LOS ANGELES–The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Western Region celebrated the 70th anniversary of the organization with a festive gathering that took place on Sunday–May 18 at the John Anson Ford open-air Amphitheater in Los Angeles.
After a flag ceremony by the Homenetmen’scouts–the national anthems of Armenia and the US were performed by Lori Partamian.
Myrna Douzjian and Siamanto Maronian welcomed guests and introduced Vicken Sossikian to convey AYF Central Executives message.
Recalling the birth of the AYF–Sossikian pointed to General Karekin Njdeh’s wisdom in envisioning the birth of a youth organization–"They had the vision to create an organization that has UNITED our community–and they had the vision to create an organization to be run for and by Armenian-American youth.," said Sossikian "Their vision was–an act of genius."
Speaking about the caliber of AYF members at the time of the organization’s creation–the CE member remembered Harry Sachaklian who created AYF’s educational program–and who later went on to serve as General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s right hand man during World War II.
Sossikian’s message concluded with a promise to General Karekin Njdeh: "The echoes of your voice ring deep within the youth’s veins. . . Your soul will haunt the enemy through our struggle today. You were no stranger to overcoming insurmountable obstacles General–and today as we stand before these enormous barriers–we reaffirm our pledge to you. We will work to unite the youth under our Coat of Arms and with the Armenian people liberate the imprisoned land of our forefathers. This is our collective promise to the spirit of Karekin Njdeh. And the promises the AYF makes–the AYF honors." (See below for complete text of Vicken Sossikian’s address).
Hovan Tashjian speaking on behalf of the of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Central Committee said that ARF youth–from the US to the Mid East and Europe–from Armenia to liberated Artsakh–and Javakhk have–as a guiding light–the precious ideology and experience of a 113-year-old political party who has continuously struggled for national freedom.
He stressed that ARF Youth organizations produce individuals who not only long for freedom and are ready to take on struggles–but who are also ideologically advanced and will soon come to lead Armenian life.
"Of all youth organizations in our society and culture–the quality of ARF youth is distinct; a character that is ready to take on any effort to advance the Armenian cause emerges within the ran’s of ARF youth organizations. Generations are prepared who look to the future of the Armenian nation with only devotion and faith.
"If the youth are the greatest wealth of a nation–the spirit to initiate is the force behind youth movemen’s. In the US–we should be proud of AYF’s past and its present role–proud of the result their initiative–said Tashjian.
Keynote Speaker Ken Hachikian–chairman of the ANCA said he had joined the AYF at the age of 15–persuaded by his grandfather–and went on to serve on its Central Executive when only 17. He said the AYF provided the environment to develop many practical skills: organizational–leadership–accounting–public speaking: "When I was 18–I was sent to Niagara Falls on behalf of the AYF to deliver a speech; imagine–at 18–I had an audience who listened to me."
The AYF–said Hachikian–not only provides to its members the history of our people–valuable life lessons–to give rather than expect to receive–importance of input and activism–but also builds life-long friendships.
Talking about the emergence of the AYF–the ANCA chairman’said–"Less than 20 years after the genocide and some 13 years after the fall of the first Armenian Republic–the Armenian community in the US was facing some harsh realities. Slowly–we had come to the realization that living in the US was not a temporary thing. . . A visionary was needed to bring our new generation together–to give them focus–to provide a sense of self–to remind our youth of the triumphs and heroes of the past and the new generation’s responsibility to become leaders–the heroes of the future–guiding our community in its struggle to maintain its national identity and its commitment to freedom and independence. That visionary was Karekin Njdeh–a fedayee who had fought in the battles with Antranig and Tro in the creation of the first republic."
Arriving to the US in 1932–Njdeh traveled throughout the US to convey a certain message–stressed Hachikian–love of country–commitment and sacrifice for the Armenian nation. And within one year–the AYF was born to fight assimilation–educate–provide a cultural–social and athletic environment for youth–instill pride in ethnic identity and undertake charity work.
In the 40’s–stressed Hachikian–the AYF focused heavily on educating its members and making available college scholarship funds to its ran’s. AYF Camp Haiastan was also established–and from 1941-1945 the AYF in selling war bonds–raised over $1,000,000 to help the war effort. In 1947–the AYF juniors were born.
In the 1060’s and 70’s–following the example of activism born in the US–protests against the Vietnam War and support for civil rights–the AYF also took to the streets–revealed Hachikian–to speak out for justice for the Armenian Genocide. In 1977–the AYF Camp on the West coast was founded.
From the 1980’s to the present–the AYF continues to fight for genocide recognition and was involved in fundraising and lobbying for the Artsakh liberation struggle–and of course–recalled Hachikian–the independence of Armenia. It also focused efforts to strengthen the Armenian community of Javakhk–provides Armenia internships and Youth Corps programs–as well as scholarship programs.
The audience enjoyed performances by young violinist–Aram Gasbaryan and singers Karnig Sarkissian–Shushan Petrosyan–and Razmig Mansourian. Video presentations provided a visual look into the history and current activities of the AYF.
