BY VIVIAN KASPARIAN
On November 17 and 18, Rose and Alex Pilibos students participated in the 20th annual Bruin Model United Nations (MUN). The BruinMUN is an extracurricular activity where high school students role-play as delegates of nations represented at the United Nations. These delegates act as representatives of specific committees where they discuss topics concerning international politics, such as child malnutrition in Haiti, government control on social media, and newborn and child health in developing countries. MUN creates opportunities for students to interact with other high school students, practice diplomacy, enhance their knowledge of issues currently taking place in the world, and attempts to find solutions to those problems, modeled closely after the actions that take place at the United Nations. BruinMUN is an annual competition held on the beautiful UCLA campus in Westwood.
For the second year in a row, Pilibos students along with 900 other high school students participated in the competition. Pilibos was assigned the countries of Norway, Venezuela, and Tanzania, representing them in the General Assembly, Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee, Human Rights Committee, World Health Organization, Economic and Social Council, United Nations Children’s Fund, International Atomic Energy Agency, and African Union committees. Four students, Khajag Bornazyan, Arek Kodjanian, Arpi Beshlikyan and Lily Dermendjian won research awards for their position papers. Khajag Bornazyan and Arek Kodjanian (11th grade) discussed the issues of nuclear proliferation and nuclear safety representing the country of Norway in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Arpi Beshlikyan and Lily Dermendjian (9th grade) discussed genetically modified foods and child mortality representing the country of Tanzania in the World Health Organization (WHO).
In addition to the excitement of the competition, this year’s convention was no ordinary BruinMUN, especially for the Armenian community. BruinMUN organizers had invited Tolga Arslan, the Vice Consul of Turkey, to speak at the opening ceremonies of the BruinMUN.
Principal, Dr. Alina Dorian said, “The Bruin MUN organizing committee sent us an email a week before the event alerting us to the fact that the key note speaker would be the Vice Consul of Turkey. They wrote, and we quote, ‘One of our chairs has notified us of the sensitivities that may surround our guest speaker and the dilemma his presence may create for you and your students’. Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in partnership with our sister school, Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian High School and several other key sister organizations drafted a letter to the organizing committee expressing our disappointment with their decision to invite a representative of a government whose policies are in direct contradiction with the United Nations principles and all that we strive to teach our students. Further, we stressed the importance that this dilemma should not just be one for our schools or our community, but should be one that needs to be considered by all, especially BruinMUN, who espouse principles of justice and adherence to human rights as advocated by the United Nations Charter and mission.”
“I met with our student delegation the next day and we decided that we would walk out in quiet protest from the opening ceremonies should the Vice Consul take the stage. The same decision was taken by Ferrahian. When we arrived that Saturday morning into the foyer of the Grand Ballroom, we were joined by the UCLA Armenian Students Association and the Armenian Youth Federation who had started distributing postcards to the participating students, parents and their representatives stating Turkey’s record on human rights, civil-rights and Genocide-denial. Our students were stern in their resolve and were waiting to see the outcome of our efforts. As the program began, the master of ceremonies announced that the key note speaker unfortunately was not going to be able to be present due to ‘medical’ reasons.”
“At that moment, all of my students were wide-eyed and I know, for them, the victory was palpable. A group of committed high school students from two Armenian schools made a big difference in the reality of our existence as Armenians. The strength of our unity was catalyzed by the fact that we are part of an Armenian school system, which not only teaches our students about their rich history and heritage, but encourages them to act with grace and pride on its behalf. With the collaborative efforts of the UCLA Armenian Students Association, Armenian Youth Federation and the Armenian National Committee of America Western-Region, the Armenian community was able to have their voice heard.”
Participating students were very passionate in their resolve and very proud of what they accomplished. Here is what some students had to say about their experience:
Vivian Kasparian (11th grade)
“Non-Armenian students were fascinated by the language we spoke to one another, and quickly began asking questions about where Armenia was located, if we could teach them a few words, and how incredible it is that there are entire schools based solely on our ethnicity. We even helped students from Huntington Beach High School, who represented Armenia in BruinMUN, learn about critical facts relating to the topic of government control on social media in Armenia. As the delegates of Armenia stated a direct fact aimed towards the delegates representing Turkey in their speech, my partner and I felt a sense of pride in our nation that we had not experienced before, which made our experience at UCLA BruinMUN convention complete.”
Lily Dermendjian (9th grade)
“I am very grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in Model UN this year. I was able to meet some very interesting people, learn many things, and get lost with my friends on the UCLA campus. I was not very happy that the representative from the Turkish embassy was going to speak at the opening ceremonies. I was outraged to find out that a representative of a country with such a terrible human rights record was going to speak to us at a political conference. However, in the end, I was happy that we were able to influence such a major outcome that day.”
Khajag Bornazyan (11th grade)
“From the first moment I signed up for the BruinMUN, I was very excited that I was going to be a part of an educational and politically oriented event. But what I received was much more. More than pretending to be a part of politics, we got to experience it first hand as we influenced the events of the day and stopped a political injustice from taking place.”
Aram Manoukian (10th grade)
“UCLA Model United Nations was not quite what I expected being a rookie. It was a test of dedication and perseverance; a test well accomplished. As a school, actively involved in the community, we knew the responsibility to inform a conference simulating the largest protector of human rights fell on our shoulders. We made our presence known! Whether it was initiating dialogue at committee, or passing out flyers at the opening ceremony, UCLA Model United Nations was proof that a grassroots community with a just cause will not only attempt but achieve anything and everything for its people.”
Arek Kodjanian (11th grade)
“This was a new experience for me, and I learned numerous things about the United Nations and how it works. But more than that, we were able to experience some nuances of politics first hand. When I first heard about the opening speaker, I was very surprised. The choice made by Bruin MUN completely contradicts the reason why students come to this conference. Turkey has policies that directly violate UN laws. So Pilibos and the Armenian community did everything possible to not let this happen. And sure enough Arslan did not show up to give his speech. I was not only proud but pleased that with such few people we were able to accomplish such task with such an impact. Everything I have learned in school about being Armenian and a united community came to fruition right in front of my eyes. Together we really can do so much more!”