PASADENA–The Armenian Youth Federations Youth Corps Program celebrated its 15th anniversary on Saturday, May 22. The event, held at the Dimejian residence in Pasadena, brought together Youth Corps alumni, supporters and friends to share experiences, relive memories and celebrate the accomplishments of the program.
I had the privilege of meeting many of the volunteers who have participated in the program in the past. I was able to speak to them personally about their experiences and hear their remarkable stories, said Nora Kayserian, who will be volunteering this summer. These dedicated individuals have made the program successful over the years and continue to inspire others to be a part of it.”
Youth Corps began in 1994, two months after Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a cease-fire agreement ending the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In its first few years, the program sent volunteers in the summer to the Marduni region to assist in the reconstruction of the village of Ashan, which had been almost completely destroyed in the liberation struggle.
Youth Corps participants had the unique opportunity to see and assist in the villages rebirth, to discover the serenity of village life, and the culture and heritage of its people, recalled Melanie Vartabedian, who participated in the program 10 years ago.
The memories, the smell of the fire, the fresh taste of the watermelon you bite into, the endless toasts to life, to us, to the beauty of Armenia and Artsakh, and of course the toasts to the fallenthose memories remain forever, she added.
The formative years of Youth Corps were history in the making–for Armenia and the Diaspora alike. “The bonds we forged continue to this day,” exclaimed Dzia Vartabedian, a member of the first volunteer group sent to war-torn Karabakh in 1994. According to her, the AYF started this program to connect Diasporan youth to the youth of the newly independent republic of Karabakh.
Working on the campsite in Ashan village helped achieve that goal, she explained, adding that the group spent its summer with villagers who experienced war first-hand.
Over the years, the program sent groups to the capital of Stepanakert, the village of Vayk, and the village of Ashan. Through its work, Youth Corps developed into the most memorable, productive and exciting means for young Armenians to establish and strengthen their ties with their homeland.
In 2008, Youth Corps switched gears to focus on building connections between youth in the Diaspora with their counterparts in the homeland. For two years now, Youth Corps has been operating a free summer day camp for underprivileged children in Gyumri, Armenia.
“Camp Gyumri, as it has come to be known, gives young Armenians from the Diaspora a chance to make a direct impact on the lives of some of Gyumris most impoverished families,” explained program director Sose Thomassian. “The four week-long camp accepts up to 150 children and provides them with a fun and safe environment to make new friends and learn new things.”
This summer, the AYF will send nine participants from California and one from Canada to run Camp Gyumri. The group will arrive in the Armenian capital of Yerevan in early July. In addition to running the camp, The group will have a chance to experience the beauty of the Homeland and its people, touring Armenia and Karabakh for two weeks.
“It’s exciting to think about the adventures we are going to have as a group and the many lives we will touch through our volunteerism,” Kayserian said. “We will have our own memories to make and stories to tell.”
On Sunday, May 23, I had the privilege of speaking about journalism and Armenian media at a panel discussion hosted at the AGBU Manoogian-Demirjian school in Canoga Park. The panel also included longtime journalist and Horizon TV anchor Paul Chaderjian and freelance writer and ianyanmag.com editor Liana Aghajanian.
Organized by English Department Chair, Paul Martin, the conference focused on topics such as new media, the transformation of journalism and the advent of social media. The three of us shared our experiences in the industry with students, faculty and parents and spoke about the various opportunities that exist today because of the dramatic transformation and democratization of media.
Much to my enjoyment, the audience had many questions for us and everyone was eager to explore the topic in detail. The panel moderator, a bright up-and-coming writer, named Vatche Yousefian, did a great job bridging the topics and guiding the discussion.
Paul Martin covered the entire panel in great detail here on his blog, The Teacher’s View.
Prior to today’s conference, my students gathered together to draft topics and questions for the panelists. They boiled down their inquiries to several key areas: One, the students wanted to know the journalists’ opinions about devices such as iPads, Kindles, Nooks, and other electronic reading gadgets, and how they might benefit the writing and journalism industries. Since several students have blogs and also read them, they were looking for tips and techniques for creating content and reaching a wider audience. Third, the concept of citizen journalism was a prominent interest, since so many news organizations now have links for submitting stories from the average person-on-the-street. Finally, the subject of newspapers and magazines, particularly what form these traditional publications might take in the future, concerned many students, as they are interested in majoring in journalism or working in media in the future.
A few day’s before the panel, I forwarded to Paul Martin an article Paul Chaderjian and I co-authored exploring the prospects of a new Armenian revival in the age of digital media and hyper-connectivity. The article, titled, A 21st Century Zartonk: An iRevival in the Modern Age of iFedayees, was given to the students to read ahead of the discussion and, I believe, served as a solid bridge connecting the greater media world to their personal Armenian world.
The day after the panel, Liana and I appeared on Paul Chaderjian’s show on Horizon to share some after thoughts about the experience. Liana spoke about her experiences as a freelance writer and independent editor, while I shared some of the discussion points raised during the panel. We collectively probed, for the viewers, many of the questions posed to us during the panel by our younger peers. the video is worth a click and is posted below:
LA CRESCENTA, CA Some young people have a lot to say, others shy from the spotlight but share their emotions and thoughts through the printed word or on canvas. Whether they wanted to sing, recite, show their paintings or try their hand at humor, about 100 young people gathered on Saturday, May 8, to enjoy the AYFs Artistic Uprising Open Mic Night.
