As the countdown came close to months of prior planning, AYF Day in Orange County was a huge success. Upon driving through the agoump gates, worrying about having enough water, enough food and music, worrying about if the kids will have fun, I am happy to report that we had over two hundred members present in one community center. I do not remember the last time an event like this took place.
AYF Day was open to all AYF Juniors and Seniors, and all proceeds are to be donated to Orange County AYF Ashod Yergat chapter’s Gyumri Campaign. The day was filled with activities, discussions, competitions, an oath ceremony, a dinner party, and of course, the singing of our revolutionary songs. Unger Vaché Thomassian was the gnkahaiyr to over ninety Juniors who gave their oath.
The Juniors and Seniors were split up into four teams: Red, Blue, Orange and White-white symbolizing Artsakh. All the games were organized by the Orange County Aghpiur Serop Junior executive members. Everyone’s favorite game seemed to be the big water balloon toss which consisted of over 160 people.
This event allowed for an opportunity to build a bridge between the AYF Juniors and Seniors. All the educationals were given by our AYF Seniors. Dikran Khodanian, Puzant Berberian, Christina Bastagian, Kareen Shatikian, and Marissa Bazikian, who participated in Youth Corps this year, gave the Juniors insight on what Youth Corps is, why the program exists, and how their experience was. The Juniors saw the vision that they are a part of a family that is greater than themselves, and that anything they set their minds to is possible.
Berj Parseghian spoke about current events in Artsakh, followed by Razmig Sarkissian who led a discussion and activity on social identity. While the older Juniors participated in this discussion, our younger Juniors received a dance lesson and learned Armenian dances led by Ani Garibyan.
This event was possible because it started out as a chapter resolution in our Orange County Aghpiur Serop Junior chapter. Their director, Nairy Cherchian, was the backbone to making this resolution into reality.
Everyone who participated and had fun all had separate tasks. Both Juniors and Seniors worked together in unison. Whether one was in charge of music, leading the teams’ calls, giving an educational, leading the revolutionary songs, DJ-ing the dinner party (special thanks to DJ Move On (Vahn Apardian)), serving food, picking up trash, or simply playing cards and bonding with the Juniors, everyone’s presence shed light into making the event bigger and better than any AYF Day that I have ever been to.
The smiles on the faces of the Juniors were priceless. By 10:30 p.m., it seemed as though no one wanted to leave. We look forward to more events like this in our future.
The Armenian Youth Federation has once again illustrated time and time again to lead our youth through its pillars: educational, political, social, cultural and athletics.
“If you want to predict and see the future of a people, then look at its youth”-Karekin Njteh
GRANADA HILLS — Seventeen new members joined the ranks of the Armenian Youth Federation on Friday during an oath ceremony at the North Valley Armenian Center in Granada Hills. The ceremony was followed by a reception hosted by the North Valley “Arshavir Shiragian” Gomideh.
“These new, young members have reinvigorated and brought new light to our organization,” said Sanan Shirinian, a member of the AYF-WR Central Executive. “Their enthusiasm keeps our 81-year-old organization forever young.”
Sixteen of the 17 new members join the newly-formed AYF North Valley Chapter, which will have a total of 24 members at the start of the coming fiscal year. “What is important, and I’m sure these new members understand, is that regardless of which chapter you may be from, you represent something very big and work towards the same cause,” said Central Executive members Sarkis Semerjian.
Vatche Donoyan, chairperson of the North Valley Gomideh, also spoke at the ceremony and welcomed the new members to the AYF. He urged them to give their best to the organization.
Friday’s ceremony was the second in the past two months. On July 27, another oath ceremony was held at Ferrahian Armenian School, where 10 members joined the ranks of the AYF.
“I’ve always looked up to AYF members since I was a little kid,” said Aren D. Kurkjian, one of North Valley’s new members. “By taking my oath, it gives me validation – like I belong to something bigger than me, stronger than me.”
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization in the world, working to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of Armenian youth.
