LOS ANGELES—The Homenetmen Western U.S.A. has confirmed the attendance of three community leaders and activists for its Armenia-Diaspora relations panel, “Empowering the Future: Your Step For a Stronger Armenia,” as part of its centennial Youth Forum on June 23 at the Woodbury University Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium. Director of the Sosé and Allen’s Legacy Foundation Vaché Thomassian will be joined by Margarita Baghdasaryan, the volunteer public relations coordinator for the Hidden Road Initiative. Political consultant and former ANCA-Western Region Executive Director Elen Asatryan will moderate the panel.
As a New Armenia emerges in the wake of the Velvet Revolution, diaspora relations with the Homeland remain as important as ever. Community leaders and activists who lead organizations benefiting the Armenian Homeland will discuss the multitude of opportunities available to get involved and how each individual can take their step to help build a stronger Armenia. The speakers will also discuss their past challenges and success, and what the outcome of the Velvet Revolution means for Armenia-Diaspora relations moving forward.
“Youth involvement has always been a core value of our organization. With the hopeful positive changes coming from Armenia, it’s important for our youth to remain engaged and involved in the continued development of both the diaspora and the Homeland. We are confident that this panel will inspire and provide attendees with information to take their step for a stronger Armenia,” stated Homenetmen Western USA Board Chair Manuel Marselian. “We thank Woodbury University for sponsoring this important forum and for joining us in elevating our community’s youth,” he added.
Thomassian, Baghdasaryan, and Asatryan bring with them expertise in both diaspora and Homeland efforts, having engaged in a number of efforts and projects. With their background in diaspora-Homeland relations, grassroots organizing and nonprofit work, they will discuss their own organizational projects, the importance of individuals initiating their own involvement, and how youth can get started with volunteer work and contribute.
Thomassian launched The Sosé & Allen’s Legacy Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between Armenia and the diaspora through programs that emphasize education, repatriation and volunteerism in the Homeland. The foundation was established in honor of Sosé Thomassian and Allen Yekikian, who repatriated to Armenia in 2013 after marrying the year before. The couple was en route to Tbilisi for a weekend trip when they were tragically killed in a car accident.
Projects of the Foundation include Proshyan Youth Center, the Zartonk Center for Civic Education, Memorial Forest, WithLove.am, and the Legacy Benefit Concert. The foundation also supports the Fuller Center for Armenia, Traversed: A Visual Journey Through Armenia, Luys-i-Luyso, and the AYF Youth Corps Travel Grant.
Thomassian’s service to the Armenian community in the diaspora and the Homeland dates back years, through his involvement with the Armenian Youth Federation, the Armenian National Committee of America, the ARF “Shant” Student Association and a number of Armenian Students Association. Currently, he serves as a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation — Western Region Central Committee. He is also a practicing attorney, with experience in development consulting and legal reform, and a background in international development and law.
Like Thomassian, Baghdasaryan has dedicated her efforts to serving the diaspora community and the Homeland. She currently serves on the executive board of the Hidden Road Initiative, a student-operated, charitable non-profit organization that seeks to provide educational opportunities to underserved students living in the remote villages of Armenia. With chapters in UCSB, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Glendale Community College, the organization aims to enhance the social capabilities of village children and to empower new generations of students by connecting them to volunteers from across the world through annual educational summer camps and by providing college scholarships. The Hidden Road Initiative also works to promote the economy and social equality of remote villages by coordinating various development projects, such as renovating schools, installing computer rooms and establishing kindergartens. As the volunteer public relations coordinator for the Hidden Road Initiative, Baghdasaryan currently works to develop PR strategies and campaigns to promote the work and mission of the organization.
After graduating from UCLA, Baghdasaryan also moved to Armenia for three months and interned for two prominent non-governmental organizations: the Helsinki Association of Human Rights and the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center. She then served as the Campaign Director for ANCA Western Region HyeVotes Initiative for the 2016 Elections and is currently the Community Outreach Director of the ANCA Glendale Chapter.
Asatryan is the founder and lead consultant of The Stark Group – a full-service political consulting and public relations firm. For the past 19 years, she has been leading successful campaigns, initiatives, and grassroots movements for local, state, federal offices and policies – many of which directly impacted the Armenian American community, Armenia, and Artsakh. She has also served and continues to serve on various committees and boards of local and regional organizations, including the City of Glendale Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission.
Prior to founding The Stark Group, for over 11 years, Elen served as the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America; first at its Glendale chapter for more than six years, and then the Western-Region offices, where she was responsible for strategy, policy development and implementation, communications, and day-to-day operations of the regional headquarters, along with its local ANCA chapters in the 19 Western U.S. States.
During her tenure, among many other policy and program developments, the organization led the front to ensure every state in the western USA recognized the Armenian Genocide; the State of California incorporated the Armenian Genocide in its high school curriculum and recognized the Republic of Artsakh; killed every anti-Armenian, pro-Turkish and pro-Azeri resolutions; registered over 50,000 Armenian-Americans to vote and turned out a record breaking number of voters through HyeVotes; local jurisdictions properly reflected the Armenian-American community and implemented policies serving their diverse needs.
In April, Asatryan was one of the lead organizers of the rallies throughout the city of Glendale in support of the regime change in Armenia. After helping mobilize the support movement among Los Angeles diasporans, she travelled to the Homeland to offer her help on the ground.
The Youth Forum is part of a series of events for Homenetmen Western Region’s centennial anniversary. Additional details on the forum and other panels are forthcoming.
The forum will be followed by an innovative, historical exhibition – open to the public on September 16th; an all-day street festival on the same day of the exhibition opening; the Navasartian Games and Festival from July 3th-7th; and a Victory Ball on July 1. Centennial activities will conclude with the official Centennial Celebration Programs scheduled for October 5th in Northern California and October 28th in Southern California at Glendale High School.
In the coming week, Homenetmen Western U.S.A. will also launch a website that will house the details for each of its centennial celebration and major events for the year in an effort to provide a space for community members to get active with all things Homenetmen. Community members are encouraged to check back with www.WeAre100.info. For up to the minute updates, follow Homenetmen on Facebook at www.facebook.com/HomenetmenUSAWR and Instagram at @Homenetmen_Western_USA.
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 over 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.