“I always see the glass as half full,” Hrair says. “We have to ask ourselves why it isn’t full. Is there a leak at the bottom or are we not filling it enough?” He is using the metaphor as a stand-in for the state of the community. His perspective is that we are operating in the dark as to who exactly makes up the Armenian community. “My thing is that we have no data on our community. No organization, school or business has this data to be able to make decisions accordingly.”
Instead of waiting for others, Hrair has decided to do something about it himself. “I am trying to do research and collect as much data as possible so that it can be shared with any group or potential business that may need it.” It’s not an easy task and Hrair is the first to admit that he hasn’t been as successful as he would like, but he believes there’s a real need. “It can’t be done by just me alone, but several others like me who will come together and agree that this is important and do something about it.”
In his efforts to bring all Armenians together, he has amassed over 50,000 emails which he uses to disseminate information that come his way. He is selective about what he sends out and who he sends it out to. Ultimately Hrair’s goal is to bring all of the different Armenians under one umbrella by providing a forum where there is open dialogue. “My goal is to educate Armenian businesses, individuals, agencies and nonprofits about PR [public relations]. How they can promote their goods and services and disseminate information on a higher platform.” Currently his efforts are more of an information clearinghouse then anything else, where an article comes his way and, after qualifying it, sends it to his database. “Sometimes I get sensitive information – not exactly a secret, but not available to the general public. It’s important for people to know what is going on even if they don’t want to hear it.”
This year the Ministry of the Diaspora is organizing a conference about PR in the global Armenian community and Hrair wants to be present to meet other like minded individuals. “The point is not to be redundant but to join forces. By sharing information you actually can gain much more,” he says.
He thinks that the Armenians’ unwillingness to help each other is an ingrained behavior. “Perhaps it’s cultural,” he says. Members of other minorities tend to help each other out but Hrair believes that Armenians don’t do the same. “Maybe it’s in our blood not to do so. I don’t know, I’m not an expert or geneticist,” he adds with a shrug and asks, “But if there is four or five of us who think this topic is important, why don’t we come together to talk about it, join forces and find a solution.” He brings up the heated issue leading up to the recent 2010 U.S. Census of having “Armenian” designated as a category on the form. “Ten years ago, I started the dialogue on this issue. It didn’t happen then, and now, with the 2010 census we still didn’t succeed.” The ability to do this requires a congressional act. “We have all these congressmen for whom we bend over backwards to get them to advocate for us on political issues, why couldn’t we add this on the agenda?” he says, raising an important point since the U.S. government on every level relies on the results of the census to allocate its resources appropriately. By having accurate numbers reflected, the Armenians in the U.S. will have a voice commensurate with its population numbers. “Why must there be four different Asian categories listed like ‘Chinese,’ ‘Korean,’ ‘Vietnamese,’ etc. but ‘Armenian’ isn’t listed?” he asks the question but isn’t really expecting an answer. “Will this help? I don’t know,” he says, “We’ve done a great job in the political arena but not in the business world or social needs. Maybe it’s because we don’t trust each other or don’t see far enough into the future.”
Despite all this, Hrair believes that a few organizations have done a better job than others in pulling themselves together and can now produce events that draw upwards of 15,000 people. “But it’s not enough,” he says staying true to his ability to see the glass as half empty. “What percentage of the population is that?” he asks and shakes his head at the miniscule proportions.
The other malady Hrair sees is people’s propensity to choose sides, shunning one organization or the other because of what they think it stands for. “We don’t attend certain social or cultural events because it was organized by the ‘other’ group or by any group at all.” He calls this an “allergy” and wonders when it will end. “One of our mistakes, which we all do, is segregating ourselves. It’s this ‘allergy’ amongst the different segments of people and towards organizations. Because of this we are not strong as a collective.” What he means is that by not coming together to create a base of support, we miss out on the opportunity to make a difference and to push ourselves forward. This prevents us from making a significant difference for our own members and to impact the world outside the parameters of the Armenian community. “We come together to import products from Armenia and we sell it to each other,” he says using examples of past efforts.
Hrair extends the idea as far as the system of volunteerism prevalent within the community. “Even how we function in our organization is archaic,” he says. He believes that the entire system – its methods and ideologies – were imported from the Middle East. He is referring to Western Armenians specifically because he observes that those from Armenia don’t believe in volunteerism in general. “They ask me all the time if I get paid for all the time I spend in meetings for the various groups with which I’m involved. ‘Aboushes’ geh sen (they say I’m stupid),” he says and shakes his head, not sure who should be labeled as stupid. He compares the system within the Armenian community to that of greater American community.
“They have many organizations whose focus ranges from environmental issues to pets rights. They raise millions of dollars, have a large following with celebrities cutting $50,000 checks like water. Why don’t we do that? Because our concept of volunteerism is behind the times by at least 20 years at best, if not more.” He wants the entire system to be modernized by borrowing from the more successful examples from outside the tight confines of the Armenian community. He sites a few examples like internship and mentoring programs where the next generation is supported and encouraged to participate then prepared to take their place as leaders. “We are far behind in meeting the needs of the community,” he says.
“This community,” he says referring to Los Angeles, “is a Babylon where all the Armenians of the world can be found. All the other communities are homogeneous. If we can last here and succeed and thrive as a community then we can last anywhere.”