Thursday, 8 May 2008

Armenian Students in the US and their perspective on the Armenian Genocide through Art and Performance at the University of California, Berkeley

Guest writer: DSC01358

Andre` Ivan Arzoo, UC Berkeley – 3rd Year Political Science Major, Armenian Student Association Member

April 24th of this year marks the 93rd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, a tragedy that has consumed so much of our identity and efforts but yet remains a burning flame in the hearts of millions. Armenians throughout the world are working away this week organizing Genocide related gatherings, cultural events, lectures, and memorial commemorations. The Armenians of California’s Bay Area, one of the oldest Armenian communities in the United States, have covered this week with the colors of our beloved Yeraguyn Drosh.


Genocide Awareness Month – the label of April began with a candle light vigil held by the Armenian Student Association of UC Berkeley on April 20th. The vigil took place on the Berkeley campus in commemoration of the Armenian and all other Genocides; known and unknown, recognized and unrecognized. The vigil began with an opening poem in Armenian by Ara Rostami, continued with a duet by Ani Antanesyan and Romina Keshishyan singing ‘Sareri Hovin,’ concluding with a moment of silence by candlelight and students taking turns in tying green ribbons onto a pomegranate art piece.


The ASA students labored away all month to hand craft an enormous Pomegranate Memorial – pictures in the group’s photo section - symbolizing Armenian culture and endurance. The Pomegranate Memorial is on display all week at the UC Berkeley campus on Memorial Glade in front of the campus main library. The memorial has been attracting the curiosity of students of all ethnicities and spreading awareness about the Armenian Genocide. On display around the memorial are around a dozen posters with information and photos about the Armenian Genocide.


UC Berkeley Students Colin Elbasani and Andre Arzoo, along with community members Zaven Kanehian and Norik Khachikian, were invited guests on the Berkeley City Radio program "Music of the World with Kutay" on KPFA 94.1 FM to discuss the Armenian Genocide, Music, and Culture. The program also consisted of discussions about the Armenian Diaspora and the different communities in which it consists of, a quick Historic breakdown of the Armenian Nation and Republic, and various types of Armenian Music played throughout the show.

As a stance against the attempt to annihilate the Armenian people, identity, and culture, an Armenian Art Piece has been put on display in the UC Berkeley ‘Free Speech Movement Café - Moffit Library’ – an expression toward the survival and progression of Armenian culture, art, and life despite attempts to hinder this path and silence a nation in 1915. The painting was inspired by an old Armenian folk song Titter, Butterfly, and was painted by an Armenian artist, Andre Arzoo, who is a third year Political Science major at UC, Berkeley. This piece comes from the artist’s deep love affair with his ancestry, representing an Armenian’s discontent between the life of a man and that of a butterfly.



On April 22nd the UC Berkeley ASA held the 5th Annual ‘United Hands Across Cal.’ UHAC is a “demonstration in the heart of the UC Berkeley campus where more than a hundred students and community members join to stand against [Genocide] and human rights abuses.” The demonstration consisted of Berkeley students linking hands across Sproul Hall in unity. The event began with a Duduk performance by Khatchadour Khatchadourian and a poem by Ara Rostami. The performance was followed by a similar duet as the one performed at the candlelight vigil, poetry, and speeches held by representatives of several other student groups condemning Genocide. Later that night, the ASA held a Genocide Awareness Poetry Slam session in collaboration with CalSlam, a Berkeley student poetry group. The week of April 24th came to a close with a community procession in San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Church where community leaders spoke and discussed the contemporary political issues in America regarding the Armenian Genocide and its recognition.




grigor sargsyan said...

UC Berkeley Armenians are very active indeed. It is a pretty large community of undergrads and grads. I had few of them in my class and they all did very well (not because I am Armenian :))

Anyway, the point of the comment is just that I cannot open some of the pictures.

artmika said...

Strange re picture... It seems OK when I check, although when I use Internet Explorer everything is fine, but with Mozilla it takes couple of times re-loading to get all pictures. Do not know why...

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Let's remember UCB, spitting on Armenian students, saying that all Armenians should have died, and the university doing nothing about it.

British born, Hamid Algar, still a UCB professor.

hrag said...

This is a great idea and more power to UCB. Thanks for keeping us informed.

I think it's noteworthy that the April 24 billboard in Watertown is also a pomegranate, sounds like there's some synergy there and Armenian Americans are starting to think about life and regeneration in the wake of genocide.

grigor sargsyan said...


there is free speech in the US, it has its peculiarities, I agree. UCB is actually one of the places where free speech thing sparkled. So no surprise.

The country hasn't officially recognize the genocide though California has made some serious moves recently. "The terminator" called it genocide, and I have a feeling if it goes like this they might follow france and make it illegal to deny the genocide (but this would be so non-American, that I have a very little hope for this)

At any rate, in 5 years at UCB I have never felt discrimination or hatred or anything of the sort towards Armenians. It is quite the opposite, people love Armenians here and show great interest in the culture as well.

Shiva said...

What Algar said was totally unacceptable, as a professor he would have known that. Were his comments directed toward a certain other group I will not mention he probably would have lost his job.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the specifics of Algar's comments?

Shiva said...

Khrimian, see here:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Shiva, I was not aware that such an incident had occurred.

Armen Filadelfiatsi, I don't think your comment was appropriate for this post, although I'm glad it was brought up. You can't hold the Armenian Students at UC Berkeley responsible for not responding to or resolving an issue that occurred 10 years ago and of which probably none of them are aware of. Blame the community "leaders."

grigor sargsyan said...

Guys, relax, no one in the UC schools will be fired for making such comments. It just ain't gonna happen. There is the concept of tenure, and if you don't know what it is I suggest you look it up. I understand the anger you are having, but please don't exaggerate this and turn into what it is not. Until Americans change their views of free speech such comments will continue to surface the internet and every other public place you know. That is how Americans read free speech. You have to actually thank god that those Armenian students weren't heated at all and didn't try to slap him around, otherwise all that would end badly for us.

You should never blame the Armenian community of Bay area or of California. This is the most active Armenian community in the entire diaspora. It is because of them that Pelosi started her fight for the recognition of the genocide, and recently because of their efforts two ethnic Armenians got elected for the congress (I believe). Only 10 years ago the governor of California was Armenia. What I am trying to say is that such a minor incident should be ignored as it is really a minor thing. Some idiot spoke his mind, and the laws in this country are such that such idiots should be allowed to speak their mind. So leave it alone.

Anonymous said...

Sargsyan, I completely agree with you but the issue of racial hatred is still problematic.

In regards of Pelosi, Congress, and the Bay Area, I really don't think the Bay Armenians should be given full credit. Armenian-American leadership have been working all over the U.S. to get where they are today with Nancy Pelosi and to endorse those two reps that got into Congress. Don't get me wrong, the Bay Area did play a significant role, I just think it's unfair to give full credit when it is due to other areas as well.

Also, a somewhat similar hate issue came up this last month at the University of Southern California for those of you interested:

Daily Trojan (USC Publication)

Letters to the Daily Trojan

grigor sargsyan said...

[...] in regards of Pelosi, Congress, and the Bay Area, I really don't think the Bay Armenians should be given full credit. [...]

True, in fact bay area Armenians aren't powerful at all. They are like a baby version of LA Armenians. I was just trying to make a point, I didn't mean to make it sound as if everything happens in California.

Shiva said...

Grigor is right. Bay Area Armenians put us in Southern California to shame, politically as well as socially.