Revisiting iZartonk: Attempting to Cross the River

A 21st Century Zartonk


Ends and Beginnings
On the twenty-fifth of May, I attended the joint funeral of Allen Yekikian and Sosé Thomassian. Their loved ones shared passionate words of anger and admiration after the burial, and the day was finished with a fitting song from the revolutionary past of our homeland. We arrived that morning melancholy, still traumatized, still in disbelief; we left, however, inspired, uplifted, and, especially for some, relieved. The trauma is still there, the disbelief will never escape us, but both make the inspiration, and what will surely come of it, all the more pleasant.

It was discussed at great length during the program following the funeral, but the message resounds. I did not know Allen and Sosé personally; they were familiar faces, acquaintances at best, yet I and the many others in the same position felt so affected. In the weeks preceding the funeral, from the news of the tragic accident in Armenia to the burial, and even up until this moment, as I sit and write this, I questioned whether I had the right to feel this way; whether I was even allowed to feel the same pain their very close friends and loving families felt.

Others posed the ultimate question: “Why?” How could this turn of events be part of God’s plan? Why were their lives cut so short, with so much left to do? Who is to blame? Why wasn’t I taken in their stead?”

We all look to our principles to find the answers, but it is right under our noses. The phrase that has echoed throughout the nation, even the world, in response to this event, tells the whole story. “While the prudent stand and ponder, the fool has already crossed the river.” The origin of this quote predates even the ARF; it is a line from Raffi’s 1880 novel Khente, or The Fool. Allen used the quote on a daily basis, and it was even his email signature. Like anybody’s favorite quote, it meant to him something more profound than it did to anyone else, and only after losing him did everybody see why. It is not just a quote, but also a mentality; it’s the tenet of a lifestyle that favors not only being involved in aspects of society, but also overcoming personal barriers. It is a powerful testament to the human spirit, and the spirit is dying amid the shocking realities of humanity’s capability for wickedness.

We look to ourselves and to others to tell us why this happened and how we should feel; we think these are the pertinent questions. But we need only to understand Raffi’s powerful words to see what Allen and Sosé saw long before any of us. We, the prudent, ponder about the trivial hows and whys of this tragedy. But the greatness is in the fool; the brave one among the rest who sees the importance in doing rather than thinking.

Allen and Sosé were certainly fools, for while their peers stood and carefully thought, they acted on their conviction. We must follow in their footsteps and stop our pondering. Allen and Sosé were not lost without reason—they crossed the river first so that the others, including you and me, knew what they were facing. We must cross the river—and we know from Allen and Sosé’s bravery that the river is wide and the current is strong; but it is all that is stopping us from emerging on the other side rejuvenated, revitalized, and most of all, reawakened.

Revisiting iZartonk
Awakening. Zartonk. The first time I heard the word zartonk was in reference to an old book on the history of the ARF. Just as the forefathers of this movement had an awakening, Allen cognized the one we as an organization and as a people are undergoing. The very same zartonk that we are stopping in its tracks by refusing to cross the river. While the zartonk of our forefathers was one of ink, paper, and knowledge, this one—this technological reawakening that Allen called iZartonk—is one of smartphones, the internet, and knowledge still; this time, however, the knowledge is both figuratively and literally boundless.

This reawakening comes as welcome news. We are rapidly approaching the centennial of the start of the Armenian Genocide: April 24th, 1915, when over two hundred of these awakened intellectuals were seized and executed in Turkey. The pressure is rising; the weight of our nation’s future lies on the shoulders of ready and willing youth with an ungrounded and unguided passion for liberating themselves and the rest of the Armenian people from the century-old wound that has festered for too long.

We are bound by tradition that neither prescribes nor can foster the potential impetus of an unhalted iZartonk movement. We are attempting to heal a century-old wound with century-old methods when the end of the 20th century and the infancy of the 21st brought new, innovative, and effective instruments of healing.

The obstacle that we are now faced with, as we get closer and closer to the prophesied point of no return, is breaking from the mold of a 19th century philosophy, bearing in mind where we came from and where we have been so as to have a sense of where to go. Allen serves as the progenitor of this credo; his death is the most powerful reminder of his noble goal and its necessary course.

The Philosophy of iZartonk
Allen’s 2010 article, “A 21st Century Zartonk: An iRevival in the Modern Age of iFedayees,” a collaboration with Paul Chaderjian, acts as the consolidated doctrine of iZartonk and rightfully established him as the spearhead of the movement. Through his introduction of this philosophy in the AYF, he energized the organization and internalized the utilization of social media as a vessel for mass communication about social issues.

The youth, therefore, are inherently at the center of this movement. The resource pool that only this generation of young Armenians possesses should be the focus of our efforts. We should be teaching young Armenians how to communicate through the mainstream, utilizing the various facets of the very broad wealth of information and communicative media.

I have deliberately targeted mass media as a whole for this project. Young Armenians all over the world have access to the physical and digital tools and the creative capacity necessary to bring this forward, but they are gathering dust, going unused. The minds of the genuinely creative young Armenians are degenerating into hollow shells because of the disparity present between their sociopolitical goals and their artistic ones.

So the challenge stands in engaging these Armenian youth, devoted and passionate in spirit but detached in creative applications to convey such. And the solution lies in reaching out to the large populations of Armenian students and youth and, in the simplest terms, telling them that these resources exist, are likely within their reach, and have the power of communication beyond restraint.

The most basic and introductory of these resources, and in many ways the only one you really need, is sitting in your pocket right now. The sheer number of audiences one can reach in one social media campaign is enough to warrant its use in furthering the Armenian cause. But the young generation, equipped with an unmatched passion for that and so many other causes, as well as smartphones that they already use every day, don’t even think twice.

I can’t help but smile when, around April twenty-fourth, every year, my friends start posting images on Facebook and Instagram of Armenian flags and the ARF’s coat of arms, captioned with their generic messages of optimism about the future of our cause. But my smile fades as I realize that is where it ends.

The Expressive Arts
I speak not only about sharing through social media; again, it was with full intent that I proposed a mass media revival. Armenian youth must control every form of media, every form of communication: in writing, fictional and non, like stories and articles; visual art, expressive and literal, like paintings and photographs; film, creative and informative, like short films and PSAs; serialization, diverse in genre, like web shows and podcasts; and finally music, fun and enlightening all the same.

The resources for all of these are already there, most of them free or affordable. The course of action is simply to give the proverbial push to these young Armenians; we must show them how filmmaking opens its arms to students without any professional gear and how music production has been simplified to plugging an instrument into a computer and playing.

These self-expressive arts will drive iZartonk to its apex, and I should hope that they do soon. It is in our hands to push this project forward, and if we wish to truly rejuvenate, revitalize and reawaken, we have no more than a year to reach the Armenian youth with this message and the next one to start developing their role in mainstream media.

I envision summits—one, or four, or forty—taking place all over the world for Armenian youth to attend where industry professionals and young enthusiasts already starting these initiatives can bring their expertise to the audiences of young Armenians with a devotion to service around the world. Globalizing this project will not only unify the geographically and culturally distanced diasporan populations, but also empower Armenians in a primarily technology-driven society who feel otherwise powerless or without a voice.

Beginnings and Ends

Allen and Sosé crossed the river ahead of any of us so that we may know the true, predestined master plan for establishing iZartonk as a conclusive philosophy by the youth and for the youth. The emergence of this movement at our hands and its eventual absorption into our collective philosophy and society will be the greatest tribute we could give Allen and the greatest celebration of his convictions and life’s work.

And even if we can’t get there, we’ll have put forward a unified effort towards a collective goal, and that in itself is a zartonk of the Armenian people.


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