How much do you know about life in Armenia?
That was the question posed to attendees of this year’s AYF-YOARF Senior Seminar. The event, held at Camp Haiastan from Oct. 14-16, focused on the theme “Armenia’s vidjag,” meaning Armenia’s condition. The AYF Central Educational Council (CEC) chose this theme after realizing our members know too little about our homeland.
Nearly 70 AYFers from the Eastern Region came together at camp to learn more about their culture. The weekend started Friday night with some introductions and ice breakers. We woke up Saturday at 9 a.m. for flag raising and breakfast.
The first lecture of the day was by Carol Jaffarian about HIV prevention/education and the Women’s Health Assessment Project in Armenia. Jaffarian is an ARS member and former member of the Worcester “Aram” AYF Chapter. In her lecture, she noted that many Armenian husbands go to other countries like Russia and Georgia to work, and return with sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, Armenian women are worried about contracting STDs, specifically HIV/AIDS.
The project Jaffarian worked on taught nearly 300 people about HIV prevention, condoms, how to get tested, and what to look for. They went to the ARS Mother and Child Birthing Center and a local university to spread the word. Most of their audience consisted of women in their mid-20s; men were not as easily accessible. She said those who participated in the program greatly improved their understanding of HIV and prevention.
The next lecture was given by Armenian Weekly Editor Khatchig Mouradian. Mouradian spoke about Armenia’s economy and societal issues, specifically the case of Zaruhi Petrosyan, a young mother who was beaten to death by her husband and mother-in-law. His lecture touched on women’s issues and social justice, and how the diaspora is pressuring people in power to fight for justice. He discussed the ever-present corruption that exists in Armenia, from the police who accept bribes to people paying their way out of trouble.
“If a problem exists everywhere, that doesn’t mean we have to accept it in our own country,” he said. This was particularly meaningful because many Armenians refuse to acknowledge the level of domestic violence in Armenia. It’s a hot button issue that warrants discussion and action.
The schedule was altered a bit when we found out that Vahan Badasyan, a battle commander in Artsakh (Karabagh), could come and speak about his experience in the military. Badasyan led a small contingent of troops that was attacked by more than 100 Azeris. Military strategy was a common topic in his lecture, but he also shared some of his stories, which made the audience both laugh and cringe.
After lunch, we reconvened in the Rec Hall to hear Satenig Mirzoyan, a Detroit “Kopernik Tandjourian” member, speak about education and society in Armenia. Mirzoyan lived in Hayasdan for most of her childhood, so she offered first-hand experiences and had quite a few photos to share. Because most of us are in college or are recently removed, the topic of education was really interesting. Mirzoyan told us that students in Armenia generally go to school six days a week and are required to learn several languages, although the facilities are nothing compared to those in the United States. She also discussed corruption in the school system.
The second part of her lecture was geared toward societal behaviors, specifically dating life in Armenia. The way people interact and attempt to court each other is vastly different from what we’re used to in the U.S. When a man is interested in a woman, he will shower her with gifts to show his affection, and the woman can either accept those gifts or ignore them. Mirzoyan also said that a boy has to seek the permission of a girl’s brother to date her. Those in attendance were enthralled with the lecture and kept asking questions to learn more.
The final slot of the day was filled by Zohrab Kahligian, an ARF member from Racine who puts the AYF at the top of his priority list. His lecture was about the AYF’s organization and condition. As anyone who has heard Kahligian speak can attest, he keeps things interesting. Everyone is encouraged to interact and voice their opinions, and it’s easy to get fired up about the problems with our organization when everyone else is speaking up. Kahligian had everyone split up into their AYF chapters to discuss what role they play—as leaders, passive members, etc.
He then challenged us to go home and work on improving our chapters and communication in the community. To guarantee we would all be proactive, he promised to email us with follow-up points. Sure enough, one week later, he did.
The weekend concluded with a hearty discussion about the AYF and what we learned that day. Members offered up their suggestions and criticisms on how we can be more united and make an impact. Following the discussion, we had a delicious dinner of losh kebab, pilaf, and salad prepared by the CEC and a few other helpers. The night ended with s’mores and the lovely musical stylings of Raffi Rachdouni, Shant Massoyan and Raffi Massoyan around the bonfire.
Just like every other AYF event, members left Camp Haiastan on a high from spending time with their friends and learning new tools to effect change. As Kahligian and so many others have reminded us, the challenge comes in keeping that energy alive in the weeks and months afterward.
I challenge everyone who attended Seminar to take what was said and do something about it in your respective communities. My challenge to those who missed out this year: Come to Senior Seminar 2012.
Michelle Hagopian is president of the Granite City “Antranig” AYF Chapter.