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.
Every year in April, a familiar echo of discontent and disappointment in ourselves is heard far and wide. It is during this month, when our communities become the most active, that the perpetual cynics lay it on the strongest.
Community organizations become subjected to harsh judgments of being overly invested in genocide recognition, of singing and preaching and making unrealistic demands that keep us in an endless cycle of self-gratifying protest. These echoes of discontent and disappointment reinforce the idea that we have wasted our energies on one dimension of the Armenian Cause that has become a failed strategy.
While critique of the genocide month may sometimes be tolerated if supplemented by recommendations for alternative action, a majority of that discontent is simply a misconception about what we are actually doing. This self-deprecation often comes from those who might not fully understand what the most active segments of our community are invested in.
The articles written throughout the following pages are a product of the month of April. They discuss a wide-ranging set of issues that transcend the genocide narrative. This Spring 2014 Haytoug does not submit to one unique theme, as most previous editions have had. The contributors were told to simply write about what interested them the most, and the results serve as validation that even amongst the April madness, our interests reach far beyond genocide recognition. Armenian youth have something important to say. Whether it be about activists in Armenia joining the online global community, or its government joining the Russian-led Custom’s Union; the need for modern day heroes or a better understanding of female heroines from our past; looking forward to new means of activism that breaks us out of the Armenian bubble, or recommitting ourselves to our militant roots.
We don’t live, work or fight exclusively for one thing, because our interests as well as our politics are dynamic. These articles speak to the complexity of the Armenian world, and to the fact that while genocide recognition is at the top of our agenda, it does not stand alone. These articles speak to the politics, culture and imagination of Armenian youth, however brilliant or dull they may be. These articles speak to the fact that we are in motion, we have visions and dreams, therefore are not nearing our mortality as those disheartened echoes in April suggest.
Self-reflection of our shortcomings is important, but those April judgments should not become a feel-good narrative for change. The Haytoug does not generally offer final answers or solutions, but it raises questions on behalf of Armenian youth who do not succumb to crippling generalizations.
We all know that about a century ago when the Armenian Genocide was taking place, Armenians fled around the world. Some escaped to the Middle East, some to Europe, some to the Americas, and others elsewhere. Today there are around three times as many Armenians living outside of Armenia than there are inside. We don’t need a history lesson on the Armenian Genocide but some of those Armenians that fled Western Armenia during the time of Genocide have assimilated into the culture of their respective countries. Others still have their Armenian last names and few still thrive and remain Armenian to its full capacity.
Armenian parents in the diaspora struggle to keep their children Armenian. Whether it is by sending them to Armenian school, Armenian church, Armenian youth groups, Armenian sport organizations, or just by speaking Armenian at home. In rare instances these avenues are successful, unfortunately in most cases especially in this new era and with this upcoming generation these outlets do not work as they once did to counter assimilation. We see assimilation first hand every day, we see the “White Genocide” unfolding in front of our eyes and yet, there is not much we can do to counter it.
What if there was a way to keep your kids Armenian and help Armenia at the same time. If keeping your future generations Armenian and ensuring that Armenia is becoming a stronger, self-reliant, and developed nation is important to you, then repatriating is the only long term solution.
Some might say that repatriation is a sacrifice, that your quality of life might diminish, that certain luxuries and even some necessities might not be available anymore. Others that have already repatriated or have spent an extended stay, more than a summer trip in Armenia know that this is not the case. Most repatriates and Armenians who have stayed in Armenia for over a month will be the first to tell you that the living standards and the overall quality of life is actually the same as Western Europe and the United States. Some might even argue that the standards are better. We can argue about overall happiness, crime rates and so on but at the end of the day it is mostly a subjective question where only you can answer after visiting the country.
Various industries and start-ups are booming in Armenia and are headed by recent repatriates. These repatriates are not only serving themselves in order to live a happy and comfortable life inside of Armenia but are also creating jobs in Armenia. They are paving the way of our countries future, they are ensuring that Armenia becomes a strong nation, they are each playing a role and doing their duties as Armenians.
Repatriates are in need in Armenia. Today with globalization playing such a crucial role in the world economy, companies in Armenia need repatriates from all over the world in order to help fulfill growing demands. Armenia is in need of the expertise that professionals from the diaspora can bring to the table. Repatriates with native tongues in foreign languages or knowledge in a wide array of fields can help Armenia by using their expertise and to further develop the economy and the market of Armenia. Repatriates should and will have a major role in the future of Armenia. They will help shape our nation and make it stronger and better in every aspect.
