Special for the Armenian Weekly
It all began with a tour guide video of Yerevan.
Michael He wanted to show his friends and family back home in Atlanta, Ga. the country in which he was living as an intern.
He had no prior knowledge about the country, so he followed the guide with several videos of various touristic areas and notable places around Armenia.
Michael is a junior at Harvard University studying economics. In the summer of 2015, he interned at the Central Bank of Armenia in Dilijan, through a program organized by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard.
With the program in its second year, Michael embarked on this internship with a research project relevant to his personal studies. In his case, he studied the business relations between Armenia and China and researched how to make Armenia more appealing for Chinese investors.
Michael’s internship was in Dilijan. He was able to travel to other areas like Yerevan, Gyumri, and Tatev during the weekends, but for the most part, he stayed in the small city. “I think Armenia was actually the best experience in my life so far. I had never lived anywhere [outside of the U.S.]—including China—for as long as I lived in Armenia. Being able to go into a world about which I knew nothing about and to be able to appreciate and understand it was really great for me,” he explained during a recent visit to the Armenian Weekly and the Hairenik Association headquarters.
During his visit, Michael took a tour of East Watertown to get a sense of the Armenian community that exists so close to where he studies.
Michael explained that despite the fact that he was what he called an “outsider,” the people of Armenia were very welcoming and always made him feel like a local.
During his visit, Michael said that he made his first video shortly after his internship. The video was a tour guide video of Yerevan highlighting popular destination spots in the country’s capital.
Based on a variety of factors that continue to surprise Michael today, the video was shared by locals in Armenia, his coworkers at the Central Bank, Armenians from China, Armenians from America, and his friends and family back home. It eventually went viral, surpassing 150,000 views in no time.
To date, Micheal has published tour guide videos of Dilijan, Gyumri, Etchmiadzin, Garni, and Geghard. He has also made special videos for the Tumo Center for Creative Technologies, the American University of Armenia (AUA), and the Confucius State Institute at Yerevan’s Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences. Most of his videos have even been translated into Chinese.
According to Michael, he continued with this documentary series just to show more people about the beautiful country of Armenia and the meaningful organizations that exist within the country. “I never expected these videos to garner thousands of viewers and for my experience to make an such an impression,” he explained.
More recently, Armenian-American celebrity Khloe Kardashian featured Michael’s Yerevan tour guide video on her app and website. In addition, various news outlets in Armenia have published articles about Michael and his videos in an attempt to showcase Armenia through the eyes of a foreigner.
In March, Michael posted a video about the film The Promise, which gained great momentum and caused his other videos to pick up traction once again. In this two minute video, Michael provides a brief synopsis of the film, speaks about the actors who were involved, and lists his reasons why everyone should go see it. Michael also highlights the fact that thousands of negative reviews were made on the movie website IMDB prior to the movie’s release.
Since its release, this video passed 300,000 views in just the last couple of weeks and that number continuous to grow.
Micheal’s video on The Promise is different than his previous ones. It doesn’t highlight beautiful spots throughout Armenia or encourage people to visit. It instead clarifies a misconception people might have had about the film based on its online reviews. Michael believed these acts were wrong and felt it was necessary to use the power of social media to lay out the truth and advocate for the just cause.
In doing so, he became an unexpected activist.
When I met Michael, I was curious to find out what had inspired him to make his video about The Promise. He explained that Christian Bale, who stars in the film is also in another movie entitled The Flowers of War, which is about the 1937 Nanking massacre committed by the Japanese. Michael felt a common connection of these two events that not many people know about. He was especially intrigued, since one film was about his own culture and the other was about a culture he has spend a lot of time engaging with.
“If I could do a part to help spread the word about mass killings and injustices, through something that doesn’t take much time to do yet makes an impact, I would be happy to do it,” Michael said.
He went on to say that his goal was to help people get a better historical understanding of the Armenian Genocide. “I was extremely eager for the movie to come out, because it will provide an opportunity for those who are not familiar with the history of the Armenian people to get a better understanding of the truth,” he said.
Since then, Michael has used his social media page to share links from the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), asking American citizens to urge their Congressman to call on President Trump to properly commemorate the Armenian Genocide and of various programs in Armenia including Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) and the Little Free Libraries.
Meanwhile, his videos have kept circulating and continued to reach more people.
After his visit, we toured Watertown where Michael was able to see Artsakh Street, St. Stephens Armenian Apostolic Church, and some of the Armenian supermarkets of Watertown.
Michael never intended to become an activist for the Armenian cause. However, after experiencing the warmth and hospitality of the Armenian people and genuinely understanding their past, he realized that the continuous denial of the Armenian Genocide is wrong.
According to Michael, he has never attacked anyone or “picked sides.” He just took issue to the fact that the Armenian people had not received proper justice and believed that if he could do something to shed light on the cause to make an impact, he undoubtedly would.
In a world in which social media has the power to reach the masses without much effort, Michael’s efforts to bring awareness have not gone unnoticed.
His Facebook page currently has about 6,500 likes and counting. The page description—interestingly enough—includes the phrase “Armenia Enthusiast.”