Over 70 Racine Armenians joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Marzbed Gomideh and Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) “Armen Garo” chapter to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the new Armenian Republic on Sept. 24.
The evening began with a prayer by Reverend Father Daron Stapanian and then attendees feasted on homemade lahmajun, hammous, mahamara, and more. The evening program began with a toast by Marzbed Chairperson Zohrab Khaligian, who asked attendees to raise their glasses to the 25th anniversary of the new Armenian Republic, the 25th Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh/NKR), 25th Anniversary of the AYF Internship Program in Armenia and 5th Anniversary of the AYF’s & ARS’s Camp Javakhk program. Khaligian’s toast also focused on how while Armenia’s external enemies—whether they be Turkey, Azerbaijan, or anyone else during our 4000-year history—have always brought the Armenian people and nation together, it has been our internal enemies—meaning Armenians fighting Armenians—that threatens to tear us apart. He also mentioned how it is important for all Armenians to do their part to keep the Armenian nation strong and vibrant.
The program continued with a presentation by Areknaz Khaligian, AYF “Armen Garo Chapter member, who participated in the AYF Internship Program in Armenia this summer. It was Areknaz’s first time away from the American continent and she was warmly greeted by Mt. Ararat upon her arrival in Armenia in the middle of June. Areknaz joined seven other AYF members from the Eastern United States for the eight-week program that included an internship during the day, an active nightlife in Yerevan in the evening, and excursions throughout Armenia on the weekends. The program also included week long visits to Artsakh and ARS Camp Javakhk in Georgia.
Areknaz is a Senior at the University of Chicago studying mathematics, economics and music. Her internship was with Granatus Ventures, which is the first and only venture capital firm providing investment, expertise, and networks to startups worldwide that leverage Armenia’s potential as an emerging technology hub. Areknaz’s job was to research potential products for investment.
Each evening the AYF interns ventured into Yerevan’s busy and exciting nightlife. Areknaz particularly liked the Mirzoyan Library and its delicious ice cream baklava and the many local musicians and bands that played throughout the City. Areknaz also met up with her cousin Avedis Kargenian from Illinois, who was in Armenia to help build houses with the Fuller Center for Housing, to search for their Armenian cousins. They had only an address and when they finally tracked it down, they found out that the cousins had moved to France. Fortunately, one of their cousins, Khatchig, was visiting Armenia at the time and they met and celebrated.
Weekend excursions took the AYF interns to Lake Sevan, Khor Virap, Dzidzernagapert, Etchmiadzin, Geghard, Jermuk, Dilijan, and more. A favorite excursion was a hike up Mt. Aragatz, the tallest peak inside Armenia’s current borders. While at the top, the interns discovered that their cellphone signals were exceedingly strong and immediately they were being messaged about the takeover of the Erebuni Police station by the “Sasna Tsrer” group. Areknaz described, that on their return to Yerevan, that at no time did she feel unsafe during the takeover and subsequent protests. In addition, the mood of all Armenians was that the government needs to address the corruption and poverty in the country, however, by peaceful means only.
The week-long visit to Artaskh began at 6 a.m. and afforded the interns a magnificent view of Mt. Ararat. During the week, the interns visited Shushi, Stepankert, Aghdam—a major village which was ruined during the war in the 1990’s and now had the carcasses of destroyed Azeri tanks from April’s Four Day War lying about—and Arajamugh, a new village being constructed by the ARF and the Tufenkian Foundation.
The week-long visit to Javakhk found the interns split into two groups—one in Ninotsminda and one in Akhaltskhe—where they joined volunteers from the the Eastern and Western United States, Canada, and London, for the final two day camps of the Camp Javakhk program. Areknaz was in Ninotsminda, which is the first Armenian-populated town across the Armenia-Georgia border. She remarked that the campers were all eager to learn and proudly announced that the barely 100 campers at Ninotsminda sang the loudest Mer Hayrenik that she has ever heard, beating, by far, any 100-plus campers at Camp Haisatan or 300-plus campers and counselors at AYF Junior Seminar.
Following many questions and many more stories, Marzbed Chairperson Zohrab Khaligian reminded attendees that part of the celebration included raising funds for the AYF’s Arajamugh project. The goal is to raise $8,200 to provide electricity and water to a number of the new homes being constructed. To date, $3,000 has been raised by other AYF chapters. An additional $1,278 was raised during the evening.
Khaligian also announced that we are here to celebrate the AYF chapter’s tremendous showing at the AYF Senior Olympic Games held in New Jersey at the beginning of September. The chapter was led by Azniv Khaligian who became Racine’s first triple gold high scorer by winning the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 25m butterfly. Sister Areknaz added two points by placing third in the 50m breaststroke. Brother Arakel was not to be out done by running the 800m, 1600m and 3200m. The result was Racine winning the most improved chapter award.
The AYF members were also joined by AYF Racine Alumni to promote next year’s AYF Olympics in Downtown Milwaukee. All Racine representatives got to hear from Olympic attendees how the 2006 AYF Olympics in Downtown Milwaukee was one of the best ever. To help promote, credit card cases with the 2017 AYF Olympic logo that can be adhered to cellphone cases were quietly distributed during the first two days of the weekend. By Sunday, the secret was out and Olympic attendees tracked down the Racine representatives and congratulated them as “marketing geniuses” for the perfect giveaway and promotional tools.
The evening finally came to a close with the singing of Mer Hayrenik (not as loud as in Ninotsminda) and dessert.