A question that I often ask myself is...
What am I doing for others?
Since I was a little child I have always been involved in my community.
Despite having an individualistic personality, I became a team-player as soon as I was assigned into a group and this trait has helped me a lot to bring many tasking projects to frution and to collaborate with organizations in creating something meaningful for our communities.
Communal Life Origins
Established by my great grandmother Margaret Sarvarian in 1915, the Sarvarian school extended its roof over many kids including Margaret's own children. On top of quality education the school offered cultural, artistic and scouting experiences to its community.
In the years that followed, Sarvarian school offered a platform for communal life as my grand parents were sharing everything they had with the students who were living in the school premises, all the while enriching their community children with novel ideas.
The life in school was about sharing knowledge and resources and as the third generation who lived such a lifestyle, my father also passed me the tradition of giving to my community.
Armenian Identity in Diaspora is intertwined with Community Life.
A firm triangel made of Family, School and Community Organizations help the transition of children from home to society and educate (Sometimes indoctrinate) them about the community value system. I grew up in post Islamic revolution Iran, where we were excluded from Iranian religious institutions for being a minority, which helped us to develop our own small communities, in which preserving culture was the primal cause.
School events were the first of places, where we would not only learn to socialize, but also to give to society on different ocassions.
Beside learning to take part in ceremonies with our class, this was where our long lasting friendships would begin. It was also during those early years that the significance of our mother tongue and identity was planted in the core of our psyche, as the central goverment wouldn't allow any lessons in Armenian language and we had to take part in evening courses at homes. These after-hour classes would provide another opoortunity for underground communal life where we would not only learn the mother tongue, but would come to understand that just because something is illigal, it doesn't mean that it is right!
Ararat was the first community organization where I learned about the importance of group identity and longterm collaboration.
I became a member of Ararat organization when I was barely 6 and I remain to be an Araratakan to this day. A second home for Armenians in Tehran during the turbulent years after the Islamic revolution, Ararat offered a safe haven to many of us to take part in sport activities, Scout groups and cultural projects. Here we would recieve training to participate in community activities and do something useful for our fellow citizens.
As a member of the Boy Scouts group we had to pledge the scouting oath in which we would make a promise "To Help Other People At All Times."
The Boy Scout journey in Ararat was one of the most significant experiences of my early life during which I started to relate to my own group's identity and values. Long before marketing had taken over our world, a color palette, a slogan and a logo was not necessarily the representation of a brand, but of an idea worth sharing your time and energy for.
The Boy Scout experience also helped me to find lifetime friends, many of whom worked shoulder to shoulder with me to accomplish community tasks. Everything starting from forming a line, to competing in a game or building a campsite was about togetherness and team work. On camping trips we would learn how to share our limited resources and how to stand for each other against other groups. Years later, those basic values are some of the most effective things that help me through the everyday life.
As I grew in the ranks of the Boy Scouts I earned the opportunity to pass on the teachings of my mentors to the new generations.
It was during these later years in the Boy Scout activities that I realized the significance of elevating younger minds. At that point I began teaching my own unit the international subjects in Geography and History, missing from the Iranian educational curriculum.
Every Friday was an opportunity to help elevate the newbies as we would go by our weekly activities or plan a Camping trip out of town. In all these instances all our individual skills were in service of everyone in the group and we would always try to make the younger members to practice the same.
Life in Ararat was not always perfect, but it shaped some of the most memorable chapters of my life.
The friendships that we made, the tasks that we accomplished and the impact that this all made on us was the most visible when we would compare ourselves with those who didn't get the chance to become a part of these community groups.
It was only after leaving those amazing moments, that we all possibily realized that what an immense part of our lives was now missing. Inspired by all that Reminiscent of the Past Days I one day sat down and edited the video here, which is named after a call in scout marching that is loosely translated as: Take direction on your left.
Beside Scouting and Sports I soon was signed up in Mrs. Lorik Minassian's Theater group.
The weekly theater rehearsals in another Armenian community center not only gave me an opportunity to learn the craft but it also provided an enviroment for all of us to be cultivated as many schools were failing due to lack of trained teachers. Here I had the first opportunity to walk on stage in front of a big audience.
During rehearsals Mrs. Lorik, daughter of the known film actor Arman, would not only train us with acting skills, but she would also teach us manners and etiquette. The video here will give you an idea about what it was like being a member of Lorik's band of child actors.
