Armenians gathered in solidarity at a Revolutionary Song Night dinner on Saturday, August 18th at the Pasadena Armenian Center to fundraise for AYFs With Our Soldiers Campaign. With the Central Executive declaring this year as the Year of the Azadamardig, the event was one of many to assist veterans of the Artsakh War with necessary medical treatments. Twenty Azadamardigs have been treated so far, with their ailments ranging from the need for eye prosthetics and hearing aids to surgeries to remove shrapnel still within their bodies decades after the war.
Over 150 people were in attendance, and donations were being gathered throughout the night as Viken Yacoubian performed revolutionary songs. The AYF reached out to the community and received overwhelming support from local ARF, ARS, and AYF chapters. Individual supporters and their families also donated, enabling more aid to reach the war veterans in need of medical care. Over thirty thousand dollars was raised. This event showed that our community stands with the AYF in supporting our freedom fighters. We thank them for that support and we are confident that together, we can make the lives of at least a few dozen of our Azadamardigs better, says AYF Central Executive Chairman David Arakelyan.
The With Our Soldiers committee of the AYF premiered a video it had prepared documenting the atrocious conditions the veterans live in, and the personal connections made between AYF members who traveled to Armenia this summer, and the Azadamardigs in the Homeland. Caspar Jivalagian, one of this years Youth Corps group leaders who visited the Azadamardigs says, The conditions they live in are unacceptable, and will break your heart. It is embarrassing, very embarrassing that the veterans, who gave their blood for our country, are not being taken care of by the government of Armenia.
It is the bureaucracy in Armenia which prevents veterans from receiving any sort of aid from the institutions meant to provide such support to the freedom fighters. Veterans need volumes of supporting paperwork, which is difficult to obtain since many of them never filed the proper claims to receive an official status of a freedom fighter back in early 90s. Even for those veterans who have their documents in order, the government assistance is so insignificant compared to their needs and so difficult to obtain that many simply choose not to pursue it. This leaves the wounded and suffering Azadamardigs to fend for themselves and attempt to provide for their families.
An important factor in dedicating this year to the freedom fighters is the need to raise awareness about their problems and to make this issue a focal point for the Armenian society, both in the Diaspora and in the Homeland. Hopefully, the With Our Soldiers initiative will bring greater attention to the issues faced by our freedom fighters and force the Armenian government to do more in resolving these problems, states Arakelyan.
The With Our Soldiers committee worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the event, especially in securing donations. Tro Krikorian, a member of With Our Soldiers taskforce and emcee for the evening concluded, It was an amazing event all around, especially in terms of fundraising. The video presentations really shed light on the campaign, which helped garner new support around this important issue. The campaign committee was able to raise enough funds to help over 50 veterans with their medical needs. Jivalagian added, I promised wed go back with more help. We really are changing lives.
For more information about the WOS campaign and further efforts to aid veterans of the Artsakh war, visit www.WithOurSoldiers.com.
Though three hundred and eighty miles away from Central Executive headquarters, the AYF Phoenix Kedashen chapter is spreading awareness of the With Our Soldiers campaign and raising funds. On August 25th the chapter hosted a dinner inviting community members to learn about and donate to efforts by the AYF in assisting veterans of the Artsakh War receive critical medical treatment. The Phoenix community rallied together and made donations to the campaign which will have a significant impact on the lives of dozens of Azadamardigs.
Thus far, twenty Azadamardigs have been treated whose conditions range from the need for eye prosthetics and hearing aids to surgeries to remove shrapnel. The treatment of Azadmardigs has been documented and made into an informational video. The video depicts the lives of the Azadamardigs and their struggles in obtaining medical care. The With Our Soldiers campaign is focused on bringing attention to these issues and forcing the Armenian government to resolve these problems. “The AYF chapters, both in Greater Los Angeles and in distant areas like Phoenix, have been instrumental in raising both funds and awareness about the Azadamardik campaign. Their contribution to this cause is significant, and we are very grateful for the work they have done, ” says Central Executive Chairperson David Arakelyan.
