The Armenian Youth Identity: Through the Looking Glass

Raffi Hamparian makes presentation at the Homenetmen event

Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter Family Forum Inspires Passionate Dialogue

BY LARA GARIBIAN

GLENDALE—Not a day that goes by without a person questioning who they are, where they come from, and what it all means. The process isn’t necessarily a conscious one, since a majority of a person’s day is spent dealing with work, taking care of family and other minute, trivial things like traffic, dinner and laundry.

Usually, an event, a circumstance, or an emotion elicits questions like, Who am I? Who do I want to be? Or, What is it that I want to leave behind? While these questions exist within us and while we live them out every day, at what point do we stop to ask ourselves what we want our responses to be?

Identity is part of our human nature. It’s our road map in life. It defines our lives, our personalities, our relationships. Our gender, ethnicity, race, economic status, and historical background play a crucial role in helping us discover who we are.

As emotionally equipped creatures who live with purpose, we use our identity to give our lives meaning. We use our identity to gauge where we’ve been, where we are going, and what legacy we will eventually leave.

These were the ideas and themes discussed last Sunday when the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter held its first family forum at their main campus gymnasium. Homenetmen members, parents, chapter leaders, scouts and athletes, young and old gathered to pause for a moment and reflect on their identity and safeguard it from assimilation in the Armenian Diaspora.

Verjik Minassians of the Ararat Programs Division delivered the welcoming remarks. Steve Artinian, a member of the organizing committee, said that the event was organized by the Ararat Chapter “in order to discuss and explore ways of defining our identity within the Diaspora while considering where we currently are and where we want to go, and simultaneously empowering our community.”

Another major component of this forum was to promote and underline the importance of activism and volunteering for our community organizations.

The panel of speakers consisted of Raffi Hamparian, Tigran Topadzhikyan, Ardashes Kassakhian, and Garo Ghazarian.

Each panelist explored and identified the different factors that are crucial in discovering, defining, and preserving our identities as Armenians, as community members, and as individuals within a family unit. The family forum delved into the true core of who we are passed the surface glance we see in a mirror; it pulled us through the looking glass.

Speaker 1: Raffi Hamparian
Armen Ter Zakarian, an Eagle Scout, kicked off the presentation of panel members by introducing Raffi Hamparian, a leader in community activism. Hamparian began his journey to discover and solidify his identity from a young age as a member of the Armenian Youth Federation and later the Armenian National Committee.

Hamparian said he has sought to advance the cause of Armenian liberty and currently serves on the National Board of Directors of the Armenian National Committee of America, which is based in Washington, D.C. 

Hamparian spoke vehemently about the importance of maintaining our identity as Armenians. He questioned whether the death of those that gave us our identity, cause our own identities to die as well. He said that our identity is formed by the fabric of our community and the most important components are the size and strength of that fabric, which keep our identities as Armenians preserved.

Hamparian pointed out that we are currently facing a challenge in preserving our identity within our Diaspora and it is our responsibility to focus on finding ways to reinforce our legacy.

“We strengthen our fabric by being involved and by investing in our existing organizations,” said Hamparian. “The investment you make in this organization has profound dividends.”

As an exemplary activist, Hamparian has proved time and time again the profound impact that the investment of each individual in our community has. It was clear his message of investment wasn’t just about donations; it was about volunteering, participating, as well as actively instilling this mission in the hearts and minds of our future generations as well.

Speaker 2: Tigran Topadzhikyan
Eagle Scout Matthew Diradoorian introduced the second speaker at the forum, Sergeant Tigran Topadzhikyan, who is a highly experienced, accomplished, and decorated peace officer. For more than two decade, Sgt. Topadzhikian has served at various levels of law enforcement and played a vital role in improving the quality of life in the communities in which he has served.

Topadzhikyan began by telling the community of how he “became an Armenian.” He highlighted parts of his childhood and life experiences that helped him discover who he was as an Armenian within the Diaspora.

With a collection of events and life experiences Sgt. Topadzhikyan offered a personal formula that helped him maintain his identity. His first ingredient was the commitment and the support we receive from our parents.

He highlighted the importance and the gratitude he had for the values in which they instill in us, which is what helped him, personally stay on a steady path. Topadzhikyan cautioned that even dedicated parenting comes with a price if we fail to recognize the danger signs associated with going sideways.

His second ingredient was the importance of obtaining an education. He offered an adage passed on by his family stating, “They can take everything away from you, but never your knowledge.”