Organized for the fourth year by the AYF La Crescenta Zartonk chapter, Open Mic Night invited young people from throughout Southern California to share their talents.
Zartonk puts together the Open Mic Night to provide an opportunity for those who wish to express themselves, said Zartonik member Shant Mirzaian. Its also a great show for those who just want to sit back and enjoy the entertainment.
Hosts Gaianeh Avanessian and Levon Abrahamian were more than masters of ceremonies. They promoted laughter with their humorous dialogue and bickering during the show.
Bringing music and soulful beats throughout the night was AYF alumnus Knar Kitabjian, who spun CDs and was the DJ of the night.
The self-expression wasnt confined to what was happening on stage during Open Mic Night. Decorations for the hall were pieces of art lovingly created by Naris Azaryan. And there was even a magic act by Hayk Dilanian. Known as HD Magic, Hayk dazzled the audience with a suspenseful skit that put a twist on the typical pick the right cup routine.
Others on stage on May 8th included Deanna Ashikyan and Ani Khodaverdian, who performed a number of songs. Their acoustic performance ended with a finale of Dream a Little Dream of Me.
Singing Armenian songs was Nayiri Balian, who was accompanied by Vahe Lepedjian on keyboard and George Baltakian on drums.
Christina Gharibian brought a Middle Eastern vibe to the event, belly dancing to traditional Arabic music as well as to contemporary hip hop.
The band Prisoners of Disguise rocked the audience with a set of original songs they wrote and composed.
Bedig Atmajian riled up the audience by singing Armenian Revolutionary songs. Donning traditional Armenian folk attire, Gaianeh Avanessian and Lara Panossian performed a number of Armenian dances.
Alex Minassian and Vache Thomassian both moved the audience individually with original poetry. Alex Minassians poetry was of a more personal nature, dealing with issues of love and understanding enigmatic people. Vache Thomassians poetry on the other hand was his personal reaction and outrage to the tragic story of Mike Yepremyan, a 19-year-old Armenian who was shot to death in a Sears parking lot in North Hollywood by another Armenian after they argued about a text message.
Hiebert Sarian, one of the lead singers of the popular Armenain folk band Element, wrapped up the event with his performance. Hiebert sang classical songs from Gomidas with the help of one of his former music school classmates. He also had a little help with the AYFs own Arek Santikian on the drums.
We were lucky to have so many willing artists be a part of the show, said show host Gaianeh Avanessian.
Organizers of Open Mic Night believe these popular events are another great way that the AYF brings people with a common background together.
Recently a stream of Armenian-on-Armenian violence has captured headlines in Southern California. Among the most tragic is the story of Mike Yepremyan, a 19 year old Armenian who was shot to death in a Sears parking lot in North Hollywood by another Armenian after they argued about a text message.
Mike Yepremyan and his parents (above) are the latest in a growing list of victims afflicted by inter-communal violence among Armenians. Mike’s murder occurred against the backdrop of a festering criminal culture fostered by Armenian television shows (like “Immigrants”) glorifying a mafioso life of crime, drugs, and murder.
I should like to see any power of the world destroy our race.
Before we do it ourselves…
This small tribe of insignificant people,
Who fought wars to keep their identity,
Who died for inches of land,
Who starved to give their children a chance,
dying on hot sand…
That small tribe of unimportant people,
with more enemies than friends,
With more misery than hope…
Has begun destroying itself.
And we’re nearing the end of our rope.
Violence fills the world,
from wars in the fields to wars in our homes.
Hate fills your heart like gasoline in a bomb,
Waiting for a spark and when that time comes,
The only time you rest is a fist to the face,
Or blasting a hole in their chest.
Martin Luther King once said that a man who won’t die,
for something is not fit to live.
But what about a man who’s willing to kill for nothing.
That man I cannot forgive.
A man who’s never felt, never heard of a thing called brotherhood.
Never understood the meaning of fighting for good.
Go ahead prove your manhood.
Destroy what you think is your enemy.
See if you can do it.
If they come at you with words, respond with fists,
If they come at with you with a bat, you better bring a gun,
And if they shoot well that’s just no fun,
Because dying without revenge means that they’ve won.
What’s with the evil that plagues the male ego,
That makes us puppets of lust and weak people.
Is it a cultural phenomenon?
Touch my badeev and then it’s on,
Or is it society that says life’s so cheap,
That you’re willing to put a complete stranger to sleep.
And all for what…
Because you think that your ego is worth more than a life.
Because you whore the word honor like it’s a badge or a knife.
I know that it takes much more than fists to make a man,
And all it takes are words to make you raging mad.
That anger isn’t because god made you a warrior man,
It’s because you’re confused over how to deal,
Incapable of making a plan.
Think about this while you’re worried about a diss,
There’s a kid in our homeland worried about the hiss,
Of a sniper rifle’s bullet finding its mark in his heart,
On the front lines of a battle field strewn with land mines.
No BMs or Hummers, but with real honor,
Ready to die to protect the land of all his fore-mothers.
You want to fight,
Well there’s a war against our people,
When they take the cross off of a steeple,
Or rewrite the lives of our people,
Are you ready to die to fight the lies,
As they try and trample our people?
The price of life is equal amongst all Armenian people,
Think before you act,
Tell your friends and any other people.
