WRIGHTWOOD, Calif.—From Fri., Jan. 8 to Sun., Jan. 10, the All-Armenian Student Association (All-ASA) held its annual retreat at AYF Camp in Wrightwood. Co-hosted by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Shant Student Association, the retreat was booked to near capacity and attended by more than 100 college students and recent alumni from a record-breaking 23 different colleges and universities around the United States.
The theme of this year’s All-ASA Retreat was centered on the identity of the Armenian student analyzed through three different scopes. Conversations revolved around components of personal identity including language, culture, family history, and religion; the roles of students in their ASAs and campus communities; and the relationship between the Armenian student and the global Armenian reality—the various diasporan communities around the world and the homeland. These conversations were spurred by interactive discussions, presentations, icebreakers, and even meals, which were all ensured to be traditionally Armenian and prepared solely by students.
“The annual All-ASA retreat is organized to engage Armenian college students in critical discussions about their identities and roles as leaders within the community, and foster bonds between students from different schools,” said Mikael Matossian, current All-ASA chair and former UCLA ASA member. “This year, we spotlighted the student: students facilitated group discussions on components of personal identity, and presented potential campaigns that they can take back to their ASAs. They can now take all the conversations we had at the retreat back to their campuses to motivate future programming. The ASAs and the All-ASA that unites them are unique community vehicles for student action, since they allow for young Armenian leaders to organize cultural, social, and activist initiatives.”
World-renowned photojournalist Scout Tufankjian presented her new book, There is Only the Earth: Images of the Armenian Diaspora, during the retreat segment on global Armenian Diasporan communities and the homeland on Saturday night. The presentation gave students a uniquely vivid look at Armenian communities around the world.
“The weekend was inspiring, not only because I was surrounded by such a diverse and enthusiastic group of young Armenians, but also because of how wholeheartedly everyone threw themselves into the discussions,” said Tufankjian. “I was really impressed by how thoughtfully all of the students wrestled with and discussed these issues of identity. Throughout my travels in the diaspora, I have talked to many Armenians who felt alienated from their communities, in part because they felt that issues of identity could not be discussed or questioned, so it was really great to see and hear these discussions taking place over the weekend.”
Vrej Haroutounian, a former All-ASA organizer and current landscape architect based in Yerevan, also spoke to the attendees about his experiences with activism and repatriation.
“Each of us, simply by virtue of coming [to the retreat] have declared that we have some sense of ourselves as Armenians,” said Khachig Joukhajian, a current member of the All-ASA leadership development committee and former UCLA ASA member. “Our identity is formed to some extent or another in relation to our sense of ‘being Armenian.’ Part of what we were trying to do this weekend is to get a picture of the Armenian student identity. We often disregard our difference for the sake of forming unity, or to form a common narrative, or common identity. As great as this is, by ignoring our differences we miss out on the cultural richness that comes with being Armenian. Far from being homogenous, there is a multiplicity of Armenian identities within the mosaic that forms the Armenian identity.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up for the weekend retreat, but it blew away any expectations I had,” said Lori Pridjian, a current USC ASA executive board member. “It was a good mix between discussions and getting to know other students. The talks I had were surprisingly insightful, really challenging everyone to be introspective and dig deep into the personal narratives of their Armenian identity. I definitely learned a lot about myself. But more than that, it was such a fun group, everyone was participating and engaged. I’m glad I had the opportunity to get to connect with so many new people.”
The schools represented at the retreat included UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, Cal State Los Angeles, Cal State Northridge, San Francisco State University, Cal Poly Pomona, Loyola Marymount University, University of Southern California, Occidental College, Whittier College, Los Angeles Mission College, Los Angeles Valley College, Pasadena Community College, Glendale Community College, Santa Monica College, Glendale Community College of Arizona, Paradise Valley Community College of Arizona, College of the Canyons, and the American University of Armenia.
The All-Armenian Student Association works to unite various Armenian-American college student organizations and serve the greater Armenian-American community through cultural, social, educational, and activist programming. As the largest confederation of ASAs in the nation, All-ASA is dedicated to collaboration among its constituent organizations, leadership development of its members, and community service.