It’s Thursday evening, the day before the first in-person Senior Seminar at Camp Haiastan since 2019. This was it—my last Senior Seminar as an AYF-YOARF member. Normally, this is something I would look forward to, but this year felt different. It was the first anniversary of the Artsakh War. One whole year since we woke up to our worst nightmares. One year of feeling helpless to our brothers and sisters in Armenia and Artsakh. All week, I, along with many, felt indescribable emotions. Even though Senior Seminar is a weekend filled with educational opportunities and quality time spent with fellow AYF members dedicated to our homeland, heading to Seminar just didn’t feel right this time. However, I made a commitment to attend, so I reluctantly packed every article of warm clothing I could fit into my carry-on and mentally prepared myself for the cold evenings and uncomfortable camp beds.
Saturday was filled with motivating lectures from incredible people in our community, including U. Alex Sarafian, U. George Aghjayan and U. Georgi-Ann Oshagan. We were also fortunate enough to have U. Yeghso Chouldjian attend Seminar. Most of us are lucky enough to have seen U. Yeghso speak at numerous events over our AYF careers, yet we can never get enough of the inspiration and encouragement she provides time and time again. She spoke on the lessons of Sardarabad, relating it to our experiences over the past year from the Artsakh War to today. U. Yeghso highlighted a few instrumental figures that led us to victory in 1918, and then encouraged us to think of our role in the new Sardarabad movement. It was a loaded question, and to be honest, after hearing the incredible work of our ungers from the past, presented from one of the hardest working ungerouhis, every role I thought of didn’t seem big or important enough for the existential threat our homeland faces. What can I do from Virginia that will result in meaningful and impactful change for the homeland? I sat throughout the lectures the rest of the day, emotional and frustrated that I couldn’t come up with a response for U. Yeghso.
As Saturday progressed, I started to feel not just inspired by the lecturers, but by my own AYF ungers. There are no words to describe the pride that I felt hearing the discussions and debates taking place after each educational. Nothing fuels me more than to see a fire burning in our ungers, to see the remarkable passion they have for the people of Armenia and Artsakh, and to see their love for the AYF. Throughout the weekend, I heard members say, “This is the best weekend ever. I can’t wait for next year.” Another said, “A year ago, I didn’t even know what AYF was. Now I can’t get enough and want to go to every event.” These statements remind me of how impactful our organization is with our various events and programs. Every seminar, Olympics or internship in Armenia only increases their dedication to our cause.
It was quickly apparent that every single person at Seminar was attending because we all believe in a free, independent and united Armenia, and that we’ll do whatever necessary to achieve this goal through short and long-term commitments we’ve each made to ourselves. While ungers were presenting what they believe to be their role in the Sardarabad movement, some spoke about gaining a strong educational background in university, potentially an internship or a job to gain additional experience, and taking what they learned and applying it to the homeland when they repatriate. Others made the promise to never let their flame for Armenia and Artsakh die, even when little hope remains.
I’ve been thinking about an answer to U. Yeghso’s question since Saturday, and I am still unsure what my role in the new Sardarabad movement will be going forward. As I age out of the AYF-YOARF in a few short months, answering that question becomes even more challenging. For most of my adult life, I’ve served on various AYF central committees and CE. I’ve always felt that this has given me a purpose—something bigger than myself to work for. However, I’ve realized my answer doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did, because every single unger is working together to achieve a common goal. One person does not bear the sole responsibility to strengthen our AYF chapters, lobby, fundraise and build towards a bright future for Armenia and Artsakh. As Yeghishe Charents eloquently wrote, «Ով հայ ժողովուրդ, քո միակ փրկութիւնը քո միասնական ուժի մէջ է» (“Oh Armenian people, your only salvation lies in the power of your unity”). Together, with my AYF ungers in the Eastern Region and around the world, we will continue our fight. Together, we can accomplish what we’ve set out to do – achieving a stronger future for Armenia and Artsakh.
What started as a weekend of sadness and reluctance, ended as a weekend of reflection and an opportunity to feel re-energized. There is no doubt in my mind that the future of the AYF-YOARF is bright, and standing side by side with my ungers makes those dark days a lot brighter.