People will read Mike’s story and think absos,
But they will learn to live and laugh again,
And to sing again and I pray,
That when two of us meet anywhere in the world,
We won’t unfurl hatred and anger and kill because of words…
I should like to see any power of this world,
destroy our race…
There are hundreds of young, talented Armenians exploring the bounds of art and identity through countless means including music and film. They interpret culture through their own individual lens. Haytoug sat down with some of these creative individuals to explore their thoughts on culture and identity.
H:Where did you get the inspiration to pursue your field?
A.K.: The Armenian oud tradition of the Eastern United States strongly motivated me to explore and study the oud and the role Armenians played historically in mastering it. Growing up I also incorporated various influences into my understanding of music and performing on the instrument. I believe that traditions must be kept alive but also developed and grown so that they remain a living, breathing part of our perception of art and life.
H:Please describe your proudest achievements.
A.K.: Working with great musicians in various genres and learning as much as I can while striving to be a flexible musician. Working with Viza, Aravod, History, Ara Dinkjian, Serj Tankian, Gor, Sonya Varoujan, and several musicians from all over.
H: Do you think identity is something that must be preserved or something that can evolve?
A.K.: Both – we must preserve but also help it evolve and survive in its surroundings. Adding our own experiences and seasoning helps to keep identity fresh and current while still maintaining core values that we hold dear as Armenians and people of good conscience.
H:What are your thoughts about Armenian culture today in the Diaspora? In Armenia? Where is it headed? What do you see your role as?
A.K.: I see Armenian culture as dynamic – especially given the richness and complexity of the Diaspora. I believe it’s headed in a positive direction generally, but we must work hard to make sure not to disqualify or marginalize certain components of our diverse art and music history. I see my role as trying to preserve one piece of the puzzle as best I can.
H:What does the future hold for you?
A.K.: More writing, performing, recording and collaboration. Raising awareness of the Armenian oud tradition.
Haytoug: Describe yourself in 5 words
Ara Soudjian: Mexican/Armenian filmmaker living in Los Angeles. (let’s count Los Angeles as one word.)
H: Where did you get the inspiration to pursue your field?
A.S.: My inspiration came from my Mother, who was an actress, and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
H:Please describe your proudest achievements.
A.S.: First, winning two 2008 MVPA (Music Video Production Association) awards for best music video under 25k (Serj Tankian’s Money) and best Hip-Hop video (Wiz Khalifa’s Say Yeah). Second, producing content for the ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America). Third meeting my wife at an AYF Kebab night in Orange County! (Most important!)
H: Do you think identity is something that must be preserved or something that can evolve?
A.S.: The customs, language, history must be preserved but I also believe that a person’s identity can evolve over time. We are human after all….
H: What are your thoughts about Armenian culture today in the Diaspora?
A.S.: The Armenian culture today in the Diaspora has evolved from 10 years ago. I feel that our culture is strong. I don’t think it’s as strong “culturally” as it was in the past, but I do believe we are stronger on the activism front. I believe we have assimilated, which is only natural. Some people may say that a lot of young Armenians can’t read or write the language. The white genocide is upon us, etc. Is that bad? Some would say so…but there are those who don’t speak the language but are still active in the community.
I would prefer having young “active” Armenians who care about our community and country any day over those who speak the language and do nothing positive.
H: What does the future hold for you?
A.S.: A successful filmmaking career along with a successful marriage and some future AYF-ers.
Haytoug:Describe yourself in 5 words.
Eric Nazarian: I am a human being.
H: Where did you get the inspiration to pursue your field?
E.N.: My father Haik inspired me to become a filmmaker and screenwriter.
H: Please describe your proudest achievements.
E.N.: Being awarded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting for my screenplay “Giants” and making my first feature film, “The Blue Hour.”
H:Do you think identity is something that must be preserved or something that can evolve?
E.N.: I believe in the evolution of our identities. Identity evolves with age and experience. I’d like to believe that I can evolve as a human being and preserve and advance my spiritual, cultural and artistic identity.
H: What are your thoughts about Armenian culture today in the Diaspora? In Armenia? Where is it headed? What do you see your role as?
E.N.: I can only comment as an Angeleno. In Los Angeles, Armenian culture is alive and well. So many events, screenings, concerts, lectures, etc. Armenians as well as non-Armenians have several cultural activities to choose from. In Armenia, the culture and history lives and breathes in the faces and stories of the Armenian people, the ancient monuments and churches, and the cinematic heritage now slowly being resurrected. The Golden Apricot International Film Festival in Armenia is doing a phenomenal job with their annual film festival. They attract so many countries and filmmakers to participate. I see my role as a bridge builder through cinema, making films that can hopefully be interesting to international audiences.
H: What does the future hold for you?
E.N.: I don’t think anybody can answer that question truthfully since we don’t know what will happen ten seconds from now. I’d like to think the future holds great movies, amazing sunsets, lots of “kef” music, phenomenal food and wonderful friends dancing “shoorjbar”. Cheers to the future!
WRIGHTWOOD, CA–Several dozen youth gathered at AYF Camp this past weekend for the Armenian Youth Federations annual Educational Seminar, where the issues of assimilation and repatriation were explored through lectures, discussions, debates, and other group activities.
