Maintaining your heritage and identity is difficult enough when living outside of your Homeland. But the smaller the concentration of Armenians and cultural institutions in your community, the more pronounced this struggle becomes.
For the Armenian youth of Phoenix, Arizona—one of the fastest-growing Armenian-American communities in the US—the fight to maintain one’s culture and remain active is an especially challenging one.
“At times it can be a little difficult living in our Armenian community because it is relatively small,” says Liza Baltajian, the chair of the Phoenix “Kedashen” AYF. “Everything we do here is done on a much smaller scale when compared to places like Los Angeles. We struggle constantly to try and get involvement from our community; but, in the end, it’s that struggle which makes our chapter so strong.”
It was this spirit of determination and persistence upon which the Phoenix AYF was built from day one.
After a year of organizing youth in the community and pursuing the proper organizational procedures, the chapter was officially founded in February of 2006. The founding members decided to name their chapter “Kedashen,” after the region of Artsakh which heroically stood up in 1991 to defend itself against the combined attack of Soviet and Azeri forces. The members related to Kedashen’s brave resistance and its people’s determination to overcome even the most daunting of obstacles.
“Everybody doubted and said that we would never be able to start an AYF chapter in Phoenix due to our small numbers,” says Leza Gasparian, part of the original group which founded the Phoenix Chapter. “But all it took was a dedicated group of strong and passionate Armenian youth who believed in themselves and wanted to see an AYF here in our community. Taking the initiative and working towards that goal with blood, sweat and tears, we managed to prove all the doubters wrong, and are still here today.”
Since its founding, the chapter has organized countless social gatherings, educational activities, political actions, and outreach efforts to young Armenians throughout Arizona. Some of its main activities include an annual April 23rd candlelight vigil at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, across the street from the Phoenix City Hall, as well as an April 24th protest march in downtown. A St. Patrick’s Day Carnival, game nights for youth at the local community center, and an annual Summer Luau have also become staple events carried out by the chapter.
Today, the “Kedashen” Chapter is one of the most active and vital parts of the Armenian community in Phoenix, with over 25 members, 13 alumni, and countless new novices teaming to join. “We have a good amount of youth here and the chapter is a very important vehicle for us to stay together,” explains Baltajian. “The AYF helps the youth connect to their heritage and always remember where they came from.”
As a budding new Armenian-American community, the youth of the AYF in Phoenix have even higher hopes for the future. “We want our presence to be known not only to the community here but outside as well,” says Taleen Kanetchdjian, the former chapter treasurer. “We have our work cut out for us but we’re confident that the chapter will grow stronger and succeed throughout the years.”