One hundred people were in attendance at the event including members from Southern California. Representatives from the Central Executive, Burbank Varak and Crescenta Valley Zartonk chapters traveled to Phoenix to attend the Azadamardig dinner. The passion for our cause and organization ties us together and creates an undeniable bond between ungers, even though we are hundred of miles away, says Rafi Orfali of the Burbank chapter. We were proud to stand in solidarity with the Kedashen chapter as they held a fundraiser to help with the Azadamardig campaign.
The AYF Central Executive has declared this year the Year of the Azadamardig with each of the west coast chapters having an active role in the campaign. Jack Ohanessian, chairperson of the Phoenix chapter says, “When we heard about the campaign we were very excited. The whole concept was so admirable; to help our soldiers who fought and served for us and our great nation. They rose up and took action, just like we will when the time comes. They suffered a lot. They are true Fedayis. This is the least we could have done for them. I want to thank everyone who contributed and supported us.
For more information about the WOS campaign and further efforts to aid veterans of the Artsakh war, visit www.WithOurSoldiers.com.
The Armenian Youth Federation’s Glendale “Roupen” Chapter hosted their first Annual Camp Kef uniting three generations of Armenians under the Armenian Revolutionary Federation umbrella. Held June 16th through the 18th at AYF Camp, members of both the Shant and Zavarian Juniors joined the AYF Roupen and the Aharonian members for an eventful, educational and memorable weekend. Below, the Manoukian family reflects on their experience at camp together.
On Sunday morning, June 17, Unger Aram and Sevana Manoukian waved goodbye to Camp Kef that took place at AYF Camp that weekend. The Glendale AYF Roupen chapter organized Camp Kef. This camp was a Glendale camp. The members included badanees from Glendale Shant and Glendale Zavarian, AYF members from Glendale Roupen, and members from the Glendale Aharonian gomideh. Unger Aram, 15, misses it greatly. As he was in the car on the way back to Los Angeles, he recollected all the mixed emotions he had felt that weekend
On Friday, we arrived when it was completely dark. I was so excited for camp that I had no plans of falling asleep that night! I was also worried that my parents, both gomideh members, were going to ruin the weekend. They had promised not to be annoying and to be nothing other than another Unger and Ungerouhi to my sister and I. We arrived, emptied our luggage, and that was the moment it began. That moment continued until I was in the car on the way back to Los Angeles. I socialized with my friends and, to my amazement so did my parents. At this moment I was (in Armenian terms) abshadz. I realized they were not kidding when they said they were my unger and ungerouhi, and not my parents. We badanees settled into our cabins, played some games, and went to sleep.
We woke up and, to our amazement it was not morning. We were given a mission, to guard our camp against unwanted intruders. This night was not so interesting.
My cabin woke up early, played some basketball, and joined the group for flag pole and exercise. We ate breakfast (which was delicious), and so the Kef began. We hiked to a nearby lake and played. They told us there was going to be an educational, and everyone believed the Kef was too good to be true. The lecture was about Hye Tahd, the Armenian Cause. This lecture was very rare in the sense that it enagaged the group and didnt bore them. We then gathered back at camp to play my longtime favorite game, steal the bacon. This game consists of two teams being separated of equal distance and a central point with a person wearing a hat. The objective of the game is to get the hat. We were separated into red, blue, and orange, and had an exciting game. We moved on to our next agenda, quiz bowl. Everyone had the same feeling, that the Kef was too good to be true. Again, to our amazement, this was not the case, with the quiz bowl being very fun. We ate lunch and moved on to our next activity. The day went by too fast. As the activities continued, we looked forward to the nights festivities.
After flag ceremony and dinner, the badanees were starting to get tired. This was however completely reversed when we had wacky olympics, a series of silly games where teams compete. We were very excited. We then were assigned our duties as guards, and the whole chapter was on their toes. We soon heard a whistle that started a game known as hartsagoom, where a group of people attacks the grounds trying to take something, mainly our flag. We cared for that flag, the piece of cloth, the Yerakouyn. We did everything we could to protect it. There was even a point where an 8-year-old was protecting the flag side by side with our director, who wrapped his entire body around the flag. I had an epiphany, I realized we were individuals acting as a group, protecting Hye Tahd. We were Tashnagtsutyun.
