On February 18, 2015, about 100 Armenians and non-Armenians buzzing with excitement stood together in solidarity to make history as the Associated Students of the University of California unanimously passed “A Bill in Support of Divestment from the Republic of Turkey”. Throughout the three hours leading up to the final decision, the air was rife with anticipation. There, facing our united community, stood an “opposition.”
“What could they possibly say to undermine our presentation?” I asked myself as a knot began to form in my stomach. Yet, as I looked around the room and saw the overwhelming number of Armenian Students Association members and community supporters, I came to an empowering realization: in a way, the opposition’s rhetoric really didn’t matter.
The UC system’s investment in the Republic of Turkey affirms its complicity in Turkey’s erasure of history and the censoring of Armenian scholarship. The UC invests our tuition money, the money of a very active Armenian community, into the very institution that is committed to denying this historical truth. Our elders taught us to defend this history and to “never forget,” for one day, we too may face the oppressor. Never in my life would I have thought that the “one day” they so often referred to would take place for me at a Senate meeting at UC Berkeley, the No. 1 public university in the world.
Growing up, my Armenian-ness was a given and never questioned. I listened to the words of “Verkerov Lee”, “Mshag Panvor” and “Kedashen” before I could even speak; I attended Armenian Youth Federation educational seminars every year after turning eight; I went to Armenian school every Friday afternoon. While all my other friends had already started their weekends, mine did not start until after Oyrort Arpi’s lessons of Hayots Badmootyoon and Digin Yeghsa’s corrections of my atrocious spelling while simultaneously having me read the same stories 10 times until I could do it without hesitation. Looking back on it all, my “Armenian-ness” was not mine. I was following what I was supposed to do and what was expected of an Armenian born in the Diaspora. “Do not forget your mayr lezoo. Make sure everybody around you knows that you are Armenian and proud.”
My Armenian-ness was not mine.
It was not mine because I could not make the abstract tangible. Maybe applying the concept of Hye Tad would be easy in one’s life when surrounded by Armenians, but being that I didn’t grow up in a place densely populated with Armenians, I always thought to myself, “Why would anybody that is not Armenian care about the Armenian Cause?” I found myself constantly wondering, “Would it make me more Armenian if I went to more events or became more involved in Armenian circles?”
When I got into UC Berkeley, I didn’t anticipate that I would find much of an Armenian community here. I had never been more incredibly surprised to learn that Armenians are not only here, but they are active, they are welcoming, and they are a family, and I am one of them. Four years later, I am proud to say that the UC Berkeley and Bay Area Armenian communities have not only changed my life, but also empowered me to take charge of what it means to be Armenian.
In 1964, Berkeley’s historic Free Speech Movement grew in response to an on-campus ban of political activities. This deeply rooted history has fostered a spirit of student activism that is very much alive on campus today. This same activism has permeated the Armenian community, as well. Each of us is involved in some activity outside of our community, making our student group a beautiful mosaic of passions, interests and hope for the upcoming generation of Armenian leaders. We each hope to contribute one day in different ways; some study molecular biology and tutor underclassmen in the subject with the hope of one day bringing those teaching skills to a clinic in Armenia; others study public health with the dream of later analyzing reproductive rights in the Homeland, and some actively take part in consent campaigns and bring that spirit back to the Armenian Students Association. Though we may have different passions, goals and interests, there is a synergy within us that I have never before seen in the Armenian community, as we celebrate the differences that empower each of us as individuals to fight for what is right. It is that very synergy that led us to present our case for the divestment of UC funds from the Republic of Turkey in front of our student government, and a room full of students, parents and community members. It is that very synergy that encouraged Armenians to find their own individual passion and use it for a bigger cause.
How Armenian-ness manifests itself is different in each of us — beautifully, undeniably and phenomenally different. I am not “more” Armenian than you. You are not “more” Armenian than me. By combining all our strengths, we define what it means to be an Armenian. This could not have been more evident than in the divestment campaign. It was absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring to have Armenian students, one after another, come to me and say: “If you need me, I’m in. I’m ready.” I could see the fiery passion lighting up their eyes and feel the flame kindled in their hearts. That very passion to lend our voices, our strength and our knowledge to the Armenian Cause that Wednesday night was exactly what it means for us all to be Armenian, even in the face of opposition. Audre Lorde, a writer, feminist and civil rights activist, once said, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
And we shall not be afraid. Together we will stand, we will fight. Baykar minchev verch.
