achievements in areas as diverse as workers rights, civil liberties, consumer protection, and civil rights. In fact, the well-known International Workers Day, celebrated annually on May 1st, originally developed as an international commemoration of the Chicago Haymarket Massacre of 1886, when American workers were gunned down by police during a strike for the eight-hour day.
Being presented such rarely-known facts by Dr. Khanjian was one of the most rewarding aspects of the evening for Zartonk AYF member Sanan Haroun. Using real-life examples, such as the Haymarket Tragedy or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, within his presentation was a great method of connecting with the audience, said Haroun. It was the first time I was exposed to these issues and I find it crucial for everyone to be aware of such matters. They directly or indirectly affect everyone, no matter what career field they are in.
Massachusetts militiamen with fixed bayonets surround a parade of peaceful strikers. The Lawrence textile strike was a strike of immigrant workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 led by the Industrial Workers of the World. Source: http://womhist.bingh
The presentation, throughout, also laid focus on one of the universal tenets of the labor movement: solidarity. Unions show us that by coming together with people of common interests, pooling resources, and leveraging each others success, you can do things otherwise impossible and go a long way in making a difference for your community. This basic point was summed up by the following African proverb read to the audience by Dr. Khanjian: If you want to go fast, then go alone. If you want to go far, then go together.
During the question and answer period, these issues were further expanded upon through a lively back and forth covering such topics as labor standards in Armenia, the effect unions have on international competitiveness and the stance of the ARF on organized labor in general. These discussions carried on even past the question and answer session, as AYF members and those in attendance talked about what was presented over light snacks and refreshments.
Subsequent lectures in the Crescenta Valley Zartonk Chapters Blueprint for Progress educational series are scheduled for June 28, July 26 and August 23. The topics to be presented include the civil rights movement, environmental sustainability, and healthcare. For more information, contact AYFZartonk@gmail.com.
Dr. Ara Khanjian at an AIPRG conference discussing public sector governance and economic efficiency
CRESCENTA VALLEY–The history of organized labor in the United States and the Armenian experience within that movement will be the topic of the first in a series of community lectures hosted by the Armenian Youth Federation’s Crescenta Valley Zartonk chapter.
The series, dubbed Blueprint for Progress, will kick off with a discussion by Dr. Ara Khanjian this Sunday, May 17, at 6 pm, at the Crescenta Valley Armenian Center (2633 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, CA, 91020).
A professor of Economics at Ventura College and a lecturer in Money and Banking at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Khanjian currently serves on the Executive Board of the Armenian International Policy Research Group (AIPRG). He will discuss the birth and life of the labor movement in early 20th century America, focusing on its causes and ultimate consequences on future generations of workers.
The lecture will shed light on the shared Armenian-American experience during this period, focusing on the meager living circumstances of new Armenian immigrants, living in small ghettos and working as cheap labor in factories throughout the Eastern United States.
Armenian immigrants in this period came to the US looking for work or escaping massacre and the Genocide. Having left their families behind, the majority were willing to work for minimal wages and under extreme conditions so they could send money back home. Although very few Armenians in early 20th century America joined the nascent American labor movement, they were often exploited by factory owners as strikebreakers and scabs.
The intent of the AYF Zartonk Speaker Series is to introduce the community to issues that are on the current progressive agenda in the United States, according to Aris Hovasapian, the chairperson of the Zartonk Chapter.
Future speaker series lectures (June 28, July 26, and August 23) will focus on the civil rights movement and how prejudicial attitudes toward minorities can lead to genocide. Sustainability and the environmental situation in Armenia are also on the agenda. “We want to tie these issues, which weve generally ignored, to the interests of the Armenian-American community and show that our active participation in them will help us achieve our overall goals as a community,” Hovasapian said.
ENCINO–More than 250 community members took part in an 11-mile bike-a-thon Saturday to commemorate the Armenian Genocide in a unique event organized by the Armenian Youth Federation San Fernando Valley Sardarabad chapter.
