Fifty days into the 100 Days of Action, I am filled with pride, hope, and more determination than ever before.
So far, the campaign has involved a number of events and social media campaigns geared toward gaining attention and awareness for the Armenian Cause.
A few events in the first 50 days stood out for me:
On January 17, a day after we learned that Armenian Genocide denialist Edward Erickson would be speaking at UCSD, we made the trip down to San Diego and attended his lecture. We listened to Erickson talk about the Ottoman Empire during World War I, referring to the genocide as the “1915 Relocation of Ottoman Armenians” and repeatedly overlooking the systematic and targeted killings by the Ottoman Empire. After he was done, the 30-something of us in attendance raised our hands for questions and exposed every hole in his so-called research. The next day, another group of AYF members attended his lecture in Orange County and did the same. The point was, we were not going to let this unmistakable denier of the genocide spread his false information, not where we can reach him.
Fast forward a few days, AYF members found themselves at UCLA for a student government vote on an initiative started by the AYF. The University of California invests over $72 million in Turkey, including bonds owned by the Turkish government. Essentially, the money that UC students pay for tuition funds Turkey’s efforts to deny the genocide. So, the AYF began this initiative in order to pull that $72 million investment. UCLA’s student government unanimously passed the divestment bill. About a month later, UC Berkeley’s student government also passed the bill unanimously, despite heavy opposition. At both schools, Armenian students, as well as non-Armenian supporters, spoke in favor of the bill using historical facts and logical reasoning to make their points. The opposition, in turn, had a nonexistent argument because they didn’t have the truth on their side. The same thing will continue to happen as we take the divestment initiative to the rest of the UC campuses.
On March 1, the AYF took to the streets of Downtown, Los Angeles, to raise awareness about the genocide. Around 6 p.m., when 19,000 fans would be exiting the Staples Center following the Lakers game, over 60 AYF members performed a “die-in” demonstration, simultaneously dropping to the ground despite the rainy weather. Passersby stopped and took pictures, read our signs, and asked us what we were doing. People who had never heard of the Armenian Genocide before now heard, and may very well have gone home and researched it to learn more. In the next few days, there was an overwhelming social media buzz about the “die-in” as people from all over the world saw photos and videos of the demonstration.
Three days after the “die-in”, we learned that the Carson City Council would be voting on a measure to erect a statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in a city park. If the measure passed, there would be a statue of the man who continued to perpetrate the Armenian Genocide following the fall of the Ottoman Empire in Southern California, where the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia resides. Over 400 Armenians attended the city council meeting to voice their opposition. When the Turkish Consul General took to the podium, Armenians in the room stood up and turned their backs as she spoke. Six speakers spoke for each side, but as was the case in the UCLA and Berkeley divestment measures, our side had the facts and the truth, and was ultimately successful when the city council unanimously voted against the building of the statue.
And that was just the first half.
Through all these actions, I have witnessed the hard work and undying dedication to the Armenian Cause by my fellow Ungers. The fire is burning inside each of us. Yes, our recent successes have been exciting, but we’re not satisfied. Our passion for the Armenian Cause is only growing. I’ve noticed this through my Ungers’ actions; I’ve noticed it in conversations with my Ungers. We know that the future of our Cause is in our hands, and it seems we’re ready to assume responsibility.
Today’s Survivor Story comes from Keghetzik Hagopian Zourikian. She is still alive and well at the young age of 104! She was born in Bursa, near Constantinople. In September of this year, Zourikian will turn 104 years old, as 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Young Turks who ruled the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1915, Zourikian’s father was taken into the Turkish military, then killed for being an Armenian. She was subsequently separated from her mother and siblings at a young age and grew up as an orphan with only one of her sisters, until her sister fell ill and they also separated. Her journey as an orphaned refugee took her to Greece and Egypt. After leaving the orphanage she worked as a domestic helper in a Jewish household in Greece. Zourikian eventually met and married another orphan from the Armenian Genocide who was living in Beirut as a refugee. They started a family in Egypt and immigrated to Canada with their three children. Zourikian tracked down and met her mother only decades later since their forced separation as a child. Despite all the hardship Zourikian faced as a result of the Armenian Genocide, she is a living testament to how Armenians survived against all odds. She has 8 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. At the age of 104, she exudes beauty, grace, and faith. Even today, as she recounts the unfolding and aftermath of the Armenian Genocide, her eyes reflect her unwavering inner strength and her will to survive.