I attended Rose and Alex Pilibos my entire life, so you can only imagine my excitement on our first day of Jampar in Askeran, Artsakh, when a young boy came to camp in a Pilibos polo shirt, the same one I had worn for 15 years. My Armenian school uniform made its way to Artsakh and allowed me to realize that in one way or another, all roads lead to the Hayrenik. Growing up in California, in a very tight-knit Armenian community, I learned how important it was to connect to the homeland. In 2011, when I traveled to Hayastan for the first time, I was able to see the land I had learned so much about, but that void of connecting to the homeland on a more personal level was not filled because I was merely a tourist. I didn’t interact with any locals, I didn’t hear their personal stories, I didn’t experience life in Armenia, and while I fell in love with my homeland, I was not able to build my bridge to it. For that reason, I was very interested in participating in the Youth Corps program, knowing that its goal is to bridge the gap between the Diaspora and the homeland. To me, bridging meant having a personal relationship with the locals of the homeland. It also meant getting a feel of living in the homeland. AYF Youth Corps allowed me to do both. I interacted on a personal level with the kids and counselors in Gyumri, Baghanis, and Askeran. For over six weeks, I heard their stories, their fears, their joys, their dreams, and their aspirations. Ultimately, I built relationships in the different regions of Armenia that I know will not fade away.
Throughout the different camps, kids constantly asked me if I was Armenian. It really upset me at first because here I was, in Armenia with the intent of building a relationship with the local Armenians, and they don’t even know that there are Armenians who live outside of Armenia. However, this also created a drive within me; a drive to teach about how there are Diasporan Armenians who work tentatively to help the homeland and to build their bridges to it. Therefore, during educationals about the Diaspora in the different camps, I spoke about the history of the establishment of Diasporan Armenians following the Armenian Genocide of 1915, as well as the historical influxes of Diasporan Armenians throughout the last century. I also discussed the role that has been played by Diasporan Armenians to help develop and sustain our country. Through this educational, the campers began to understand and appreciate the importance of a strong relationship between Armenians living in the homeland and those abroad. Giving the Diaspora educational, my goal was to teach the kids to see me as an equal Armenian; to see how Armenian Diasporans care and work for the homeland even though we are outside the homeland. I wanted them to understand that geographic location does not define one’s Armenian spirit – one’s Hayrenasirootyoon.
Seeing the boy in the Pilibos polo, in a way, served as a physical symbol of my bridge built to the homeland. The polo was piece of my home and a symbol of my upbringing as a Diasporan Armenian. Seeing an Artsakhtsi boy wearing it allowed me to physically see the Diaspora’s connection to Armenia; how the Diaspora and the homeland are intact, bridged. I felt by seeing just how the Diaspora’s help and work to develop the homeland really does play a role in Armenia. It was the first day of camp, I did not know this boy yet, but I instantly felt a connection to him. Somehow, someway, we both wore the same polo. For my bridge built, I am eternally grateful to Youth Corps and everyone and everything, including my family and my Armenian school, which played a role in building the foundation of my bridge to my homeland. And lastly, I ask you to please keep donating to Hayastan and Artsakh, even if it is just old school uniforms, because they honestly get there and they really help the people who may not be as fortunate as us.
A ball and a field. Not anything written or spoken. A ball is all you need to unite people from completely different parts of the world. I have been to many different parts of Armenia with Youth Corps by now. My Armenian is not the most fluent, and I do occasionally have problems communicating with the campers, resulting in less of a bond with them than if I could speak more fluently. However, one thing has remained the same wherever I’ve gone. The children can react differently when you teach them songs, give educationals, or talk to them about different things like men and women having equal rights. However, once I bring out a soccer ball, the same thing has happened in three different camps. The fact that the children and I are from different countries, speak differently, have unique issues in our lives that are polar opposites from each other, and really don’t share much in common other than being Armenian, melts away.
For the children and me, even if only for half an hour each day, once the balls rolls out and the game starts, our worlds change. There is no impending threat from Azerbajian for the kids. There is no war-torn village in our minds. Being from Texas, having been raised around Armenian-American culture, and not having gone to an Armenian school five days a week are no more. What my parents do, what university I go to, and what I’m studying is irrelevant. The details that make up who we are in our lives don’t matter on the field. While we’re out there, the children and I communicate in an entirely different way. A tongue that can bring together anyone in this world regardless of where they’re from or what they do. Something that lets us have no problems understanding each other, unlike something spoken. That language isn’t English, nor is it Armenian. That language is the one of the beautiful game. The language of the ball and the field.
As we enter a new age of mass communication, social interaction, and activism fueled by the internet, it is clear that organizations such as the Armenian Youth Federation, with a purpose to unite, engage and educate, must be better equipped to those ends. This calls for an effective means of upholding the identity and ideals that we stand for on the internet.
With that in mind, for the past several months, the AYF has been collaborating with designers and developers to revamp its primary outlet for news, events, and advocacy. The result is the contemporary design and feature set that we are unveiling today.
Welcome to the new website for the Armenian Youth Federation – Western Region!