That night we ate kebob, and went to bed. The next morning, we did our usual routine, but it was fathers day. I went up to my father to wish him a happy fathers day, but I couldnt because for the time being he was only my unger. We said our goodbyes, and headed home. That moment, was a pool of emotions: enjoyment, sadness, perseverance, determination, pride, and belonging to a higher cause. I realized the value of family, and gave thanks that I have one.
This camp was not a camp where the Armenian spirit was instilled; it was a camp where that spirit was strengthened.
It was my first time going to Camp Kef. It was a funny risk taking adventure. It was really fun. The minute I put a foot in the campground, I started to laugh. We were faced with a hardzagoom in the middle of the night, played wacky Olympics, steal the bacon, quiz bowl, basketball, hiked to Jackson lake, had a water fight and our group, the orange group, was declared the winner at the end of camp.
It was the first time that I was in a hardzagoom. Glendales Shant & Zavarian ungers, and the AYF-agans were at war. The gousagtsagans were standing there taking pictures. We battled against AYFs Valley Sardarabad chapter. We were bahags all night and I was thrilled about it.
Our AYF members kept testing us if we paid any attention and if we were able to become brave warriors. During the hartsagoom, being the youngest girl didnt stop me from sitting on the captured & helping the AYF-agans gain control by pouring ice cold water on their faces.
This is exactly what we are all about. The Glendale chapters are like a family. If one falls down, then the rest help the person get back up and fight. We dont let each other down. If someone was not able to get the hardzakogh, then another Glendale-agan would tackle them down. At the end of the day Valley & Glendale shook hands and went up to the lodge to have kebob & sing patriotic songs.
I am very proud to be called a Glendale member because I wouldnt be the good brave person that I am. At the end of the camp, I learned that no matter how tall or how big the opponent is, if you are confident, brave, and like a family, you would win any challenge that you face, no matter how hard it is. I wouldnt be as motivated and brave, if it werent for my friends. We should have camps like Camp Kef more often.
It seemed like it was only yesterday when my friends from ARFs Zavarian Badanegan & I, would gather at the AYF Camp Big Pines lodge during the badanegan seminars and discuss various issues amongst ourselves. For example we would evaluate the April 24th march from Montebellos Holy Cross Church to the Armenian Genocide Memorial at the Bicknell park. We would share stories of how wed surround the Henchakian partys youth group carrying red-blue-red flag of soviet Armenia with the hammer & sickle on upper left corner with the real symbol of our homeland, the Yeragouyn.
It seemed like it was yesterday, that in the same lodge, we would have our Asbarez Nights talking about our fedayees, the Garegin Nejdehs, Andraniks, Gevork Chavoushs, Soghomon Tehlirians & Arshavir Shiragians. Shortly, we would proceed to talk about those who were considered the new fedayees of the Nor-orya Azgayin Azadagragan Baykar at the time: The Hrair Gilindjians, Hampig Sasounians, Levon Berberians, Vartges Der Garabedians, Rafi Elbakians, Grigor Levonians, the Lisbon 5, the LA 5 & many more freedom fighters who had sacrificed their lives for the liberation struggle of our nation. We would then wrap up the evening singing patriotic.
It seemed like it was yesterday, that as Dashnagtsagan badanees we would dream of singing the Mer Hayrenik as our national anthem, or see the Armenian flag fly proudly next to the more than 190 United Nations member flags. Fast forward 27-28 years. June 16th, 2012. I found myself sitting in the same lodge, starring at my teenage son & daughter, who as badanees, were sitting in the same area where I had sat decades ago.
LETS PAUSE & OPEN THE PARENTHESIS:
The AYF Glendales Roupen Chapter had organized a weekend getaway at AYF Camp Big Pines called Camp Kef, bringing together generations of Dashnagtsagan Ungers, ranging from 8-58 years old. In other words, they had tried to bridge our past with our future.
