Los Angeles—The Homenetmen Western USA’s Centennial Youth Forum took place June 23, during which activists, government officials, media experts, and venerated politicians gathered together in discussions about how the youth can play their part in serving their communities, both in the diaspora and the homeland.
“Our lineup of panelists brought with them a very rich history of service to the community and expertise in their respective fields. It was both an educational and a networking opportunity for many of our young participants. We hope that the information obtained will inspire and equip them with the tools they need to elevate themselves and others along with the causes they care about,” Homenetmen Youth Committee Secretary Edwin Kamarzarian, who began the forum with opening remarks on behalf of Homenetmen Western USA, said. “We thank all the speakers and attendees for spending their Saturday with us, and Woodbury University for sponsoring the event.”
The forum kicked off with representatives from five youth organizations discussing their work and organizational goals for the “Mobilizing the Future: Elevating Your Cause Through Activism” panel. Moderator Talin P. Kargodorian, principal of Vahan and Anoush Chamlian Armenian School, was joined by former Armenian Youth Federation Central Executive member Joseph Kaskanian; Founding Board Member of the Homenetmen Youth Committee Varand Avanesian; Hyer United Board Member Meher Khechadori; Bridge of Health President Robert Agaverdian; and ALL-Armenian Student Association Advisor to the Executive Board Ripsime Biyazyan.
Throughout the panel, the representatives urged young audience members to get involved and make time for causes that they care about, regardless of their level of experience, age or how hectic their schedules may be.
“If you think it, you can do it,” Kaskanian said, encouraging audience members as he recalled how mobilized young Armenians managed to shut down Wilshire Boulevard, where the Turkish Consulate is located, and bring awareness to the Artsakh independence case during the Four-Day War.
Participants were also offered insight into the roles they could play by joining the organizations. Agaverdian also encouraged individuals to start their own causes.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, just as long as you give back to your Armenian community and you believe in that, that’s all you need. You can join Bridge of Health, you can join any organization. Just join or create something that’s close to your heart and go with it,” he said.
Following the youth activist panel was “Envisioning the Future: Youth, Politics and Power.” Anahid Oshagan, a long-time activist and ANCA-Western Region Board member, moderated discussions between California State Senator Anthony Portantino, Glendale City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian, and audience members.
The panelists offered insight into the power of politics and youth involvement, discussing their own career trajectories and ways in which youth can navigate the political world through causes and issues that are important to them.
Portantino recalled how he has been approached numerous times by individuals who expressed they wanted to run for office; however, when asked why, they were unable to answer.
“People come up to me and say ‘I want to be on a state commission, which one would help me in my political career?’ I always say, ‘Well, of the 1000 commissions, which one has the subject matter that you care about?’” Portantino said. “As a commissioner, you’ll do a better job on a subject area you actually care about. I say to people, ‘The folks around you will see that gleam in your eye and that subject competency and that passion about that issue.”
Building on Portantino’s points, Kassakhian said that for individuals who want to run for office and become elected officials, believing in a cause is crucial, noting that people should not run for an elected position just for “the sake of it.”
“The best leaders are followers,” he said, quoting leadership expert Simon Sinek. “By followers, I don’t mean following an individual, but you have to follow something such as a cause. You have to believe in something and people have to see that you believe that something to be inspired by your actions.”
At the end of the panel, the forum broke for a brief lunch, where participants met panelists and engaged in further discussions.
Lunch was followed by a Skype-in talk with the Republic of Armenia’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs Mkhitar Hayrapetyan, which marked his first such participation with the Los Angeles community since his appointment to the position.
Hayrapetyan answered previously submitted questions by audience members and discussed the role of the diaspora in the future of Armenia. He also addressed the ministry’s key goals for the future of the homeland.
“There are three important focus areas that will be taken into consideration in our daily agenda: repatriation, the preservation of the Armenian identity, and the use of our collective intellectual potential,” he said. “I know that nothing happens at once, but we are young, [we] are enthusiastic, we are crazy and there is no turning back.”
