My 18 years of AYF fizzled out with a pandemic and a series of cancelled events. Despite missing out on (slowly) running my last Senior Olympics mile in Worcester and not being able to reunite with my ungers at Camp Haiastan for one more Senior Seminar, the bright spot of my final year was Zruyts Mruyts: the AYF’s Armenian conversation hour.
Each week, Central Educational Council members Daron Bedian and Nareg Kuyumjian came prepared with activities, lists of fun tartszvadzkner (turns of phrase), interesting Armenian-language resources and questions to prompt more serious discussions. They adapted in-person games for our new screen-bound lives and recreated Camp Haiastan’s “speed dating” so we could have a (virtual) opportunity to better get to know fellow AYF members. And while we may have missed out on a chance to attend Tri-Regional Seminar to meet ungers from around the world, through Zruyts Mruyts we got to know ungers from chapters in countries like Australia and Lebanon.
Gathering a group of regular attendees might have been difficult pre-pandemic, but with most of our calendars cleared of social events, we were able to do so easily. Though there were many ungers I hadn’t gotten to know before, the consistency of the group who participated helped form an environment—a little community of sorts—where we could all feel at ease speaking and practicing Armenian. We learned new words (after many forgetful moments I finally learned the word for apartment, pnagaran) and invented new words when an Armenian one didn’t exist (portsakordzootyoun for internship, for example).
With Eastern, Barsgahai and Western speakers in attendance, we were able to hear the differences in our dialects and learn new vocabulary from our fellow ungers. In a way, it was the most travel I did all year. With Barsgahayren I was transported to London, where my mother’s side of the family lives, where our visits are filled with Cadbury chocolates, fish and chips, and the sing-song questions and hard r’s of our Barsgahai friends. With Eastern, I was back in a Yerevan cab or in a cafe in Stepanakert, trying to decipher sentence structure and verb conjugation.
My days living in Boston, away from my family in Chicago, have meant I’m no longer afforded the effortless, everyday practice of my language. So when I join Zruyts Mruyts and my fellow ungers speak Western Armenian, I finally feel like I’m home. Words I had forgotten or had not heard in years—apsos, hadig, gatsoutyoun—each felt like I was being reacquainted with an old friend. Welcome back, they say.
Read the Armenian counterpart of Knar’s article in the Hairenik