MIT’s Armenian Society during one of their fall lunch, MITAS website.

Armenian Students at Local Universities Promote Homeland

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BOSTON — The Boston area is famed for being home to some of the most famous institutions of higher education in the world like Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Northeastern and Boston University. Each of those universities has its own Armenian student organization. One of their main purposes is to unite Armenian students and to promote Armenian culture on their campuses.

“What is your favorite memory of being Armenian?” Emin Abrahamian asked, as the 10-member group gathered for their weekly meeting at Northeastern. Abrahamian is a third-year student in the bio-engineering major and the current president of Northeastern’s Armenian Student Association (ASA).

Knar Krafian, a science major, spoke about the memory of her most recent trip to Armenia and her discovery of Khor Virap. Jack Zakian, a fourth-year engineering student, recalled the wedding of his uncle, which was “pretty Armenian” in his words.

Every other Monday, Northeastern’s ASA members meet to discuss and learn more about each other. One of their main objectives is to open up the group to Armenians and non-Armenians : “Sometimes, some members bring their non-Armenian friends, so that’s the best way to make them discover Armenia. We even have a Portuguese student who used to come to our meetings from time to time,” Abrahamian explained.

Lena Bardakjian is a Boston University student majoring in public relations and sociology. She is also the president of the Boston University’s ASA who encourages members to advertise their club to all students. “Although most of our members are of Armenian descent, we welcome everyone and encourage them to bring non-Armenian friends who are interested in learning more about our organization and culture,” Bardakjian said.

For several years, the Northeastern’s ASA has organized events to help Armenia. Last year, they hosted a fundraising dinner for Artsakh on campus, raising $600 in a single day. “A now-graduated member of the club whose family owned an Armenian restaurant donated meat to us. We grilled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. so people would come and go as they got out of classes. We made it affordable; it was $3 for a sandwich and the majority of people who came weren’t Armenian,” Abrahamian explained. Posters and flyers about the situation in Armenia/Artsakh were also on display, to make this event both educational and fun.

Northeastern’s Armenian Student Association during one of their meetings, on November 7th, Northeastern campus.

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In addition, the ASA at Harvard Law School has focused on organizing public events regarding issues that affect the Armenian community. Arman Smigielski, a third-year law student, is the co-president of the club, along with his classmate, Gayane Matevosyan. They noticed that a large number of non-Armenian students were interested in attending their events on campus. Last September, they welcomed Yeghishe Kirakosyan to lecture upon his work as the representative of the Republic of Armenia before the International Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights.

“About 60 people attended the lecture and the majority of them weren’t Armenian. We also had a recent public meeting with the judges Milena Mailyan and Gassia Apkarian, founding members of the Center for Truth and Justice. They brought to the light audiovisual eyewitness testimonial evidence of human rights abuses against Armenians during the Artsakh War,” Matevosyan said. Both of the judges were from California and took a flight to Boston especially to come and speak with Harvard Law School ASA.  “Harvard’s student population often ends up with a lot of power just by virtue of attending this Institution, so we’re hoping to make an impact that way. We take advantage of that platform to reach a broader audience that we won’t be able to reach without all of this,” she added.

Harvard’s Law School Armenian student association with the judges Milena Mailyan and Gassia Apkarian on November 11th, 2022.

Danielle Mikaelian is a first-year law student at Harvard. She recently started posting graphics and content relating to the war in Artsakh the Harvard’s ASA Instagram account. These posts included an open letter, released on September 20th to denounce Azerbaijan’s assault. “In conjunction with students from other Armenian Students organizations across the country, we wrote that letter. It spoke about the horrific acts being committed by Azerbaijan against Armenians and called for the defense of democracy. Hundreds of students and professors across the country at different universities have signed it in support of Armenia,” she explained. (https://www.instagram.com/p/Civd_aavZnh/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link)

These initiatives allowed non-Armenian students to understand the situation better: “My Harvard Law residential assistant came to speak with me and checked in after hearing about what was happening in Armenia. I was shocked,” Mikaelian recalled.

MIT’s programs in Armenia for non-Armenians students

At MIT, the concept of promoting Armenia is more of a student immersion into the country itself. This institution has established educational programs and internships in Armenia, called “MITSI Armenia,” to teach MIT’s students about Armenia and contribute to its technological development. In the educational program, students have the opportunity to teach in Armenia for three weeks. During this time, they share their knowledge of nuclear science, robotics, and computer engineering at the American University of Armenia or the after-school center of creative technologies, the TUMO Center. Internships are also planned for the summer in different Armenian technological firms. In total, nearly 40 students intend to enroll in these programs. For the next educational program this coming January, 18 of the 20 students who are participating are not Armenian.

Yeghishe Kirakosyan’s lecture at Harvard’s Law School on September 28th, 2022.

Areg Danagoulian is the co-director of this program. He has been a science and engineering professor at MIT for eight years and a member of the Armenian Society of MIT. He takes advantage of their meetings to exchange ideas with the Armenian students regarding their next trip to Armenia and the best way to promote the program. “To motivate students to go to Armenia, we like to bring out the idea that the country is small, with a real urgency to develop science and education. Therefore their work will be meaningful, they will accomplish a concrete change there,” Danagoulian explained. The professor will also be present in Armenia, as a director and adviser: “Students are interested in Armenia because they are not familiar with its culture. Once, one of the students called me because she wanted to go skiing in the mountains and she needed some advice. I set her up with a friend who lived near Tsaghkadzor ski resort, and she convinced him to go skiing with her. She really was resourceful and curious about the country,” he recalled.

Last year, only four people went to Armenia through MITSI because the financial cost was too high. Since then, MITSI Armenia has been supported with individual donations. Noubar Afeyan, Moderna’s co-founder and chairman, is one of these sponsors. He was himself a MIT student and earned his PhD in biochemical engineering there in 1987. He was also a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management for 16 years. Now, Afeyan is a member of the MIT Board of Trustees. Last month, he took time to exchange and motivate students to go to Armenia.

Having these Armenian students organizations is an opportunity to commit students around the world to the Armenian cause since institutions like Harvard and MIT have worldwide recognition. They are not only inspiring Armenian youth but youth in general to make an impact and promote Armenian culture.  

To learn more, visit :

Harvard ASA (https://orgs.law.harvard.edu/alsa/)

MIT Armenian society (MIT Armenian Society)

Northeastern ASA mostly present on Instagram (Armenian Students Association (ASA) at NU (@asanortheastern) • Photos et vidéos Instagram)

Boston University ASA (BU ASA (@bostonu_asa) • Photos et vidéos Instagram)

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