Dubbed Cycle Against Denial, the bike-a-thon attracted participants from as far south as Orange County and as far north as Fresno and began and ended at the Holy Martyrs’ Armenian Church. Cyclists ranged in age from 8-year old Eric Ikoyan to 73-year old Antranik Baghdasarian.
The organizers said the bike-a-thon was a symbolic representation of the cycle of genocide, which continues today as a direct result of Turkey’s ongoing denial of the Armenian Genocide. It was described by participants as a welcome change to the regular commemoration events held annually by the community.
This is truly a new and unique way to remember our 1.5 million martyrs, said one cyclist on the ride. People on the street have been asking me why we are riding. I told them we are riding to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide.
After finishing the route, participants returned to Ferrahian High School for a commemoration program, featuring the singing of the Armenian and American national anthems, as well as remarks by Sardarabad chapter member Aline Karakozian and community activist Mourad Topalian. The event also included an original poem by Levon Shant Demirjian along with a prayer and candlelight vigil.
The bike-a-thon came the day after President Obama broke his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide by avoiding the word ‘genocide’ during his April 24 statement.
Speaking to the crowd after the bike-a-thon, Karakozian condemned the Turkish government’s efforts to blackmail Obama into silence. They are trying to discourage us but we are not afraid and will never give up, she said.
They can deny the genocide, they can deny the truth, but they cannot deny what I see here in front of me: the passionate souls, the inflamed hearts, and the enraged minds, Karakozian exclaimed. We are still standing at our churches, our schools, our children, we are all here, we are able and we will continue to struggle for recognition.
Obama’s statement also came two days after the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministries issued a joint statement announcing that they had agreed on a roadmap for normalizing their relation. The statement, which was issued on the eve of the Genocide’s anniversary, is seen as having been a tacit signal to Obama by Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian to not recognize the Genocide.
Topalian criticized President Sarkisian for announcing the roadmap two days before April 24, when he knew here in the United States that we truly have a chance to make history.
We don’t know any of the details; your government doesn’t know the details; your people do not know the details; and the Armenia Diaspora surely does not know the details and you’re going to tell us wait until all the details are known and then judge it? Topalian asked, stressing the disastrous consequences that would follow if Sarkisian’s administration agrees to establishing a commission to examine the Genocide.
The front page of the June 7, 1945 issue of the Hairenik Weekly, based out of Watertown MA. The cover art speaks to the patriotism of Armenian-American youth during WWII
LOS ANGELES–Dan Kimber, a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District, recently authored a commentary piece in the Glendale News Press criticizing the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) for being un-American, implying that the organization, with deep roots in the United States, was out of step with the professed ideals of this country.
There are several prejudicial, offensive and disturbing points in Dan Kimber’s column, which require clarification, said AYF Chairman Vache Thomassian, speaking to Asbarez on the matter. The Armenian Youth Federation, for the past seven-plus decades, has served our local communities and provided a positive outlet for Armenian youth to make a difference in the United States.
Kimber, however, disagreed in his column. Describing the organization as ethnocentric, Kimber matter-of-factly characterized a good American as one who assimilates into a homogenous citizenry, rather than celebrating cultural diversity and individual identity.
The whole attitude seems to me to be, in a word, un-American, Kimber said in his commentary, referring to the AYF’s mission. I know that there will be many in this community who will disagree with me, but my gut feeling–no, make that an absolute conviction–is that the Armenian Youth Federation, or any organization for that matter that dedicates itself to a stick to your own kind philosophy, is out of step with the professed ideals of this country.
Rather than advocate for a homogenous and assimilated citizenry, Mr. Kimber should examine American history and understand that a multi-culturalist view which respects the right for all peoples to celebrate and maintain their identities, is the true American way, added Thomassian.
The Armenian National Committee-Western Region (ANC-WR) challenged the teacher’s April 16 article, “Greet Melting Pot With Open Arms,” which questioned Armenian-American patriotism. On April 22, Vicken Sonentz-Papazian, the Chairman of the ANC-WR and an AYF alumnus, rebuked Kimber’s piece, saying it “completely mischaracterizes the origins and purpose of the organization.”