The seminar kicked off Friday night with Director Elizabeth Chouljian, ANCA’s Communications Director and an AYF alumna herself, presenting the opening remarks and asking the campers to introduce themselves individually. Chouldjian created a welcoming environment, insisting that everyone call her Ungerouhi Yeghso.
The educational portion of the weekend started on Saturday morning. The first guest lecturer, Ara Mgrdichian, challenged participants to see themselves and their community from an out-of-the-box perspective by questioning conscious and subconscious notions of identity. The second guest lecturer, Dr. Hagop Kouloujian, spoke about the phenomenon of assimilation through the prism of language. Chouldjian presented her own lecture on the ANCA and its role in preserving Armenian identity and community. The campers then participated in a group discussion led by Ungerouhi Yeghso to explore the theoretical and practical motivations and challenges surrounding the issue of repatriation to Armenia.
Having a solid educational foundation within the membership is essential for any community organization, and even more so for AYF, said organizer Aris Hovasapian. We want to be able to train the future leaders of our community, and exposing our members to new ideas or challenging them with new concepts is certainly a step in the right direction.
The AYFs Educational Council, which organized the event, was optimistic about achieving the goals of introducing ideas that are new to the participants, and presenting concepts they can apply in daily life. The type of education that we stress has limitless applications, but the greatest act would be for someone to take what they learned over the weekend and use it as a catalyst to do something greater that could eventually benefit the community at large. said Hovasapian.
Mgrdichian, an AYF alumnus and a violence prevention counselor at Hoover High School, presented Assimilation and the Youth Living in the Diaspora, which exposed the campers to an alternative vantage point on the problems Armenian youth face today. He challenged participants to define Armenian identity and what encompasses being Armenian. With identity crisis in the modern Diaspora being a very crucial and controversial topic, the discussion quickly turned into a debate. Mgrdichian concluded that Armenian youth need not label themselves and put boundaries on what precisely defines being Armenian. The focus, he stressed, should be on bringing Armenians together to propel the Armenian Cause forward.
Dr. Kouloujian, a professor of Armenian language at UCLA, presented Assimilation and the Importance of the Armenian Language, which showed an historical evolution of the Armenian language, from its inception and eras of expansion to its current phase of atrophy and endangerment. Dr. Kouloujian prepared his lecture specially for this event, and the participants were very appreciative that he spent the time to gather so much research and create a PowerPoint presentation.
Organizer Berj Parseghian welcomed Dr. Kouloujian’s unconventional approach: A fresh new perspective was offered by Professor Kouloujian. He explained that if a language does not evolve and remains stagnant, that language will eventually disappear, he recalled. We need innovation, new words, new poets, new writers, a 21st century Armenian language… Lets create a critical mass around this concept A 21st century Armenian.
Every educational was amazing, said participant and AYF-WR Central Executive chairperson Arek Santikian. Ungerouhi Yeghso broke down her points very well in relation to Hye Tad and the AYF’s role in it. Additionally, the lecture regarding the Armenian language was a true wake up call to me. I realized that it is extremely important to pick up a book or two, every month or so, and simply read it. It is up to us to not only cherish our culture and history, but to maintain it, preserve it and evolve with it.
Chouldjian shared Santikians sentiments and had similar words of praise for the participants. “These young people had such depth in all of the information and all of the discussions that they had,” said Chouldjian about the interaction she witnessed throughout the weekend. “During the actual lectures themselves, the participation was great, but even in the off sections when kids were trying to take a break, the whole discussion was how do we make Armenia better, how do we make our nation better, and how do we work better here in the Diaspora. It was just absolutely inspiring to see that.”
The organizers said they were very pleased with the amount of participation by attendees, and impressed by all the new faces. It is always great to see new members excited and actively participating in discussion because their input is greatly valued. Many people had a few different chances to speak and express their thoughts on all the different topics discussed said organizer Aline Karakozian.
The educational portion of the seminar was followed by an oath ceremony Saturday evening where 10 AYF novices were officially welcomed into the AYF. The room was filled with mostly our younger membership, which made me extremely happy. Said Santikian A number of novices also came up to participate and eventually take their oath. The energy was at a high level throughout the entire weekend, and it showed during the discussion portion of the seminar. I was very impressed with the viewpoints of many of our members.
When asked to gauge the success of the event, Karakozian said, We definitely had a successful weekend with plenty of positive feedback. The seminar, she continued, was fun and educational and gave participants a unique opportunity to discuss issues that have become very important to our people.
Karakozian was happy that participants were able to share our ideas on what we should be doing as Armenians and as AYF members to help prevent assimilation and how to begin a movement of repatriation to our homeland.
Parseghian summed up the general feeling of the seminars participants: Our measure of success comes from the weekend being a catalyst for youth to think, innovate, and struggle it was awesome.
95 years of questioning the reality of planned, brutal mass executions, the ethnic cleansing of a people from their place is far too long. Up against a looming deadline, a threat of losing their history and identity, a new generation of Armenians is waking up to an economic collapse, disappearing Diasporas, and questionable leadership. The time has come for modern-day Fedayees to take action, to use modern technologies and create global media messages about their legacy, history, and their future. This is our prophecy.
By Paul Chaderjian and Allen Yekikan
At twenty-four minutes past four o’clock on the afternoon of April 24, a war for cultural survival wages on the streets of this metropolis. In the fight of their lifetime are young Armenians on the sidewalks of Wilshire, changing the rules, questioning Baby Boomer values, inventing a new movement, and sending a message to the world that justice will be served and their ancient culture will survive and thrive.
