The Armenian Enlightenment Explored at AYF Quiz Bowl

Members of the Pasadena Nigol Duman chapter.

CRESCENTA VALLEY, CA–The Armenian Center in Crescenta Valley was teeming with excitement on Saturday, March 14, as members from the Armenian Youth Federation came together in the center’s hall to compete in what has become the most anticipated educational event on the AYF’s yearly calendar.

Dubbed the "4th Annual Biggest Quiz Bowl in AYF History," this competition has been hosted annually by the organization’s Crescenta Valley Zartonk Chapter since 2006. This year’s quiz bowl pitted six chapters against one another in a friendly competition on the history of the Armenian Zartonk, a period covering the 18th and 19th centuries, when dedicated intellectuals and activists tirelessly laid the groundwork for a literary, cultural and political awakening.

The event, which required participants to prepare months in advance, has been the pride and joy of the chapter since its inaugural year, according to its chairperson Aris Hovasapian.

"The intent of the quiz bowl, from its inception, has been to explore themes that have not been at the forefront of AYF’s educational efforts," Hovasapian said. "We wanted to select topics to which we have historically been underexposed."

The first quiz bowl, he recalled, focused on the February Rebellion of 1921; the next centered on the rebirth of Armenian nationalism during the Soviet Era. Last year, chapters learned about the vital role played by women in the Armenian revolutionary movement.

Hovasapian explained that every year, chapters from throughout Southern California establish teams and study groups in anticipation of the annual quiz bowl.

While the quiz bowl challenges competing chapter to take a journey into uncharted territory, equally challenging are the logistical aspects for the event’s organizers, according to Saro Haroun, who was in charge of putting together this year’s quiz bowl.

“Preparing for the quiz bowl starts nearly 6 months prior to the actual date of the event,” Haroun said, explaining how chapter members from AYF Zartonk’s educational committee are required to study the reading material and develop questions to be used in the actual competition. “This is all in addition to actually taking care of the logistics of the event, such as finding a host, securing the judges, and promoting the event.”

This year, the chapter decided to raise the bar with the topic and questions, Haroun said, adding that the study guides were composed of university level reading that covered dense concepts and challenging issues.

"When I first received the email with the study guide to this year’s quiz bowl I thought it was going to be extremely hard," said Serob Aprahamian, a member of the Valley Sardarabad team.

Although Sardarabad won this year’s competition, winning wasn’t easy, he stressed, noting how his team had to adopt a strict study regimen. "We decided to split the packet up among four team members, distributing work evenly to be more efficient," he said.

Several chapters followed a similar formula, preparing flashcards and outlines from the reading material that had been provided by the Crescenta Valley chapter months in advance. Some even went so far as to organize internal review sessions where team members would quiz one another on their assigned reading.

Orange County’s Ashod Yergat Chapter prepared by having weekly study groups. "Our quiz bowl team prepared for the event by reading the comprehensive material, extracting key points in an outline format, and making study cards to review key figures and events," said Ashod Yergat member Alex DerAlexanian, who described his own systemic approach to studying as one initially driven by the desire to win.

"But I was quickly taken aback by intriguing material," he said, noting how he studying for the quiz bowl opened his eyes to the role of the Armenian Diaspora in the development of a homogenous national identity for the Armenian people. "Learning about the Mkhitarist brotherhood’s efforts to collect, research, refine and publish Armenian History, literature, geography and language helped me develop a much deeper understanding of the amount of work and sacrifice it took for Armenia’s to get where they are today," he added.

"It was rather inspiring actually," DerAlexanian, 22, exclaimed. "In the 19th century, Armenia’s my age were graduating from Universities in Europe and Russia and going to the provinces to raise awareness of the plight of our nation under Turkish occupation."

This topic is very important, stressed David Arakelyan, from the Glendale Roupen chapter. "The Zartonk was the intellectual awakening of our people. It not only fueled the revolutionary movement and the independence movement, but also saved the nation from assimilating into the dominant trends shaping their every day realities," he said.

The event’s host, Mourad Topalian, emphasized that poignant point throughout the evening, relating each question he asked the participants to the current struggle for the Armenian Cause. "Hai Tahd is not a new phenomenon; Armenian men and women were dreaming of, and working for, the liberation of their people long before Armenian Americans began working in Washington DC toward the just resolution of our cause," he exclaimed after asking a question about Israel Ori’s attempt to liberate Armenia from Persian domination in 1659.

"These people were thinking about freedom and democracy, women’s rights and civil liberties, long before the United States Constitution was even written," Topalian said. "These are still very pertinent issues today, for all people."

Myrna Douzjian, one of the quiz bowl’s three judges, also reflected on the topics resonance with contemporary Armenia’s, explaining how the efforts of Armenia’s of the 19th century to "define a transnational Armenian identity and to revive the vitality of the Armenian language and culture are pressing concerns for Armenian communities worldwide."

"Interestingly enough, over a century later–after the collapse of the Ottoman, Russian and Soviet empires, the independence of the fledgling Armenian state, and the large-scale, multi-phased remappings of Armenian populations across the globe–many of the issues that the Zartonk period put forth remain relevant for Diaspora Armenia’s today, though in contemporary terms," she said. "The AYF’s decision to engage in the study of this period serves as a testament to that reality."

Douzjian, who is currently a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at UCLA, was joined on the judge’s panel by Sevag Garabedian and Talar Chahinian, all alumni of the Crescenta Valley Zartonk chapter.

"I had a lot of fun as a judge in this year’s quiz bowl," said Chahinian, who is a lecturer at UCLA with a Ph.D. in comparative literature. "I think it’s a wonderful way for the youth to engage more closely with Armenian cultural history."

Garabedian, for his part, described the evening as an elevating and nostalgic reminder of his days as members of the chapter, organizing educationals and discussions around the same issues.

Arick Gevorkian, a member of the Crescenta Valley ARF Zavarian Gomideh, shared similar sentimen’s. "I was uplifted by the spirit and energy of the AYF members in the room," he said. "The passion and enthusiasm the quiz bowl participants displayed took me back 20 years; I felt like an AYF member again."


Editor’s Note: AYF Zartonk will also be launching the “Blueprint for Progress” lecture series on April 5. The series will explore progressive issues in American politics, and will show how Armenian-Americans’ participation in those issues will help us in achieving our political goals in the United States. Among the issues that will be explored are the civil rights movement, organized labor, and sustainability. Lectures are schedule for April 5, May 17, June 28, and July 26. All lectures will begin at 6pm and will be held at the Crescenta Valley Armenian Center at 2633 Honolulu Ave., Montrose, CA, 91020. For more information email: AYFZARTONK@GMAIL.COM


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