The practice of Theater and Creative Arts was another opportunity to offer food for soul to our community and to work with like-minded people in one group
My parents eventually signed me up in more theater groups and art classes both within Armenian and Iranian circles. The theater experience not only made me familiar with texts and plays in both languages, but it also thought me about acting and working with actors in an early age. An experience that allowed me to start directing my own plays at school when I was barely a teenager. But more than everything else it was the process of working with a group to create a meaningful experience for our community that motivated me.
One of the most memorable experiences of my theater days goes back to a time where the Armenian famed actor Ashot Adamian visited Tehran for a short period to teach a more in-depth style of stage production and acting. Adamian who at that time had already worked with Atom Egoyan in Calendar(1993) offered a wealth of knowledge during the production of The Meeting of The Mice (Atabek Khngoyan). Some of the skills I learned from him I still use to this day.
In later years I took part in theater rehearsals of Mostafa Oskooyi in Anahita Theater and Kitush Arzoian at Ararat organization.
During these experiences I realized that in contrast with Iranian stage, quality content in Armenian community was scarce and the demand was low. I could clearly see the cultural decline of our society while the vibrant Iranian artists were performing some of the most refreshing works out there despite state limitations.
On a side note, theater was also instrumental to not only understand how to work in a team, but also how to lead one. Unlike the hierarchical order of Scouting, theater consisted of many personalities with various levels of ego. The same skills used in Scouting groups would not work among a team of creatives. As a result the long rehearsals offered me a valuable opportunity to understand how to deal with each person on their own merit.
After a while I was assigned to become a member of the Public Relations sector in Ararat organization. A role that gave me an opportunity to exercise several other creative ideas.
This platform allowed me to be in direct contact with our community on a day to day basis. The multimedia content made at this time was relatively diverse. In our weekly meetings, we would brainstorm ideas and then would spend the rest of the week writing articles, taking photos and orgnizing PR events.
The main project was a biweekly newsletter that would circulate among thousands of Ararat members and we were able to elevate the quality of the content by introducing several interesting new chapters to our readers. While the work load was heavy, but it was during this time that I learned the most about the impact of PR in the shaping the image of an entity.
The best part of the PR experience for me was learning how to collaborate with several people with different set of skills to move a larger vehicle.
During the Pan Armenian games which would take place each summer for a few weeks we were to work fast on a day to day basis to create content, meet journalists and state officials and orgnize events for different ocassions.
During the 39th Pan Armenian games I made a clip of our experiences, which might be the most quick way for an outsider to understand the scope of the volunteer work done in an organization. Something that is to my knowledge very rare on a global level.
Beside all this, The Armenian Cause was always a big part of our community tasks.
Every year and during the April 24 ceremony, the entire community would come together to comemorate the Armenian genocide and as a creative person I was often in charge of making content for the ocassion.
The video here is one of the many clips, that I made with the help of my friends to be screened on the eve of the commemoration day.
What made me learn the most about my community was my event photography job
My photography business not only brought me income, but it also offered me a platform to get to know my community really well as each event would open the door into the homes and lives of a certain family and lifestyle.
As a photographer I tend to be extremely observing. This trait helped me to see through the facade and understand people's real selves behind their decorated homes and heavy makeups. I think I would have never known about my community so well had I not spend so many days just observing so many people from different layers of our community.
The more imminent I saw departure from Tehran, the more time I spent doing something worthwhile.
Beside regular organizational tasks I began spending more time using my creativity to serve humanatarian causes. At this point I had realized the significance of living an ethiqal life and the urgency of seeing more than just my own little self so I took my camera to where it was most needed.
The Agoonk Center For Disabled Armenian Children was one of the top prioritees as it heavily relied upon the community and telling their story was necessary to put their efforts into spotlight and engage more people in the community to take part in their financing. I made a documentary about the initiative, the founders and their history and I spend days shooting their daily life. Here's a quick teaser of what we made in 2007.
After moving to the US I continued my community life under new roofs
Upon arriving in LA I noticed a huge difference between the communal way of life, that I used to and the work saturated lifestyle that seemed ordinary in America, regardless, before even my luggage was fully unloaded my wife and I found ourselves engaged with a new community adventure in the Armenian Society of Los Angeles.
Within the first few weeks we orgnized get-togethers, events and came up with a list of people who were all invested and willing to participate. Unfortunetly a corrupt leadership soon made us realize that we had chosen the wrong platform for our community projects and I left with a self-promise to never collaborate without full research about organizations.
The content that I produced on those early days were definitely impacted by a now visible culture shock!