On the front lines of this epic war are the Digital Natives, Generation Z, armed with nothing more than their cell phones, cameras, and their laptop computers. This war is a battle for cultural revival, a battle to re-energize the Armenian spirit in the far corners of the Diaspora and in suffocated and abused community like Javakhk. This fight is for the universal acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide and global recognition of the independent Republic of Karabagh. This battle for national survival is not only being waged on these streets of La La Land but in the abstract place called the Internet.
Why is this generation – born into the most pampered of lives – out on the sidewalks instead of sipping beers at a beach-side cantina off the Pacific, on rides in Disneyland, or in the great malls of commerce, shopping, eating, or enjoying a Saturday afternoon matinee?
Where is this sense of injustice and this passion for change coming from? How is their passion being fueled? Why does the world outside their suburban lives matter more now than ever before? And why does a 95-year-old crime against their ancestors warrant the display of such passion – nearly a century later and a world away – on the streets of California?
A Generation in Question
Perhaps these question’s are because the progeny of the Genocide has awakened to an uncertain, apocalyptic future. A new generation of young men and women are coming of age to the threat that their lifestyles may be a memory of the good old days.
Young people are opening their eyes to headlines that those in their 20s and 30s are facing 50% unemployment. Their jobs have been shipped off to China and India. Their universities are broke and have no room for new students. Their forests are cut down and natural resources fast depleting.Their bankrupt government is waging unnecessary wars overseas, throwing billions of dollars in smart bombs on foreign lands, and their corrupt leaders throwing billions of bonuses to those sociopath capitalists who bankrupted a bogus financial industry.
Perhaps their stark realities are now coming into focus because they wake up to accusations that their very existence as Armenians is based on a lie. This rabid movement is being ignited because they turn on CNN to hear the Turkish Prime Minister say that there had been no such thing as Genocide and that Armenians had been the criminals that victimized the Turks.
Baby Boomers’ democratic leaders have not only failed at setting the record straight on the Genocide, but they have also failed at guaranteeing that our way of life can be sustainable for the next generation and for generations to come.
Youth today are threatened with the possibility of never owning their own homes, not affording to go on vacations to their ancestral Homeland, and no longer being able to afford to provide an Armenian education to their children or keeping the doors of their ancient churches open that is fueling the crisis.
How does their government and their President get away with destroying their future and making empty promises like ‘change.’ Hadn’t Mr. Obama promised Genocide recognition? Wasn’t he now turning his back on his promises and bowing down to the lying Ottoman politicians of the 21st century?
21st Century Re-awakening
The activists in the 6300 block of Wilshire are following a noble path, a path taversed by their forefathers. One which they were destined to retrace.
When they realized the older generations, in their affluent self-assurance, wasn’t going to listen to their ideas about cultural preservation and nationhood, this generation looked back to their people’s history. They found inspiration in stories about fools and revolutionaries who dared to question authority. They found hope in the actions of those in the late 19th century who ventured into the villages and founded schools, and who brought the European enlightenment to the Armenian countryside.
From Madras/Chanai to Venice/San Lazzaro, in the seminaries, merchant communities, and universities of the Armenian Diaspora, Armenians of the day began to look toward their Homeland with despair. They sought solutions to the nation’s problems. Having grown tired of being told what they couldn’t do by their parents, these individuals began to imagine a better future. They envisioned it and then worked to create it.
What began as a spark became a movement of awakening, a Zartonk, and it spread like a modern-day viral video across the Armenian world. The medium of that era was not the Internet but the printing press. Newspapers, pamphlets, and books created a Diaspora-wide dialogue about cultural, linguistic and social demands. The printing press created a consciousness and awareness that resulted in change.
In the 1700s when Armenians were living under foreign rule, Armenians in the Diaspora experienced the Age of Enlightenment and closely followed the French and American independence movements and the births of democracies.
As the framers of the US constitution were dreaming up their new nation, free from British rule, Armenians like Shahamir Shahamirian were thinking up a bill of rights for Armenians and a means for liberation from Turkish oppression. Their weapon was a printing press, which spread new ideas to the masses.
Through the printed word, ancient tales of heroic exploits and battles were brought to life, dialogue about democratic governance and social justice were popularized, and Armenian students studying in the universities of Europe were given a struggle in which to believe.
Armenians in the Age of Enlightenment gave birth to young enlightened thinkers, selfless teachers, and the fearless Fedayees.
One of the historic acts of the enlightened Armenians was the development a modern language that could be understood by the masses. This Askharabahr became the language of their revolution. It defied the Church and authority to become the medium through which dreams and means for emancipation and liberation were conveyed.
Today, 21st century Fedayees also have a new way to speak the language of the new masses. Their Ashkharabahr–the language of their world–is the Internet and social media. This new media in the age of hyper-connectivity is the foundation of this reawakening. That any two or ten million Armenians anywhere can come together at anytime through the unfathomable global access of the Internet is what makes the iZaronk a reality.
Armed with their laptops, cell and smart phones, this new breed of freedom fighter is waging a struggle for freedom from their people’s established norms, norms which are staid and are slowly suffocating if not killing a new generation of young Armenians.
