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AGBU Hye Geen Holds Ninth Annual Young Circle Conference

May 12, 2014

Expert Panelists Participate in “Sports: Shaping a Nation: An Arena for Diplomacy, Business and Identity”

The relationship between athletics and international affairs was the theme of this year’s AGBU Hye Geen Young Circle conference, which brought together a panel of experts to discuss the sports industry, culture and the Armenian diaspora. The ninth annual event, “Sports: Shaping a Nation: An Arena for Diplomacy, Business and Identity,” drew over 130 guests to Woodbury University in Burbank, California.

Every Young Circle conference provides a forum to educate the public on issues such as architecture, the media and mental health. In her opening address, Hye Geen founder and chair Sona Yacoubian described the inspiration for 2014. Recalling her childhood school in Lebanon, she remarked, “Every school day began with exercises to help us focus on our studies and every year we celebrated the Navasartian Games, which gathered youth teams. We hope this conference reinforces that sense of solidarity.”

Archpriest Father Zaven Arzoumanian, representing the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, and Bared Maronian, the award-winning filmmaker of “Orphans of the Genocide,” joined Yacoubian in welcoming the crowd. Father Arzoumanian pointed to the positive example set by Ararat Chrissian, the turn-of-the-century coach who instilled discipline, character and fair play in countless young athletes. Maronian shared a clip from his documentary and highlighted the work of Vahan Cheraz, who, following the Armenian Genocide, organized sporting events in a Gyumri orphanage to teach youth the necessary skills for building resilience and endurance in the face of suffering.

Led by moderator Manouk Akopyan, a digital content producer for the National Football League, the panelists discussed the power of sports diplomacy today. Nancy Gavoor, a personal trainer and educator, recounted her experience as an envoy for the U.S. Information Agency program, Building Democracy and Diplomacy with Sports. In that role, she saw states strengthen ties through various events—table tennis championships in China, arm wrestling competitions in Iran, as well as soccer matches between Armenia and Turkey.

Sociology graduate student Megan Fornasar and martial arts trainer Edmond Tarverdyan noted the ways sports cultivate a sense of national identity across countries, and confidence among youth. Fornasar, who researches multiculturalism at the University of California, Los Angeles, commented: “Especially when the national flag is raised, the games we play create a powerful, shared experience. At the same time, they bring together people and groups who may not otherwise interact.” Tarverdyan is responsible for sending athletes to those high-profile games; he has trained world boxing champion Vic Darchinian and Olympian boxer Vanes Martirosyan. In his presentation, Tarverdyan relayed how rewarding it is to help children and teenagers become proficient in martial arts.

Yet, the path to stardom can create controversy, speaker Cory Shakarian noted. As a sports business executive and sales and marketing professional, Shakarian has witnessed athletes’ exorbitant salaries continue to rise. He argued that the phenomenon has deterred talented young people from pursuing careers in science and technology, and from making promising contributions to those fields. The consensus among all the panelists was that athletics must be part of a well-rounded curriculum for students, that coaches should act as educators and that schools should encourage team sports.

The ninth annual Young Circle conference was also an opportunity to honor Richard N. Demirjian, a key member of the California and Michigan diaspora communities. Demirjian is the author of multiple books including “Armenian-American & Canadian Who’s Who of Outstanding Athletes, Coaches and Sport Personalities” and a co-founder of the Western Armenian Athletic Association. When the event came to a close, the audience gave him, the participants and the Hye Geen Young Circle repeated rounds of applause.

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