In the past three years, my life has been substantially influenced through my membership in the AYF. Prior to joining the AYF, my involvement in the Armenian community was very limited, and basically consisted of attending the annual April 24th protest on Wilshire Blvd and reading about other annual events. I was that one Armenian who was constantly struggling to find myself in a sea of others. As much as I had learned about my culture through my family and through word of mouth, nothing could substitute for the genuine understanding of my true identity. The AYF has allowed me to gain that understanding by learning about my culture and realizing that our struggle is worth fighting for.
After graduating high school in 2010, I went to Armenia with Hamazkayin forum, a trip that my parents decided to give me as a graduation present. I didn’t quite know how to feel; I didn’t know too much about my heritage and had no idea what to expect, but I was excited to go. When I first stepped foot in Armenia, I saw Mount Ararat. The image that was framed and hanging in my house since I was a little kid stood right before me. I just stood there and thought back on being a kid and saying, “wow, I can’t wait to see this in real life.” At that moment, it finally hit me that I was in Armenia, and that was the moment when my life began to change.
My memory of the experience I had in Armenia will never change or lose its meaning. The friends I met, the places I went… it was as though the stories I read about were alive. I walked around Armenia not as a tourist, but as an Armenian who is temporarily living away from his homeland. Those three weeks truly helped me rediscover my identity. When I came back to the States, I wanted to join an organization that could help me touch base with my roots and through which I could have an impact bring about positive change. I knew about the AYF but never joined because I hadn’t had an interest or a solid understanding of the organization. Looking back, however, I wish I could go back 5 years and yell at myself for not joining sooner.
I don’t know where to begin. The AYF has given me the best three years of my life. The knowledge and skills I have gained from AYF has turned me a whole different man. I am currently the chairman of the South Bay “Potorig” Chapter; we are a relatively small chapter, but we manage to get serious work done in our local community. Because of the AYF, I have developed a strong working relationship with my Congresswomen, State Senator, State Assembly member, and local city councilmembers. My networking skills and social skills have improved, my understanding of politics and its inner workings has developed, and my Armenian language skills have improved significantly.
As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi brought change to his community and the entire world, and I want all our youth to follow that example by becoming the change they want to see around them. The Armenian Youth Federation has a positive impact not only on the Armenian homeland, but also on the local community. This is important so that we as Diasporans can remember our past and effectively use that memory to work for a more prosperous future for our community. We are one big family with a vision for change, and it’s time we begin acting like one.
The message that I want to get across to the Armenian Youth is that you should never wait to create the change you want to see in the world. When you have a chance to join an organization that has the potential to change your life in so many ways, you should take full advantage of that opportunity.
As the youth, we are the most effective and important catalyst for positive change around the world. We can’t simply sit back and allow others to make decisions for us; we must become that change by turning our ideas into action. We Armenians are few in number, but we are strong in will and in action.