Distinguished Experts Discuss Assimilation, Revival And Repatriation


May 20th, 2010

CA-Several dozen youth gathered at AYF Camp this past weekend for
the Armenian Youth Federation’s annual Educational Seminar, where the
issues of assimilation and repatriation were explored through lectures,
discussions, debates, and other group activities.

The seminar kicked off Friday night with Director Elizabeth Chouljian,
ANCA’s Communications Director and an AYF alumna herself, presenting
the opening remarks and asking the campers to introduce themselves
individually. Chouldjian created a welcoming environment, insisting
that everyone call her Ungerouhi Yeghso.

The educational portion of the weekend started on Saturday morning.

The first guest lecturer, Ara Mgrdichian, challenged participants
to see themselves and their community from an "out-of-the-box"
perspective by questioning conscious and subconscious notions of
identity. The second guest lecturer, Dr. Hagop Kouloujian, spoke
about the phenomenon of assimilation through the prism of language.

Chouldjian presented her own lecture on the ANCA and its role
in preserving Armenian identity and community. The campers then
participated in a group discussion led by Ungerouhi Yeghso to explore
the theoretical and practical motivations and challenges surrounding
the issue of repatriation to Armenia.

"Having a solid educational foundation within the membership is
essential for any community organization, and even more so for AYF,"
said organizer Aris Hovasapian. "We want to be able to train the
future leaders of our community, and exposing our members to new
ideas or challenging them with new concepts is certainly a step in
the right direction."

The AYF’s Educational Council, which organized the event, was
optimistic about achieving the goals of introducing ideas that are new
to the participants, and presenting concepts they can apply in daily
life. "The type of education that we stress has limitless applications,
but the greatest act would be for someone to take what they learned
over the weekend and use it as a catalyst to do something greater
that could eventually benefit the community at large." said Hovasapian.

Mgrdichian, an AYF alumnus and a violence prevention counselor at
Hoover High School, presented "Assimilation and the Youth Living in
the Diaspora," which exposed the campers to an alternative vantage
point on the problems Armenian youth face today. He challenged
participants to define Armenian identity and what encompasses being
Armenian. With identity crisis in the modern Diaspora being a very
crucial and controversial topic, the discussion quickly turned
into a debate. Mgrdichian concluded that Armenian youth need not
label themselves and put boundaries on what precisely defines being
Armenian. The focus, he stressed, should be on bringing Armenians
together to propel the Armenian Cause forward.

Dr. Kouloujian, a professor of Armenian language at UCLA, presented
"Assimilation and the Importance of the Armenian Language," which
showed an historical evolution of the Armenian language, from its
inception and eras of expansion to its current phase of atrophy and
endangerment. Dr. Kouloujian prepared his lecture specially for this
event, and the participants were very appreciative that he spent the
time to gather so much research and create a PowerPoint presentation.

Organizer Berj Parseghian welcomed Dr. Kouloujian’s unconventional
approach: "A fresh new perspective was offered by Professor
Kouloujian. He explained that if a language does not evolve and
remains stagnant, that language will eventually disappear," he
recalled. "We need innovation, new words, new poets, new writers,
a 21st century Armenian language… Let’s create a critical mass
around this concept… A 21st century Armenian."

"Every educational was amazing," said participant and AYF-WR Central
Executive chairperson Arek Santikian. "Ungerouhi Yeghso broke down
her points very well in relation to Hye Tad and the AYF’s role in it.

Additionally, the lecture regarding the Armenian language was a true
wake up call to me. I realized that it is extremely important to pick
up a book or two, every month or so, and simply read it. It is up to
us to not only cherish our culture and history, but to maintain it,
preserve it and evolve with it."

Chouldjian shared Santikian’s sentiments and had similar words of
praise for the participants. "These young people had such depth in
all of the information and all of the discussions that they had," said
Chouldjian about the interaction she witnessed throughout the weekend.

"During the actual lectures themselves, the participation was great,
but even in the off sections when kids were trying to take a break,
the whole discussion was how do we make Armenia better, how do we make
our nation better, and how do we work better here in the Diaspora. It
was just absolutely inspiring to see that."

The organizers said they were very pleased with the amount of
participation by attendees, and impressed by all the new faces. "It
is always great to see new members excited and actively participating
in discussion because their input is greatly valued. Many people had
a few different chances to speak and express their thoughts on all
the different topics discussed" said organizer Aline Karakozian.

The educational portion of the seminar was followed by an oath ceremony
Saturday evening where 10 AYF novices were officially welcomed into
the AYF. "The room was filled with mostly our younger membership,
which made me extremely happy." Said Santikian "A number of novices
also came up to participate and eventually take their oath.

The energy was at a high level throughout the entire weekend, and
it showed during the discussion portion of the seminar. I was very
impressed with the viewpoints of many of our members."

When asked to gauge the success of the event, Karakozian said, "We
definitely had a successful weekend with plenty of positive feedback."

The seminar, she continued, was fun and educational and gave
participants a unique "opportunity to discuss issues that have become
very important to our people."

Karakozian was happy that participants "were able to share our ideas
on what we should be doing as Armenians and as AYF members to help
prevent assimilation and how to begin a movement of repatriation to
our homeland."

Parseghian summed up the general feeling of the seminar’s participants:
"Our measure of success comes from the weekend being a catalyst for
youth to think, innovate, and struggle… it was awesome."

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