LOS ANGELES – On Sunday February 28th, the United Human Rights Council (UHRC) of the Armenian Youth Federation – Western United States (AYF-WUS) hosted at capacity crowd for a film screening and discussion centered on Charles Garry, a famous Armenian-American lawyer that provided counsel for civil rights groups in the 1960s and 1970s, and the intersectionalities between Armenian- and African-American experiences. The event took place at Occidental College, and was co-sponsored by the College’s Armenian Students Association and Black Student Alliance.
This was the second “Haytoug Talk” of the year hosted by the AYF-WUS: a series of panels, film screenings, and conversations meant to engage the Armenian-American community with unique topics that are not often extensively explored.
On that note, the organizers of this event aimed to use the life and legacy of Charles Garry as a symbol of the commonalities between past and present experiences of Armenian- and African-Americans, and shed light on the role that Garry played in the legal defense of groups including the Black Panther Party, Oakland 7, Chicago 8, and Los Siete de la Raza. In the film, Garry, the son of Armenians who fled the 1890s Hamidian massacres, described the discrimination and xenophobia experienced by Armenians of the San Joaquin Valley in the first half of the 20th Century, and how we used that as motivation to become involved in civil rights law.
The event included a screening of Roxanne Makasdjian’s documentary, Charles Garry: Streetfighter in the Courtroom, followed by a discussion with Makasdjian via Skype. Makasdjian spoke on her experiences making the film as a graduate project during her time at UC Berkeley and overall impressions of Charles Garry. Roxanne Makasdjian is currently the Manager of Broadcast Communications at UC Berkeley and also the co-founder of The Genocide Education Project (GenEd), a non-profit organization that assists educators in teaching about human rights and genocide.
Following the discussion with Makasdjian, LA-based activist and organizer Kamilah Moore spoke about intersectionality in experiences among different communities, the school-to-prison pipeline, and current African-American community conditions. As a current field organizer for the Afrikan/Black Coalition and former chairperson of the Afrikan Student Union at UCLA, Kamilah was instrumental in the campaign to get the University of California to divest $25 million in shares from private prison corporations.
“The greatest wonder of Garry’s stories is that his legacy lives on today in the work of people and organizations across the country,” said Verginie Touloumian, one of the current co-chairpersons of the UHRC. “His dedication to defend the inviolable rights of the disenfranchised people teach us to stand in solidarity with their liberation movements, which remains the supreme aim of the Armenian Youth Federation.”
The film screening and panel following it spurred a lively discussion in the room, with members of multiple communities expressing both their appreciation for Garry’s work and acknowledgement of the need for further collaboration between Armenians and other minority groups in the call for collective human rights.
“One of the main takeaways from Roxanne’s film is that we can achieve so much more as a collective voice,” said Sosse Sabounjian, a current member of the UHRC. “This question kept coming: how do we create dialogue between the Armenian community and other minority groups? The way we do that is by creating the space and hoping people show up and get talking. The turnout and the discussion that ensued showed us how much people want to discuss underlying issues throughout our communities. It’s such an important tool that we have only just started to tap into and yet we can see the power that it holds through the work of Charles Garry.”
The UHRC hope to further explore areas of commonality in experience and opportunities for engaging in solidarity with non-Armenian ethnic groups throughout this year. Those interested in keeping up with the UHRC’s activities may stay updated through the group’s Facebook page and website.
The United Human Rights Council is a committee of the Armenian Youth Federation Western United States. By means of action on a grassroots level, the UHRC works towards exposing and correcting human rights violations of governments worldwide, and aims to foster dialogue and collaboration between peoples who share this common vision.