AYF Seminar Explores Liberation Movements Past and Present

Some of the AYFers at the Seminar

BY RAZMIG SARKISSIAN

“We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary,” said Malcolm X in 1965, the year he was assassinated.

“By Any Means Necessary,” a phrase first used by French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and later popularized by Malcolm X, was the theme of the Armenian Youth Federation’s (AYF) 2012 Educational Seminar which took place over the June 1-3 weekend, educating participants about freedom fighters from the past and present.

The seminar, which hosted a number of members from the AYF, local Armenian Students’ Associations and other young Armenians, sought to foster a spirit of social awareness by examining the liberation movements of different peoples including, but certainly not limited to, Armenians.

“It is imperative for young Armenians to have opportunities to discuss historical liberation movements,” said Tamar Baboujian, Executive Director of AYF Camp and former AYF member, who was also a discussant at the seminar. “It broadens their perspective and evokes compassion for people internationally.”

Jumpstarting the weekend’s lecture series with a video presentation and discussion about Guerilla movements was Baboujian, along with Razmig Sarkissian and Berj Parseghian, who is pursuing a Masters in Education and has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The presentation used multimedia from manifestos written by the likes of Che Guevara and Mao Tse-Tung, to video clips of the films “Malcolm X” (1992), “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) and “The Weather Underground” (2002), covering a breadth of issues from effective guerilla tactics, the American Civil Rights movement, Latin American liberation struggles, and anti-Vietnam activists.

Each clip was followed by insightful commentary from participants and vibrant discussions about core issues underpinning these movements such as the costs and benefits of non-violent vs. violent approaches to a cause.

The following day, Jovian Radheshwar, a lecturer in Political Theory at California State University Channel Islands and Ph.D. candidate at UCSB, gave a lecture about cultural and ideological awareness, the effects of imperialism and globalization, and the India-Pakistan divide.

Among the many themes Radheshwar’s lecture covered were “revolutionary solidarity” and “radical awareness of reality.”

To explain the concept of “revolutionary solidarity,” Radheshwar used the example of local shopkeepers during the riots in Britain a few years ago. The riots were led by members of the working class, but did not have wide-spread support among all in the working class. Many local shopkeepers called on the police to stop the riots, even though the cause included them as well, so that they could resume their day-to-day business. Revolutionary solidarity would have entailed the shopkeepers supporting the cause despite the short-term business loss due to the riots.

Revolutionary solidarity, thus, is realizing that outside one’s individual community are others in similarly oppressed conditions, and breaking down boundaries to identify with their cause as well, because at the end of the day their cause is your cause.
This ties into the concept of being “radically aware of one’s reality” in the sense that you need to be aware and almost hyper-conscious of happenings in the realm of politics, society, culture, philosophy and anything else, and be a contemporary of the world. Otherwise you lack the tools and knowledge necessary to be a true socialist or revolutionary.

Leading the next lecture was Allen Yekikian, Chief Technology Officer at Operation HOPE with a background in Armenian history, who discussed Armenian liberation in the 19th century, and the impact the “Zartonk” movement had in shaping Armenian identity and future generations of freedom fighters.

“Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are today what the printing press and newspapers were in the 19th century for the group of intellectual Armenians who manufactured and disseminated the “Zartonk” cultural awakening to the oppressed and impoverished Armenian masses,” said Yekikian.

His take-home message was that an entire cultural renaissance was born with technology we consider crude today, and that the opportunity is ripe to create an “iZartonk” with the unimaginable technology, means, and capabilities offered in today’s digital environment.

Wrapping up the weekend’s lecture-series was Nora Injeyan, who is pursuing a Masters in History with an emphasis on modern Armenian history from the University of California, Irvine.

She explained the conditions which led to the fall of the Soviet Union and gave birth to Armenia’s second independence, such as democratization of the political system, and the liberalization of cultural expression all ushered in by Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader. Injeyan then turned the focus to the current problems facing Armenia today.

Participants collaboratively identified some of those challenges as widespread electoral corruption, poor economy, and an emigrating population. This led to a vibrant discussion of the causes of those problems, and a lengthy brainstorm about the ways in which Diasporan activism can aid this still-infant nation.

“It was very reinvigorating to interact with AYF members discussing broader issues of liberation and how to draw lessons from other struggles relevant to our community today,” said Myrna Douzjian, Director for the weekend’s seminar and a former AYF member, who is pursuing a PhD in Comparative Literature in Russian and Armenian from the University of California, Los Angeles. “Participants delved into the core of what it means to be an Armenian activist today, all while exploring and analyzing other national movements,” Douzjian added.

Freedom fighters challenge mankind’s history of conflict, oppression and injustice by fighting for the empowerment and liberation of the oppressed. This fight is sometimes physical but more often a metaphysical one, aimed at overturning dominant societal conceptions and norms. In order to bring into existence a world devoid of violence where the rights of all human beings are tolerated, our generation must arm itself with the knowledge of past and present struggles against oppression, be emboldened by the determination of past freedom fighters, and practice revolutionary solidarity to fight injustices anywhere they may occur against any group of people, by any means necessary.

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