A book on Vahan Cardashian, the man who set the foundation for Armenian political advocacy in the United States, has long been overdue. Finally, earlier this year, the Center for Armenian Remembrance (CAR) released a compilation documenting some of this man’s legendary work.
Born in Caesarea around 1880, Cardashian made his way to the United States in 1902. After graduating with a law degree from Yale in 1908 he went on to open a successful legal practice in New York.
Interestingly enough, Cardashian actually later became the representative for the Ottoman Embassy in the US. As he learned of the Turkish government’s plans to exterminate his own people–including his mother and sister, who became victims of the Genocide–he resigned his post and transformed himself into a “one-man army” fighting for the Armenian Cause.
Cardashian was most well known as the founder of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA), the precursor to today’s Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). Working alongside the likes of Armen Garo (Armenia’s then Ambassador to the US), he succeeded in rallying countless prominent Americans in support of pro-Armenian issues.
The book features both a biography and synopsis of Cardashian’s life and work. It also features excerpts of his reports, correspondence and writings during his advocacy with the ACIA. These writings offer direct insight into the issues and argumen’s being fought over in US policy at the time. They also reveal the nature of the battles an Armenian patriot such as Cardashian had to confront. Ironically, the lessons of these battles are as relevant today as they were back then.
Cardashian eventually passed away in 1934, in pursuit of the Armenian Cause until his very last breath. Although he was not able to shift US policy against collaboration with Kemalist Turkey, his efforts helped lead to such successes as Woodrow Wilson’s push for a viable Armenia in the Treaty of Sevres, official White House recognition of the Armenian Republic and the blocking of American ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne.
More importantly, the standard of sacrifice, political influence, and integrity that he established became the blueprint for future generations of Armenian activists in the United States. Understanding his legacy and ideas should be paramount to anyone concerned with the future of Armenian American political action. If you’re one of those people, you should definitely consider picking up this book.
That history has countless unsung heroes is undeniable. When looking in detail at the history of any movement there are almost always scores of important figures whose names have been largely overlooked or forgotten. The AYF is no exception.
Although Karekin Nejdeh is rightly considered to be the founder of the AYF, there were several other pioneering leaders who played a pivotal role in formulating and establishing our organization more than 75 years ago.
One of these leading figures is Asadour Arthur Giragosian, the chairman of the first Central Executive and one of the key architects to shape the first five decades of AYF organizational life.
Born in the village of Morenik in Kharpert (Western Armenia) in 1910, Giragosian was orphaned at an early age, when both of his parents became victims of the Armenian Genocide. After escaping from the Turkish family that took him, he was forced to migrate from one sanctuary to the next, finally ending up at a Near East orphanage on the Greek island of Corfu.
As one can imagine, the destruction and loss he had to face at such an early age had a profound effect on Giragosians life. He experienced first-hand the calamity of the genocide and the persecution of Armenias at the hands of the Turks. Restoring what was ripped from him and redeeming the pride of his people became burning obsessions that stayed with him throughout his life.
Despite these harrowing experiences, Giragosian soon developed an outgoing personality and a tremendous knack for leadership. When foreign dignitaries would visit the Corfu orphanage, it was Giragosian who was chosen to represent the Armenian children and welcome the distinguished guests. Due to his gregariousness, he was given the opportunity to greet such historic figures as Ethiopian President Haile Selassie and American actor Jackie Coogan. A picture with the latter star actually appeared in Liberty magazine in the U.S. at that time.
After several years at the orphanage, Giragosian suddenly received surprising news: his father had lived in America and received citizenship before he was born, making Arthur by birthright a U.S. citizen. Thus, at the age of 17, with the help of his uncle, he decided to leave the orphanage in Greece and make his way to the United States.
Upon arriving in Providence, R.I., he took on various odd jobs to save up money and began to quickly pick up the English language. He also immersed himself in Armenian community life and spent time reading the nationalist writings of such authors as Raffi and Avedis Aharonian.
By 1929, Giragosian had settled permanently in Worcester, Mass., and it was here that this young, yet seasoned Armenian patriot would help build the most enduring and prominent Armenian youth organization in North America.
After organizing the Aram Youth Group (Yerdasartats Khoump) in Worcester, Giragosian sought to reach out to other ARF affiliated youth groups and bring them together under one national umbrella. In 1929, a convention was organized with the participation of 13 chapters and, after much debate, it was decided that a new youth organization named the Abrilian Hai Vortiks would be created. Giragossian was elected to its Central Executive but, unfortunately, this pioneering initiative was short-lived. It was dissolved after six months, mostly due to a lack of consensus over the name and other overarching issues.
Although this early attempt to form what would become the AYF did not materialize, the groundwork for General Nejdeh to come in as an ARF fieldworker and mobilize the youth around the idea of a consolidated national entity had successfully been laid. Girgagosian was instrumental in helping set the stage for the conception of a unified Armenian youth organization.