In his commentary, titled Teacher Fails to do Homework, Sonentz-Papazian outlined the long history of the AYF in the United States and the roles that its alumni played at important moments in American history.
As an alumnus of the Armenian Youth Federation, I read with a sense of great consternation Dan Kimber’s woefully misplaced commentary piece, which completely mischaracterizes the origins and purpose of the organization, Sonentz-Papazian said.
Kimber described the AYF’s dedication to community service as a type of ethnocentric behavior that encourages the very kind of separateness that many in our community and in our schools are fighting against. Under the guise of cultural integrity, national pride or whatever high-sounding phrases one might summon.
Any organization that would write such a sentence displays not only an ignorance of what this country is all about but promotes a thinly veiled prejudice as well, Kimber said, taking issue with the AYF’s founding mission to nurture Armenian heritage among the children of Genocide survivors living in the United States.
The same organization that Mr. Kimber insidiously describes as ethnocentric, sent over 1000 servicemen and women to battle during World War II, is the same organization that sets out annual projects to clean and beautify the streets of Los Angeles and is the same organization which has an annual scholarship program for graduating high school students to financial assist their education, Thomassian noted.
The teacher’s commentary came two weeks after more than 300 volunteers from the Armenian Youth Federation spent an entire day combing the streets of Hollywood, picking up trash, planting new trees, and removing graffiti as part of the organization’s 6th Annual Little Armenia Beautification Project.
Earlier that month the organization teamed with the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center to mobilize its members throughout Southern California to donate their blood during a Red Cross blood drive, overwhelming the hospital with donors and support.
The AYF was established in 1933 in Boston, on the heels of the Armenian Genocide. In those years, its founder, General Garegin Njdeh turned his attention from fighting successive campaigns against the Turkish and then communist invaders to saving a desperate and scattered nation, half of which was held captive under Soviet rule, the other half attempting to deal with the trauma of annihilation, the assimilation of Armenian youth truly represented a step closer to extinction, Sonentz-Papazian explained in his response to Kimber..
Sonentz-Papazian noted that it was Njdeh, who in that same year, nurtured and advised one founding member, Col. Harry Sachaklian, who served with distinction as a military aide to then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.
In fact, 40 members of the organization died during World War II, having served our nation with distinction in Okinawa, Normandy and at the Battle of the Bulge, Sonentz-Papazian said, noting that another alumnus, Sue Sarafian, was assigned to the highly sensitive post of personal secretary to Eisenhower.
Since its inception, Papazian continued, the AYF’s members have successfully balanced their devotion to the preservation of their heritage with their service and sacrifice to the growth of America. The organization’s membership, he continued, has always been ready, willing and more than able to both serve America while preserving their proud Armenian heritage.
Perhaps if Kimber did his homework he would not have found the simple yet profound words about the federation and assimilation so threatening and ‘un-American,’ Sonentz-Papazian’s commentary concluded. Kimber owes the Armenian Youth Federation, and specifically his young student who reached out to him, an apology and perhaps he should hit the books before broaching such a sensitive topic next time around.
This type of xenophobic attitude should be done away with, especially among those who purport to educate our youth, Thomassian said, echoing Sonentz-Papazian’s concerns.
On April 23, 2009, Kimber apologized to the AYF for his previous remarks and elaborated on his position after “receiving more than 50 responses” from what he described as the “good people in our community.” His response appeared in a piece titled, “Revising a Couple of Columns.”
And now about last week’s column. I received more than 50 responses from the good people in our community, more than any column I have written in the past six years. The subject was assimilation, and the object was a sentence that I came across in writing a student recommendation that read like a mission statement from the Armenian Youth Federation. I have since learned, and probably should have researched before I wrote the article, that the federation has done a world of good for more than 70 years and did not deserve this slap for one (however misguided) sentence. My apologies to the Armenian Youth Federation, he said.
The Armenian National Committee – Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANC-WR promotes awareness of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.
The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) was founded in 1933. Since then, it has grown to become the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization with chapters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world. The group actively strives to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of all Armenian-American youth. For more information on the AYF, visit www.ayfwest.org