Diaspora-Armenia Relations Dominate Fordham University Forum

By Nanar Nakashian, ATOP MeaningfulWorld UN Intern

NEW YORK, NY—On November 15, 2019, Armenians from a variety of fields came together at Fordham University at Lincoln Center, New York City to share the work they are doing both inside and outside of the Republic of Armenia. In addition, participants learned about efforts in the diaspora to support Armenia and encourage collaboration between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the republic. Experts in the fields of engineering, medicine, behavioral sciences, mental health and economics discussed their missions, visions, activities, and outcomes.

Fordham University professor Dr. Harold Takooshian offered opening remarks mentioning the many Armenian organizations in the NY tri-state area devoted to bettering Armenia. Takooshian mentioned the Velvet Revolution in Armenia in May of 2018, commenting on the needs of a reformed country for organizations in the diaspora to contribute to the transformation from political oppression to democracy. 

The first presenter, Allan Berber, spoke on behalf of the Armenian Engineers & Scientists of America (AESA), a “philanthropic organization focused primarily on addressing the professional, technical and scientific needs of fellow Armenians throughout the world” (aesa.org). Berber explained that AESA works directly in Armenia in the National University, as well as in Gyumri, by arranging for professors to teach novel courses that might not otherwise be available to students studying engineering and other sciences. In the town of Aratashen, AESA makes education and materials accessible to workers and students in that area. 

President of the Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO) Dr. Lawrence Najarian explained that AAHPO’s mission is to educate and advance health services of Armenians in the metropolitan area, as well as in Armenia (aahpo.org). AAHPO is engaged in medical philanthropy where all types of healthcare providers work together on different projects, such as medical workshops and educational programs, both in Armenia and Artsakh. This includes a one-month training program for medical students and physicians to gain expertise in their fields, as well as to obtain continuing education. 

Takooshian then elaborated on the work that has been done in the diaspora in the behavioral sciences. In 1987, the Armenian Behavioral Science Association (ABSA) was founded during meetings of the International Council of Psychologists (ICP) and the American Psychological Association (APA). ABSA also serves the Armenian community of America and abroad through conferences and educational programs at national and regional conferences of organizations such as the APA, ICP, and Eastern Psychological Association (EPA). During these conferences, the annual ABSA Outstanding Achievement Award is presented to an identified Armenian professional in that city. In 2019, at the APA conference in Chicago, the ABSA award was given to Jackie Kazarian, an artist focusing on generational healing post-Genocide. 

Continuing with the topic of behavioral sciences, Dr. Ani Kalayjian spoke about the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention (ATOP) MeaningfulWorld, the organization she founded in 1988 that works specifically in mental health and healing generational trauma, horizontal violence, and nurturing emotional intelligence (meaningfulworld.com). Affiliated with the United Nations, ATOP MeaningfulWorld was established before the devastating earthquake in Armenia, focusing on scientific research of the Ottoman Turkish Genocide of the Armenians. MeaningfulWorld’s mission is to nurture a generation of conscientious individuals guided by love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness and meaning-making. MeaningfulWorld has delivered humanitarian relief volunteer missions to 48 countries, including Armenia. October 2019 was the most recent mission, during which MeaningfulWorld launched the first Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Armenia. Lorraine Simmons, Dr Justina Medina, and Nanar Nakashian, all Members of MeaningfulWorld, were acknowledged in the audience.

Dr. Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan, an economist and professor at St. John’s University, noted the importance of macroeconomy and history when analyzing Armenia and the diaspora. Gevorkyan stressed the importance of continued research in the interdependency between the diaspora and Armenia. He also spoke about the Armenian Diaspora Survey which he designed and conducted between December 2015 and April 2018. The anonymous online survey attempted to analyze the inner individual motivations of members of the diaspora to openly engage with Armenia’s economic development. The survey results offered a better understanding of the diaspora’s diversity, a dispersion based on origin, time-period settling outside of historic Armenia, and other factors. The survey also revealed a wide range of practical means for professional and cultural connections between individuals in the diaspora and their peers in Armenia. As an immediate engagement infrastructure solution, Gevorkyan proposed a web-based Diaspora Portal that would help create such connections. Gevorkyan concluded by stating that just as the diaspora’s expertise and experience are useful for Armenia, so is Armenia’s success vital to the diaspora. 

Dr. Lernik Essayei, MD, MPH, CPSS was the discussant. Essayei stressed the significance of the event, specifically with regard to the importance of collaboration among Armenian organizations in the diaspora to share and to learn about what each organization is doing in order to best support Armenia post-Velvet Revolution. Dr. Essayei led a lively Q&A where the audience and the speakers discussed the extent of aid that Armenia needs from diasporan Armenian organizations, as well as how much aid Armenia currently receives. 

A reception followed with networking, discussing further plans for collaboration and the possibility of an annual gathering. This community forum was hosted by Fordham Institute in cooperation with the aforementioned professional Armenian organizations.

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