Commemorating our Armenian Legacy

stboard3croppedThe centennial of the Armenian Genocide was marked in a number of ways around the world. As Armenia celebrates 25 years as an Independent nation, we are drawn to an  engaging  year-long online educational initiative called The 100 Years, 100 Facts Project. AIWA San Francisco sat with project creator Lena Maranian Adishian to talk about her experience and the just-published commemorative book of the website, Impact of An Ancient Nation: Bridging the Past, Present, and Future with 100+ Facts About Armenia and Armenians.

Where did the idea for The 100 Years, 100 Facts Project come from?

It was back in 2013, when I first began thinking about it. The centennial was coming up. I was pregnant with my daughter Talar and my son Mark was two. I felt moved to do something and needed it to be flexible in terms of time management and something that conveyed the Armenian legacy across generations.

And across borders. Here we are, Armenians, spread throughout the planet, one hundred years later… What does it mean to be Armenian? What does it mean to be Armenian today, in 2013, in 2014, in 2015? These are the questions I asked myself. Each of us would have our own answers, of course, our own senses of individual identity. But what about our
collective identity as Armenians? How can all of these people who call themselves Armenian be connected around the world?

My answer to these questions was this project. Having an online presence along with social media, was key. It’s the sort of thing our parents and grandparents did not have, but which can be leveraged today in an impactful way. A true gift.

So, The 100 Years, 100 Facts Project was born.

How did you launch The 100 Years, 100 Facts Project?img_8567

From April 24, 2014 to April 24, 2015, we curated one hundred separate entries on Armenian history and culture, including significant episodes from our past, biographies of notable individuals, profiles of Diaspora communities. There’s language and religion, music and dance, even fun stuff like Armenians in sports and entertainment.

We made the conscious decision to have facts directly about the Armenian Genocide or related to it, yes, but only as a minority of our entries. There is a great, great deal to the Armenian experience and – even though it is true that our project was meant to mark the centennial of the Armenian Genocide itself – we wanted to highlight the rich diversity of the Armenian legacy.

We created this in a user-friendly format to make it easy for our community to gain a really robust knowledge of our heritage. What if we each learned one new thing about Armenia every single day? How would this impact our identity, the depth of our connection to that identity, and our understanding of who Armenians are as a people?

You say “we”. It wasn’t just you working on this.

img_8582I reached out to a friend in Yerevan, Nareg Seferian, who writes and is a researcher. He was
until recently on the faculty of the American University of Armenia, in fact. So, even though we launched our website on April 24, 2014, we actually spent a good six months and more beforehand planning, designing, researching, writing drafts, editing… the website was actually fully prepared even before we launched.

What were the reactions?

Very, very positive. Overwhelming, actually, far more than we anticipated. First off, it wasn’t just 100years100facts.com that was out there. We had a strong presence across several social media platforms.

What we found particularly moving and fulfilling was the deep level of engagement with our readers – not only social media engagement, we had folks write in with additions, sometimes corrections, and more resources to be shared.

Additionally, we had enthusiasm to expand. People volunteered to translate the entire website so we had broader global reach. Armenians from Brazil provided the Portuguese text. A group of students provided the translations into French and also Russian. There was a Jewish-Argentinian student in Paris, actually, who did the entire thing in Spanish. So cool! We received a generous grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to get a professional translator and make a Turkish version of the website. As a result, Turkey is where 9% of our readership comes from.

What were some of your favorite facts?

I actually had a great time learning throughout this whole process. For example, did you know that there is an Armenian church in Swaziland, a small country surrounded by South Africa? Or that Armenians were the first to open up coffee shops in Vienna and Paris, back in the 1600s? That was our most popular post, getting something like 20,000 reads. And then we had one about an Armenian cargo ship that was taken over by the famous pirate Captain Kidd. He sailed it from the Indian Ocean to the Dominican Republic. The wreckage was found off the coast of that country a few years ago.

We also had facts about Zabel Yessayan – definitely my own favorite entry – and such other luminaries as Diana Apcar, who was Armenia’s ambassador to Japan back in 1918. She is among the world’s very first woman diplomats.

