BURBANK—In celebration of Women’s History Month, the United Human Rights Council, a committee of the Armenian Youth Federation – Western United States and California State University, Northridge’s Alpha Gamma Alpha co-hosted “Armenian Women: Breaking Barriers” at the Burbank Youth Center on Saturday, March 9th. The program portrayed Armenian women who have made significant contributions to Armenia and the Armenian people, and served to empower young Armenian women as community leaders and organizers.
The event included presentations from three distinguished speakers. Dr. Houri Berberian, the Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies at the University of California, Irvine, began the program with introducing the lives of Armenian women during the Iranian and Ottoman empires, as well as the instrumental roles they played in the opening Armenian schools during the second half of the 19th century.
Author Sona Zeitlian told stories of three female Armenian figures who played major roles in the sociopolitical realm of the Armenian nation. Zeitlian first spoke about Armenia’s ambassador to Japan during the first republic (also recognized as the first female ambassador), Diana Abkar. She also spoke of Hripsime (Lola) Sassouni, who organized women’s groups for defense and relief work and committed herself to raise the standard of living of refugees and orphans. Lastly, Zeitlian told the story of Siran (Seza) Zarifian, the editor/publisher of Beirut’s first women’s journal, Yeridasart Hayouhi (Young Armenian Woman), who specified the need for women in decision making bodies and involvement in community social, political, and educational organizations.
After a brief intermission, the Lernazang Ensemble, a band of young artists dedicated to preserving Armenian folk music, took the audience on a journey through the villages of Western Armenia using a duduk and drum, with the was accompaniment of traditional dances that depicted the spirits of the Armenian women from those regions. They performed songs and dances to Madzoun Em Trel, Altalla, and Dasnergu Vodk (12-steps). “Lernazang Ensemble’s flawless performance captured the energy of Armenian women,” said attendee Preny Alaverdian, “The sounds of our traditional musical instruments and footwork was inspiring to hear and watch.”
Once the band concluded with their final piece, the program’s last speaker was invited to the stage. State Representative Mari Manoogian of the Michigan House of Representatives spoke about her path towards a career in politics, highlighting the challenges she faced as an Armenian democratic running for a position typically filled by republican candidates, and encouraged the need for young Armenians to become civically engaged and take part in the political process.
To close the program, the UHRC expressed words of gratitude for the contributions of all the speakers and performers. “The UHRC will continue to work on women’s rights issues both in our local communities and in the homeland,” said UHRC chairperson Hasmik Burushyan, “we will organize to bring gender equality into a growing existence.”
The United Human Rights Council (UHRC) is a committee of the Armenian Youth Federation – Western United States (AYF-WUS). By means of action on a grassroots level, the UHRC works towards exposing and correcting human rights violations of governments worldwide, and aims to foster dialogue and collaboration between peoples who share this common vision.
Founded in 1933 with organizational structures in over 17 regions around the world and a legacy of over eighty years of community involvement, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian-American youth organization in the world, working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness of Armenian youth.