The 2015 Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Youth Connect Program (YCP) took place from Feb. 28-March 1 at New York University. Program director Khatchig Mouradian, the coordinator of the Armenian Genocide Program at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers University, ran the program for the second year in a row. This year’s program, titled “Beyond the Centennial.” featured four speakers: film director Eric Nazarian, photojournalist Scout Tufankjian, writer Matthew Karanian, and Mouradian, adjunct professor of history and sociology at Rutgers University. The speakers encouraged the participating students and young professionals to find novel and creative ways to contribute to their local Armenian communities, and to Armenian culture in general, on the eve of the Centennial.
While in New York, Nazarian began, he’s been asking strangers a simple question: What is one story that you think would make for an excellent film? A recurring theme in the answers was tragedy and loss. Tragedy has a powerful influence on us and moves us to tell a story that can really connect with an audience, said Nazarian. Tragedy brings people together far more than comedy, for instance. Nazarian lamented about the relative obscurity that artists like Sergei Parajanov faced during their lifetime. It was only when titans of the big screen such as Federico Fellini and Martin Scorsese studied Parajanov’s work that his genius was finally recognized. He argued that the artists among us that try to tell stories deserve our support because it is important to tell stories about our past, to engage in our future, and to cultivate the next Aram Khatchadourian or Gomidas.
Tufankjian spoke about her experiences as a photojournalist traveling to 22 countries to document various Armenian communities for her Armenian Diaspora project. While each community was unique in its own way, the similarities outnumbered the differences, she said. Sitting at dinner tables, for instance, in different Armenian communities invoked the same familiar feeling for Tufankjian. Going into her project with no expectations, Tufankjian traveled from the Aghpalian agoump in Beirut, to a wedding in Ethiopia, to a church in India, to a genocide commemoration in California.
Karanian spoke about his experiences traveling to Western Armenia and the importance of engaging with the historic Armenian homeland. For a long time, he explained, he refused to go to Western Armenia. He finally visited Western Armenia to attend a friend’s wedding. That generated the spark that led him to return many times to document various historic sites, which became the subject of his book, Historic Armenia After 100 Years: Ani, Kars, and the Six Provinces of Western Armenia. He asked, “Were we wrong for not returning to this part of our homeland?” Karanian gave participants a glimpse into this part of Armenian history, raising awareness of the state of Armenian cultural sites in Turkey today and the urgency with which they need to be preserved.
Mouradian spoke about the Armenian Diaspora community of China. He based his talk on his current research in China, which was made possible through a fellowship by the Gulbenkian Foundation. Mouradian shared stories from survivors of the Armenian Genocide who made their way to China. He shared the contents of letters exchanged between a member of the Armenian community in China and his brother who lived abroad, as examples of community life there. He also spoke about the diplomatic influence of the community throughout the years.
The ARS YCP gives participants the opportunity to meet other young Armenians who are interested in various disciplines of science, business, and art, and are united by an interest in Armenian issues. The program provides a space for productive discussions, with talented speakers acting as guides. Participants were inspired to engage in their communities to bring about change for the better.