Clear, concise messages, video images in abundance, passionate Armenians speaking up, jumping in front of their cameras, getting behind their iPhones, punching their keyboards with words small and big — these are what can and will turn around a people in a deep sleep in the early years of the 21st Century. The time has come, and the alarm is sounding; the war of yesterday is now the war in Cyberspace. The weapon is new media.
Armen loads his video camera with a fresh tape. His batteries are charged. His tripod is set-up. He has his MacBook, and he’s on the front lines of the Armenian Cause in the 21st Century. He knows that supremacy in the information age is getting his messages heard, using the information superhighways prolifically, and producing sexy, viral messages that are watched by millions of people, scoring thousands of hits on the net.
Varant is clicking photos of police officers guarding the Consulate doors. He’s uploading them with captions via his BlackBerry to thousands who are checking his real-time Facebook updates.
These youth are on the front lines of the Internet, where video, audio, and viral messaging can help Armenians reach the tipping point into nationhood, where democracy and social justice prevail; ensure cultural survival; secure the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide; achieve autonomy and self-rule in Javakhk, and protect the inalienable right of self-determination of the people of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.
Alina clicks away all day, texting friends, posting messages, videotaping images. She is not wasting her time communicating about which movie she saw or who is dating whom. Instead, she is living and breathing the Armenian Cause, by making the issues on the table more intriguing than what and who is walking on the red carpet or getting drunk in Vegas.
Like Armen, Varant and Alina, thousands of Armenian youth today have greater power than any government, than any conglomerate, than any old-world call-to-arms. Their war of a lifetime is waged through thoughts, through outspokenness, and through clicks on their communications technologies.
The time has come for a 21st century Zartonk, a national revival using the new weapons of modern civilization –the communications tools that every citizen of the world either has access to or knows someone with access. These tools, cameras, keyboards, editing software, iPad and iPods, FlipCams and iPhones, are all what can create the iZartonk.
From the dance halls of the Ani barakhoomp, to the Armenian language classes at Mesrobian, from the film sets of the aspiring filmmakers, to the performances of young playwrights, iZartonk is Armenians breaking free of their pedagogical restrains, free of the capitalist poison of accruing more wealth, free of the game of politics.
Along the way, young Armenians are using their Internet connections and their keyboards to not only report about what their generation is doing toward their community’s collective goal of cultural preservation, but they are also using all these platforms of media and communication to ask the questions that needs to be asked. They are asking each other, expressing their opinions, spreading unique stories about the Armenian-American experience and challenging each other for new dreams, new ideas, and calls to action.
What should we believe in? What should we stand for? What should be our plans? How do we protect our community and our rights? These are the messages that are floating back-and-forth on the Information Superhighway. Instead of banal messages on Facebook about what people are having for dessert, how about asking what is a good insurance carrier or where there are new job openings? Instead of feeding the livestock on Farmville or repeating a joke from a morally bankrupt cartoon on cable, why not promote a group fighting to stop capitalist endeavors destroying the Earth?
The iFedayees want a say in what their community stands for, what the collective should focus on, not merely accept the ways of their parents’ world. They want to decide whether this community needs multi-million dollar cathedrals, lavish banquet halls, and obscene weddings and parties – all which are depleting resources that could otherwise go towards timeless endeavors.
iFedayees must roll up their sleeves and know more than just their people’s history. They must also learn about the climate of the world, the Chinese economy, the worlds of the Islam and the South Americas, and how all these factors shape their modern Armenian-American experience.
iFedayees must learn, they must take a stand, and they must be involved in every aspect of their lives and hence their future. This is what revolutionaries do; and this is what young Armenians must do to ensure the survival of their six-thousand year-old-culture and nation – be it in the Homeland or in its vast and ever-relocating Diaspora.
iDo and iWill
In today’s Armenian media, instead of stories about the legendary heroes of the people who took up arms to protect their fellow Armenians, there are stories of the mafiosos stealing from the government, the masses, and each other. Instead of notions of equal rights and freedoms, instead of stories of revolutionaries in the turn-of-the-century Anatolia who inspired a nation and defied the odds to found an independent republic amid the ashes of Genocide, community broadcasters are promoting Armenian criminals as the heroes of the day.
Instead of preaching and promoting service to community and to others, Armenian media is selling laser hair removal, lap bands, and glamorizing those who take from the innocent, those who kill for financial gain, and those who have no morality and humanity. These are not the role models today’s young people are seeking., and these broadcasters needed to know that the viewer always has the last word.
The solution is for every Armenian to become a media practitioner, participate in creating and using alternative media and ignore the obnoxious mainstream media outlets. Ignore the info-tainment on your cells, computers, and television channels and hear what alternative media sources are saying. What do Link TV reports say about the European headlines? What are the Arabic channels reporting about the Middle East? What are blogs saying about the Homeland? And what is the individual Armenian saying?
After you learn and listen, become a media content creator by picking up your audio recorder, your notepad, your video camera, and record your voice, broadcast it to your friends. Even if you don’t have the answers, ask the questions, put your concerns on paper or on videotape and send them off into Cyberspace.
Every single Armenian should take it upon him or herself to write a few paragraphs or videotape 30 to 60 second news reports to let others in our community know what everyone else is doing as members of the “Armenians.”