The delegates at the founding Convention of the AYF in June of 1934 recognized Giragosians foresight and leadership by selecting him to co-chair the meeting and adopting his proposal to name the nascent organization the ARF Tzeghagrons (the original title used by the AYF until 1941), albeit after a much heated discussion. He went on to be elected to the first AYF Central Executive, where he served as the organizations first chairman.
Giragosian was elected to four other consecutive Central Executives and served as chairman on all but one of them. He was also a participating founder of Camp Haiastan and served on countless AYF Central Councils. After graduating the rans of the AYF, he continued to work with the youth as ARF advisor until World War II. Even in his later years, Giragosian could regularly be found accompanying AYF members on the bus to Junior Seminar or taking time out to educate and inspire future generations of AYF youth.
His pioneering role in helping shape the structure and activities of the AYF, as well as his lifetime of service to the Armenian community, led Giragosian to be named the first National Honorary Member of the AYF. He was also crowned Olympic King during the 1989 games.
In addition to his hard work and devotion, perhaps Giragosians most unforgettable attribute was his profound oratory skill. As he himself would admit, Jahr khosogh em (I am an extemporaneous speaker). Aside from framing a few thoughts in his head, he would almost never prepare for his speeches, yet would always succeed in mesmerizing the audiences he came before. Many of his fellow youth would comment that Arthur could lead them anywhere.
Because of this magnetic speaking ability and his frequent travels to Armenian communities throughout the country, the late James H. Tashjian remembered Arthur for being the Great Voice, the bugler of the Armenian nation. Following Giragosians passing in 1990, Russell Gasparian also offered the following tribute to Arthur on his Armenian Radio Hour in Providence:
Wherever Asadour was, it seemed that the stage arose and that a bomb was about to explode. His presence was electric. Always liked and respected everywhere. We saw and listened to General Sebouh, General Nejdeh, Simon Vratsian, Vartkes Aharonian, and Arsen Mikaelianall of them Armenian heroes. But among them all, the most electrifying, the most liked was Asadour Giragosian. When Asadour spoke, it was as though he spoke from everyones heart. Asadour became the believable Dashnaktsakan. For years he carried the torch of the Dashnaktsoutiun and the Armenian people.
As can be seen in this brief synopsis, the legacy left by Giragosian figures to be one of the most significant in not only AYF history, but that of the Armenian-American community as a whole. With a life story worthy of a feature film and contributions that have transcended his generation, Giragosian deserves to be remembered for the true AYF/ARF pioneer that he was.
As we reflect on the past 75 years, it is important for the youth of today to learn more about our organizations Founding Fathers. Of course, this includes not only Giragosian but such legendary figures as K. Merton Uncle Bozo Bozoian, Florence Kasparian, Popken Hachigian, James G. Mandalian, and countless others who worked day in and day out to light the torch of the movement we are carrying on to this day.
By doing so, we can not only pay proper tribute to those who came before us, we can also gain a better understanding of what it took to get us this far and what it will take to go even further into the future.
GLENDALE – Delegates from the Armenian Youth Federation’s 14 chapters convened last week at the organization’s camp grounds in Wrightwood for a three day conference to set the goals and direction for upcoming fiscal year.
During the course of the convention, delegates discussed increasing member and community activism, establishing new means of outreach to a growing Armenian community, coalition building with other human rights organizations and increasing ties of assistance to the homeland.
“The AYF Annual Convention is an opportunity for delegates from across California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas to come together to talk about how we can make a difference in the life of the Armenian Diaspora,” said Saro Haroun, from the Crescenta Valley Zartonk” Chapter, who served as the Convention’s Chairman. The ideas and discussions that take place here will set the direction for our upcoming year and place emphasis on important issues facing Armenian-American youth.”
The delegates were joined by representatives from the ARF Badanegan Central Council, AYF Camp Management Board, as well as ARF Western Region Central Committee member Aram Kaloustian,
The Convention concluded with the election of the 2008-2009 AYF Central Executive. The seven person body consists of members from across California and will serve to govern the administrative and organizational aspects of the AYF.
The body will consist of the following members: Chairperson: Vache Thomassian, Vice Chairperson: Berj Parseghian, Secretary: Dikran Aslanian, Treasurer: Vatche Soghomonian, and Advisors: Levon-Shant Demirjian, Taleen Altounian and Shunt Jarchafjian.
“Our membership is excited to continue its work, mobilizing our youth and educating our communities, said Vache Thomassian, speaking on behalf of the newly elected body. We are ready to face any new challenges and obstacles with steadfast determination.”
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) has grown to become the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization; with chapters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world. Inspired by our past and motivated by the needs of the future, the AYF actively strives to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of all Armenian youth.
GLENDALESeven young Armenian-Armenias joined the rans of the Armenian Youth Federation on Wednesday as they swore to uphold the organizations founding principles in an oath ceremony dating back to the AYFs founding in 1933.