We always act patriotic here in the diaspora. We sing Armenian songs, learn about freedom fighters of the past, and learn about Armenian history with great pride. We say that we want what’s best for Armenia and that we are ready to do whatever it might take to achieve this goal. But what would we really do for Armenia? What would we truly sacrifice? Would we really go and do what Monte Melkonian or Garo Kahkedjian did? Do we even have to do what they did? Would we do a fraction of what some people have done in the past? Would we even do something that is so miniscule compared to what others have done? WOULD WE MOVE TO ARMENIA?
We have successfully convinced ourselves that we can help Armenia more from the outside than we would be able to from within. We say that sending our children to Armenian school and volunteering for the local organizations is enough, because it has helped us stay Armenian for years and will continue to do so.
We need to stop lying to ourselves. The existence of the diaspora is temporary. It was never meant to be a permanent existence but simply a provisional solution until Armenia had their own sovereign nation. Armenians from the diaspora as they have done in the past, will move from city to city, country to country searching for comfort and a better life. Along with gaining superficial comfort, they will slowly lose their language, culture, traditions and identity, as they already have. We can hope that some will stay Armenian and try to contribute to the homeland in one way or another. We can hope that their kids remain Armenian and cherish the language, culture and traditions, but then what? Who cares if someone has all of those characteristics, what good would it do if they’re just going to assimilate during the next generation?
All in all, the diaspora is a major force that our homeland has at its use. But all of us in the diaspora should understand that if we want our future generations to be Armenian then we need to take a step towards the homeland. Armenia has her hand out and is going to help you while you help her, are you going to reach out and take her hand and let her guide you, or get drowned by the waters of assimilation?
Repatriation is important and will play a big role for the future of Armenia, but repatriation is essential for the future of our children and our grandchildren to remain Armenian.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - As I approached the Cercle d’Orient amidst the hustle and bustle of the Beyoglu district of today’s Istanbul, I could not help but remind myself what happened there the night of May 21, 1915. It was in this building where Krikor Zohrab was playing cards with Talat Pasha while bargaining the latter to set free those Armenian notables who were apprehended just a month ago and sent to unknown destinations in Anatolia.
Krikor Zohrab on the balcony of his Istanbul home. Photo courtesy of the Charents Museum in Yerevan via www.iatp.am
That night, Zohrab came to the table with his own cards to play. A skilled negotiator, he sincerely believed that he could haggle his way with Talat and save as many lives as he could, even if that meant his own. After all, there appeared to be a glimmer of hope. Just a week before, Gomidas and others were set free and returned to Constantinople. Zohrab felt that this was a giant breakthrough which he could take advantage of.
After the tense atmosphere subsided, the card session ended unusually early that night. Upon saying their farewells, Talat stood up and unhesitatingly gave Zohrab a kiss on the cheek. “Why such affection?” Zohrab asked. “Oh,” Talat responded with a smile, “I just felt like doing it.”
I started the walk from Cercle d’Orient down Rue de Pera (now Istiklal Avenue) to Zohrab’s residence, the same walk he took home that night. I walked slower than usual. My feet were becoming weary and shaking, as though they were weeping in some strange way. I thought about what Zohrab was thinking while walking back home that night, through these streets alone, with the burden of millions of people on his shoulders. Was he confident? Was he confused? No one will ever know. But we know of one thing, the walk home that night, was to be his last.
After walking down the winding road that leads up to the Zohrab family residence, I had a sensation of just running away. I knew that in front of this eloquent building, built by an Italian architect through the commission of Zohrab himself, were guards waiting to arrest him. I had the pleasant opportunity of entering the house. Zohrab, on the other hand, did not.
I took the long flight of stairs leading up to the top floor of the building, and to my surprise, it has now become a hotel. “How may I help you?” asked the receptionist upon seeing me. “I came to see this building,” I responded hesitantly, “it used to be a residence owned by a distant relative of mine.”
Almost instantaneously, the entire staff turned their heads towards me and listened to every word I had to say. Like some sort of magician, I felt as though I was going to unravel a show. I was to talk about a past, much more distant than it actually seemed.
A member of the staff broke the ice, “let us show you around and please, tell us more about your relative,” he said out of sincere curiosity. “Please,” I said, “just take me to the balcony.”
