120 & Otherwise

It was a very ARF-y weekend. It’s the 120th anniversary of this foremost of Armenian political organizations, and a lot’s going on because of it.

On Sunday, the annual banquet of the Armenian Cultural Foundation was dedicated to the occasion. It was very well attended, closing in on 1000 people. Now factor in that people came expecting a banquet, unavoidably formulaic. That’s why I was surprised when someone complained about the “magartag” (level, quality) of the event. If such griping is going around, it deserves to be quashed immediately because there was no such problem.

More interesting was Saturday’s conference at the University of Southern California dedicated to the ARF and organized by USC’s Institute of Armenian Studies and The Armenian Review. Three panels, that I would describe as focused on historical, policy/political, and activist/electoral issues, covered the ARF from these perspectives.

The first, “historical”, session, with almost a full house (340 chairs), I found to be most rewarding because it wove together data accumulated in my brain into a more cohesive whole and understanding. The “policy” panel was arguably the most important one, and drew the largest audience, with many people standing and some 50 chairs added. It demonstrated how relevant the ideology and policy initiatives of the ARF are today in Armenian life simply by virtue of the examples discussed. Unfortunately, people must have gotten tired and the third panel had a smaller audience, since the topics covered served as examples, thus enablers, of political progress through engagement and participation both in the homeland and Diaspora.

Another way some people (more than 900) availed themselves of the conference was online where it was streamed live. As to the substantive content, I can’t begin to convey it in any meaningful way, so I’m avoiding that entirely in this space. I anticipate the conference papers will be published in TAR so a broader audience can benefit.

The only concern I had was this: the mix of those in attendance. As an exercise, I listed the names of all those I recognized—107 people. Now add some substantial number of faces I recognized without being able to attach a name. Well over one–third of those present were known to me, which means that most of them were from circles I’m active in. I would’ve hoped that broader cross section of the community would partake of such a unique opportunity. This is unfortunate, because it doesn’t maximize the potential for better mutual understanding across community divisions that can lead to more cooperation when our communities’ and nation’s interests require it. Conversely, the good news is that a very large contingent of youth was present.

Get a hold of the material presented at the conference and read it, you’ll be glad you did.

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