At the close of the ceremony, Vazrig Aprahamian, Razmig Macadonian, Christina Issa, Niree Kodaverdian, Shant Thomassian, Albert Hovsepian and Kristine Jegalian, became full-fledged members of the AYF, the largest and one of the oldest Armenian youth organization in the United States.
Last month, the AYF welcomed 10 new members into its rans when the Las Vegas Sosse Mayrig Chapter was officially inaugurated as the newest AYF chapter in the West Coast. About 100 youth and community members from California and Nevada turned out for the event.
Wednesdays ceremony featured remarks by members of the AYF Central Executive members Vache Thomassian and Caspar Jivalegian, as well as AYF alumni Viken Sonentz-Papazian and Steven Dedeian.
Sonentz Papazian, who is the chairman of the Armenian National Committee-Western Region, spoke about the organizations roots and founding, highlighting the dedication and perseverance of those who had the foresight to sacrifice for the organization in its early years of existence.
In his remarks, Sonentz Papazian noted that General Garegin Njdeh had the foresight to recognize that the Armenian youth in America needed to be organized if they were going to prevent assimilation.
“With blood still literally on his hands from having defending the Armenian homeland, he came to the United States in the early 1930s and rallied Armenian youth throughout the country,” he said.
After the Armenian Genocide, survivors that migrated to the United States slowly began to integrate with Armenias that had arrived in the late 19th century. Local committees of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation began to create youth groups across the nation and on January 14, 1933, the ARF Central Committee of America decided to create a national youth organization by combining the existing ones and setting up new chapters where they did not exist.
When it was founded in Boston, the AYF was concerned with stopping assimilation and instilling the youth with a sense of Armenian heritage, community and pride, as it sought to work toward the establishment of a free, independent, and united Armenia.
“Seeing new members taking the oath to join the AYF today is a testament to the level of concern and engagement there is amongst young Armenias, regardless of generation,” said Thomassian. “We are confident that by connecting dedicated individuals with the means in which they can make positive change, we will see a brighter future for our youth, communities and nation.”
Although seven decades have passed since its birth, the AYFs goals continue to focus on the cultivation of Armenian identity and community, according to Vazrig Aprahamian, one of the seven members sworn in on Wednesday.
“Even as a novice, the friends Ive made, the work Ive accomplished and the things Ive learned touched me deeply and gave me a passion and purpose I didnt have before,” he said. “I joined because I wanted to learn more about my heritage. I wanted to make Armenian history.”
From the beginning, the AYF took on the role of an Armenian school, giving priority to its educational programs. Each of the original forty chapters organized educationals aimed at building links between diasporan youth and the Homeland of their parents and grandparents.
“Theres no mystery to the fact that AYF members, by and large, go on to high leadership roles in the community,” said Dedeian, an attorney and longtime ANC board member who currently serves on the ARF Western US Central Committee. “I credit the AYF for giving me the basics and teaching me how an organization should operate and a how an orderly meeting should be run.”
These skills are not taught in schools, or around the dinner table, he said in his remarks during the oath ceremony.
The AYF provides a safe environment to learn and grow, according to Kodaverdian, who spent the year as chairperson of the Crescenta Valley AYFs social committee, organizing various fundraisers and the chapters signature Open Mic night.
Issa, who was active as a novice in the AYFs public relations committee before taking her oath explained that the organization gave her the opportunity to collaborate with fellow committee members to design a new PR brochure for the AYF.
“My involvement has not only taught me about the Armenian cause, but also given me the opportunity to challenge myself,” she said. “I have gained valuable experiences and leadership skills that I would not have gained otherwise.”
“Wherever you look on the Armenian-American landscape, you see the indelible mark of the AYF in the leaders it has produced and the community it has helped create,” Dedeian said.
“The bonds I made while in the AYF are close relationships that I have kept till this day,” he explained. “My closest friends didnt come from school, but from the AYF.”
In its early years, the AYF struggled to build and grow Armenian communities throughout the United States. Over the decades, it rallied the generations to continue the fight for Genocide Recognition and maintain the dream of a free, independent, and united Armenia. In the 1980s and 1990s it organized humanitarian relief for the victims of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, it demonstrated in support of Armenian independence and sent volunteers to fight in Karabakh liberation struggle.
Today, the AYF has 31 chapters throughout the United States. It continues to educate and organize the Armenian-American youth. It awards scholarships, maintains a bilingual quarterly publication, operates summer camps in the west and east coasts, and runs a major humanitarian mission that has been providing social services in some of Armenias most vulnerable regions since 1994.
“By committing to work for the betterment of our communities and our homeland these youth have, generation after generation, demonstrated that they are ready to meet the challenges of the day that have not only faced our communities in the United States, but the entire Armenian nation,” Thomassian said.