While answering audience questions, Hayrapetyan discussed the role of the diaspora in the recent Velvet Revolution.
“We felt your support and we felt that you had our back,” he said. “By ‘our’, I mean the Armenian people. We are more than sure that if it was not for the support of the Armenian diaspora, the revolution might not have ended this way. We think that it is also thanks to the pressure of the diasporas that the revolution of love, unity and solidarity was so successful.”
Hayrapetyan’s discussion was part of the panel, “Empowering the Future: Your Step for a Stronger Armenia,” also featuring Director of the Sosé and Allen’s Legacy Foundation Vaché Thomassian, Public Relations Coordinator for the Hidden Road Initiative Margarita Baghdasaryan, and founder of The Stark Group and former Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region Elen Asatryan. The panelists discussed the multitude of opportunities available for youth interested in strengthening the future of Armenia through their own efforts and involvement.
The panelists also discussed how the revolution has brought a renewed sense of energy among individuals who want to get involved and contribute, as they are more confident that their efforts will make a difference under the new leadership.
“For us, at the Hidden Road Initiative, the biggest challenge that we consistently had to deal with, pre-revolution, was the pessimism and negativity of, ‘Why are you doing this, anyway? There is so much corruption, it’s not going to get done, people are going to ruin it after you leave,’” Baghdasaryan said. “Thankfully, we proved them wrong time and time again and I think what this shift in the psychological perspective of how people view Armenia is extremely positive and it is filled with hope. I think that will also, in itself, provide many opportunities for people here who want to contribute.”
Among many other areas, Thomassian emphasized how much easier it has become to engage in Armenian affairs.
“The World is a smaller place than it’s ever been,” he said, adding that there is a need to shift the mindset when thinking about the homeland “from Armenia is a charitable cause to Armenia is an opportunity nation. Armenia should be pitied vs. Armenia should be participated in.”
Asatryan also advised participants to do their homework and conduct research to see if organizations that cater to causes that are important to them already exist and the importance of partnerships. This way, rather than starting a new organization, they can join forces with an existing organization and expand their collective reach and influence.
Forum discussions concluded with “Fusing the Future: The Power of Mass and Social Media,” led by founder and director of New Michigan Media Hayg Oshagan, Emmy Award-nominated general assignment reporter for KTLA 5 News Ellina Abovian, and founder of Seviant™ Studios Sevan Torossian.
The panelists discussed the role of social media in organizational growth and development, with Abovian addressing the role of responsible journalism and how to get coverage, and Torossian discussing the more technical aspects of brand development and the dos and don’ts of social media.
“There has developed, over the last 20 years or so, a new sense of community,” Oshagan said. “A new sense of belongingness that we have all now, more or less, adopted. A few things fundamentally have changed. One of them is privacy. Social media has opened our world up to a lot of people that are not really are our friends, but are still our friends on Facebook … our sense of friendship has changed. We have friends on Facebook [that we] keep track of on social media, people that we have never met but feel close to…all of this is a digital environment. A digital sense of friendship and belongingness and connectivity. This is the new world and organizations have to understand how to deal with this world. This is where our family of organizations is often behind.”
Audience members joined panelists for a Mix and Mingle Social after the panel, where they were served wine, beer and finger foods.
The Youth Forum was part of a series of events for Homenetmen Western Region’s centennial anniversary. The event was streamed on Facebook and is available to watch online.
The forum will be followed by a Victory Ball on July 1; the Navasartian Games and Festival from July 3–7; and a historical exhibition and all-day street festival open to the public September 16. Centennial activities will conclude with the official Centennial Celebration Programs scheduled for October 5 in Northern California and October 28 in Southern California at Glendale High School.
The Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts, referred to as Homenetmen, is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1918, which has to date served more than 800,000 youth in five continents. Homenetmen Western Region currently has 19 chapters. It is the largest Armenian athletic and scouting organization in the United States.