(LOS ANGELES, March 1, 2015) – Over 60 members of the Armenian Youth Federation – Western United States took part in a “die-in” demonstration this afternoon in front of the Staples Center in Downtown.
The demonstration was planned in an effort to bring attention and awareness to the Armenian Genocide, as part of the AYF’s 100 Days of Action campaign leading to the centennial of the genocide.
“We’re here today to show the resilience of the Armenian youth 100 years after the Ottoman Empire tried to wipe out our entire race,” said Raffi Senekeremian, a member of the AYF’s Central Executive body. “The Armenian Genocide, being the first genocide of the 20th century, is not as widely-known as it should be, so we’re here trying to raise awareness on the issue in an active part of our city.”
Demonstrators simultaneously collapsed to the ground in the sudden-death act despite the rainy weather, as thousands of people exited the Staples Center following a Lakers game. They wore t-shirts that displayed the hashtag #ArmenianGenocide in order to foster a sense of awareness within the Los Angeles community. Several spectators joined the demonstrators on the ground.
Following the silent demonstration, AYF members marched across the street through L.A. Live chanting slogans to educate the public around them. Members also passed out multilingual pamphlets about the Armenian Genocide.
The “die-in” demonstration coincides with the United Nations’ Zero Discrimination Day. The day draws attention to millions who continue to suffer from prejudice and intolerance.
“The foundations of the Armenian Genocide were set on the ideas of racism and discrimination, but it has yet to be recognized by its perpetrators to this day,” said Verginie Touloumian, a member of the Central Executive. “The AYF calls on the global community to shed light on all crimes against humanity that have derived from an endless cycle of discrimination.”
The 100 Days of Action, which began on January 14, includes daily actions such as weekly social media campaigns, boycotts and divestment, political lobbying, tactical demonstrations, cultural displays, and educational forums. The campaign will culminate on April 24 with the March for Justice from Little Armenia to the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles.
Information about the 100 Days of Action is available on www.ayfwest.org and across social media outlets (@ayfwest). Those who wish to participate can contact the AYF at 818-507-1933 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 1933, 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.
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.
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.
(GLENDALE, Calif., Jan. 28, 2015) – After three years of providing treatments to the veterans of the Artsakh Liberation Movement through the “With Our Soldiers” initiative, the Armenian Youth Federation has announced the completion of the first phase of the program as of Dec. 31, 2014. During the course of the WOS campaign, over 80 freedom fighters and members of their families have been assisted by the AYF with the funds raised from the community, donors, supporters and the various AYF chapters.
The AYF launched its “With Our Soldiers” program at the start of 2012, proclaiming that year as the Year of the Armenian Freedom Fighter (Azadamardik). The Central Executive and local chapters organized a number of fundraising events during the course of the campaign, which allowed the specially-formed task force to partner with the Yerevan Medical Center and facilitate the treatments of veterans suffering from war-related injuries. The “With Our Soldiers” task force periodically informed the community about the progress of its work by releasing financial reports, as well as video updates prepared by Yerkir Media in Armenia which told the stories of the veterans who were being helped by the campaign.
“It has been a truly humbling experience to work with our freedom fighters during the past three years,” said David Arakelyan, the chairman of the “With Our Soldiers” task force. “These men have made tremendous sacrifices to give us a precious gift, an independent Artsakh, and this campaign was our attempt to express our gratitude to them and to tell their stories to our community, especially the young people, many of whom were born after the Artsakh Liberation struggle.”