In those early days I was obviously not sure about the work-around of the community affairs and the commercial and superficial nature of many Armenians in Los Angeles was in contrast with my Araratakan way of life.
As a result, many of the activities that we orgnized was less about a certain mission and more of an attempt to bring people together under one roof to simply excersise the feeling of a community.
The video here was a lame attempt to sell tickets for a Holoween party, but it was also a good example of budget production and social media incorporation to put the message across with your audience. It took me an hour of planning, 30 minutes of shooting and 15 minutes of editing to make this ad, but our Holloween tickets were sold out a day after I published this video on Facebook!
Expanding community activities beyond organizational limits.
The commercial nature of the American way of life makes our traditional way of community life obsolete. As a result we switched our model of the community work to a pattern that was based in our business.
So we used our business space as a platform to be active and offer something useful to our community. The Armenian Bone Marrow Registery call was one among many other events at our studio, that brought our friends and community members together for a positive cause.
Check out the video to see how despite limited resources we were able to spend a day in our weekend to make ourselves useful.
UCLA was the next community where I came to know and work with people of the same interests
In film school I was introduced to the American way of community work for the first time. Here I learned to extend my views of community service furthur from Armenian causes and see the bigger picture.
I began to familiarize myself with issues that concerned not only life in campus or city of Los Angeles, but America and world in whole. Many of the themes visible in my later works are directly inspired by the causes that I first were introduced to at UCLA.
With education comes responsibility to pass it on.
My time in colleague and university made me understand the value of education and the importance of sharing knowledge. So as a part of community activity I began sharing things and skills that I had learned to others, namely children and young adults.
I began orgnizing film workshops and teaching production basics in schools, summer camps and community classes. Check out the video to see how some of these courses were conducted.
Soon I started getting more engaged with social matters on a national level as many of the laws and rugulations were directly impacting the lives of immigrants such as myself.
The US travel ban through an executive order was one among several of those instances, that I felt necessary to be engaged, as some of my friends and family were targeted as a result of these discriminating orders.
Protests were errupted nationwide with one being held here in LAX airport where I got the chance to photograph and convey a story about.
"Once an Araratakan, always an Araratakan" is the line that best describes my relationship with Ararat.
Reuniting with old friends and those who grew up with you within the same ranks of the old scout days in Ararat makes you understand the significance of roots and identity much better. This I understood the hard way when we lost a friend among ourselves recently.
To cherish the memory of our friend and to remind ourselves about the significance of our community life I put together pieces of our beautiful past and combined it with a note that I had written about our friend. This video is not only a visual in memoriam, but also a reminiscent of the time past...
As an Armenian in diaspora, the turbulent situation and concerning incidents in Armenia engaged us even more within the community life
The four days war in 2016, the 2017 revolution and the war and turmoil that followed kept us on the edge of our seats here in Los Angeles, as we all closely monitored the alarming events in our motherland. Inspired by all this I took on the duty of a creative content maker to report, bring awarness and speak on behalf of the opressed voices of my people.
The wars in Social media and Twitter was not my thing so instead of spending time online arguing with people I decided to use the platform to share original content. Photography of the protests, reports of the situation and Awarness videos were simply a few among tons of content, that we generated and still do.
The post-war situation in Armenia turns me into a transnational filmmaker.
Living in one country and struggling daily behind a computer screen while following the news of your homeland burning down is not an easy task. As a result I found going back home to tell stories was the only way out of this ailing blockade. As a result, most of my recent work revolves around the stories that I came across throughout my travels to Armenia.
The collaboration with Focus on Children Now foundation gave me an opportunity to understand what is going on in Armenia and how can I and people in my community make themselves useful in the face of this human tragedy.
Today many of my projects are made to serve my community. I create content with the aim to nurture people on a grassroot level and inspire them to live better lives.
Some of these content are made in few hours and some need hard work for months, sometimes years. Most of it is done volunteerly and even paid from my own pocket, but I do it with the understanding, that it is my duty to share the creative gifts within myself, with the people around, because that's what my family did for generations and that's how I was brought up in Ararat.
The project "Yes Adam Noorian" (Pictured here) is a great example of a collaborative community work as it demonstrated how all the good forces of the communities, that I was a part of, came together to provide the community with some food for thought.
I think to live life without giving to your community is like acting on a stage without audience. Even if one performs their best, how does that change anything anywhere? Or by the words of Ava DuVernay: "If your dream Only Includes You, It’s Too Small"