The Armenian Student Association (ASA) at Occidental is back after a semester off with new leadership and new events. The two co-presidents, Lara Minassians and Serena Pelenghian*, are both first years, bringing a fresh perspective to the group’s goals and intentions, according to Minassians. ASA collaborated with the Armenian Youth Federation’s (AYF) United Human Rights Council Feb. 11 to host a film screening in Choi Auditorium of local independent filmmaker and producer Ani Hovannisian-Kevorkian’s work, “Vanishing Traces of Historic Armenia,” followed by a panel discussion.
Hovannisian-Kevorkian said that representatives of the AYF reached out to her to show the film at Occidental after screening excerpts of the same film at an event Oct. 1 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Razmig Sarkissian, a member of the AYF’s United Human Rights Council, said the AYF has hosted previous events at Occidental and has built a strong relationship with Occidental’s ASA. The film is a product of Hovannisian-Kevorkian’s latest travels to parts of modern-day Turkey, which were previously parts of historic Armenia.
According to Minassians, ASA, although inactive, was present at the Fall 2017 semester involvement fair Sept. 7, where Minassians and Pelenghian first expressed their interest in the club. Flora Adamian* (senior), a past leader of ASA, asked the two to revive the club. Minassians and Pelenghian were happy to take charge of the club due to their strong Armenian roots and pride, according to Minassians.
“A lot of people don’t know what Armenia is, where it is, what the Armenian genocide is,” Minassians said. “We want to inform the public and our community of who we are and what we stand for.”
According to ASA Treasurer Varty Yahjian* (junior), the club has gone through phases of activity and dormancy. Yahjian joined ASA in 2015 and since then the group has been grappling with an ongoing issue of membership.
“With a club that’s not even regionally focused but very specific to one country, it can be hard to not only stir interest but to maintain that interest,” Yahjian said.
Although Yahjian has experienced ASA in flux, she said she feels hopeful about the future of the club. The new executive board discussed shifting the scope of the club from being specific to just Armenians to a more inclusive platform intended to celebrate Armenian culture.
“Anyone can enjoy good food, anyone can enjoy beautiful music, anyone can appreciate art,” Yahjian said.
Prior to the movie screening, Hovannisian-Kevorkian met with Pelenghian Feb. 9 to discuss the reemergence of ASA. Hovannisian-Kevorkian said she agreed to show parts of her unfinished film because she thought it was important to engage with youth and show often unseen images of historic Armenia. The film will premiere officially within the year.
“I was really pleased to know that [ASA] is coming back to life,” Hovannisian-Kevorkian said.
Hovannisian-Kevorkian was born in Fresno, California, and grew up in L.A. — both cities with populous Armenian communities. Five years ago, Hovannisian-Kevorkian traveled to the parts of eastern Turkey that were historically Armenian with her father. According to Hovannisian-Kevorkian, she spent most of her time in the historic Armenian provinces of Van, Erzurum, Bitlis, Kharpert, Dikranagerd and Sepastia. Her father’s parents were both survivors of the Armenian genocide. She said that while it was difficult to go back to a country that caused so much harm, it was also enlightening.
“When I entered the homeland, which is further east, it really gets very personal,” Hovannisian-Kevorkian said. “In a very deep and grounded way, I felt that it was the only way to come face to face with who we are, where we come from and where to go from here.”
According to Sarkissian, the audience at the screening was a diverse representation of the Armenian community. There were young and old attendees as well as Armenian community members from a demographically diverse range, including Armenians from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Republic of Armenia.
“The turnout further proves that the Armenians of Turkey and the indigenous cultural heritage of the Armenian people in Western Armenia and beyond are living, breathing issues that affect the contemporary Armenian community of Southern California surrounding Occidental College and around the world,” Sarkissian said.
Minassians said it was great to see the Armenian community on Occidental’s campus. She said she thought the film was amazing and got emotional at seeing the interviews and content delivered through the screening.
ASA held their first meeting of the year Feb. 8 and was present at the spring involvement fair Feb. 1. ASA is planning ponchik (Armenian donuts) and lahmajoon (Armenian pizza) sales, as well as a screening of the film “The Promise” about the Armenian genocide.
*Pelenghian and Yahijan are staff writers for The Occidental. Adamian is the former editor-in-chief and current senior editor of The Occidental.