Looking for inspiration? Find it in our youth.

Posted on May. 13. 2021

The last few weeks in this column have been devoted to the metaphor of springtime and its relevance to our community. During the fall and winter periods of 2020, the Armenian nation suffered the horrific and debilitating losses of the Artsakh War. The loss of human life and territory experienced was, for this generation, an unfortunate connection to 1915. Invading Turks, human suffering and removal from some of our historic lands were repeated. The tragedy has been further compounded by the inability of an ambivalent world to harness the illegal and inhuman work of those with evil intent. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has added a hovering dark cloud that stubbornly refuses to dissipate and reduces our communities to “virtual” entities. It truly has been a winter of despair. 

Just as we experience the baring of leaves and the slumber of plant life every year, God in His wisdom has provided for an annual renewal called spring. With the passage of winter, new life appears in our midst with vibrant colors all around. We all feel energized as we view the beauty of our landscapes. As Armenian Christians, we are blessed with the season of Christ’s Resurrection and the hope that results. Even the horrible cloud of the COVID-19 crisis is lifting as the miracle of vaccines gains momentum and life as we knew it slowly returns. April is also a bittersweet time for the Armenian nation as we remember the Genocide of our nation and place special emphasis on the pursuit of justice. It is a year-round job but takes on a unique role in the spring. This year, our anxiety turned to joy as the United States formally recognized the atrocities as Genocide. This has important political and legal ramifications going forward, but it immediately provided our community with a collective sense of joy. Before we leave this spring of 2021, there is, as famed radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” There is a common thread that has been emerging and was very visible this year. I am referring to the presence and leadership of our young generation.

April 24, 2021, Boston, Massachusetts (Photo: Sona Gevorkian)

Generational transition is a natural and necessary process. If the emerging generation does not continue the vision of their parents, then that effort will diminish, cease or be replaced. The Armenian community is no exception to this sociological natural state. We are now in the fourth full generation of post-genocide life in America. A fifth generation are now the youngsters. Some are third or fourth generation born in America. Others are first or second generation whose parents and grandparents emigrated from places such as the Middle East or Armenia. All are members of the American Armenian emerging adult generation. Last week I mentioned that the Genocide commemoration in Boston was particularly emotional for me. I have spent a few days trying to understand the reasons for this feeling. After some time, I came to the conclusion that it was the heartfelt joy of seeing our young Armenians assume leadership positions. Those of us who are older remember the happiness on the faces of our parents’ generation when we organized demonstrations, lectures, retreats and other programs. I never quite understood it. We just felt we were fulfilling our responsibilities. As we experience the aging process, we begin to experience the importance of continuity in their life’s work. It’s an emotion you cannot truly experience or understand until you are in that position. 

There are examples of youthful leaders emerging everywhere in our American diaspora who are assuring our future. They carry the same spirit and energy that youth brings to any campaign, but this generation brings more than their parents. They have become modern communications experts through social media and instantaneous platforms that can literally organize resources and events with incredible efficiency. They are also the beneficiaries of the investments made in education. Let me offer a small example. This past week during the Boston commemoration, we were led by a young adult committee. With the traditional State House gathering canceled due to COVID-19, the young generation was front and center with the march and rally at Armenian Heritage Park. Our young leaders brought new ideas, like prominent video clips on a widescreen, while respecting the traditions that satisfy a diverse community. There is balance and innovation in their approach. One of these bright young leaders is Anais Astarjian, who chaired the event in Boston. She is energetic, resourceful, passionate and committed. I watched Anais and others multitask to complete the preparations. The number of Armenian women leaders emerging is inspiring and will add strength to our endeavors. 

During my walk to the Boston Common to join the march, I felt this sense of joy that the transition will be successful. Young people like Michael Demirchian, Lauren Piligian, Rebecca Shahverdian and Anais were leading, while the “older” generation was providing support, counsel and encouragement to strengthen their experience and capabilities. In New York, there are talented leaders such as Ani Djirdjirian, Vrej Pilavdjian and Sam Armen who have provided innovative programming and refreshing leadership. These individuals are intended to serve only as small representative samples of the young leaders blossoming in our communities. They are emerging in Chicago, Detroit, Washington, LA and elsewhere. There is a talented journalist in Leeza Arakelian who is the assistant editor of this paper. I have watched the support and encouragement from editor Pauline Getzoyan. Talented individuals such as Kevork Atinizian, Tamar Kanarian, Karnee Berejiklian and Nayiri Baljian Bell have emerged with remarkable skills. It is happening in all aspects of our community and across many professions.

The work for our nation must be about patriotism, not power. This is particularly true in the generational transition. We spend a lifetime educating, mentoring and encouraging our youth. On this year’s committee, veteran community leader Herman Purutyan provided the type of experienced support that is needed. When our youth are ready to lead, it is our responsibility to make room for them. Rock legend Jimi Hendrix had lyrics in a song that spoke to this issue: “Move over rover and let Jimi take over.” I will amend that slightly to say, “ Move over rover and let our youth take over.” It is not an abdication of one generation, but rather a transition. But let’s be clear with each other: the pace and quality of this transition is largely impacted by how we make room for our youth. Instead of holding on to power and subordinating our youth in tribal tasks, give them the responsibility. The older resources can play important supporting roles. We have a responsibility to bring them to the table of leadership. If there is no room, then some of us should transition to “advisors” to make room. It’s a choice we have before us every day.

The Boston event, like events throughout the country and the diaspora, were filled with an under-40 crowd including toddlers, teens, young adults and parents. This is very encouraging. Groups such as the AYF, ACYOA and AGBU YP and others have done an admirable job in building identity. These young people are highly educated in Armenian history and advocacy. They are applying their skills to continuing the work in America that they have inherited. In addition, they are successfully completing outreach into Armenia with internships, volunteering and youth camps. The skills they are acquiring far exceeds the experiences of the previous generation. This is a good thing. Our challenge is to enable this vast capability to be utilized in the most productive way for our communities. 

Through some of my teaching experiences in the community, I have met many of the young generation. They are knowledgeable. They understand the challenge and are committed to participate. The rest of us need to continue to provide the support systems that encourage leadership and more participation. It is an interesting role reversal. Chances are that at some point a role model inspired these young Armenians to get involved. It may have been a parent, a grandparent, a priest or a community leader. Now as the investment in their education and organizational skills comes to fruition, they are now the ones inspiring the older generation. It is a process that has been woven into the fabric of our communities for decades. Tools and methods may change, but the goal remains the same. Pass that torch. 

As I stood on the Greenway’s labyrinth in the shadow of the Genocide memorial on April 24, the voices from the podium faded for a moment as I saw hundreds of young Armenians wrapped in tri-colors speaking from their hearts for their ancestors and for their future. It was a moment of peace in the middle of the busy waterfront. The Greenway memorial was built by the older generation and is being utilized by their children and grandchildren. For this moment, all was well in our world. There was no COVID-19, no organizational issues, no tension. Symbolically, we were witnessing more than a commemoration. Despite their continued aggression and racism, the Turks are on a useless mission. Look in the faces of this generation of young men and women. They are resourceful, and they speak for our present. It was the passing of the torch and a sign that our future will be secure.

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