Activist panel reveals how Armenians can support Black Lives Matter

A virtual forum hosted by the progressive Boston-based Armenian activist collective Zoravik on Monday evening explored a shared history of subjugation, violence, exclusion and denial to advise what the Black Lives Matter movement can and should mean for Armenians.

“People will say this conversation…is anti-American, but we are simply holding this nation accountable to its ideals,” said Dr. Richard Reddick of the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. Dr. Reddick, who serves as the College of Education’s Associate Dean for Equity, Community Engagement, and Outreach, was a key voice in the online event titled Black Lives Matter for Armenians, which garnered the attention of more than 300 live viewers and has since been widely shared on social media. 

The panel was co-moderated by Dr. Henry C. Theriault, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Worcester State University and President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and Dr. Laure Astourian, Assistant Professor of French at Bentley University. The panel also included Aram Goudsouzian, Ph.D. (history professor at the University of Memphis), Kohar Avakian (Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Yale University), Levon Brunson (computer science undergraduate at Brown University), Anaïs DerSimonian (writer and filmmaker) and Carene Mekertichyan (actress, writer, singer and educator). Zoravik member and Harvard University lecturer Lisa Gulesserian, Ph.D also participated. 

The panelists addressed a range of themes, including intergroup solidarity, white supremacy, Armenian identity and white privilege. 

Significantly, Mekertichyan addressed the contested question of the relationship between the Armenian community and racism in the US. Mekertichyan, as a Black-identifying Armenian, explained the difference between anti-Black racism and ethnic prejudices experienced by many Armenians. She described the history of racist systems, such as policing, redlining, housing discrimination and the school-to-prison pipeline, put in place by white supremacy to target the Black community that Armenians have never experienced.

“You cannot compare your experience in America to the experience that the Black community has had in this country,” she asserted, addressing the Armenian community. “Saying, why can’t they just do what we do, and this ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality, it’s false and it’s very hurtful and detrimental to the current movement, because we need to be uniting.”

The panelists also discussed the many manifestations of white supremacist ideologies, both in conferring privileges upon the Armenian community and in enacting cultural erasure.

Avakian, who participated in a similar panel late last month, stated that many of the issues facing the Armenian Diaspora may be rooted in white supremacy. She pointed to the damaging psychological impacts of white assimilation on an already traumatized community that immigrated to the United States fleeing assimilationist violence. “We need to ask ourselves the many ways that [whiteness] manifests in such toxic ways in our community, whether it’s colorism, anti-Blackness [or] homophobia,” she suggested. 

The panelists agreed that the current moment places an imperative upon Armenians to recognize their privileges and mobilize their resources to center and uplift Black voices. 

Mekertichyan suggested sharing space with a Black Lives Matter chapter, participating in protests or donating to local movements. She also recognized that Armenian allyship must be inclusive of those members of the Black community who are struggling the most. “If your activism does not include Black Trans women, then it’s not good activism,” she upheld.

The conversation also revealed the importance of intergroup solidarity. The panelists agreed that the struggles facing the Armenian community do not exempt its members from working to dismantle systems of oppression and supporting others. Rather, the panelists argued that everyone has a stake in ending white supremacy, both because of its ubiquitous harms and because advocating for justice is the morally correct stance. 

Brunson, who identifies as Black and Armenian, attested to his passion for fighting on behalf of Black Lives Matter and the Armenian cause simultaneously. “The Armenian Genocide, being as horrible and nefarious and evil as it was, should have prompted people to look past the issues that they were immediately facing and come and help,” he claimed. “Inability to look past one’s own immediate issues and apply attention elsewhere is what breeds and fosters the environment in which genocide can be perpetrated.” 

“If your allyship is something based on your desire to get others to show up for you, that’s self-serving, and that isn’t the way that you build real allies, because allyship means action,” Avakian articulated. “It means showing up for others because you genuinely care and because you genuinely feel a passion against the deep injustice that’s happening.” DerSimonian, for her part however, suggested the use of the term “accomplice,” arguing, “When you’re an ally it implies that you are ‘for’ a marginalized group, so you have this sort of savior complex, you are on the sidelines, you are pro-Black Lives Matter, but it’s not really your movement, whereas an accomplice implies ‘with.’ It’s your battle too.” 

During viewer questions, the issue reemerged of whether Armenians should divide their attention between the difficulties facing their community and anti-Black racism. One person posed the hypothetical of whether or not Armenians would be more willing to support other causes, like Black Lives Matter, if Turkey recognized the Armenian Genocide. 