When I first walked into the grounds, the only thing I could recognize were the cabins locations, the flagpole, & the suicide hill . Other than that, everything had changed. The arts & crafts cabin was now this beautiful state of the art playroom with multiple game tables for all ages. The pool was actually sparkling clean blue, far from the pool I remembered with shades of green. Inside the cabins, the mildew smell was gone & the bunk beds had what looked like great new mattresses. Even the restrooms were nothing like I could remember. And to top it all off, there was a basketball court. Kudos to all camp committee members, management, volunteers, donors, & sponsors who throughout the years had brought such drastic changes to our campsite and made it this beautiful modern yet traditional in spirit campground that it is.
The weekend was a typical fun camp that the only thing lacking were all those boring educationals that we all dread so much. The first night by the time we all got to sleep was around 4:30 am, only having to wake up in a couple of hours. Soon after flagpole & exercise, it was time for breakfast & the morning chatters. One of our younger ungers (8 years old, hardly 4 feet tall & 50 lbs max) was telling me how he had to take down the camp director (one of our gomideh ungers, in his 50s, 3 times his size) because he had given him the wrong password. Our young unger said: he gave me the wrong password. He said garodadz-missing-instead of Garod, the name of our fedayee, so we took him down.
What seemed an innocent, cute and amusing story, coming from an 8 year old who hardly spoke Armenian well enough to distinguish Garod & garodadz, to me, was a reminder of something I had long forgotten about: the 1st basic principle of the ARF-Dashnaktsutyuns strategy: the source of ARFs strength is its ideology, its organizational structure, its individual members commitment, its historical past and the Armenian people.
Throughout the day, I got to kick it with my new ungers and got to know a group of amazing, devoted, bright, young individuals who are by every sense the true revolutionaries. The true progressive thinkers who hadnt just memorized a few songs or slogans, rather passionately believed in the values and principles of ARF and its mission. I saw that burning flame inside them, the desire to fight the darkness & prevail as the knight in shining armor, saving our nation from the disaster it is headed to with its corruption & unjust leadership who lack national values.
The day was filled with great activities such as Quiz Bowl, Steal the bacon, hike to Jackson Lake, where there was a short educational on Hye Tad- followed by wacky olympics, khrakhjank, & last but not least Asbarez night.
NOW, LETS CLOSE THE PARENTHESIS & RESUME:
As I mentioned earlier, almost three decades had past since I used to sit on those benches as a badanee, where my kids were sitting now. It brought an onslaught of emotions ranging from pride to excitement, from joy to fear. On one hand I was listening to the unger who by the way was an AYF member when I was a badanee talk about the characteristic of an azadamardig as the topic of Asbarez Night. He was saying that what seemed only a dream those days, the free & independent Armenia, with Mer Hayrenik, Yeragouyn, & Zinaneshan, is a reality today. He went on describing how in those days Artsakh & Javakhk were names that we hardly knew about, and how they have become top priorities in Dashnagtsagan badanees agendas. He went on explaining how the fedayees have been renamed azadamardigs who are no longer just legendary heroes that we would only come across in books or songs. The azadamardigs are real people that our badanees & AYF members get to see, talk to, interact with, & listen to. Real people with real problems. He continued tying it in with AYFs With Our Soldiers project talking about how AYF members have dedicated the year 2012 to veterans of Artsakh war & they intended to raise funds to help with the medical needs of these veterans, at the same time raising awareness about the history, key events, figures, and developments in the Artsakh liberation struggle. On the other hand, almost 3 decades of history rolled like an old movie in front of my eyes. I saw how the April 24 marches soon were complimented by gatherings in front of Los Angeles City College, or City Hall with posters demanding the Liberation of Nagorno Karabagh. I saw how the community had put aside its differences and come together to help the victims of the devastating 1988 earthquake. I remembered how as Dashnagtsagan badanees we embraced the Armenagan Partys Youth group who had come to help
us pack boxes wearing their infamous light blue t-shirts with the writing Kal Dari Van in the back. I saw how we would find ourselves in front of the old Asbarez building on Colorado on Tuesday mornings around 7:30 -8:00, to see if there was any news from homeland. We had no google, no internet, no smart phones. As a matter of fact land lines wouldnt even work in Armenia.