Kirkor Zohrab’s house, now a hotel. -Garen Zazanc
This was the balcony where Zohrab wrote much of his writings. Here, Zohrab would return from his tumultuous daily activities, and concentrate on what he loved most: writing. The Bosphorus, with all its beauty, laid out in front of him, encouraging him, inspiring him.
It was this very balcony, which his daughter Dolores yearned for so much, as she wrote in her memoirs, thousands of miles away in exile. With her father killed and her entire family exiled, she wanted nothing else in this world, but to sit on this balcony, next to her father, while he wrote his next short story, and as she enjoys the scenic view.”His name was Krikor Zohrab,” I responded, while gazing fixedly at the scenery.”What did he do?”
After much silence, the man appeared to think I was exaggerating. “That’s impressive,” he simply remarked.Turning towards him I replied, “He was an engineer, lawyer, professor, journalist, politician, short story writer, philanthropist, husband, and a father of four.”
“You’re not here to reclaim this property are you?” he asked in a rather serious tone. Amused by his question, “No, heavens no,” I assured him, “this was private property that was sold right before the family fled to Europe.””Fled?” he asked cautiously.
“Yes,” I responded briskly, not being in the mood to explain.
The balcony used to be one long stretch, but it is now divided into separate rooms, each having their own piece of the magnificent view. The designers of the hotel did a remarkable job of keeping the original framework of the structure intact. Much of the additions to the building can be easily removed since they aren’t fixated on the walls. Their intentions were to retain as much of the original structural characteristics as possible. I especially thanked them for their attentive efforts.
After taking a few photographs of the view and the balcony, the man invited me to have a cup of tea. I agreed. The rest of the staff also arrived. It happened to be their tea break.
I showed pictures of Krikor Zohrab on my phone and answered their questions about his life and works. Then they asked, “When did he die?” “1915,” I responded. They stood silent, almost ashamed.
I began to wonder, was this the first time that the dreadful year of 1915 was uttered in this building since that very year? I felt like this was an interrogation of some sort. A scene of a murder, where in some odd twist of fate, the murderers were interviewing me.
But no, that was not the case. These were human beings, much like myself, who were curious, curious the same way I was when I first started reading and learning about Zohrab myself. After much discussion, it was time for me to go. I thanked all those that gave me the wonderful tour and provided their delightful hospitality. As I was leaving, I was still awe-inspired by the magnificence of the structure, with its scenic views and elegant design.
Have they put the portrait up? I don’t know, and quite frankly, I don’t care. Another visitor of the hotel can provide those updates. But this personal experience was neither about the portrait, nor the scenic views. This was about a man, whose influence and power still resonates with us today.
He was a man full of wonder, to say the least, who saw the world not only as a writer, but as a lawyer, politician, professor, and more. I happened to live just one day of his life, but it felt like a lifetime, which reminded me that he is someone we can still learn from, whose skills and talents still amaze us until this day.
Today, his bones remain lost and yet to be found: unfitting for a man of such stature. But that should not matter. He is so awe-inspiring that his influence will be everlasting, much like his short stories, speeches, and residence, with all of its magnificence and splendor as well.
The five pillars of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) represent the goals and importance of the organization: Cultural, Educational, Political, Social, and Athletics. The weekend of October 4-6, 2013, over ninety participants from across Eastern region, along with members from Montreal and Florida, convened at AYF’s Camp Haiastan at AYF Senior Seminar 2013: Stand Up, Stand Together for Artsakh.
Without a doubt, it is always heart-warming to witness Armenian youth gather around a unified cause; however, the ambiance at Senior Seminar set a more meaningful tone to our great organization. Not only was it instilled in us to continue to stand in unity as the Armenian Diaspora, but the motivation and inspiration to be active members in our respective communities weighed deeply throughout the weekend.