Topadzhikyan emphasized this by using the example of the Armenian Genocide. He explained that at any time we could be stripped away from everything dear to us, but one way of preserving our identity is being educated about who we are, where we come from, and what we stand for.

Topadzhikyan’s third and final ingredient was to advise our youth to consider who they surround themselves with. He said that it was important to stay surrounded by those who could guide you along the right path.

“I grew up associating myself with those who are more successful in life then I am, because it gave me an opportunity to learn and to have something to strive for,” he said.

Topadzhikyan explained that having mentor’s who can provide direction in the different aspects of life will help our youth maintain a healthy identity filled rich of culture and a bright future.

Speaker 3: Ardashes Kassakhian
Aileen Vartanian, a basketball player and Basketball Division Board Member, made a heartfelt introduction of Glendale City Clerk, Ardashes Kassakhian.

Kassakhian’s take on identity was riveting. He boldly stated, “This should not create an ‘Ah-ha’ moment” and went on to say the forum wasn’t organized to provide any sort of formula or answers as to how we should preserve identity.

He explained that no one could provide a clear answer of how to preserve or discover one’s identity.

“No one has all the answers. In fact, we should be leaving here with more questions, then answers,” he said.

Kassakhian pointed out that numerous issues plagued our community in this day and age. He also said that with the economic downfall and survival being the main focus, it often sends the discovery of our identities and our cultural responsibilities to the back burner.

The Glendale City Clerk told the teens in the audience about the negative impact that media and marketing have on them as well as our community on a day to day basis.

“We are living in a period with over-saturation of information,” he said, pointing to pop culture’s fascination, use and abuse of Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace.

“The Armenian idea becomes a lower priority to keep in the forefront of your mind due to all the information that you are being fed,” he said.

Kassakhian challenged families to find a way to acculturate and find ways to safeguard their identities even with all the obstacles that lay before them. He emphasized that only through being committed to continuously ask ourselves questions about our identity would we be able to protect and nourish our own growth as well as that of the Armenian community.

Speaker 4: Garo Ghazarian
Volleyball player and dedicated scout Talin Kehechoomian presented Garo Ghazarian, the final panel speaker for the evening.

The Lebanese-native was 16 when he moved to the US. He received his Juris Doctorate at the University of La Verne and has represented countless high profile individuals as well as lectured for a number of organizations, television, and US governmental agencies.

Ghazarian is currently the Dean of Peoples College of Law, in Los Angeles, where he also teaches Criminal Law, Trial Advocacy and Criminal Procedure.

Ghazarian’s message was the importance of parenting. He urged parents to open their eyes to negative possibilities that could occur with their children and not turn away. He explained that they weren’t protected from these negative events just because they were Armenian; it just meant they needed to refocus and open their eyes to what is happening within the lives of their children.

His key solution to both parents and their children was the importance of learning to listen and communicate with one another.

“We are a community obsessed with material things, but this does not shape a good grounded cultural identity,” said Ghazarian. “We need to teach our youth about the importance of being self made, about how much money we don’t need in order to live happily, and learning to face the truths with compassion instead of fear or denial.” He advised parents, “Pay attention, be involved in your children’s lives and see them for who they are. Don’t dictate their interests because it breaks down communication as well as their self-esteem. Honor them as individuals so they are always themselves around you.”

Your Turn
What can you do to ensure your own identity, as well as those of our future generations, have the volition and the valor to understand, embrace, and strengthen the Armenian Heritage? It is imperative that we discover ourselves within our culture and that we ambitiously undertake the efforts to keep our community unified and strong. Organizers of the forum said they were encouraged by the passionate dialogue they were able to create at the forum, and they plan to organize similar opportunities for the community to address identity and cultural preservation. Much like in the lives of our children, we must be present.

On behalf of the Ararat Chapter Executive Board, Chairlady Helik Issagholian presented each panelist a certificate of appreciation. In her closing remarks, she eloquently thanked everyone for their dedication and unwavering support.

To learn more about ways to support Homenetmen Glendale Ararat programs and activities, log on or call (323) 256-2564.

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One Comment;

  1. manooshag said:

    Hye, today. as we communicate via the internet… our worldwide diaspora with our homeland, Haiastan, we are thus connected, thus stronger. Albeit our homeland be small and fledgling today we gain our strengths for we are connected, we are together in our aspirations for our angagh azad Haiastan.

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