“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead’s timeless words hold true, especially within the community of young Armenians at the heart of Armenia’s and, by extension, the world’s pressing social issues. On Thursday, Nov. 21, a group of 20 thoughtful and committed AYF members came together at Pasadena’s Armenian Center for a night of open, thought-provoking and often contentious discussion.
We had heard of such nights held among members of the Pasadena AYF community from our parents: cozy nights at members’ homes with controversial, but relevant, topics of discussion. We felt a strong need to reintroduce this to the young Armenians of today, and so a small movement was born: the first Asbarez Night was planned.
The question at hand was, “Will a strong foundation in Armenia strengthen the diaspora, or will a strong diaspora strengthen Armenia?” Pasadena’s “Nigol Touman” chapter welcomed members from neighboring communities for an intimate evening of open, uncensored discussion. Participants had their share of passionate disagreements, but ultimately maintained the atmosphere of respect necessary in activities like this.
Fundamental in the discussion was the notion of repatriation, the act of returning to one’s country of origin. Is it the role of the diaspora to westernize Armenia; that is, to industrialize and develop the country? Armenian youth are deeply split on this issue: many feel that their place is in the diaspora communities, to further develop the Armenian presence and awareness in non-Armenian parts of the world. Others feel it is necessary to energize Armenia socially, economically and politically, and that this responsibility falls upon the shoulders of diasporan Armenians.
This led to question the necessity of an Armenian diaspora. Parallels were often drawn to the diasporas of other groups and their successes outside of their countries of origin. In this respect, the discussion took a refreshing turn away from politics and towards humanitarianism. Undeveloped hygiene and healthcare in many parts of Armenia became a point of discussion, the scope of diasporan responsibility towards Armenia was widened, and participants embraced the notion of developing projects to further humanitarian causes abroad.
In upholding the self-direction and open-forum aspects of the evening, a brief period was designated for participants to reflect on the discussion and offer criticisms and suggestions for future Asbarez Nights. It is the hope of Pasadena’s “Nigol Touman” chapter that other communities take the initiative and encourage and host open discussions like this, for they support the social activism, peer respect and free speech constructs present within the organization. The night served its purpose with overwhelming success. Though small in number, a strong, dedicated group proved its ability to exchange ideas respectfully and paved the way for a bright future of open discussion within the Western Region of the AYF.
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.