Berj joined AYF when he was 16 and has gone on to play a leadership role both at a chapter and central level. In 2008, he had the opportunity to lead the AYF’s Youth Corps summer program in Armenia. In addition, Berj has been involved in the Student Anti-Genocide Coalition (STAND), Amnesty International, and teaches martial arts to over 100 students. He is currently working on his Masters in Education and teaches history at Armenian Mesrobian School to grades 6-12.
Growing up, he describes how the mood of anger in his family about the past was one that he didn’t fully understand until he matured. “You’re supposed to come to understand the past and move on, live life,” he says. “But some pasts are hard to move on from; some pasts won’t leave a family or a nation alone. Some pasts define who you are. “
Nevertheless, Berj holds out a hope for reconciliation one day being achieved. “I simply want the trampling to end and a constructive future to be built,” he says. “Living in fear, hate, and pain sets up endless roadblocks. These roadblocks need to be taken down without trampling people.”
“That means the future must be based on truth and humanity,” he insists, calling for “common sense solutions that will ease troubles away with time, and not brew anger, distrust, and hate from any side of the aisle.”
Linking this hope for the future with his current activism, Berj explains, “This is why I’m active in the AYF and our community. Real solutions don’t come easy, they take persistent hard work, lots of time, and a positive outlook by everyone involved.”
Name: Vahan Parseghian Relation: Grandfather Hometown: Bursa
At the age of about ten years old, one day Vahan goes into the fields and sees Ottoman soldiers and tanks surrounding his village. Soon after, all of the inhabitants are told to lock their doors and come out. They are told they will be taken somewhere for a few days and then be brought back.
In reality, they were to be taken to Der Zor by train, encountering bandits along the way who spoke of how they were going to slaughter the Armenians.
Vahan saw dead bodies being eaten by crows, women and girls being grabbed and tossed around by their hair, and men being taken apart from groups to be murdered. Him and his sister witnessed the murder of their family of eight, and were spared only because they were able to hide beneath dead bodies undetected. Soon, they would be picked up and taken to an orphanage in Syria where they would be split up, with Vahan ending up in Lebanon and his sister in Bulgaria. They never saw each other again.
Berj recalls the following about his grandfather: “He was a principled man, hard as stone, and troubled, to put it lightly. He showed and received no emotion, living and passing on a life haunted by the worst of experiences that never left him alone.”