“Where is Armenia?” one student asked another as they perused the Armenian Students’ Cultural Association table at the Tour of the Middle East exhibition. “I’m not sure, maybe somewhere near China?” her friend replied as they bent down to look at a map. The two were among the around 150 students and community members who came to watch dances and skits and explore exhibits about cultures of the Middle East at the Trotter House yesterday afternoon.
The ASCA set up and manned a table at the event covered in books, maps and information with the hope that they could spread information about their culture.
“We wanted to get the word out – if anyone had any questions or wondered who we are,” said ASCA president and LSA senior Vartivar Sagherian.
“People will know an Armenian or say that they know an Armenian, they just won’t know what it means to be Armenian,” he said.
School of Public Health graduate student Rita Aouad co-chaired the Tour of the Middle East, which featured a variety of campus cultural groups and has been in the works since the start of the school year.
“We felt there was a need to bring Middle Eastern organizations on campus together for a day of cultural festivities,” she said. “It’s a place people can come and experience the many different flavors of the Middle East in a positive way.”
Aouad added that the event was also designed to break down stereotypes of Middle-Eastern students on campus and to dispel the post Sept. 11 myths that appear on television and in the media.
“We’re trying to break down the image that’s portrayed in the media … the image of the wealthy oil sheik, of the terrorist, all the negative stereotypes that go along with being of Middle Eastern heritage in the U.S.,” she said.
In addition to bringing people of non-Middle-Eastern descent in to experience culture, food, hospitality and music, Aouad said the event gave different organizations the chance to interact and appreciate each other’s work.
“It’s a chance for the organizations here to work together, to increase programming on campus, and to bridge the gap, like with all organizations, for the possibility of co-sponsoring more programs like this,” she said.
The Hellenic Student Association was also in attendance, even though Greece is not technically part of the Middle East.
“People ask me why I am here,” HSA president and Rackham student Konstantinos Ghirtis said. “We were invited because Hellenic culture had all these influences in the Middle East. Geographically and historically we’re tied. You can still go (to the Middle East) and find ruins from the Hellenic Age.”
He said he also liked seeing all the groups come together for the event. “I think it’s great because they’re using a common denominator and having a geographically defined area bring together such a diverse group to see what we have in common and the different waves of influence,” he said.
LSA senior Megan Veresh said she attended the event because her roommate is in the Persian Students Association.
“We came to see the skits. It’s a lot more informative than I was expecting,” she said.
She added that she felt it was a good way to spend part of the afternoon because of the chance to “learn stuff and eat free food.”
“You experience culture you wouldn’t experience otherwise,” she said. “You’re not going to experience it sitting in your living room watching TV.”