"The AYF has served the Armenian American community for the past 70 years," said AYF chairman–Melkon Melkonian. "And on this great occasion we pledge to worker harder and discover newer and more effective methods of expanding our outreach to our communities."
AYF CENTRAL EXECUTIVE’S MESSAGE
By Vicken Sossikian
Today we celebrate a remarkable anniversary.
In 1933 dedicated people in our community–ARF members–specifically–General Karekin Njdeh–had the wisdom to envision the birth of a youth organization.
They had the vision to create an organization that has UNITED our community.
And they had the vision to create an organization to be run for and by Armenian-American youth.
Their vision was–an act of genius.
In the 1930’s–the AYF started its life by designing an educational program.
And to give you an example of the caliber of AYF members at the time – the member who created that educational program–Harry Sachaklian–later went on to serve as General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s right hand man during World War II.
After establishing chapters around the country–the AYF–joined with all Americans–in the effort to win the second World War.
The AYF raised over $750,000 in war bonds to help purchase a Mitchell B-25 Bomber–which carried the AYF logo through out its missions.
And when the war drew to a close–the AYF did what it does best–it grew.
Its ran’s in America grew by over 800 members. And so too did the organization’s activism.
Most impressive during the post World War II period was the birth in 1948 of the AYF Badanegan organization.
As the sixties arrived–the AYF was at the forefront of a new era of political activism. The AYF was creating momentum for a new movement–something today we know as Hai-Tahd.
In the 1970’s the AYF again did what it does best–it grew.
The AYF created the Haytoug–our official publication–which has now entered its third decade of production.
The AYF also joined the struggles for freedom in Armenia and Artsakh.
In the 1990’s the AYF again did what it does best–it grew.
With the birth of the AYF Youth Corps Program–to a dozen other initiatives–the AYF continued to meet the challenges not only facing our homeland but our individual communities.
And today–in the year 2003–70 years after its founding–we have the same idealism and energy of the founding AYFers.
We have this today because we are – you and I – a part of an unbroken chain.
We are part of the AYF Legacy–a legacy that reaches back not only 70 years–not only to 1933. But a legacy that reaches back further–to the unknown heroes of Armenian history.
Unknown Armenian heroes whose dedication to our identity–our culture–our language–our land and our Cause–is the reason we can gather here today.
Dear friends–tonight I ask every member of the AYF and every Armenian American to unite and embrace the challenges that are set before us–and work–full force–to overcome them.
Through our AYF Youth Corps Program–the AYF has sent over 100 youth to help rebuild churches–schools–and youth camps in Artsakh.
Let us triple that number.
The AYF has provided a social–cultural–and educational atmosphere to over 10,000 Armenian youth at AYF Camp.
Let us triple that number.
The AYF has successfully mobilized the Armenian youth and its members against TARC and the establishment of Turkish sponsored chairs at history departmen’s of various university campuses.
Let us triple our level of activism.
And the AYF has been a leader on moral issues of our time.
With the establishment–this year of the AYF "Nanor Krikorian" Scholarship–10 Armenian high school seniors will receive gran’s to further their college education. With the establishment of the Garo Madenlian Public Affairs Office the AYF today is fully equipped to and already has entered the various facets of the mass media–and most recently with the Hunger Strike in front of the Museum of Tolerance.
Let us triple our commitment to the cause of human rights.
The AYF has led the way to increased support for the ANC and its efforts to advance Armenian Issues in the US Congress.
Let us triple our support to the ANC.
The road is long ladies and gentlemen–and the battle is hard.
Here in America we face two enemies–apathy and the Turkish Government and its allies.
Apathy attacks the Armenian Soul and the Turkish Government assaults the truth of 1915.
We all know–however–that a strong will–a dedicated people–and a motivated cause can move mountains.
Ladies and Gentlemen the AYF alone cannot win this battle. We turn to you–the Armenian people of America–to join the AYF and unite against the evil powers set before us.
When they thought they had spread us thin around the globe–when they thought they had scarred the Armenian people for life–when they thought time would end the Armenian people’s existence.
Deep from the trenches voices echoed thousands of miles. Young fedayees in America–soldiers of Hai Tahd–members of the AYF lifted their spirits–aimed at liberty–prosperity–and justice–and sang the first songs of freedom.
Voices so loud that its echoes will never stop ringing–voices so sharp that it will cut through all obstacles. Voices so able–so capable–so determined and so devoted–that it will reach its goals.
That was 1933. And today–ladies and gentlemen–mark my words–UNITED–we will shock and we will awe.
And to our General–Karekin Njdeh:
The echoes of your voice ring deep within the youth’s veins. Your just call for freedom rests upon the shoulders of every member of our glorious organization.
Your soul will haunt the enemy through our struggle today. You were no stranger to overcoming insurmountable obstacles General–and today as we stand before these enormous barriers–we reaffirm our pledge to you. We will work to unite the youth under our Coat of Arms and with the Armenian people liberate the imprisoned land of our forefathers.
This is our collective promise to the spirit of Karekin Njdeh.