Yesterday I attended the third assembly organized by a group which calls itself “It’s Started.” Most of the organizers with the exception of one person I met were no more than 25 years of age. The purpose of the group is to spread awareness amongst Armenian youth about what is going on around them, and what it means to be a citizen of Armenia. They do not consider themselves as representing any kind of movement. Basically I stood by and observed along with another friend of mine to see what would happen.
The group essentially gets the word out about the happenings by posting flyers on lampposts and walls, and also by affixing announcements to cars—I saw one attached to a window of a rabizmobile—the Lada 2107—parked across from my apartment building on Nalbandyan Street. In an era when the most important things that seem to interest youth are the latest innovations in mobile phone technology, fast cars, and counterfeit designer sunglasses, the moment is right to “wake up” late teenagers and twentysomethings and influence them to actually pay attention to their society and what it does or doesn’t mean to them.
The group and its followers meet at the Komitas Statue near the Opera House, a significant meeting place since it is arguably the only monument to a revolutionary-in-thought mover and shaker in the vicinity. Two weeks ago alarm clocks were hung from a string that was tied between thin lampposts surrounding the statue, forming a circle. The theme of the gathering was “Wake Up,” an effort to provoke young people to think and act in ways that would be more productive to their own lives as well as those of others in their environment. The theme of yesterday’s event however was whether to read or not read Armenia’s newspapers. Hundreds were made available to pass out to people who bothered to show up as well as to passers-by. The first thing I saw as I approached the park were newspapers hanging from clothespins affixed to a string circling the statue and people wearing hats made out of newspapers. Every newspaper was stamped with “It’s Started” in large, red letters printed in Armenian. The crowd broke up into groups of five—each group stood on a corner of Freedom Square/Place de France, and another group stood on the circumference of the rotary in the middle. Everyone held newspapers in front of them, while others held up banners affixed to wooden poles reading, “Should We Read Them?” in Armenian. After about 15 minutes, the traffic cop sitting in his Lada told everyone to get off the rotary as they were interfering with the flow of traffic—nearly all the minibus drivers who happened to drive by stopped to receive newspapers from the organizers and pass them on to their passengers. The crowds then returned to the statue and were then told to cut out the articles that they liked the most from each newspaper they held, then affix them to a bulletin board that was provided. After a few minutes I walked passed the board to see that each article that was chosen had something to do with youth or youth-orientated interests. Some had thought-provoking topics, while others were somewhat blasé—horoscopes and the like. Only a couple of articles that were chosen dealt with politics, which were defaced with smartass comments that one or two clever people wrote. At no time did any of the organizers suggest that the newspapers were or were not worth reading. The exercise was to let those who attended decide of their own accord.
“It’s Started” claims to not have any political motivations or allegiance to any political party or group, although this is somewhat hard to believe. But what impressed me was the fact that people took active interest in what was going on—at one point a 12-year-old stopped to ask me what all the fuss was about. Even some elder folk bothered to show up, either to criticize or encourage—one woman possibly in her 80s started addressing everyone with a bullhorn provided for her.
The group plans to meet next week, again at the same place and the same time: 1:00 pm. The theme of the meeting will be the “Southern Boulevard,” as opposed to the monstrous, unwieldy Northern Boulevard that is no where even close to being completed in the next year or two by the looks of things. It will be interesting to see whether the group continues to attract more youth at every meeting, but apparently the number of attendees has already doubled since the first gathering—about 200 people were in attendance yesterday. It’s curious to see what will take place in the weeks fast approaching national assembly election day, which is May 12.