Like many Gen Z Armenians, my days as an activist for my people had a humble beginning: comfortably positioned in a stroller, gently being pushed by my mother through a crowd the morning of April 24th at the Turkish Consulate. In truth, I don’t remember much, but I will never forget looking up and seeing my mother’s poised face, like a lighthouse and its embracing beacon, illuminating a clear path through a relentless sea of protesters, holding posters, raising fists and waving flags. She — and more than a thousand other Armenians — marched. They marched for a cause, for a reason. They marched with rage, defiance, exuberance…every emotion they possessed for themselves and the 1.5 million martyrs before them. Amid the pandemic and the Artsakh War, that level of vehemence and enthusiasm on a virtual level is near-impossible, but as shown through multiple instances in our peoples’ history, we Armenians don’t know the definition of the word “impossible.” Firm believers in the saying “When we fall, we get back up,” ardor and devotion course through our veins, whether toward our immense love for our religion, our colorful culture or our traditional cuisine. Now, as a result of the digital age, social media posts have replaced those cherished hand-painted posters of red, blue and orange.
At first glance, many, especially those in the older generation of Armenians, will throw digital activism under one blanket statement: “useless and ineffective.” This is far from the truth. If anything, digital activism has amplified our love for our culture and now serves as a modern outlet for Armenians to connect on the national level. Activism has had a sustained history of adapting to new mediums, being one of the most dynamic strategies of growing our cause. Communications technologies and easy, digestible resources on social media have helped increase our political action through mass mobilization on the largest scale we as a people have ever seen. Armenians all around the globe are now engaged in conversations that concern the future of our people, conversations that were simply not possible in the pre-digital age.
Art is not just a means of aesthetic power; it is also our form of cultural interconnection. There are no people like the Armenian people; our diaspora is, unfortunately, spread out internationally, and that presents a whole slew of issues that drastically change based on the country in which they reside. It is no secret that Armenians are a marginalized people, especially those living in the motherland and the Middle Eastern and Turkish diaspora. Living in the United States as an Armenian-American is a privilege, and with great privilege comes great responsibility. We must abandon the mindset that Armenians abroad require our constant charity. We should instead find ways to collaborate in order to elevate the voices of our people who are most affected by repressive issues and unite with them toward a broader solution. Contrary to popular belief, Armenian issues do not begin and end with genocide recognition. There are a variety of social issues in Armenia, including domestic violence, child labor and high unemployment, that require our unity and advocacy.
Political organizations and nonprofits, such as the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), have propelled an active participatory culture on social networking sites through informational graphic design, a powerful component of the Armenian social justice movement. Design works directly with tried-and-true methods of digital activism, such as “hacktivism,” a term described by information security researcher Dorothy Denning, as “the marriage of hacking and activism,” and hashtags, a process of streamlining vital details about the cause to the average Armenian. These specific methods and more have broken all political, social and linguistic barriers that had at one point impeded our dialogue as a people. However, the work of digital activism goes beyond high-profile Armenian organizations. The torch is slowly but surely being passed to the younger generation.
Gen Z Armenians have taken the concept of digital activism and spun it into something completely new by solely employing social media. During the Artsakh War, many young adults turned to TikTok, a relatively new, video-centered social-networking platform that is home to bite-sized videos ranging from comedy to education. On this platform, young Armenians were able to call attention to the war and fact-check the misinformation being spread online. From firsthand experience, I saw how effective short, informational videos actually were. The fast-paced videos have high retention rates, which ensure our message is accurately and quickly sent across to a wide audience, one that doesn’t consist of only Armenians. Many people with a variety of backgrounds were being educated on the ins-and-outs of political warfare, ethnic cleansing and other heavy topics without switching apps and the embellishments of a textbook or documentary. Coupled with TikTok, Twitter (a microblogging platform) and Instagram (a photo- and video-sharing platform) have also played a huge role. The seasoned social media platforms, though different, have always been effective in our political engagement by fostering organized conversations.
So how can one get involved? It’s not as difficult as it may seem. Start by building on the work and progress that is already happening online, and eventually, zero in on something specific and create something entirely new. New-age media outlets that emphasize Armenian affairs work exclusively on social media and have done a phenomenal job in making information and resources as accessible as they possibly can be in our day and age. The times have changed, and information design and data visualization are the complex data in the simplest and most artistic style possible. A quick reshare of these educational infographics effectively gets a message across. Designers use aesthetics—a core principle of advertising and raising awareness—to complement a work’s usability and elevate its functionality.
Art is the universal language, after all.
Though design and aesthetics are often undervalued, facilitating change in Armenia and Artsakh to rebuild and restore our country can easily be done through the very means people deem nugatory. Art is the universal language, after all. When creating a design, whether done consciously or not, the artist communicates at a high-powered emotional level to those of us in the Armenian community. It also helps facilitate the imperative discussions we need to be having regarding the changes forced upon us as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Artsakh War. Design also transcends the bubble we have created and speaks directly to the shared emotions of humanity and compassion that are present in each and every person on the planet. Looking towards the future, it is art, design and social media that collectively serve as the perfect venue for political engagement on a grand level; the restoration and advancement of Armenia and vitalizing tradition and cultural values are swiftly approaching.
No matter what medium or platform, art and design are the latest weapons developed by our cyber-troops, and they can wholly put a stop to oppressive, anti-Armenian sentiment internally, interpersonally and systematically. The time has come for us to forgo the antiquated methods of change and leave them where they belong: the past. The pandemic and the Artsakh War have spawned a new wave of motivation in the younger Armenian community, and it is our job to be focused and stay organized. Digital activism soars beyond hashtags and Instagram story reposts. It is the understanding that we can rid the world of the sad truth that many still view our fight for justice as a passing annual event in April. Digital activism is about unity…unity on a national scale. Unity is the foundation of the Armenian people, and though we all are born activists because of our parents and grandparents, it is our job to continue and remain activists. For any house to stand, the foundation must be solid, and when we stand united, we Armenians will never be broken.
Editor’s Note: The Armenian Weekly is happy to welcome Melody Seraydarian to its pages. Earlier this month, Melody pitched a column centered on Diasporan Armenian issues, culture and lifestyle through the Gen Z lens. This is her first contribution for the Armenian Weekly. Since her column has yet to be named, we would like to field ideas from our readers. You can send your suggestions for Melody’s new column to [email protected]