What I assumed to be just another weekend getaway with AYF members at AYF Camp, ended up being a once in a lifetime experience. This weekend wasn’t at all ordinary, but instead a weekend that molded and shaped my understanding of our cause and where we stand, today. It’s safe to say that the weekend of June 6th-9th of 2013 became a life changing experience for me, as well as for my fellow ungers across North America.
The weekend began when our ungers from the East Coast and Canada flew in, uniting all three regions. AYF members who flew in early had the opportunity to tour and visit our AYF Western Region Central Offices, where they listened to representatives from our sister organizations, the Sardarabad Bookstore, and much more. After spending Thursday night at the Armenian Center in Pasadena, which included a presentation led by Unger Stepan Keshishian and including talks by representatives of all three regions about their respective programs in the homeland, the educational series began. The first one had to do with the history and growth of AYF Camp by Tamar Yardemian Baboujian. Next, an educational about the Armenian National Committee of America, including HyeVotes, Politics, and Advocacy Days, was presented by Tereza Yerimyan. Lastly, Unger Vicken Hovsepian spoke about the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the Western Region. When listening to the questions by members of the East Coast and Canada, one could already know to expect an intellectually stimulating and informative weekend. Before heading over to camp that day, we made a stop at the Montebello Armenian Genocide Monument in order to pay our respects to our ancestors.
On Friday night, after getting to know everyone a little bit better, we had our first educational up at camp. We had the privilege of having our weekend directed by Unger Mourad Topalian. He facilitated the first lecture on the Social and Political Issues we face in Armenia. Each AYF member there was challenged to come up with different problems and obstacles facing our homeland today. I wasn’t too surprised to see that many of us had the same things written down. Though, it was surprising to hear each member say something different than the rest.
The next morning was followed by the traditional AYF Camp flag-raising ceremony and early morning exercises. After breakfast, Unger Giro Manoyan, the ARF Bureau Political Affairs Director who flew in from Armenia to join us for the entire weekend, provided us with valuable information regarding the People’s Movement in Armenia and the most recent elections that took place.
After lunch and some free time, our second activity was facilitated by Unger Vicken Sosikian. We had an open discussion regarding the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. While sharing ideas and suggestions with Armenian youth regarding the anniversary, I realized that this is what truly makes the AYF unique. There were countless agreements as well as disagreements. With every new idea and comment, however, it became obvious to all of us how much we were growing in sync with one another as to our strong will to further our cause. It only made us closer to one another. We even started a Tri-Regional Genocide Committee by the end of that discussion. We are an organization that acts, and we did just that.
Before Dinner, Unger Giro Manoyan gave us our second educational of the day, the Conflicting Policies in our nation, and our Armenia. The rest of our Saturday prior to our big Khrakhjank/Kef, Ungers Mourad and Giro also guided us through Hai Tahd (the Armenian Cause), its next phase for 2013, and deeper social and political issues.
My favorite part of the weekend was what we called the “pre-dance jam session” before our memorable Khrakhjank. A few of us had taken our instruments up to camp that weekend. To somehow describe the strong connection we all felt during the weekend would be what I personally experienced at that moment. Just outside in the little walkway to the lodge, I was surrounded by a few ungers, and we all had our instruments with us. Each of us were from different regions and began to play our hearts out as we naturally followed each other’s beat and rhythm. Having only met for the first time, it was as though we had been playing music with each other for years. There was even a moment when we began to play an Armenian rhythm and melody, and a few of the ungers who were watching and listening began to dance. Words cannot describe how I felt, and I only wish that I could go back and relive that moment.
Once we all got back inside, the music lived on within us. I have never danced so much shoorchbar (circle-dance) in my life. Looking around the room, it hit me that, yes, we all had met for the first time, but we quickly became a family. All of us—ungers from all across North America—hand in hand, dancing, singing, and laughing together. However, the night was still young. There was no better way to follow up our dance than ending the night by singing our hearts out. With our arms around one another, we sang our revolutionary songs together led by Unger Krisdapor Arabian. We sang until the sun came up.
This entire weekend was a life-changing experience for me, and I can safely say for my ungers who were there with me. Traditionally, you would expect there to be small social cliques from each region. However, we were all one unit and one family for the entire weekend—one region and one chapter. We all felt an amazing sense of belonging; we were home, surrounded by members of a beautiful organization. Even after the educationals had finished, we still engaged in conversation to come up with ideas and ways to help improve everything from politics, to recognition, the ARF, and even to our AYF Juniors. Words cannot describe how incredible it was to be surrounded by people who felt the same way I did—who finished my sentences, and had the same sense of optimism.
