TORONTO — From July 23 to 26, AGBU FOCUS brought nearly 500 young Armenian professionals from around the world to Toronto where they shared ideas, expanded their networks and spotlighted AGBU Education Innovation, a new initiative to create e-learning apps to support the mission to make learning Armenian in the diaspora fun and exciting.
The eighth biennial AGBU FOCUS weekend was one of the most diverse to date, with guests flying to Toronto from 160 cities in 14 countries: Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States. For the first time, AGBU FOCUS had an active online presence with a live feed of Perspectives and posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram throughout the weekend.
Setting the stage for the weekend, attendees were sent a special video message from Canadian-Armenian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, who welcomed them to his hometown of Toronto and praised AGBU for its many educational initiatives: “Any form of alternative education is about creating something that is borderless where we can use our imagination to power ourselves into whole new territory and into places where we didn’t expect to be.”
No matter how far the attendees had traveled, they felt immediately at home at the TWIST Gallery for Thursday’s signature kick-off event, Perspectives, which opened with welcome remarks by AGBU Central Board member Lena Sarkissian. The panel included Henri Arslanian of Hong Kong, Sarine Chitilian of Canada, Alexis Halejian of the United States and Raffi Kassarjian of Armenia. It was moderated by Arda Zakarian, reporter at CP24, a news station in Toronto.
The discussion centered on ways young professionals can shape the global brand of Armenia and being Armenian. The panelists took up the task of imagining the future of an Armenian identity disassociated from the Armenian Genocide and focusing on success stories in Armenia and the diaspora. Chitilian, a senior banking executive specializing in financial and operational risk management and YP Montreal chairwoman, said: “Each of us has to think: where do we stand as an Armenian and where do we stand as an individual and as a professional? How are we going to use this to redefine Armenianness?” Kassarjian, founder and chairman of the RepatArmenia Foundation, raised the question of how the Armenian community can refashion its relationship to the wider society: “We need to start asking what we are giving back to the global community. We need to move from this perspective of victim to one that says, ‘We’ve survived and now we’re ready to give back.’” The evening continued with a networking reception for guests to share viewpoints on the topic.
On Friday morning, the AGBU Young Professionals (YP) held their biennial assembly. The YP Assembly provided a forum for the YP Network to convene, brainstorm, and exchange ideas as well as discuss areas of opportunity for cross-cooperation and collaboration. Twenty-one YP leaders met to discuss new ways to help build capacity for the global organization and strengthen connections with the Armenian community at large. The day continued with Taste of Toronto, the first-ever FOCUS food crawl, where guests explored the city through their palates at Toronto’s most iconic eateries, and in the evening, FOCUS attendees enjoyed Club Night at Maison Mercer.