ANCA-WR Summer 2021: Week 4

Arpine Kilinyan

Tuesday July 6, 2021: Elizabeth Chouldjian

Today, we met the Communications Director of the ANCA Washington DC Office, Elizabeth Chouldjian. We started off with introducing ourselves and sharing our expectations from the internship program. Interns demonstrated interest in running for a government position, in which we shed light on the importance of having Congressmen that not only vote for our positions but also come from our backgrounds. Currently, we have two Congresswomen of Armenian background. Communication is a large part of the job ANCA has to conduct. There are three levels of communication: community, government, and media. Communication with the community is one of the largest and has the most room. Components of this communication include to educate the community to take action, motivate them to want to take a role on this issue moving forward, and activate them by giving the community the tools they need for the issue. There can be direct communication, in person, online, or social media, and indirect communication, media or through third parties. Direct communication has the most room to control your message. One example of this communication is seen with communities passing to recognize the Armenian Genocide and sharing as much news as possible regarding this. As people see that it was successful in one community, it helps educate, motivate, and activate other communities into conducting similar activism. There should be clear communication prior to an event, during an event to let the status be known, and after to share the outcomes. It results in empowerment across communities. Next, in communication with the government there are many steps. It requires advocacy as Armenians and with our allies in coalition building. First, our community needs to educate government officials. ANCA has created tools for community members to advocate for Armenian causes to legislatures. Methods of advocacy include phone calls, email, social media, letters, and town hall meetings. The overarching communications strategy is to educate our community and use the community to advocate for issues to legislatures. With coalitions, we advocate together for similar goals. For example, we form coalitions with Hellenic Groups to advocate for justice from the Genocide by the Ottoman Turks. This expands our communication network greatly. Lastly, there is communication with the media. There are three sections, Armenian media, Armenian American media, and the US media. We have the greatest control in working with Armenian and American Armenian media, as we have access to help share our community’s goals. Additionally, communities can contact local media to help gain coverage. Most of the time, we wish to share information with the non-Armenian community. Overall, any form of advocacy should have a communications strategy to follow. 

July 7, 2021: Armenian American Museum 

Today we met with 3 members of the Armenian American Museum to learn more about what their mission is and what we should expect. The core vision is to share an understanding and appreciation of America’s mixing pot of ethnic and cultural diversity by showcasing the Armenian experience. It will be a museum and cultural center, which was decided in 2014. With the centennial of the Armenian genocide in 2015, a variety of large Armenian foundations, such as benevolents, churches, and government unions, gathered together to form a board for the museum. To determine a concrete location for the museum, it was decided the City of Glendale would be excellent. As a result, the Museum works with the City of Glendale to make this possible. The Museum and City of Glendale will continue to work together closely for outdoor activities. An intricate design of the museum was selected to display a message of the Armenian struggle. Additionally, film screenings can be made on the building. Various Armenian elements will be incorporated, such as an Armenian Alphabet wall. It is estimated to open in 2024. Some program spaces include an auditorium and demonstration kitchen. The Museum is expected to have a permanent exhibition, temporary exhibitions that are constantly changing and welcoming of other ethnicities, and virtual exhibitions. A large priority of the Museum is education, so they are providing youth and adult programs, K-12 field trips, and group tours. Next, the Museum will provide a preservation section on site with artifacts, artworks, documents, and special collections with hopes to create a large off-site preservation space. Lastly, there will be events such as conferences and meetings, corporate events, community events, and social events to make sure it is inclusive to all members of the community.

Thursday July 8, 2021: Carla Kekejian 

Today we met Carla, an LA native who moved back from Utah as she finishes her last steps of obtaining her PhD. She works in the greater field of speech pathology, both treatment and assessment, in bilingual children with speech disorders. She talked to us about Harsneren, the language of the Armenian bride. It was a use of sign language and gestures to convey basic needs to members of the household. There is the practice of chkhosganootyoon, the practice of not speaking, to show respect and modesty among Armenian women especially when married. As a result, these women have developed signs as a form of communication. Carla soon began to conduct fieldwork in the Tavush and Martuni regions of Armenia. While Carla began her interviews unsure of how popular these hand gesture forms of communication were, she soon found out that these gestures were known as Harsneren and it was quite popular. Through her interviews, she found numerous other people in the community who used Harsneren and was able to find consistent signs and gestures for each word. While looking into history and Armenian culture, Carla was able to uncover many instances of chkhosganootyoon and conditions when the bride was given permission to speak. Additionally, brides have a tradition of wearing a veil to cover their mouth as a sign of this chkhosganootyoon. Through the various interviews, Carla realized that the practice of chkhosganootyoon was quite alive and well in the present. This has been a prominent practice of Armenian culture with documented evidence dating back before 1915. Additionally, while some women are not required to be silent, many women claim that they feel as they should to show respect and modesty. It depends on family to family when the woman is allowed to speak again, if it all. The rule was so heavily enforced that it could result in domestic violence if a bride breaks the rule. Also, when the woman becomes the mother in law, she tends to be the new head of the household to impose it onto the next generation. Even for words that did not have a sign or gesture, women found creative methods through pointing and mixing signs to be able to sign what they wanted to say. The more rural areas have higher rates of having Harsneren present. 

Friday July 9, 2021: Weekly Recap

Today we had a reflection of the week. We discussed the lectures from this past week, shared opinions, and gave a recap of the tasks we are working on for our individual work groups.