We saw a glimpse of how powerful and active our community became when hundreds of thousands of you followed the Asbarez and Horizon TV during the committee vote on the Genocide Resolution, the Protocol protests, the hunger strike, and the Armenian President’s visit around the Diaspora. Thousands watched ANC YouTube videos; Asbarez and Horizon pages had thousands of hits; and AYF members reported the news by videotaping interviews from the front lines and posting it for Armenians and non-Armenians around the world to watch.
The momentum that we glimpsed and that we collectively created around the Stop the Protocols campaign was unprecedented. Our story and our collective engagement with the creation of media was viral. Not only did we engage the story, but we engaged our peers and made them active. On top of that success, our viral messages reached mainstream media, the LA Times, and all the television networks. Our Tweets and iPhone videos reached the “Tipping Point” and put our people at the forefront, at least for two weeks, during the Information Age.
But why stop now? Why not continue this grassroots Armenian revolution of the 21st century and continue and build upon the creation of media messages as we did during the Protocols Campaign. And why stop at Facebook and Twitter? Why not report about all of our individual and community successes to our own media network. And why stop with our media? Why not write letters to editors, engage your lawmakers, create YouTube videos, submit stories to Current TV, Reddit, CNN iReports, and other media outlets?
This reawakening, this iZartonk, is based on your participation, you sharing your small and big steps, ideas, concerns, and news items in this whirlpool of information. The revolution, the change, can continue if you and your friends, colleagues, the Armenian community-at-large, and the world knows what we are all talking about.
Share your news, share what’s new and different, promote your successes, highlight and advertise whatever makes you proud by writing, videotaping, blogging, Tweet-ing and Facebook-ing. If you have a keyboard, you’re a journalist. If you have a video camera, you’re a reporter.
Take creating media one step further and find the candidates who are concerned about your concerns and vote them into office. If those candidates aren’t there, then you run for office, be it for your university board of regents, your town parish, church council, city council, or state or federal offices. A democracy serves the masses only when the masses serve the democracy, when they vote, when they express their concerns, and when they go door-to-door talking to people.
Why should your government, your democracy, your representatives on Capitol Hill NOT vote for Genocide recognition. That question should be enough to make you ponder whether they really care about justice and have your best interest in their hearts. Or are they merely banking on empty promises so that they can sustain their cushy jobs and their affluent lifestyles and donors?
If your representatives in government aren’t providing what you need them to provide, if they aren’t worried about your future, your career, your education, if they are able to convince you that your government needs to wage war overseas instead of fixing roads, developing new industries and renewable energy sources, then their tenure as public servants is over.
Now it’s your turn. Participate in the reawakening of the Armenian spirit, create media, voice your concerns, vote, and talk to people.
Remember, in the Information Age, we are on an equal playing field with anything that mainstream news organizations are producing. Your thoughts, your concerns, your opinions are as valid as those of the pundits who are using the mainstream channels that are in the business of making money by gathering the most eyeballs at any given time.
Don’t patronize mass media to appease their shareholders with bigger profits. Instead, create your own media and change the game. Whether you attended a protest rally on April 24, attended a book signing, wrote a play, or heard a new artist, everything is relevant to your community.
So speak up, speak loud and participate in the reawakening of the Armenian Soul through iZartonk.
As another April comes and goes, and we mourn the loss of our ancestors almost a century ago, we again look toward recognition. States, counties, cities and municipalities will pass resolutions in their legislative bodies acknowledging truth, paying homage to social justice and international human rights. Rallies will assemble, protests will emerge and we will unite with our brothers and sisters around the world demanding that the Republic of Turkey accept guilt for its atrocities beginning in 1915. Such has been the case for decades and we have made inroads in our battle for justice. With that said, there are still many milestones toward recognition which the Armenian community is still looking to accomplish.
Those working toward these efforts can be found among those few remaining survivors the latest generation of Armenians. As diverse and multi cultural the Armenian race is, spread across every continent of this earth, we are united by a common struggle for justice. From our highly successful professionals to our passionate youth, our ever-expending community is utilizing every tool at its disposal to ensure the tragedies of our ancestors are not forgotten and efforts to rewrite history prove unsuccessful. Almost a century after the near extermination of our race, our voices have become louder and every passing generation sees our Cause embolden.
Each passing year, the Armenian Genocide becomes more widely known and accepted. On every front, the Armenian Diaspora is educating the public through all means possible across the globe. Just this year, another handful of countries added its name to the laundry list of those who formally recognize the genocide. With that said, the heyday of Armenian Genocide recognition remains in the future. As much progress has been made, the passage of the resolution in the United States Congress still awaits a full vote.
Behind the scenes, opposition has been mounting to the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide. This opposition started with a few powerful lobbyists and has transformed into a campaign encompassing international diplomacy, academia and the media. This, along with shifts in geopolitics and a war on terror, has allowed the Republic of Turkey to take advantage of opportunities in its efforts to rewrite history. Their fight, like ours, does not end in Washington. The effort to ensure an accurate historical record stretches far beyond the halls of the nation’s capitol and requires attention of our entire community.
As we inch closer to 100 years after the start of the Armenian Genocide, we must not only remember to stay united but also to remain activated. When this April comes and goes, lets not put our efforts on hold for a year. In order to pass a resolution in Congress, we must channel the passion felt on April 24 into action throughout the year.
Our community is strong but only with participation of our already united nation can we fulfill all of our efforts toward recognition.
