What makes someone Armenian? It's a complicated question for many Armenian Americans living in Los Angeles, whose heritage was endangered and scattered by the 1915 Armenian Genocide. But a century later, younger Armenians are working to connect with their cultural identities in new ways.
Thousands of scholars, policy experts and Armenian Americans from the L.A. area unpacked the many global issues shaping their identity on a recent Saturday at USC during an event called "Innovate Armenia." The festival and conference was hosted by the university's Institute of Armenian Studies.
The Armenian nation is physically scattered but many feel a deep emotional connection to it. Just 3 million Armenians live in Armenia. Another 8 million live elsewhere around the world. Southern California has the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia or Moscow, but it's difficult to know just how large it is.
The 2000 census counted about 150,000 Armenians in Los Angeles County, but USC's Institute of Armenian Studies estimates there are between 500,000 and 1 million Armenians in Southern California. Some were displaced by the genocide. Others settled in L.A. after events like World War II, the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970s and '80s.
"Los Angeles is such a unique Armenian diasporic community because of how many layers there are," said Shushan Karepetian, deputy director of the Institute for Armenian Studies. "You have Armenians from Armenia. You have Armenians from the Middle East, from South America, from Turkey."
Aaron Schrank covers religion, international affairs and the Southern California diaspora under a grant from the Luce Foundation.
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