By Alidz Khaligian
Racine “Armen Garo” Chapter
From the time my older siblings joined AYF to the present, AYF has always held an active role in my life. Since joining the AYF I have gone to as many events as possible, including Junior Conferences. In my eight years in the AYF, I have attended every Junior Conference in the Midwest, as well as what eventually evolved to become ACE, or Armenian Cultural Educational Weekend. Each year, chapters bring their own individual traditions and ideas to this weekend, but for me, this year was different.
Not only was my chapter, Racine Armen Garo, hosting this event, but it occurred to me that this would be the last AYF event I would attend as a junior. This concept was astounding to me, not because I wasn’t ready for this change, but because I had been ready, practically since I joined AYF in 2012, and now it was finally here. Growing up in a small Armenian community, aside from my siblings, I was older than most of the other kids. Being in this position made me strive to not only measure up to my siblings, but become a role model for the rest of my fellow AYF members. I immersed myself in all things AYF and gained a strong knowledge of the foundations and functions of AYF at a much younger age than most. Now, it was like that had all paid off. Throughout the weekend, I was reminded of my preparation to become an even stronger, dedicated member of the AYF.
The events commenced on Saturday, November 9. Despite planning to start activities at 9 am, due to unforeseen events, we had to move to 9:30 am, a classic example of what we all call ”Armenian time.” We started off by making mini katah—a flaky, buttery, sweet bread. Many juniors were unfamiliar with the preparation and creation of this classic, so I found myself showing the techniques which have been ingrained in my mind by the ungerouhis of St. Hagop Church. This was followed by a hands-on lecture given by my sister, U. Azniv Khaligian. Azniv, who plays the violin, showed us what makes Armenian music “Armenian” and encouraged us to express our own opinions and ideas about both modern and traditional Armenian songs. As a musician myself, I was interested to hear different interpretations of classic Armenian songs, and listen to the unique and creative ideas of my fellow juniors. This was followed by a taste test of the baked treats we had made earlier that morning, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed.
After a short break, we read a series of short Armenian tales retold by Virginia A. Tashjian. These stories were personal favorites of mine which I grew up reading, but other juniors were not so familiar. I was a bit nervous that my love for these books would not be reciprocated, but I was pleasantly surprised. One specific point made by a junior brought a smile to my face. She said, “It’s like when a teacher gives you a book and you think it’s going to be boring, and then you read it and you’re like, ‘Huh, that was actually kinda good.’” Seeing how these stories were able to reach people of all ages was so enlightening. After a tasty lunch generously provided by Jimmy Johns, we did more AYF related activities. This included an AYF Operating Guide themed scavenger hunt and scattergories. In these activities, Juniors had to look at sections of the operating guide to answer questions. Seniors participated as well, but they were not provided a copy of the operating guide. I think it served as a good reminder to the Seniors that they still have more to learn, and encouraged Juniors to see their leaders trying to do the exact same thing as them, without taking any short cuts. These activities were challenging for me, as we were working in teams. I felt tempted to take over as I knew I could find the answers in no time, but I also knew that I had to let my teammates figure it out too, so that they could gain knowledge from the experience. Hopefully, at future events, when talking about the purpose, structure or rules of the AYF, they will be able to apply certain facts that they gathered from these activities. Then we made manti, a delicious Armenian dumpling for dinner. After the success of that morning’s cooking project, we were more than excited to have another mouthwatering meal that we could take credit for preparing. While we waited for the manti to cook, we danced. As a former member of Hamazkayin and a frequent line leader on the dance floor at events, I was exuberant about getting to share my love of dance with everyone. It took time for everyone to master the steps, but everyone had fun along the way. By the end, there wasn’t a single person not panting or sweating, but they still had huge smiles on their faces. After a water break, our dinner was finally ready. Our homemade meal was the perfect way to wrap up the night before returning home. One by one, each junior got picked up and returned home, hopefully with lots to say about a great day.
On the 30 minute drive home, I reflected on my experiences, and it began to set in that my time as a junior would soon be over. I thought about how my role as a leader would change, and how I could do so in a way which would benefit the organization. After pondering, I realized that my key to being a leader would be no longer to gain knowledge and better myself, but to share the knowledge I had gained with others. No one is around forever. Not me, not my siblings, and not even the notorious U. Zohrab, which is why it is our job to pass down our knowledge, so that the next generation can find a purpose. It doesn’t have to be our purpose, because times change. Soon our purpose will be achieved, so where do we go next? It is our job to instill a sense of duty into the youth to find their own motives. That way it will no longer be my purpose or your purpose, but U. Sose, Haig, or Yervant’s purpose, leading diasporans to evolve and for the Armenian presence around the world to continue to prosper.