This update adds many features and makes some key changes in the way you interact with AYF – WR online.
First, we’ve developed a simplified and fluid experience to help you engage with the AYF – WR’s most popular programs: the AYF Youth Corps and Haytoug websites have been merged with the main site. All the content from the old sites has been migrated and is accessible on the new site. The application process for AYF Youth Corps will remain unchanged.
You can find information on AYF Youth Corps here and keep up with the Youth Corps blog here. Similarly, articles from the Haytoug can be found here.
Combining the websites serves another ultimate purpose: maintaining a single, efficient archive of all AYF activity through news, publications and photos. With this website, we have taken a huge leap forward by creating unified archives for all three, consolidating the many of each that had been scattered across the former websites.
An ever-growing archive of every news update — article, editorial, blog, etc. — ever published online through AYF – WR can be found here. Additionally, you’ll notice that the publication date of this article, shown above, are clickable links. Clicking the month of publication (in the case of this article, August) will take you to the archive of the month in which that post was published. Clicking the year of publication (2014 for this article) will take you to the yearly archive, where you can select a month to view. This makes it easier than ever to traverse the AYF – WR’s vast article archive.
The AYF – WR’s sole print publication, the Haytoug, is a staple among the community. We’ve already mentioned how to view articles from Haytoug magazine on our website. Many will be happy to know that we will continue to offer PDFs of all of our previous issues, dating back as far as 1978! You can view the Haytoug PDF archive here.
A large database of photos from our various events and programs has accumulated over the years. Between AYF Youth Corps and Western Region events/programs, there are nearly 22,000 total images available on the web. You can browse the image library here.
Authors and contributors to our news section will now have their own pages on our website, featuring all of their published articles. You can read about the contributor and also visit their Twitter account, if applicable. Click on my name (Purag Moumdjian) in the top bar, under the article’s title, to be taken to my author page.
We understand that a lot of the web is accessed through mobile phones and tablets nowadays. We want to make sure that we can preserve our image and offer you the same content, no matter which device you’re browsing from. That’s why our website is now fully optimized for mobile and tablet viewing. You can also share every part of the website to your friends and followers on every popular social network by clicking the “share button at the bottom of every page.
We believe that these features, along with the fresh design and social integration that we have built, will help viewers engage with the AYF and its programs more effectively than ever before. Please comment below with your thoughts, and don’t forget to share this!
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization in the United States, working to advance the social, political, educational and cultural awareness of Armenian-American youth.
You are about to embark on a journey that will change you forever and I’ll start by telling you that it’s okay to go into this with high expectations – I say this with no hesitation because however high they may be, I give you my word it will exceed any level.
You’ll soon be walking down to camp every morning, greeted with herds of children with pictures they drew for you or hugs that will melt your heart and make your day, or a random fact about America that you’ll pretend to be learning for the first time. Soon, you’ll be yelling at the top of your lungs at your favorite camper because he’s really talkative, but everything that comes out of his mouth makes you crack up, and he’ll still kiss you on the cheek before going home today. You’ll be forming bonds with incredible people, amazing and beautiful kids. I’m already jealous of you and I still have a week of Jampar left.
I am no longer fazed by the fact that I haven’t slept in a bed in about a month, or that I wake up in a pool of my own sweat more than a couple times a week, or that flies wake me up every morning – I can easily laugh about all of this nowadays. The living situations may not always be ideal, but it doesn’t matter at all. It does not take away from this experience – if anything, it adds to it.
I had written in my pre-departure blog about how I was excited to give back to my country because it has given me so much, but the truth is this country never stops giving. I know in my heart I have accomplished and given a lot this summer, to the kids, to the people, to my new friends; but I have received more than imaginable. For starters, I was removed from my comfort zone and lived in a house with 11 strangers who would soon become my family – as I presumed before getting here. I have had the chance to live in my country as anything but a tourist. I got to really taste what it’s like to be a “deghatsi”, a native in my own country. Imagine that.
We are officially in our last week of Jampar in Proshyan, and while exhausted, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we don’t want this week to come to an end – because that means it’s over. As soon as song competition ends on Friday afternoon (and Red Team wins), it all ends. And that’s the last thing we want.
This is an amazing opportunity, if I haven’t already made that clear. You have made one of the best decisions of your life. I’ve fallen in love with this country in a different way – I can’t wait for you to do the same.
