Intern Sara Ohannessian Discusses the 4th and 5th Week of the Internship Program

On February 16th, 2022, the group was able to get to know each other a little better through a fun activity. The interns were put into pairs and assigned different roles by the ANCA-WR Interim Executive Director, Verginie Touloumian and had the opportunity to practice their negotiation skills through this storyline and try to decide on a fair yet appealing deal. No matter what field or future careers the interns find themselves in, negotiating is something very useful to know and master. Negotiating helps build better relationships in different types of settings by resolving conflicts and working towards personal success.

On February 18th, 2022, the interns had the pleasure of hearing from Razmig Sarkissian and his inspiring experience with the Divest Turkey campaign. This movement was established in 2014 with the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) and the Armenian Students Associations all over University of California campuses. The general purpose of the Divest Turkey campaign is to call for the international divestment of funds from Turkey because of their current human rights violations as well as the atrocities they committed in the past. These past crimes still go unpunished since Turkey is in complete and utter denial of the Armenian genocide. It was the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other Civil Rights efforts that gave Razmig direct inspiration and ideas for advocacy and protest.

With his passion for legislation and activism, Razmig realized he could also make a difference as a student and an Armenian. He and his fellow Armenian community members at UCLA noticed through public records that the University of California invests in Turkey, with a grand total of 70 million dollars through bonds. The tuition UC students pay is thus aiding the Turkish economy and their massive debt because of how the UC’s Retirement Plan is designed. In light of this upsetting news, Razmig and his companions urged their UCLA student government to stop these payments to Turkey. Student organizations at UCLA began to join their efforts by endorsing and sponsoring this call to action. In fact, the campaign for the UC system to divest from the Turkish government reached all nine UC campuses through each of their Armenian Student Associations. Razmig declared that with the UCLA students’ hard work and determination, the Undergraduate Students Association Council did indeed pass the resolution to divest from Turkey to end the perpetuation of the Armenian Genocide. Even though the fight for divestment and the economic downturn of the Republic of Turkey will be long and difficult, it is nevertheless important. Razmig informed the interns that the Divest Turkey campaign’s overall goal is to financially pressure for genocide justice in the form of recognition and reparations. Attacking Turkey through monetary rather than violent means is a more effective way to raise awareness and condemn their actions. After hearing Razmig’s story, the interns realized that real change can be made and it can start in each of their college campuses. The university systems of California can not be complicit in the Republic of Turkey’s human rights’ violations. Razmig noted that after the genocide occured, displaced Armenians desperately needed to assimilate to their respective new home countries. The recent generation of Armenians from the diaspora are the ones who are finally feeling secure and strong enough to fight even more for Armenian Genocide recognition and justice. Anyone, in any manifestation, can join this battle. The Divest Turkey movement was executed by college students, signifying that notable achievements and changes can be made by any community of Armenians.

On February 23rd, 2022, entering week 5 of the internship, we were joined by guest speaker and ANCA-WR’s Community Development Coordinator Simon Maghakyan. Through his expertise and research, the interns learned that Armenian historical sites are very much in danger. These rich and momentous heritage monuments are unfortunately under the control of the Azerbaijani government, who lack respect or toleration for them.

Simon discussed with the interns in particular about the case in Nakhichevan, which is home to medieval Armenian sites located on Azerbaijani lands. Nakhichevan used to house Armenian cathedrals, cross-stones, ornate headstones, and flat tombstones dating far back into the medieval era. Eyewitness accounts from 2005-2008 show these sites were completely destroyed. Researchers observed 22,000 flat tombstones turn to zero from 1964-1987. All that is left are satellite images of what used to be the history and culture of Armenians before all the chaos from the Armenia-Azerbaijan war. The motivations for the Nakhichevan erasure stem from Azerbaijani’s demand for power, legitimacy, revenge, and the final annihilation of Armenians. The destruction and demoralization committed by Azerbaijan is an urgent and serious matter. Simon, through documentation and publication, advocates for Azerbaijan to be held accountable for their actions against these historical sites. He notes that these beautiful works of art and culture should not have been placed in the crossfire of war. It is disheartening knowing that monuments so sacred to Armenians are inaccessible to them because of the war’s aftermath. The ruination of these sacred sites is less difficult when there is an absence of Armenians there to protect them. Simon calls for Armenian art and architecture to be depoliticized. Politics and the hostility between these two countries should not be the reason the world loses its sacred treasures. Publicizing Azerbaijani’s actions and motives behind the destruction must take place. By losing holy sites and historical monuments, Armenians are losing a huge piece of their heritage and culture. This inhuman eradication reveals how vulnerable and at risk Armenians are as a culture and people.

On February 25th, 2022, Sareen Habeshian spoke to the interns about her impactful journalism project in Artsakh. Sareen currently works at KTLA as a digital news producer and at the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. Through reporting and journaling, Sareen is able to raise public awareness on Armenian related issues and give a voice to the voiceless. Her trip to Artsakh in 2018 was meaningful and eye opening which was felt throughout her project by way of videos, photos, and interviews. The Nagorno-Karabakh war, which ended with a ceasefire in 1994, affected thousands of Armenians in their ethnic region.

The conflict and tension left most villages in Artsakh war-torn and at unease. Landmines planted from the war still remain but a British charity called HALO Trust seeks to get rid of these explosives and restore the communities. Sareen visited a group of Armenian civilian mine workers in Marzili village. Even though the workers understand how dangerous clearing the mines are, they want to make the land reusable and safe again. They even get paid double the average income in the region which gives them a comfortable quality of life. Sareen also told the interns about the Asmaryan brothers who moved their families from Aleppo, Syria to Nagorno-Karabakh in light of the Syrian Civil War. The Asmaryans created one orchard and two greenhouses from trees they brought from Syria in order to introduce different foods to their new home. Although they went from one unsafe country to another, the brothers explained they would rather fight as Armenian soldiers and die for their ancestral homeland. The stories the interns had the privilege of hearing highlight the resilience and pride Armenians devastated by war in Artsakh possess. Sareen told the interns to never stop telling their stories. There will always be non-Armenians who have never heard of the Armenian Genocide or had no idea about what was happening recently in Artsakh. Educating as many people as possible about the history and tragedies of the interns’ ancestors is incredibly worthwhile. Even working at KTLA, Sareen is telling Armenian stories by writing news articles on the 2020 Azerbaijani attacks and Armenian protests in Los Angeles. The group gained a new perspective and saw the importance and effectiveness of telling stories of the Armenian people.