Really interesting. And now there’s a book. Tell us more about that.

The book idea was actually a part of our initial brainstorming. We figured that we prepared essentially a book-length website, and, well, as much as we are huge fans of the internet, there is something else about a physical, tangible book, something that is lasting and impressive in a different way. Some of our readers had been pushing us in that direction too.

Impact of an Ancient Nation, as we decided to call it, is a commemorative volume that contains revised and updated versions of our online material, plus five bonus facts, researched and written just for the book. It’s turned out to be quite beautiful, designed by Harut Genjoyan of Alpha Graphics, here in the LA area. We hope it will pass from hand to hand, from generation to generation, from school to library to church to living room – something a website perhaps can’t quite do. Books can be purchased on our website at: http://100years100facts.com/product/impact-of-an-ancient-nation-the-book/. We were fortunate to receive generous grants from the Arshag and Eleanor Dickranian Foundation of Los Angeles and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon to support the publication.

The book also contains other material, such as the story of your grandmother.

My grandmother Angele is actually a big reason for, well, first of all my sense of Armenian identity, and in general, this entire initiative.nana

She was a remarkable woman who lived a tumultuous life. She was born in May of 1915 and raised in Armenian orphanages in Lebanon and Egypt. A very long story short, she eventually married a British Armenian, my grandfather, who was living in the Netherlands. When the Second World War broke out my grandparents were both taken as internees by the Nazis, since they were foreigners, citizens of enemy countries. They lived in internment camps for several years until liberated in 1944. The first thirty years of Angele’s life were a whirlwind – where she went and what she did had essentially been dictated by Ottoman Turks and Nazis.

When I published her story on our website, the United States Holocaust Museum took notice and we connected. My father had recordings of her from the ’80s on audio cassette. They asked to digitally preserve her voice online. She is now the only Armenian in their collection, something our family is really proud of.

What would ultimately be the biggest take-away for you over the course of the past three years?

Personally, I can say that the rewards of this project far exceeded my expectations. I’d like to encourage all Armenians to keep their identity close to their hearts and figure out how to regularly incorporate it into their lives because so many enriching and serendipitous things will occur. It was certainly very challenging for me to take on a project like this when I had two little ones at home. You can’t do it all so you have to let some things take a back seat. At some point, my son even asked me, “Mommy, why does all my dinner come from the microwave?” I was not being the best mom in terms of making meals. But I was completing this goal of contributing something for the centennial and for our heritage. The book is dedicated to my son and daughter, after all. (Nareg dedicated it to his parents – a nice combination of past and future, a running theme of our project.)

I deeply believe that each person has something unique and special about them so I would hope for each person to ask themselves, “What is it you love to do?” And then, “How can you incorporate your Armenian heritage in it?” Then, just start doing it. Find the time – steal time! Start small and, with the right amount of passion and effort, it will become something really memorable, rewarding, and impactful.

Final thoughts?

In reflecting on how I have related to this project over time, I wonder if it is about the past, the present or the future. Ultimately, it is about all three. It is about where we come from and how we carry our past with us. Not because it is any kind of baggage but because it informs our identity. It gives us a unique perspective and richness to build our present and dream for our future. The hope with this project and book, is that we deepen our understanding of the past and bring it with us as contribute communities in the diaspora and the homeland.

Perhaps we said it best in final page of the book:

“The impact of this ancient nation has reverberated across time and space, even as Armenia and the Armenian people have undergone dramatic changes. Versatility, openness to new frontiers both physical and intellectual, and the ability to adapt have been some of the secrets of Armenians surviving and thriving. The next hundred years, the next thousand years will in all likelihood witness profound evolutions in humanity – and the Armenians will be there, continuing to enliven and enrich the world.”

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Impact of An Ancient Nation: Bridging the Past, Present, and Future with 100+ Facts About Armenia and Armenians is available at http://100years100facts.com/product/impact-of-an-ancient-nation-the-book/.

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To learn more about AIWA, please visit www.aiwainternational.org.  To get involved with the AIWA SF affiliate, please visit www.aiwasanfrancisco.com or send an email to aiwasanfrancisco@gmail.com.

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