I have seen many posts on social media about disappointment in non-Armenian friends who have not been sharing information or speaking up about the war in Artsakh.
I recently posted a story on Facebook about a woman I ran into who told me her Turkish friend was a Genocide denier. She was appalled at his beliefs. Though I was not surprised, I shared this story and connected it to my personal family history of Genocide survivors and the current war. The post garnered significant attention. However, some friends commented that they wanted to help and share current information, but did not understand the facts of the situation.
We decided to have a Zoom session, which I opened to any of my friends who wanted to join, to explain what is happening in Artsakh. People were interested and wanted to learn, but they were overwhelmed by having to read information to which they have no context or connection. It is a complicated issue with a long history they have never learned about. This is what makes our cause different from other social justice or human rights issues here in the U.S. Most American children have learned about the existence of slavery. It is easier for them to connect the horror of that time in history to the injustices that occur now. Many people have not learned about the Armenian Genocide and certainly have not heard of Artsakh until they see our headlines posted on social media.
The Zoom meeting was successful. My friends listened with great interest for about a half hour to the information I provided. They were moved to the point of wanting to take action. One friend expressed that many people are feeling overwhelmed due to the current pandemic, political and social tensions existing in our country. He wanted to know tangible ways to contribute. While I shared the places for donation and political involvement, it was my non-Armenian friends who decided they wanted to organize a bake sale to spread awareness and raise money to donate to the cause. They decided this independently without me asking for their assistance, as my intention until then was only to educate.
Based on this experience, I wanted to share a few ways to potentially engage, inspire, and motivate our non-Armenian friends to help. It is not that they do not care. They are overwhelmed and do not know where to start. Consider these a starting point:
This is often discussed in advocacy, marketing and business. It is one of the most important tools to spread awareness and start a conversation. An “elevator speech” should be a few short sentences about the most important points you want to convey on a topic. When my friends ask how I am or when I am trying to reach out to them for support, this is what I will use to start. Mine is usually something like this:
“It has been a really rough time. The situation in Armenia is terrible. Azerbaijan and Turkey have started attacking and have not stopped for the last month. I have lost family to this war and many of my friends are in danger. Azerbaijan and Turkey have committed war crimes, like starting the war in the middle of the pandemic and violating ceasefire agreements. No one is holding them accountable. It is clear that Turkey is making attempts to end what was started during the Armenian Genocide. We’re at risk for another genocide, so I’m trying to do whatever I can to help right now.”
It may be shorter or longer than that depending on who you are talking to. The “elevator speech” offers a brief, easily understood synopsis of what is happening and invites people to help or ask more detailed questions about what they can do. Sometimes, this alone has been enough for my friends and acquaintances to feel motivated to participate, especially through Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) action alerts and donations.
Make it personal
My posts on social media and conversations that express my personal connection to the war have attracted the greatest response. Sharing my story about the Armenian Genocide denier, noting that I have had friends and family who have died or are in danger in this war, and its impact on my well-being and mental health have gained the most attention. Our friends care about us. When we discuss the war as a reality impacting us personally, rather than a removed political event, our friends will listen and show up.
Make the topic tangible and real
Help your friends understand the connection between events happening in Armenia and other current events of which they are more aware. Connect our struggle to your friends’ knowledge of Indigenous People in North America. Hypotheticals can be useful for making connections. For example, the war against Artsakh could be compared to the following scenario: All of a sudden, the U.S. military goes to indigenous tribe lands that still exist in the country, start attacking and tell Indigenous People to get off American land. The media games can be compared to the way the media has attempted to negatively represent the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements for human rights in order to maintain the status of the oppressor. This argument may not work for everyone in the current political climate, but for many individuals, they will understand the magnitude of injustice and make a stronger mental and emotional connection to the plight of Armenians.
Have actual conversations
This is related to the previous three points. I have reached out to friends to have one-on-one or small group conversations. With the amount of media inundating our lives, it can be easy for our friends to feel overwhelmed by the world. They may scroll our posts and think, “Wow, that’s terrible,” but not feel connected to be able to help. Initiate personal conversations the “old-fashioned” way to educate and motivate. People will appreciate the time and energy you have put into connecting with them. They will be more willing to reciprocate.
Focus on action items
Once your friends have context, the focus from there should be solely on action items. Information without an understanding of what can be done cannot motivate people. They also need to understand this is an ongoing process and that you will continue to provide them with updates on how to advocate. Social media is a huge tool right now, just as it was at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. They need to understand a simple tweet, Instagram post, or Facebook post with the appropriate hashtags can make a major difference. Again, the Black Lives Matter movement was not successful just because Black individuals were the ones advocating; it was also due to all the other voices lifting them up. This is what we need to happen and your friends will understand this if you explain in this manner. Additionally, they will likely feel comfortable sending rapid response letters through the ANCA initiatives and making donations to the Armenia Fund.
Guilt trips do not work, use positive reinforcement
Yes, we are hurting. Yes, we often feel like we are doing this work alone. Yes, we feel abandoned when our socially conscious friends are silent. However, guilt trips that shame people for not immediately becoming involved in our cause and offering support do not work. Gratitude is our most useful and motivating tool.
Gratitude draws people in further. Use positive reinforcement. Do you have friends who have reached out or worked to help? Publicly thank them on social media. This can be for actions such as checking in with you, making a donation, sending letters to or calling politicians, social media posts and other countless ways they may have offered their support. People want to be part of something positive when they understand what is happening, know they can make a difference and have their efforts be appreciated. Gratitude will be our best friend during this time to maintain our connections and reinforce future support. Nurture all your relationships.
Be a survivor, not a victim
The movement from victim to survivor is an empowering one. It is a movement that Armenians have been working toward since the end of the Genocide, but particularly since the second independence of our republic. We have made great strides in cultural healing and political, economic, and industrial growth, despite the continued denialism meant to inhibit our growth.
This is hard to maintain when we are being attacked in the middle of a pandemic, with both the risk of disease and the risk associated with warfare at our doorsteps. We cannot let this set us back.
If we play the part of the victim, there is a sense of hopelessness and helplessness that deters both us and our non-Armenian friends from putting in the effort to help because it can feel as if there is no point. This is exactly what Turkey and Azerbaijan want. Through feeling helpless and hopeless, we forfeit our will to fight.
We need to maintain the hope that action can lead to change which can lead to improvement. It is not an easy road. It is one that requires consistent work and dedication. However, we need to persistently believe that it can be done. Otherwise, we are only allowing ourselves to be exterminated and allowing others to stay complacent while we wallow in victimhood.
We are survivors. We have survived before and we will again. There are people who care and want to help. If we lose faith in ourselves and humanity, then Azerbaijan and Turkey have already won. Maintaining hope is hard, but we can and will do it for ourselves and for others to continue the motivation to work towards a better world.