As a participant of the 2013 Tri-Regionals, I left with a greater purpose to my life and understanding that everything I do will be to help benefit and further our cause. After discussing how we felt about the weekend with one another, it was reassuring to know that we all left with the same fire and passion inside us. After this weekend, I’m confident in saying that the AYF is in the hands of members who will strengthen and lead our cause towards a bright future.
I am impatiently looking forward to the next Tri-Regionals Seminar in Canada. In the meantime, let’s take action!
Sosé & Allen representing “YC” for Youth Corps at Lake Parvana in Javakhk
The AYF Youth Corps program has a long and distinguished story that began in 1994, following the Bishkek protocol that set up a ceasefire in Artsakh. The purpose was to take direct aid to the newly liberated villages and help repair the damage of years of war. The program took young volunteers from abroad to rural regions to do rebuilding work hand-in-hand with locals…brick by brick.
The generation of AYF members that had the vision and foresight to create the Youth Corps program in 1994 understood the need to overcome the Iron Curtain and tangibly reconnect with our homeland.
Years later, the program was completely renovated with a renewed purpose. In 2008, Youth Corps established its first day camp in Gyumri. The purpose was to give kids in Armenia a fun, educational, and exciting summer, and at the same time introduce diasporan youth to more than just a superficial picture of Armenia. The new concept has since grown to 7 cities, bringing dozens of volunteers to Armenia each summer, interacting with thousands of kids.
Among those who led the way in the establishment of Youth Corps 2.0 were Sosé Thomassian & Allen Yekikian. Sosé & Allen wanted to engage young diasporans in Armenia’s future development, but first wanted them to understand Armenia’s realities. They envisioned having young people from the diaspora teach and learn from youngsters in different regions of Armenia and Artsakh in order to build ties, build understanding and truly build a bridge home.
Sosé served as the Chairperson of the Youth Corps committee for several years beginning in 2008, and Allen served as the Youth Corps group leader in 2010. The couple continued to be involved in the planning of the program even after they moved to Armenia earlier this year. They Skyped into meetings each week, provided logistical support on the ground in Yerevan, and were ready to welcome our 2013 group with open arms. They are sadly unable to greet this year’s group at Zvartnots because their lives were tragically cut short following a car accident on May 10th.
Sosé & Allen, you are not here, but your spirit remains with us. So, with your spirit we continue.
With your spirit that views Armenia as a home to be explored, rather than a tourist destination, we continue.
With your spirit that sees opportunity where others see despair, we continue.
With your spirit that believes in connecting young people from the diaspora to young people in Armenia, we continue.
With your spirit that believes in thoughtful solutions, rather than blind criticism, we continue.
With your spirit that that knows that real results come from real effort, we continue.
With your spirit that has love for your people and love for your country, we continue.
You put your hearts in this program because you believe in our nation’s future. Thank you for your guidance and we promise you our generation will continue.
I have never been to Armenia. While doing Youth Corps this year, I will finally see the land my parents, grandparents, and ancestors lived, loved, and called home. I feel nervous to be away from my family for six weeks. I always hear that your best experiences happen when you leave your comfort zone. Unfortunately, I haven’t left my comfort zone too many times, and so I’m used to the same routine I have built over the years. Youth Corps is definitely a new experience that breaks my usual routine and builds character. I am excited to be more than a tourist in Armenia. I look forward to volunteering with the kids in the summer camps. I feel that I will learn as much from them as they will from us.
I have waited for years until the day I would be old enough to participate in AYF youth corps, and finally the day is here. I’ve heard stories from people who have done the program before about how much fun they had and how much they enjoyed working with kids in Armenia. I read all the blogs from the previous years, and lived vicariously through the former participants. However, I’m tired of hearing stories and reading blogs and I am ready to experience youth corps for myself.
The wait for the program to begin is filled with excitement and apprehension. Having arrived in Armenia a couple of weeks earlier than the rest of the group has left me wondering. As I walk down the streets of Yerevan I can’t help but wonder what it is going to be like when the rest of the group is here, walking down the streets along side me. My mind constantly keeps drifting to Karabagh and Gyumri and I try to imagine what it’s going to be like there. I eventually give up knowing that what I’m about to experience is not something that can be created by my imagination and I just have to wait for the first hand experience.