East Coast Armenian Students and Young Professionals Gather at Harvard to Discuss the Future of Armenia

By: Nina Kouyoumdjian
March 14, 2006

HARVARD UNIVERSITY: On February 18th, 2006, over 85 Armenian college students and young professionals gathered at Harvard University to participate in an Inter-Collegiate Summit on International Development: Case Study Armenia.

Organized by the Harvard Armenian Society, and funded by AGBU, the conference brought together members of various Armenian Student Associations (ASA’s) from the East Coast to propose ideas and concrete projects ASA’s and young professionals can implement to help rebuild Armenia. The conference had two components: lectures in the morning and a brainstorming session in five key areas in the afternoon.
The conference featured five speakers: Noubar Afeyan (Armenian 2020), Jason Sohigian (Armenian Tree Project), Carol Aslanian (AGBU), Bryan Ardouny (Armenian Assembly of America), and Tom Samuelian (Dean of the Law Department at the American University of Armenia, Founder Arlex International Ltd.)

After the lectures, the participants broke up into smaller groups and explored five areas where ASA’s can make a difference: Economic Development, Diasporan Politics, Health and Environment, Culture and Society, and Education. The discussions were moderated by students, and the goal of the sessions was to produce innovative and practical ideas that could be implemented by Armenian students and student groups. Shant Oknayan, from MIT Sloan School of Management, described the groups as “unique because groups of students were able to come up with actionable ideas that will hopefully lead to tangible results.”
The inspiration behind planning this event was originated by Tamar Hayrikyan. A junior at Harvard College and a government concentrator, Tamar felt strongly about the need to provide a foundation upon which interested Armenian students could begin to formulate and base their ideas. “We first must learn about the economic, environmental, cultural and political challenges facing Armenia today, and then we must be able to join fellow Armenian college students and young professionals in building a stronger and more prosperous Armenia,” Hayrikyan notes when asked about the goals of the conference.

Public Relations Director of the summit, Nina Kouyoumdjian, a sophomore at Harvard, also felt it was due time for the Armenians of her generation to bond together. “The conference made everyone involved realize just how much potential, talent, and experience there is out there. The first step is always generating ideas and building a network of people who are committed to those ideas, and I truly believe the summit did just that,” Kouyoumdjian says. Arie Zakryan, a junior at Harvard, described the conference as, “challenging to coordinate” but an event which “proved to us what a great need the Armenian community has for events which deal with the future of Armenia."

“All in all, I was most impressed with the sincerity of the participants to seek ways that they can give back to their homeland, build and strengthen their identity with their heritage, and offer their particular talents and skills. The major outcome for me following this meeting was the renewed hope I have for future generations of young Armenians to play a significant role in the future and progress of Armenia,” stated Carol Aslanian, presenting on behalf of AGBU.

The projects proposed by the participants included taking an active role in legislative measures here in the United States, helping Armenian students become better connected with young professionals, increasing media awareness of Armenia and Armenian issues, and further marketing tourism to the rest of the world. The ideas were recorded, and are being put into a project proposal booklet for further discussion and implementation.

For a copy of the proposals, email Nina Kouyoumdjian at kouyoumd@fas.harvard.edu.

The Harvard Armenian Society hopes to make this event an annual one. Schools represented at the summit include: MIT, Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, St. Joseph’s College, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Northeastern, and Bentley.

Members of the Harvard Armenian Society include: Arie Zakaryan, co-president; Christine Megerdichian, co-president; Nina Kouyoumdjian, vice-president; Armen Yerevanian, activities chair; Tamar Hayrikyan, secretary; and Shant Hagopian, treasurer.