Berkeley, Calif. — The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) undergraduate student body Senate unanimously voted on Wednesday night to divest $72.6 million worth of University of California bonds and investments in the Republic of Turkey for their crimes in and the continued denial of the Armenian Genocide.
The resolution is part of a larger initiative (#DivestTurkey) spearheaded by the Armenian Youth Federation – Western United States, calling on institutions to divest from the Republic of Turkey.
“With the support of not only our Armenian community here at Cal, but also with the Berkeley community at large, we are so proud to have been a part of history tonight with the passing of this bill at UC Berkeley,” said Sareen Habeshian, a UC Berkeley student and Armenian Student Association member.
Raffi Margossian, UC Berkeley sophomore and ASA executive member, stated, “I’m proud to see the ASUC take measures to hold our Regents accountable. I think it’s outrageous that our tuition money is invested without student input. This bill sends a larger message that calls for the need for student voice in UC investments.”
“I, like so many others, have grown up surrounded by conversations about ‘Hye Tad’ but it was always so abstract. What could someone like me do to raise the Armenian Cause, to move it forward, to fight for it? I am 100 years removed from the genocide, I don’t live in the Homeland, I didn’t go to an Armenian school growing up, yet there has always been a pull towards something bigger than myself. We, as UC students, were given the chance to finally raise the Armenian Cause and fight for what is right and what is just. The Cause doesn’t belong in places only filled with Armenians. It should permeate every aspect of our life — our homes, our work place and especially our school — which is exactly what we did tonight by calling for the divestment of our tuition from the Republic of Turkey.” said Christina Mehranbod, UC Berkeley senior and AYF member.
To find out more about the (#DivestTurkey) Initiative contact DIvestment@AYFWest.org.
This issue is a collection of people, places and events that have impacted the lives of our contributors. Our writers have shared their stories and opinions with the hope that readers can take away something small from these lessons learned. We are all changed by something or someone at one point in our lives, and hopefully will seek out from our memory those influences that have changed us for the better. Now, as the youthful spirit of a nation, it is up to us to either go gentle into that good night or become influence-rs of our own.
Repatriation. The big move. Something we look at with excitement and assume is far down the road, but prolong it due to fear, due to doubt. But a strong, passionate, determined couple proved all of us wrong. Not only did they prevail in making “the big move”, but on August 11, 2012, they were wed in their homeland and flew in all of their friends and family for the wedding. Against all odds, and despite all of the pessimistic, discouraging comments of making this dream come true, Allen Yekikian and Sosé Thomassian made what seemed to be impossible a graspable reality.
Allen and Sosé were a couple deeply in love not only with each other, but also with the Armenian cause, community, and land. They brought unity and single handedly sparked a wildfire within the Armenian youth with inspiration to excel in all that is achievable.
Sure, you may ask, one can “move” to Armenia. But can one actually “make it” in a small, land locked country that is half way across the world? Allen and Sosé had created a blog called How to Make it in Armenia; they shared their adventures as they embarked their journey. With everything from how to travel through the airports and making it through customs, to food recipes and the pronunciation of certain Armenian words, Allen and Sosé helped allow everyone to realize, “If they could do it, so can I!”
It is a big challenge to even imagine leaving behind family and friends and the very place you once called home. But one thing that Allen and Sosé were passionately adamant about reminding us was that if we do not repatriate to what is our own, to try to be a part of a growing and striving nation that we claim to be ours, then no one would. In order to help us come to this realization, Allen and Sosé were avid advocates of Youth Corps, a program under the Armenian Youth Federation. The goal of Youth Corps is to strengthen ties between the Armenian youth in the Diaspora and the homeland by providing an opportunity to experience daily life in Armenia/Artsakh through volunteer experience.
Following Allen and Sosé’s footsteps were a handful of aspiring youths to be a part of the growing nation. They have inspired me, and many others, to dedicate life towards the betterment of our people and Armenia. Thank you Allen and Sosé for showing us that we must be the fools who cross the river while the prudent remain pondering.