I was thoroughly impressed with the ARS Youth Connect Program this year. The topics discussed were the challenges facing Armenia and issues of identity. Already this appealed to me—a young diasporan who wants to contribute to the viability of her culture.
Perhaps equally important was the diversity of the speakers—a young African-American/Native-American/Armenian filmmaker discussing what her cultural identity means to her; a feminist writer whose commitment for justice led her to get involved in efforts to support the Palestinian people; a Mid-western American humanitarian who speaks better Armenian than most diasporans—and that was only about half of the panelists. Some have worked extensively in the Republic, and others have been activists at home in the U.S., incorporating elements of their “Armenian-ness” into their professional lives.
Sitting amongst more than 50 bright, active, passionate Armenian students, it dawned on me that we really can make a difference. One other student came from my university—a half-Armenian who grew up virtually outside of her culture, but has been trying to learn more through our school’s Armenian Students’ Association (ASA). I was afraid that she would be bored. But when she started pitching ideas on how to become more dynamic and constructive as an ASA, and as young Armenians, through various outreach and fundraising programs, I knew that the words discussed in that room would reverberate into actions. Our actions.
Many key issues were discussed, but the one that resounded with me most was how the diasporan youth can become involved. As one of the speakers, Antranig Kasbarian, stated, our advantage is that our generation came of age after the independence of Armenia. Let us do all that we can to ensure its survival and growth, and forge our ties to the Homeland.
I personally felt engaged with all of the presentations and panelists, particularly those who discussed the challenges facing Armenia, and their experiences combatting them. Despite being a diasporan, I did not have the upbringing of many of my peers, who were brought up with the notion that everything they do must somehow relate back to their heritage and benefit the Motherland. I arrived at that conviction on my own. It was truly inspiring to hear how some of the panelists followed their heart, by defying the naysayers, and tried to accomplish something for their culture in their own way.
I am confident that many of us will translate some of the interesting ideas that were discussed into action. Thank you to all of the organizers, panelists, and fellow participants who made the event so successful and worthy. I highly encourage all Armenian students to take part in the ARS Youth Connect Program next year. You will be glad you did!