My “Armenian-ness” is Mine
BY: Christina Arezou Mehranbod
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.
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