The Central Educational Committee (Narineh Abrahamian, D.C.; Tamar Alexanian, Chicago; Nairi Khachatourian, Boston; and Talene Taraksian, Providence) organized a fulfilling weekend balanced in educationals, activities, and political activism. Lecturers included Nanore Barsoumian, assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly, Michael Mensoian, professor at University of Massachusetts-Boston, and Unger Mourad Topalian, former chair of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
With Artsakh as the central theme of the seminar, Nanore Barsamian shared stories about both Armenian soldiers and Artsakh locals, including the inspirational story of Stepanakert resident and caretaker of Artsakh’s military museum, Galya, who has devoted herself to honoring her fallen son, one of our many lost soldiers. Professor Mensoian discussed the abundant resources in Artsakh and Armenia and their importance in strengthening our homeland economically. He focused on how homegrown, Armenian products are sometimes undervalued or ignored, while products from abroad are often desired. During the seminar, ANCA-ER Executive Director Michelle Hagopian and ANCA National Board member Steve Mersobian instructed AYF members on how to make phone calls for Congressional hopeful, Peter Koutounjian. The seminar participants then led a phone banking session to help the Middlesex County Sheriff get elected to Congress.
The always inspirational Unger Mourad Topalian spoke about two very moving topics: first, about “inside baseball” between Armenia, Artsakh, Russia, and America discussing the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake and second, about the passion and fire he shares with the youth to realize a free, independent, and united Armenia. Unger Mourad opened his heart and shared his words of wisdom with the participants, lighting a fire in each and every member, stirring an eternal dedication to our organization and our homeland.
While AYF Senior Seminar spanned only a weekend, the discussions that came about throughout proved that our members will take what they learned and share their knowledge and aspirations with their respective chapters. The seminar ended on a high note, as members played a makeshift soccer-volleyball game, danced the traditional shoorchbar to the melodies of the AYF’s very own Yerakouyn Band, and nestled by the campfire, even under the rain. It was a weekend where we not only learned a great amount, but also left our chapter “cliques” behind and bonded as a single group in fraternity.
AYF Senior Seminar: Armenian Youth Standing In Unity for Artsakh
In the past three years, my life has been substantially influenced through my membership in the AYF. Prior to joining the AYF, my involvement in the Armenian community was very limited, and basically consisted of attending the annual April 24th protest on Wilshire Blvd and reading about other annual events. I was that one Armenian who was constantly struggling to find myself in a sea of others. As much as I had learned about my culture through my family and through word of mouth, nothing could substitute for the genuine understanding of my true identity. The AYF has allowed me to gain that understanding by learning about my culture and realizing that our struggle is worth fighting for.
After graduating high school in 2010, I went to Armenia with Hamazkayin forum, a trip that my parents decided to give me as a graduation present. I didn’t quite know how to feel; I didn’t know too much about my heritage and had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to go. When I first stepped foot in Armenia, I saw Mount Ararat. The image that was framed and hanging in my house since I was a little kid stood right before me. I just stood there and thought back on being a kid and saying, “wow, I can’t wait to see this in real life.” At that moment, it finally hit me that I was in Armenia, and that was the moment when my life began to change.
My memory of the experience I had in Armenia will never change or lose its meaning. The friends I met, the places I went… it was as though the stories I read about were alive. I walked around Armenia not as a tourist, but as an Armenian who is temporarily living away from his homeland. Those three weeks truly helped me rediscover my identity. When I came back to the States, I wanted to join an organization that could help me touch base with my roots and through which I could have an impact bring about positive change. I knew about the AYF but never joined because I hadn’t had an interest or a solid understanding of the organization. Looking back, however, I wish I could go back 5 years and yell at myself for not joining sooner.
I don’t know where to begin. The AYF has given me the best three years of my life. The knowledge and skills I have gained from AYF has turned me a whole different man. I am currently the chairman of the South Bay “Potorig” Chapter; we are a relatively small chapter, but we manage to get serious work done in our local community. Because of the AYF, I have developed a strong working relationship with my Congresswomen, State Senator, State Assembly member, and local city councilmembers. My networking skills and social skills have improved, my understanding of politics and its inner workings has developed, and my Armenian language skills have improved significantly.
As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi brought change to his community and the entire world, and I want all our youth to follow that example by becoming the change they want to see around them. The Armenian Youth Federation has a positive impact not only on the Armenian homeland, but also on the local community. This is important so that we as Diasporans can remember our past and effectively use that memory to work for a more prosperous future for our community. We are one big family with a vision for change, and it’s time we begin acting like one.
The message that I want to get across to the Armenian Youth is that you should never wait to create the change you want to see in the world. When you have a chance to join an organization that has the potential to change your life in so many ways, you should take full advantage of that opportunity.
As the youth, we are the most effective and important catalyst for positive change around the world. We can’t simply sit back and allow others to make decisions for us; we must become that change by turning our ideas into action. We Armenians are few in number, but we are strong in will and in action.