I saw how my fellow badanee ungers & I would hop in the bus to San Francisco to demand Karabagh during Gorbachevs visit after spending the night on the sidewalks of Shrine auditorium protesting the presence of the red army in Armenia during Red Armys Song & Dance Performers visit or drive all the way to Wyoming to form a protest line on the roads that Shevarnadzeh was due to pass thru. I saw myself standing on top of a truck in the middle of Yerevans Republic Square on August 24, 1990, on my 21st birthday with a 10 lbs VHS camera documenting one of the most historical moments of our Nations history, the raising of our tricolor flag, OUR Yeragouyn, on top of the Government building while the Philharmonic Orchestra played the Mer Hayrenik. It was not just the flag that was returning home, it was us, the Armenian nation, our national values, our ideology, our struggle, the tapestry of our beings. It was what only us, the Dashnagtsagans had kept sacred for seven decades outside our homeland. It was the Holy Grail of the Armenian Nation.
I saw Armenias Independence, I saw the dark & cold days that I would spend in Armenia where drinking water was at time a luxury. I saw the 8-10 hour long trips from Yerevan to Zangezoor. I saw how we, as a party returned home and I saw the liberation of Shushi & rebuilding of our homeland. I saw many faces that I can no longer see these days. I saw friends, leaders, old & new. I saw joy & disappointment; I saw ideological & national values that had kept us going for decades, taken over by personal greed & weaknesses of some of my fellow ungers.
As much as I saw parallels in my younger days with that of my childrens, there was something that I found that was missing in me. The burning fire within, that fueled me and thousands like myself to do what we can for our cause, for our ideology. The fire that would fuel each and every one of us to make the impossible possible.
My thoughts were interrupted when the AYF ungers started asking some questions and having discussions. The questions they asked, their suggested solutions that had deeply rooted national values, their progressive approach reminded me what the Dashnagtsutun is all about.
Only if we could execute the letter & spirit of our bylaws, only if we could remember people & leaders come & go, but the ideology and basic principles can never change. And as Garegin Nejdeh, the founder of AYF once said himself: When the sons value the national ideology higher than their fathers words, when the sons defy their fathers for what will bring victory to our people, thats when we, as a nation, will march victorious having accomplishments that the human eyes are yet to see.
Thank you Roupen chapter for allowing me to re-live my youth & rekindle the fire within that was long out. Thank you for teaching me such valuable lessons. And thank you for being different, being daring, being vocal, being progressive, and being everything that my generation has long forgotten.
One size does not fit all. Likewise, one’s way of life will not resemble another’s. This reality hit me rather quickly upon getting on the airplane toward Armenia. I can list a million grievances I have with people’s behavior out here, but in return, the list is quite lengthy from their viewpoint toward us.
Stripping yourself of all judgments is a necessity in order to be able to truly discover what this land and people are about. Yet, you need to take it a step further and make yourself humble, accept the way of life you experience as you travel throughout the country, and do all you can to not impose your way of life on the rotating wheel of customs and culture out here. This is the starting point for change. The people will listen to you if they accept you. Otherwise, you are a circus clown to poke fun at and bring entertainment to a rather bored audience.
I’m so proud of our Youth Corps group when it comes down to their behavior and attitude throughout the four weeks of camp we’ve had so far. We were literally slapped in the face by various cultural norms as we worked together with the kids, the local Yeridasartats Tashnagtsootyun members, and the various city locals we came across. It was especially shocking because our group is almost entirely made up of girls, and the locals love to put pressure on the behavior of women. In the end, we gained their respect in return and planted the seeds we came to sow.
Choosing your battles is a must. It adds flavor to foreign relationships, and it allows concrete ideals to shine. I have grown and expanded as an individual, and I have helped my brothers and sisters in the motherland do the same. There’s a lot of beauty to be discovered in the cultural chaos of Diaspora-Armenia relations, and we can only have a say with programs like Youth Corps that put you in the heart of our meshing Armenian reality. Five camps was a great success this year, now let’s expand.