In 1915, over 1.5 million Armenians were removed from their homes and subsequently massacred by the Ottoman Turks in what is known as the Aghed (catastrophe) or the Armenian genocide. Each year, April 24 is the day when Armenians around the world remember the death of their ancestors under the brutal hand of the Ottoman Turkish government. The year is 2007, this year, the cloudless sky and warm California weather made for an apt setting to commemorate April 24 in Los Angeles’ Little Armenia. Thousands of Armenians prepared to meet near the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Hobart Street for a commemorative march across town.
I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock blaring at 8:30 and immediately rolled over to try to sleep for a few more minutes. “I’ll make it in time, it starts at 10,” I thought to myself as I drifted back into slumber.
Awaking with a start at 9:08, I jumped out of bed and proceeded to search for an outfit that was somber enough for the day’s events yet comfortable enough to walk around in. Black slacks, black shoes, charcoal grey tee shirt, done.
At Turkish scholar Dr. Taner Akcam’s lecture at Glendale Community College the previous day, I’d been bombarded with paraphernalia for the April 24th events, yet I did not choose to wear my new “1915: Stop the Denial” tee shirt, nor did I affix the “Boycott Turkey” bumper sticker to my car that I’d been given as I left the lecture where Dr. Akcam attempted to promote dialogue between Armenians and Turks. I wondered if the students who abruptly left Dr. Akcam’s lecture early were given the “Boycott Turkey” bumper stickers or if the stickers were only awarded to those who stayed until the end of the presentation.
Running to my car, I quickly made it to the 101 South and exited at Hollywood Boulevard where I was suddenly stopped in my tracks by a massive traffic jam.
“It’s to be expected today,” I thought as I took the time to look around at the people in their cars in Little Armenia. BMW’s, Mercedes Benzes and other opulent cars were adorned with Armenian and American flags. I chuckled, wondering if the tourists across the street thought there was a soccer match going on because of all of the fanfare. A black BMW with tinted windows passed me and I noticed a group of young men, cleanly shaven with shorn hair and black 1915 tee shirts, laughing and watching intently as a group of young girls in tight blue jeans and platform sandals walked towards the march. The search for parking seemed endless but I finally found a spot near Hollywood on Edgemont.
The air was thick with the pungent scent of hair gel and aftershave. Old men stood on the street corners awaiting the start of the event. In the distance, I could already hear the chanting of the crowd. “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! Shame on Turkey! 1915, never again!” A group of men stood nearby smoking cigarettes and watching the crowd as many young Armenian boys and girls with gelled hair, Jamba Juice and Starbucks drinks and T-Mobile Sidekicks attached to their hands as if with Krazy glue walked around sending text messages and laughing with each other. The social aspect of such events was to be expected and yet the longer I watched the crowd, the less I wanted to stay.
At the head of the march was a group of Armenian archbishops and priests who solemnly walked without chanting. Their presence was in stark contrast to the general public who, with fists raised, chanted, yelled and screamed. As the crowd reached Normandie Avenue, the religious leaders quietly stepped away from the crowd, passing me to disappear from the march. The yelling started to give me a headache.
Sure, I want justice like any other self-respecting Armenian whose ancestors survived the genocide. My maternal grandfather was rescued from under a pile of corpses as an infant and spent his entire life in silence trying to live under a shadow he never discussed. Yet this tragedy is something that I wish to remember in a different way.
I want to mourn the dead rather than hold up slogans and walk down avenues as though I were part of a parade. I felt the anger rising up in my chest. Are we Armenians replacing the commemorative root of this day with a kind of bravado mob mentality? Was it ever any different? “What would happen,” I thought to myself, “if all of a sudden the genocide magically did receive worldwide recognition? What would our agenda be then?” Sensing that my frustration might lead me to say or do something I would regret, I turned and walked back toward my car. But it wasn’t time to go home.
What did I really want today to be about? I got in my car and drove east on Hollywood, North on Vermont, onto the 5 and then to the 134 until I reached the place that I knew was the right place to be on this day.
Forest Lawn Cemetery welcomed me with its quiet, its calm and its simple, somber atmosphere. I picked out a bouquet of white flowers in the flower shop and made my way up through the grounds. “Akh medzmayrig, oor es?” (“Great-grandma, where are you?”) I whispered to myself as I trudged through the grass in search of my great-grandmother Araxie Oshagan’s grave. “Eem havidenagan hartsus” (“My eternal dilemma”) I thought, as I remembered the same search for her grave I have each time I visit this cemetery. Was it two rows down from the stone bench or two rows up? Damn it, should I call my cousin for directions?
And then, I found her. The emotions arose within me as I slowly began to wash her gravestone with water and arrange the flowers I had bought.
Araxie Astardjian was born in Bulgaria in 1895. As a young teen, she met her future husband when on one cold night, the writer Hagop Oshagan knocked on her parents’ door asking if they could put him up for the night. From Bulgaria all the way to her death in Los Angeles in 1987 just two weeks after moving to the US, my medzmayrig’s life was one full of trauma, strength, pride and loss.
I remembered how she would sit in the corner of her room, her head turned to look out the window, searching for the ghosts of her long-lost husband and family members. I noticed a car pass by with an Armenian flag attached to its passenger window. A solemn family exited the car to pay their respects to their loved ones at the cemetery. Slowly, I realized that all was not forgotten.