Dr. Goudsouzian identified that question as a dodge to avoid addressing the central importance of allyship revealed by the forum. “How can we as Armenians, if we claim to identify with oppressed people, if a big part of our identity revolves around this historic oppression, how can we not stand with others?” he asked. 

For further information, the audience was directed to armeniansforblacklives.org, a running list of articles and op-eds authored by Armenians about Black Lives Matter and compiled by activists at Zoravik. 

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is a journalist based in Los Angeles, California. She has written for the Daily Californian, Hetq and the Armenian Weekly, covering topics ranging from the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Armenia to the Armenian feminist movement on Instagram. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Armenian Studies, and applies her human rights expertise to uncover silenced narratives. When she is not on the hunt for a story, Lillian enjoys writing poetry and attending quarantine "Zoom-ba" classes.

19 Comments

  1. Thank you to the folks at Zoravik, for putting together this important panel discussion. I learned a lot and I’m glad I tuned in.

  2. This is an extremely informative and comprehensive discussion of Armenian Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement. It is well framed and substantive, does not oversimplify the issues, as so much discourse on race in the U.S. does. Well worth the time.

  3. So glad an organization like Zoravik exists to fill an enormous progressive void in our community. Thanks to the organizers for hosting this event, which I watched after the fact. It is a great thing that we have this video, as a dynamic educational resource and tool moving forward.

  4. What an enlightening program, so much to take in opening up a new lens for some of us. While I attended, I plan on watching it again, grateful to listen again, and continue to learn. Also seeing the outstanding younger scholars gives me so much hope for our future. Thank you Zoravik and The Armenian Weekly for covering this.

  5. It is nice to see people in the Armenian community acknowledging that they don’t live in a vacuum, that they have a role to play in diasporan societies, and that their particular experience brings unique viewpoints and challenges. Events like this show a real step forward. Let’s have more like it.

  6. I want to congratulate Zoravik for a job well done. It’s not often that events urge us to question entrenched ways of thinking and being. Thanks again for this much-needed discussion!

  7. Hello. I tuned in to the webinar, Black Lives Matter for Armenians, last night. It was will organized and the speakers were great. The moderators were great. The responses of the speakers gave a lot of food for thought and action. The time was well managed. I do have one suggestion. The historic overview provided by Dr. Goudsouzian was great. A suggestion would be to also provide a historic overview of Armenians in US as well, this way more connections can be made between the two groups. Yes, Armenians have penetrated their way into whiteness. I appreciate and understand the profound fact. But it is important to also specifically talk about or give an overview of the Armenian trajectory into whiteness. Such as when, Armenians first came to Fresno, they were seen as non-white. Restaurants had signs that said “no dogs/no Armenians” can enter this establishment . Of course not to take away the weight of how different the Black experience has been in the white-ness. It was a great event.

  8. This was a terrific panel discussion. Thank you, Zoravik, for organizing the event. I hope that more Armenians will watch it during the coming months. The speakers were thoughtful and offered ideas that will help us all better handle the difficult conversations ahead.

  9. Why would Armenians want to support a marxist group like BLM? Colors who is a founder of BLM said she is a “trained marxist.” Hasnt Armenians forgot the thousands of lives lost under the marxists of the USSR? This article is disturbing.

    • Sako, Thank you for speaking out regarding BLM. They are a Marxist/Communist organization and their agenda is not the salvation of black lives. If they are so concerned about black lives then they should march themselves to Chicago and help stop the senseless loss of live on a daily basis with an appreciable escalation on the weekends. Babies, toddlers and little ones are being killed along with teens and parents and grandparents. No discrimination there, they kill at will. How can you buy into this new political organization that is trying to destroy America?

  10. It would have been quite appropriate to mention the accomplishments of Charles Garry (Garabed Garabedian) who was a civil rights attorney from the 50-90’s known as the People’s Advocate defending black lives and fighting police-discrimination.

    The two documentaries express Garabed’s experience as an Armenian-American and his immigrant-family experiencing discrimination intertwine with the African-American experience.

    He lived his life fighting discrimination and defending black lives African-Americans.

    Enjoy the fascinating documentaries:

    Charles Garry – People’s Advocate
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpvoeOlG5QM

    Charles Garry – Streetfighter
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmnY2Wdjaas

  11. Thank you Zoravik for putting together such an excellent program. It is great to see our community actively engaged in Black Lives Matter.

    • Thank you Lillian for a terrific article that articulately captured the heart of the discussion.

  12. This was such a great panel, such a freak discussion. It’s so inspiring to see Armenians talking about these issues in the open, and not shying away from them!

    We’re finally accepting that we’re a part of a world outside of our community.

    Black Lives Matter
    Justice for all

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