Challenges Facing the Armenian-American Youth

The meeting brought members of the community together to the North Valley Armenian Community Center for a discussion of important issues

GRANADA HILLS, Calif.—On Nov. 22, the North Valley Armenian Community Center hosted a town hall meeting organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation “Shiragian” Gomideh’s Public Relations Committee. The topic of conversation was the challenges and hardships faced by the Armenian-American youth.

On behalf of the organizing committee Vilma Kouyoumjian welcomed the crowd. She acknowledged the public relations committee’s tasks, which include organizing such meetings and discussions. Kouyoumjian also pointed out that the committee has been working extensively with the Armenian Students Association at California State University, Northridge. Given that there are over 3,500 Armenian students at CSUN, Kuyumjian said the committee’s goal is to unite those students and draw them to the Armenian community and culture. The committee also wants to help students overcome the challenges they face by offering ideas and solutions.

Following Kouyoumjian’s welcoming words, Suzy Ohanian, one of the evening’s speakers, addressed the crowd. Ohanian is currently the elementary academic director at Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Hollywood, prior to which she was a longtime English teacher at Chamlian Armenian School. She has also served on the Armenian Youth Federation Advisor for Juniors and has previously taken on leadership roles with the Central AYF Juniors Body.

Ohanian began by saying that the Armenian people have had to face adversity many times throughout their history, but that they have survived, preserving their race and culture through all of it. Presently, she said, Armenian-Americans face a road filled with many barriers, but nevertheless, there is hope. This is different from past challenges because there is no external enemy; the problem lies internally within the race. Parents have to teach their children to be Armenian above all else. The youth must realize that they are the future and act accordingly, she said.

Ohanian continued to say that living in the Diaspora is a gateway to assimilation, with threats like marrying outside the race, attending public schools, and getting away from traditional Armenian values. The youth bear the responsibilities of maintaining and preserving the Armenian heritage, language, and history. To insure that this happens, parents must encourage their children to engage in the Armenian heritage and culture at home, school, and in their social lives, according to Ohanian. There will always be barriers, she said, but it’s important to hold on to their culture and values nevertheless. She concluded by saying that now is the time to gather all the forces and the youth in order to insure a bright future for the Armenian race.

The next speaker was Aram Kaloustian, Chairman of the ARF Western Region Central Youth Council. Kaloustian spoke about the problems Armenian youth face living in the United States. He mentioned various organizations and events that allow youth to be in an Armenian atmosphere, among which are the AYF and AYF Juniors, which carry out educational, social, and cultural activities; AYF Camp; and Homenetmen, which includes Scouts and athletics. Additionally, there are religious Armenian groups, as well as student organizations and clubs in high schools and colleges, he said.

Despite the fact that a number of Armenian youth organizations exist, only a small percentage of youth take part in them, according to Kaloustian. Because of this, preserving the Armenian heritage becomes harder and harder. He said that “the efficiency of activism” should be a lot higher than it is given the large Armenian population in California. He went on to say that the minimal usage of the Armenian language will cause the extinction of the language. It is crucial, he said, to speak in Armenian, especially around youth. Without a native tongue, it is impossible to maintain a strong Armenian culture and identity, he said. Because the numbers of youth that attend Armenian schools are relatively low, parents must insure that their children learn the Armenian language and values at home. Technology, he said, can play a key role in teaching these values.

After Kaloustian concluded, the floor was opened for those in attendance to ask the speakers questions and share their thoughts on the topic.

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