The Washington, DC Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) “Ani” senior and “Sevan” junior chapters worked together this past weekend to host the Mid-Atlantic chapters at Armenian Cultural and Educational weekend, commonly known as ACE in the AYF community. ACE is a regional junior event that is focused on Armenian culture and education. One of the goals that the AYF upholds is the fight against assimilation here in the diaspora; this is where initiatives like ACE weekend play a vital role. This event is an opportunity for young Armenian-Americans to make lasting memories while immersing themselves in our rich Armenian culture. On Saturday morning, Washington welcomed juniors to the Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church Arabian Hall for a busy day of lectures, activities and games.
In preparation for this event, members of the “Ani” senior chapter and “Sevan” junior executives along with advisor Ani Mard created an agenda that was both fun and educational. After almost two years without in-person regional events, ACE was designed to serve as an educational opportunity and a chance for juniors to create new bonds and strengthen old ones.
As soon as everyone arrived, introductions were exchanged, and the day began by splitting everyone into red, blue, and orange teams that would compete throughout the day for points. This method is used at AYF programs like AYF Camp Haiastan and Camp Javakhk to encourage working together in small groups, to foster competitive excitement, to keep the event fresh and the kids energized. The agenda then took its course, commencing with a fascinating lecture on Armenian folk music given by local parent, musician and AYF alumnus Raffi Bandazian. He talked about Komitas and Sayat Nova, shared traditional hymns and allowed juniors to try their hand at playing Armenian traditional instruments, including the dhol.
Each color team was assigned to one of three stations: ghapama, Armenian dance and the “Tebi Syunik” letter writing project. The kitchen was led by Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Eastern Region Board member Irma Kassabian, who taught juniors not only about how to make ghapama, but the story behind it. AYF juniors cleaned out and stuffed mini pumpkins as they listened to Harout Pamboukjian’s famous song.
In the main hall, Maria Stepanyan, vice-chair of the “Sevan” juniors, demonstrated the papuri— an ancient Armenian dance with origins in Moush, Daron, Sassun, Van and Alashkert.
Downstairs from the commotion of cooking and dancing, juniors gathered around to hear Mard explain the history, importance and current situation in Armenia’s southern Syunik region. The objective of this station was to write letters addressed to the 50 or so juniors in the newly-formed AYF Syunik chapter. It is imperative to remind Diasporan Armenian youth of their responsibility to the homeland and make certain that they understand how their actions and voices have the power to make a difference even from afar. AYF “Ani” seniors provided guidance in this process, encouraging juniors to write messages of hope, strength and security for their fellow AYF members in Syunik, many of whom go to school yards away from Azerbaijani sniper rifles.
Between every rotation, the red, blue and orange teams competed in games to score points. Charades, riddles and a game of steal the bacon pumped everyone up and maintained their attention and engagement throughout the event.
The final educational activities of the day were led by Lena Demirjian, a member of the ARS Washington, DC “Satenig” Chapter and longtime teacher at the Hamasdegh Armenian School. Demirjian shared stories of the traditional celebration hambartsoom and invited everyone to participate in the reading of veejags (fortunes). Laughter rang through the hall as each veejag was read, foreseeing the futures that lay ahead. Demirjian also explained the different components of khatchkars and their importance to Armenian culture. Each cross stone represents the Armenian nation’s commitment to Christianity; the eternity symbol represents Armenian identity. The juniors then practiced making their own eternity symbols on circular foam cutouts.
The remaining hours of the night were spent enjoying the fruits of the day’s labor and celebrating Halloween. The juniors ate their ghapama and united, shoulder-to-shoulder, to proudly dance the papuri. The teams then competed in donut eating, mummy wrapping and a costume contest runway. Everyone enjoyed making chocolate pudding-dirt cups, hot chocolate and caramel apples. The sugar rush eventually subsided as everyone snoozed in their sleeping bags, locked in the agoump for the night, tired from one of the best AYF weekends in a long time.
Every junior event should be crafted with time and care to guarantee that each attendee leaves feeling a sense of love, pride and commitment toward the AYF and the Armenian nation. Even brief interactions with these young Armenians can make an impact on them that will shape their careers in the AYF. The 2021 Mid-Atlantic ACE weekend was a heartfelt and much-needed gathering that served as a reminder to always cherish culture and support the homeland. The future is bright for the AYF-Eastern Region juniors.