The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) is a phenomenal, one-of-a-kind operation. Our youth-run, difficult-to-explain organization is the product of decades of activity fueled by the power of embracing Armenian identity. The AYF’s countless initiatives, events and programs reflect the impressive commitment and capabilities of its members. This certainly rings true when considering one of the most unique and impactful opportunities offered by our organization—the AYF Summer Internship Program. The premise: a summer entirely spent in the homeland, immersing oneself within the local culture and exploring the landscape while simultaneously gaining real-world field experience. The nature of the program creates endless possibilities for life-changing personal growth. When you are an AYF intern, you have everything to gain! And for three straight decades, young Armenians have taken advantage of this opportunity and traveled to Armenia, where they have discovered the many benefits of serving in the homeland.
In celebrating the program’s 30th anniversary, the 2022 Central Internship Council reached out to former interns across the decades to record and honor the stories of those who created the legacy of the AYF Internship. As I carried out some of these conversations with participants from the earliest internship years, I was blown away by some of the touching anecdotes they recounted despite the years spanning between their experiences and our conversations. I loved the variety of stories told.
Alex Sarafian, who served as AYF Internship director from 1994 to 1996, told me about a middle-of-the-night bus breakdown beneath an unforgettable starlit sky. Sona Gevorkian, one of the first AYF interns in 1992, is delighted that her daughter Tsoline will be participating this summer. She shared the memory of being invited to the US Embassy’s Fourth of July party. Ani Tchaghlasian (1992) recounted purchasing spare food off of “seghaniks,” tables set out by residents of Yerevan on which they sold everything from lightbulbs to boxes of pasta. Tchaghlasian also spoke of meeting the man who would later become her husband during her summer as an intern (one of many internship romances that ended with a wedding!). Nayiri Karapetian (1998) laughed as she recounted the story of her entire apartment of girls left stranded with shampoo in their hair, after the water was shut off without warning.
Throughout each of these conversations, one thing was clear: the AYF Internship program has been a vital facet of our organization’s work towards Hai Tahd since its inception. The avenue it creates for connecting our youth to their nation is crucial, as time spent in Armenia naturally encourages one’s passion for serving and strengthening the homeland. Many former interns considered this summer internship to be the catalyst to a lifelong relationship with living and working in Armenia. Sarafian said, “My time spent directing Internship really taught me what’s what, how people are, the good, the bad and the ugly of life in Hayastan, which really prepared me to do things later on like invest in Hayastan. I knew how things worked.” Each internship alumnus mentioned that they have maintained relationships they formed with locals during their summers in Armenia. Karapetian says there are vendors in Vernissage who still recognize her from her time as an intern in 1998. The bonds created by interns truly last a lifetime and are made possible through the long-term residency of the AYF Internship Program.
AYF Internship also provides an opportunity for Diasporan Armenians who feel disconnected from their nation to explore it in new and unexpected ways. This program does not require applicants to have prior experiences visiting Armenia, nor are participants required to possess language skills. As a participant who did not speak Armenian, Harry Kojoian (1994) confessed that the prospect of the internship seemed like a nerve-wracking and overwhelming challenge. But it ultimately turned out to be one of the best summers of his life. “The excursions gave me insight to so many places in Armenia I didn’t know existed,” said Kojoian. Traveling to different regions and landmarks of Armenia throughout the summer gives interns a chance to truly become familiarized with their nation in a holistic way.
Kojoian also mentioned that the most rewarding part of his experience was helping to rebuild a school in Shushi. In fact, many of the conversations I had with former interns ultimately led to the same sentiment: the priceless value of time spent in Artsakh, serving local communities. Mimi Aintablian, an intern in 1998, recalled, “There are just so many memories. Everything was amazing. One thing we were so lucky to do was spend a week in Artsakh.” In 1998, the AYF internship class spent a week sleeping on the floor of a school in Karindag, Artsakh, which they helped to reconstruct following the first Artsakh war. Karapetian recalled her interactions with soldiers living in Karindag (now under Azeri control), and how they loved to play UNO with the interns, who left behind their pack of cards once they left the region.
Face-to-face interaction with our brothers and sisters living in Armenia and Artsakh, as well as hands-on opportunities to aid in community building lie at the heart of the AYF Internship’s core values. For this reason, this year’s Central Internship Council has chosen to celebrate its 30th Anniversary by partnering with the AYF Central Executive’s “Together for Artsakh” initiative. We have set a fundraising goal of $3,000, which will go towards aiding local community service projects while 2022 AYF Interns spend a week in Artsakh. Now more than ever, we consider it crucial to get AYF members on the ground in Artsakh, observing its beauty, physically aiding in reconstructive efforts and emphasizing the message that the AYF stands with and cares for its people. If you are interested in helping us reach these goals, we hope that you will consider supporting this program.
The Central Internship Council is ecstatic to have another unforgettable internship summer getting underway in just a week’s time. We are confident that this year’s class of AYF interns will make new and exciting contributions to the 30-year legacy of this wonderful program. To keep up with the activities of our interns this summer, you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram.