RIDGEFIELD, N.J. (A.W.)—The New Jersey “Arsen” Chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation—Youth Organization of the ARF (AYF-YOARF) hosted the first-ever Armenian Cultural and Educational (ACE) Weekend for the Mid-Atlantic Region from Oct. 20 to 22 in Ridgefield, N.J.
Juniors and Seniors from the New Jersey “Arsen,” Philadelphia “Sebouh,” D.C. “Ani,” New York “Hyortik,” and the newly established Manhattan “Moush” chapters were immersed in Armenian culture during the weekend.
Modeled after the now-nostalgic Junior Educational Weekend, ACE consisted of educationals and activities revolving around the many aspects of the ever-evolving, ever-interesting Armenian culture.
Friday Night Festivities
Members arrived at Sts. Vartanantz Church in Ridgefield on Friday evening and were greeted by Senior members from the host chapter. “Watching the kids arrive Friday night was really exciting, especially knowing this was the first ever Mid-Atlantic ACE and knowing all the great stuff we had ready for them. We worked hard to plan for the weekend, and we were just as excited as the Juniors to get started,” New Jersey Junior Adviser ungerouhi Ani Sarajian said.
For the Friday night activity, the Juniors made Halloween-inspired crafts, including pipe cleaner spiders and pumpkins. They also made a large poster by tracing their hands and signing their names in both Armenian and English. The Juniors and Seniors took a break from their crafting to share stories and AYF memories over a pasta dinner. The first night ended with all attendees watching the festive film “Hocus Pocus” before bed.
A Day of Community, Art, Music, and Literature
Saturday morning, members woke to a bagel breakfast followed immediately by the first lecture, given by unger Kevork Ourfalian, originally from the Boston “Njdeh” Chapter. The Juniors learned about the Armenian community, including the church and AYF. They were split up into groups and were tasked with creating a community center that fit the needs of its members and stayed within the allotted budget. They created blueprints for their centers, which included amenities like a gymnasium, a playground, and classrooms. New Jersey’s own ungerouhi Niree Kaprielian lectured about poetry.
The Juniors then learned about famous Armenian poets and read some of their work in both English and Armenian. They were given the opportunity to write their own poems and to create an accompanying picture. Digin Nadine Ariyan, whose daughters are all active members of the “Arsen” chapter, lectured about art. The Juniors viewed famous artwork by Armenians. They learned about various techniques and mediums, as well. Inspired by the many famous painters, the Juniors created their own works of art using watercolor and colored pencil.
Unger Shant Massoyan, an “Arsen” alumni, exposed the Juniors to musical instruments used in Armenian folk music, including the zurna and the davul. He even played some instruments live for the Juniors and taught them the popular folk song Karoun Karoun.
Central Executive member ungerouhi Araxie Tossounian came all the way from Detroit to lecture about literature. Using their previous poetry lecture as groundwork, the Juniors took an in-depth look at the relationships between language, literature, and message. Using William Saroyan’s famous quote about Armenians, they discussed intention and forms of expression. They then created manuscripts of their own original short stories, all of which concluded with a clear purpose and message.
Finally, “Arsen” Junior Adviser Katia Ariyan lectured about dance. The Juniors watched performances by Armenian dance groups, including the Shushi Dance Ensemble, which ungerouhi Katia is an active member of. They learned two new dances and then had the opportunity to choreograph their own dance numbers.
“Arsen” Junior Vice President Talia Boyajian noted, “I thought the lectures were the perfect balance of informative and fun. Each activity got better and better as the day went on.”
Saturday Night Was More than All Right
After the lectures concluded, the Juniors had some free time, which they used to play games, finalize any of their work from the educationals, and continue watching the movie from the night before. The Seniors used that time to prepare for the dinner and showcase. “We couldn’t wait for the parents and community members to see just what their Juniors had made throughout the weekend. For quite a few of the Juniors present, this was their first AYF event, so I was excited for them to share their experiences with their families. In a moment like that, all you can hope is for the kids to ask their parents to continue sending them to these sorts of events,” said “Arsen” Senior President ungerouhi Arev Dinkjian.
And that was just the case. At 6:30, the doors opened for parents, alumni, current AYFers, and community members. Attendees shared dinner with the Juniors—chicken and pilaf catered by Krichian Catering. Set up around the room was a beautiful showcase of all the work the Juniors made, including the blueprints to their community centers, their watercolor paintings, and manuscripts of their short stories.
“I never thought I would want to stay away from home for this long, but now I want to go to AYF Junior Seminar and Camp Haiastan,” New York “Hyortik” new member Diana Kevorkian enthused.
During the dinner, on behalf of the Central Executive and the Junior Central Council, ungerouhi Araxie addressed those present, as did ungerouhi Katia and ungerouhi Ani on behalf of the host chapter. Afterward, new “Arsen” members Sirahn Toufayan and Taleen Postian were officially sworn in by “Arsen” Senior Vice President ungerouhi Vartenie Kachichian. Everyone—Juniors, Seniors, parents, and community members—in the room recited the oath alongside the two new members.
Ungerouhi Vartanie explained, “I feel like I’m taking a small part in history being able to swear in these new Juniors. Seeing their passion and excitement for events like ACE makes me so hopeful for the future of the AYF and reminds me of the reason I joined when I was 10.”
Reflecting on hearing some one hundred voices repeating the oath, Junior Central Council member ungerouhi Mari Tikoyan stated, “Swearing in the new members helped connect everyone in the room. We had current members, future members, and alumni all recite the oath in unison. You couldn’t help but feel so proud to be a member of such an incredible organization filled with people so dedicated to the Armenian Cause.”
Parting Thoughts on Parting
Sunday morning, Juniors and Seniors returned home. The event was an incredible success, and attendees had a weekend full of learning new things, creating beautiful art, and meeting new friends.
Sirahn, the newest member of the “Arsens,” explained, “It was awesome being with my friends from Camp Haiastan and meeting people from other chapters.”
“Arsen” Junior Recording Secretary Knar Alashaian noted, “I met so many more people than I would at any other event because we were surrounded with each other for the whole weekend and interacted more than just a friendly smile and ‘hi.’”
In the end, all of the Juniors and Seniors left the weekend a bit more cultured than when they had arrived—and even more excited for the AYF events to come.