The grounds at Camp Haiastan never looked more breathtaking. In early autumn, leaves were turning vibrant shades of yellow and orange. Uncas Pond was tranquil and unwavering. The steps leading up to the Cabin Circle were covered in pine needles. Here, on this wonderful fall weekend of Oct. 1-3, AYF Senior Seminar kicked off in true Armenian spirit.
Nearly 50 AYF members from across the Eastern Region gathered in Franklin, Mass. for a weekend of education and fellowship. Some arrived late Friday night, some in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The AYF Central Educational Council—Mgo Kassabian of North Andover, Nairi Khachatourian of Greater Boston, Hrag Arakelian of Chicago, and myself—welcomed everyone on Friday night. Introductions and pizza soon followed, as well as icebreakers (I think it’s safe to say “speed dating” was a hit). Attendees set up shop in the camper cabins, a fond memory for many of us who were campers or who worked at camp as staffers.
We started Saturday morning fashionably late (hey, we’re Armenian) with flag raising in the Cabin Circle. For me personally, it was all too familiar walking the path to Karekin Nejdeh’s statue during the ceremony, as I had done it all summer. Just being on the campgrounds brought back memories of this past summer and the many that preceded it. After flag raising, everyone ate breakfast and settled in for the day’s four lectures.
First, Arpa Vartanian of the Washington, D.C. “Ani” Chapter took the floor to talk about the AYF Internship Program in Armenia. Combining photos and hilarious anecdotes from his trip, Arpa showed what a great opportunity the internship is for AYFers. Arpa was an intern at the Tufenkian Foundation in Haiastan, and he witnessed first-hand the struggles of those in poverty. But, his trip was also filled with wonderful memories, including eating delicious, home-cooked food around the clock and visiting Karabagh, Sardarabad, and Etchmiadzin, among other places.
We then heard from Josh Teveklian, a longtime unger to the AYF and Camp Haiastan. Josh gave an interactive lecture about the importance of leadership in the AYF. Much to the surprise and appreciation of attendees, he supplied children’s toys to illustrate his points and had everyone divide into groups for the activity. Each group was assigned to find leadership qualities for a specific toy. For example, Legos represent the importance of relationships, while Play-Doh shows the value of being a mentor. The overall message was clear: Leadership is layered, and we can all become leaders in the Armenian community if we decide to take the initiative.
After a lunch that consisted of sandwiches, salad, and Yeretzgeen Pauline Kassabian’s tasty soups, we convened in the Mess Hall for the afternoon lectures. Up next was a man who has left an impressive legacy on both the AYF and Camp Haiastan—Melkon Varadian. He came to preach the importance of bridging the gap between AYF Juniors and Seniors. Giving a detailed history of the AYF and how we can “make it better than it was,” he showed why he is one of the founding fathers of the AYF junior organization. Although he is soft-spoken, his point was direct: If we are to be better Senior members, it is crucial we connect with our younger AYFers and teach them what it means to care for this organization.
Levon Attarian held the last slot of the speakers, and he ended on a high note. With a broad theme of post-protocols, Levon delved into a number of topics, including political activism, Karabagh, and Cyprus. Aware that lectures on the protocols had started to sound like a broken record for many of us, Levon introduced new and enticing subjects that kept the Seniors engaged. In between slides, members would ask questions about the nomination of Matt Bryza as the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan or the disputes between Javakhk, Russia, and Georgia. There was lively conversation at the end of his presentation, which segued perfectly into the final activity of the day—open discussion among the seniors.
Sitting in a circle on the benches in the Mess Hall, we concluded our day with a free-for-all discussion of the AYF and what we learned over the weekend. A number of members spoke up and expressed their concern that the AYF isn’t doing enough to help in Armenia. Ideas to change this included sending clothes to Javakhk and collecting test prep books to send to Karabagh for students to use for entrance exams. We discussed the need for the AYF to reach out to sister and parent organizations and to foster those relationships. Someone said we should hold panel discussions and play films like “Screamers” at our respective schools to raise awareness. So many great ideas flowed during this extra hour, and it truly lit a fire in many of us to go home and create change in our communities.
Our weekend concluded Saturday night with hamburgers, hot dogs, and an old-school dance in the Mess Hall. The Central Education Council organized a college theme for the dance and had given everyone prior notice to bring their college apparel to sport for the night. Afterward, we moved to the amphitheater for a late-night bonfire, s’mores, and Armenian music. Good times were had by all, friends new and old savoring their last hours together.
We all came to Senior Seminar for perhaps different reasons, but we left with one common thought—another successful and inspiring AYF weekend for the books. Here’s to many more to come.
Michelle Hagopian is a member of the Granite City “Antranig” AYF Chapter.