Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Armenian Student Association seeks to educate campus on history and culture

Armenia is a small country that lays just above the northern fringes of the Middle East in the Caucasus Mountains. Its unique position in the world, at the crossroads of Iran, Turkey, the Arab world, and Russia, has resulted in a diverse and vibrant culture.

At Suffolk University, a newly revitalized Armenian Students Association (ASA; not to be confused with the African Student Association) aims to bring a piece of that culture to campus. “Our goal is to connect people with a connection or interest in Armenian culture in the Suffolk community,” said sophomore and founding member of the club Lori Yogurtian.

In the past, Suffolk has had sizeable Armenian student populations. They had often gathered in de facto groups, but by the time Yogurtian was a freshman the network had “fizzled out.” Yogurtian and a friend, along with Suffolk photography professor Ken Martin decided to dedicate themselves to starting an official Armenian club to bring awareness of the culture to campus. “No one knows about what Armenia is … we just want to bring the Armenian culture to Suffolk,” said Yogurtian, a double major in management and marketing.

(Photos by Ken Martin)

Still in the process of getting off the ground, the ASA has not had any major events on campus. However, they have participated in events with other local ASA chapters at which Suffolk students are always welcome. “Next year we’re going to have a lot more organization,” Yogurtian said, elaborating that the group is planning for an Armenian culture night on campus next year.

So far, the highlight event for the club has been its year-end celebrations. “Every semester all of the [local branches] have an event at a restaurant … it’s like dinner, dancing and music. We turn the restaurant into a club … we even got kicked out of one place,” Yogurtian said.

All around, the ASA is “A very chill club … it’s a way to get involved without too much commitment … a great way to network, meet new people, make connections, and learn something about Armenian culture.”

The ASA knows how to have fun, but also takes seriously its status as representatives of the Armenian culture in America. Armenia has a long and complex history. With the exception of two years following WWI and the 23 years since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Armenia has spent its entire history since the 1230s under the influence of various foreign occupiers, who usually tended to enact oppressive policies toward  Armenians. During WWI, the occupying Ottoman Turks carried out a genocide of the Armenian people, which some estimate killed over a million. This led to a diaspora of the Armenian people, many of whom are now scattered across the Middle East, Europe, and the rest of the world.

The ASA not only wishes to be active in spreading Armenian culture, but awareness of Armenia’s long and oftentimes painful history. “There is an Armenian genocide memorial near the North End, so every year, starting last year, we do a candlelit vigil,” Yogurtian said. “Every year for the Armenian genocide, there are a bunch of different things that people try to do to raise awareness. A lot of times, the events only attract Armenians. We want to reach out to non-Armenians, and people who don’t know about it.” The group is planning a bigger event for next year, which marks the 100th anniversary of the genocide.

A testament to how controversial the Armenian genocide is lies right here at Suffolk. One of this year’s commencement speakers for the Suffolk University Law School is Soviet-born but naturalized American citizen Abraham Foxman. Foxman is a holocaust survivor and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish NGO, whose goal is to “fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defend democratic ideals and protect civil rights for all.”

In 2007, Foxman came under fire for comments he made regarding a resolution passed by U.S. Congress that recognized the Armenian genocide. “I don’t think congressional action will help reconcile the issue. The resolution takes a position; it comes to a judgment,” said Foxman in a statement issued to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Foxman met a firestorm of public opinion and was labeled a denier of the genocide.

Foxman defended his statement to The Boston Globe, claiming “that the consequences of [the Ottoman government’s] actions were indeed tantamount to genocide,” but that the resolution “is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians.”

Regardless, Foxman’s inclusion in Suffolk Law’s commencement ceremony has sparked controversy. “He has outspokenly opposed recognition of the genocide in the U.S. He’s also opposing [Project51, the controversial Muslim community center near Ground Zero], and is for racial profiling of all Muslims and Muslim-Americans,” Yogurtian said.

The ASA picked up on a Change.org petition addressed to President McCarthy, demanding Foxman’s removal as a commencement speaker and the abandonment of plans to award him an honorary Juris Doctorate. Yogurtian and the other ASA members signed and circulated the petition, helping it reach its goal of 500 signatures. As of Tuesday night, the petition had 513 signatures.

The ASA welcomes all students, Armenian or not, to join the club. Balancing fun with education, awareness, and activism about Armenia’s unique culture and displaced people, the group is hoping to expand its presence on campus and is looking towards a bright future.

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Armenian Student Association seeks to educate campus on history and culture