Nearly six weeks ago, one of my closest friends asked me, “Gareen, why are you wasting your summer in Armenia working on a day camp?” and I didn’t have an answer. To be honest, I was completely going back on my decision of joining the program. I had just finished my freshman year of college and began having doubts because the typical college student would be spending their summer creating fun memories with friends and family. I had never spent more than a week away from home, and I don’t like being put into uncomfortable situations like sharing a small space with a large group of people. To sum it all up, I began having strong anxiety about my decision and started to doubt my ability to spend six week with strangers, working with kids and taking care of myself in another country so far from home.
My summer has passed and I am now confident in my reasoning for joining AYF Youth Corps. I knew in my heart that this was an opportunity for me to grow, but my definition of growing up has completely changed. I had imagined that growing up would mean changing who I was, becoming a serious person, with more responsibilities and less sense of humor. But now I know that growing up means many other things, lessons that I couldn’t have learned anywhere else, doing anything else.
Growing up means putting another’s needs before your own. I used to feel like my problems were so large and so overwhelming, as if it were the end of my world. Who was I kidding? The kids in Artsakh are facing a potential war in their backyard, which could change their entire lives. There were kids in Baghanis who could hear gunfire at night but came to camp every day with a smile on their faces, and suddenly my problems seemed irrelevant. I may have problems close to the heart, but these kids are full of resilience. In the six weeks I have spent with local Armenian kids, not one complaint and not one tear.
Growing up means being able to not only trust yourself, but others as well. Our campers open up to us with so much, and believe in us to teach them about Armenian pride. They express their vulnerabilities, talking about fears and dreams, and trust that we will take care of them and befriend them no matter what. They have taught me to trust myself in giving them all that they need, because they have never expressed anything other than gratitude.
Growing up means accepting yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Six weeks ago, if I had seen one of my campers back home, I would not have been able to see past their exterior. In Armenia, I have learned that it takes time to see people’s true beauty, inside and out. Not only were the kids comfortable in their own skin, but also my co-counselors and I have learned so much about the value of people and the definition of beauty.
Growing up means having more responsibilities and learning how to adapt to certain environments, and I have definitely gained that experience. But one important realization that was taught to me by my campers was that growing up and maturing has nothing to do with changing yourself. The children in Armenia and Artsakh brought back the child in me and I have been reliving my childhood with them. The happiness in winning a competition, the anger and disappointment in losing to a better team, the sympathy when someone gets hurt, the excitement of learning new English words, and finally, the innocence in feeling and being completely carefree.
Now I know that growing up means appreciating the beauty in life and being grateful for everything we have. I feel different than the person I was six weeks ago and am content and truly happy, in a mature kind of way. If someone were to ask me the same question now, I would have so many reasons to give and so much to say as to why I joined AYF Youth Corps.
Yesterday, I walked into the Askeran school and was greeted by “Trcheyi Mdkov Doon”. I stood there mesmerized, listening to one of the campers sing with such passion, and could not keep my tears under control. I closed my eyes, silently singing with her as I, too, flew to another place, another time, back to 1994 to a small village in the Martuni region called Ashan, where I had been a Youth Corps participant.
Although the Youth Corps program has changed from a rebuilding program to a Jampar, from the looks on the faces of the counselors, I knew that everything we had received as participants 20 years ago is still the same today: a lifetime of memories with a special group of Armenians. We had participated in the program believing that our mission was to help the villagers, help the schools and guide the children, but later realized that in fact, it was us who had things to learn. We learned about the resilience of our people, about the bright future of our country, and about the importance of building bridges with our homeland. These lessons can only be comprehended through programs such as Youth Corps, where participants have the opportunity to experience to real lives of locals, and truly experience the joys and wonders of Armenia and Artsakh.
Today, I visited the AYF Youth Corps group, went from classroom to classroom watching the campers making lanyards, listening to educationals about the lives of fedayees, and watched counselors connecting with the campers as they wrote about their hopes and dreams, fears and worries. Witnessing the counselors interact with the campers, I was overcome by a sense of immense pride – pride that I have been fortunate enough to belong to a great youth organization, the Armenian Youth Federation; pride that I have had the opportunity to participate in the best and most meaningful summer program, the AYF Youth Corps; and extreme pride that after 20 years, we are still able to impact the lives of hundreds of Armenian youth, put a smile on their faces, and continue to give them hope, as we ourselves better understand the true meaning of life simply by listening to a magical song.
— Dzia Vartabedian
Dzia Vartabedian was one of the first participants of AYF Youth Corps. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program, which began after the cease-fire of 1994 by Armenian-American youth whose mission was to help rebuild their homeland.