The list of treatments and services provided to the freedom fighters extends from simple check-ups and consultations to complicated and expensive surgeries. During the course of the campaign, the task force remained committed to providing care to the largest number of individuals possible with the resources available. The timeliness and the urgency of the “With Our Soldiers” initiative to assist our veterans was confirmed by the high demand for the medical services that far exceeded the campaign’s financial capabilities.
“It was important for the AYF to show to our veterans that we stand with them and that we stand with Artsakh during these challenging times, when Azerbaijan continues to increase both its military budget and its warmongering rhetoric,” said Caspar Jivalagian, a member of the “With Our Soldiers” task force. “Our freedom fighters have set a great example for the Armenian youth today. We must remain committed to Artsakh and to the cause of liberation of the rest of our occupied Homeland.”
The Armenian Youth Federation has released a brochure, which is meant to serve as a report to the donors and the community at large about the work done through the “With Our Soldiers” initiative. The brochure contains information on campaign events, finances and the fedayis who have been assisted during this phase of the initiative. This report has been mailed to the donors and supporters of the “With Our Soldiers” campaign. It is also available in print and in digital format to all members of the community interested in learning more about the campaign and its work. To obtain a copy of the brochure, please contact the AYF office at 818-507-1933.
The AYF has also announced that the next phase of the campaign, focusing on current and retired servicemen of the Armenian Armed Forces and their families, will be launched towards the end of 2015.
Arpa Hatzbanian, chairperson of the AYF Central Executive, has declared the organization’s intention to “recognize the brave soldiers who are currently protecting our borders and the heroes who have fallen in the line of duty while defending the right of the people of Artsakh and Armenia to live peacefully on our historic lands.” The AYF will provide the community with details regarding this initiative in the near future.
About the Armenian Youth Federation
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian-American youth organization in the United States, working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness of Armenian-American youth.
Here is the upcoming schedule for our #TurkeyFailed campaign, which will spotlight different achievements and aspects of the Armenian community and heritage every Thursday from 1-3pm. #100DaysofAction #AYF #ArmenianGenocide
Westwood, Calif. — The University of California, Los Angeles student body government on Tuesday night unanimously voted to divest $72.6 million dollars 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, titled “A Resolution to Divest from the Republic of Turkey to End the Perpetuation of the Armenian Genocide”, passed with a vote of 12-0-0 around 10:00 p.m. at Kerckhoff Hall in UCLA.
The resolution is part of a larger initiative (#DivestTurkey) spearheaded by the Armenian Youth Federation — Western United States — a grassroots community organization dedicated to justice– calling on institutions to divest from the Republic of Turkey.
“The #DivestTurkey initiative began in order to connect and provide resources for university students and activists on campuses across America to divest all holdings in the Republic of Turkey’s government until reparations for the Armenian Genocide are met and until genocide is no longer a profitable venture,” said Gev Iskajyan, a member of the AYF Central Executive board. “The Armenian Students’ Association at UCLA was the first organization to accept this call for divestment from the community and successfully presented this resolution.”
The resolution passed with overwhelming support from UCLA’s general student body and official UCLA student organizations.
“Tonight demonstrates the Armenian community is not alone in its fight for justice and reparations for genocide,” explained Razmig Sarkissian, an AYF member and UCLA alumnus.
Student organization co-sponsors included Armenian Dance Group, Alpha Epsilon Omega, Alpha Gamma Alpha, Armenians for Health Advancement, Hidden Road Initiative and Samahang Pilipino. Student organization endorsers included Bengali Students Association, Indus, Jewish Voice for Peace, Native Roots, Samahang Pilipino, Sikh Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine.
“[#DivestTurkey] is about reaffirming student agency because students were not consulted in the decision to invest in the Turkish government,” said Mikael Matossian, president of the Armenian Students’ Association at UCLA. “This is a proactive step in the ethical direction, of an Armenian student-led coalition calling on our student government to take a stand against funding genocidal regimes.”
“The AYF plans to expand the #DivestTurkey initiative, working with several colleges and universities in order to introduce similar resolutions in the coming weeks and months,” said Iskajyan. Campus organizations and interested individuals can contact Divestment@AYFwest.org.
Founded in 1933, 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.