Channeling Grief into Service: The AYF serves as an avenue for nation building

The Armenian nation is no stranger to tragedy. Our history is littered with catastrophe and disaster, and 2020 was no different. One year after the Artsakh War, we struggle to contend with our new reality.

This fall, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) DC “Ani” Chapter has organized a two-part “Service to the Homeland Panel” the first held in-person on September 25th and a second virtual panel to be held on November 16, 2021 at 8:00pm EST. The virtual panel will coincide with a fundraiser to support the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Bureau Office of Youth Affairs “Tebi Syunik” initiative.

The September program was moderated by AYF DC “Ani” chair Kristine Antanesian and included presentations from five AYF members. Each spoke about their experiences serving Armenia this past summer; several participated in the AYF Eastern Region Summer Internship Program.

Our nation lives in a fractured whole: spyurk and deghatsis and those who live on our historical lands. We’ve always felt this split. But for the first time for my generation, we were forced to grapple with just what that means.

I watched this war from across the world. You lived in it. I fell asleep, agonizing over the horrors of the war. You stayed awake, in agony from the horrors of the war. I woke up, heart racing, not wanting to read of new casualties. Heart still, you did not awaken. You were the casualty I read. Մենք հոս, դուք հոն.

We grew up learning about our fedayees and their sacrifices for the strength of our homeland. We grew up singing revolutionary songs of devotion, memorizing lyrics like “Ես ալ հայ եմ պարտաճանաչ, (I am Armenian with responsibilities)/Ազգիս համար մեռնիմ ես քաջ: (Let me die bravely for my people).

We struggled to reconcile the brave call to arms taken up by our fedayees during those times of need, with the reality today. When our homeland needs us, but we aren’t there – that’s diasporan cognitive dissonance. For many, this ultimately manifested itself through a black cloud of hopelessness that continues to hang in the air, one year later.

But hopelessness is lazy. It is an act of treason against oneself and even worse, an abandonment of our nation. The “Service to Our Homeland Panel” presented by the AYF DC “Ani” Chapter demonstrated the many ways each of us can meaningfully support our homeland, forcing that black cloud of hopelessness to evaporate.

AYF DC “Ani” chair Kristine Antanesian introduces panel event and speakers: Nareg Kuyumjian (back wall), Hovhannes Duran, Lorie Simonian, Sune Hamparian and Ani Mard

AYF DC “Ani” member Nareg Kuyumjian, the first panelist, served as the interim AYF Internship Director this past summer. He was also an election monitor during the snap parliamentary elections. “Every Armenian has a contribution to make in their own unique way,” emphasized Kuyumjian, “And you’ll see how the AYF channeled those contributions for our nation.”

AYF Internship participant Hovhannes “Hovo” Duran was initially placed at a venture capital firm in Yerevan, but ultimately split his time with the Armenian Hero Project. “I sought something that was more fulfilling, something that would really help heal what happened during the war, and the void that I felt. And what I needed to do, and what I needed to fix in my heart,” explained Duran. “I came to Armenia in 2019, and the entire time there, I felt outside. I didn’t engage in the culture in a way that was meaningful and impactful. That’s why it hurt so much. And I am confident to say, the AYF solved that,” he reflected.

AYF Internship participant Lorie Simonian from the AYF Providence “Varantian” Chapter expressed a similar sentiment. Simonian helped women develop independent income at the Women’s Resource Center and promoted library literacy at the National Library of Armenia. “It is vital that we continue to create opportunities for people to be able to go to Armenia because it takes it from something that exists in concept and in culture, and turns it into an incredibly vivid, colorful reality. There is a place for our work to be done. There is something for you to do,” Simonian determined.

The youngest panelist, Sune Hamparian from the DC “Sevan” juniors chapter, is not yet old enough to participate in the AYF Internship. Instead, the 15-year-old talked about spending two months in her family’s village in Artsvanik and helping rebuild schools and organizing summer camps in David Bek. “Help needs to be both material and moral,” Hamparian learned. She shared how students could see an Azeri flag and a military post with a sniper pointed at them from their classrooms in David Bek. 

Finally, Ani Mard, a second-year law student, described her time working at the Armenian Legal Center and International Law Center through the AYF Internship. She documented the abuse and war crimes faced by Armenian soldiers and POWs and compiled her findings into a report. She credited the AYF Internship and its motto “connecting you to our homeland,” (which she described as a “vast understatement”) with her deepening ties and understanding of Armenia.

“Every Armenian has a role to play and a way to contribute to the homeland. Find it, explore your options and do as much as you can. Because right now, with internal and external forces against us as a nation, Armenia needs us more than ever,” Mard affirmed.

ARF Bureau member Aram Kaloustian was also in attendance. He concluded with remarks about the importance of nation building. “This presentation today does not look like a presentation given by those who are in a defeated state. It is the exact opposite,” he said.

Aram Kaloustian of the ARF Bureau addresses DC community in closing remarks.

This panel of five bright, young Armenians vividly illustrated the theme of the night: that every Armenian has a place to utilize their skills and strengths to further the cause of our homeland. We all have work to do.

The November 16 virtual panel, which will be broadcast on Facebook Live on the AYF DC “Ani” page, will offer more insights and opportunities for community dialogue and support for the Tebi Syunik initiative. This virtual event will support fellow youth in Syunik and remind them that they are not forgotten, that we will continue to serve for the betterment of our homeland and that together we are the resistance against its deterioration.

tragedy cannot paralyze us into apathy.

There is no way to match the selflessness of our martyrs. There is plenty of guilt, anger, disillusionment, loathing and grief. But tragedy cannot paralyze us into apathy.

If an entire generation of young Armenian lives was sacrificed in this last war and if the strength of a nation is determined by its youth, then it is our generation’s duty to make sure those lives were not lost in vain.

Areni Margossian

Areni Margossian

Areni Margossian is a proud member of the AYF-YOARF Greater Washington DC "Ani" Chapter. She currently lives in Washington, DC where she works as a program officer at the American Bar Association, Rule of Law Initiative.

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