A Homecoming for the Ages

AYF Olympics 2022 Opening Ceremonies (Photo: Arev Kaligian)

The AYF Olympics has come and gone. It was a great pleasure to have been in Worcester, finally. I guess the third year is the charm. For certain, Worcester and its surrounding communities were enthused to have hosted this exciting weekend.  

Things were well organized, the venues were great and the DCU Convention Center for the dances was convenient and spacious enough. The buses were available and for the most part convenient. The food at the Alumni Dance, the softball tournament and the Sunday games was plentiful and delicious. There were a record number of athletes registered to participate and there were a record number of Hye Passes sold.

Who were the first people we saw at the Olympics? One of my favorite AYF couples, the newlyweds Nareg and Kenar Mkrtschjan. 

Nareg and Kenar in Milwaukee, 2017

Back in 2017 in Milwaukee, I took a photo of Nareg and Kenar. They were not actually dating then. I loved that photo and thought, what a lovely couple. It’s one of their favorites too. They wanted another one together, which I captured at this year’s softball tournament. Meeting, falling in love and starting a family togetherit doesn’t get any more AYF Olympics than that.

Nareg and Kenar in Worcester, 2022

I also reconnected with Rosemary Alashaian. What a treat to see these wonderful people upon arriving in Worcester.  

Rosemary Alashaian and Judy Gavoor

On Thursday afternoon, Carol Jaffarian related a perfect AYF story. It was included in my daily online article, but it is worth including here again. One year in her AYF days, the AYF Convention was going to be held in Boston. Larry Ovian encouraged her to be a delegate with him representing Worcester. She told Larry, “Oh I don’t know.  I have no one to stay with.” Larry responded, “Don’t worry about it. You will meet someone to room with, and you will become lifelong friends.” Well, that is exactly what happened. Carol met Denise Lansing from Racine, and they became lifelong friends. Denise was not at the Olympics but did read the article and commented online about her friends, the Jaffarian sisters.

It was awesome to see technology take a leap forward at these Olympics. Hrag Arakelian was streaming live from the games and dances. The Armenian Weekly brought their brand new, top-notch, video camera to the games and dances. It will be interesting to see how they make a highlight video of the weekend.

It was good to see Gil Markarian, MaryAnne Bonjuklian, Rich Sarajian, Michael Najarian and Dottie Esperian.  

The only negative might (and I emphasize might) be that we were spread over a few hotels. We missed the activity and excitement of an always crowded lobby, running into people at all hours of the day and night and stopping to chat with them. There was, however, a silver lining to this. No one had to wait 20 minutes for an elevator the entire weekend!

Speaking of hotels, I recall we all stayed in one hotel in Worcester for the 1974 Olympics. I asked the ladies at the Welcoming Desk what that hotel was and why we weren’t using it as the headquarters again. Christine Arvanigian told me, “Oh, that was the Holiday Inn. It was turned into condos years ago.” Well, that explains it.

There was a beautiful tribute ad in the Ad Book to Mitchell Shoushanian who passed away in January of this year. Mitch was a Detroit born and bred AYF alum. He attended almost every Olympics, and as the ad noted, “You could always find him up close to the stage listening to the music of his favorite musicians.” He had a group of friends that always gathered and had a tradition of having a kheyma party with them on Sunday nights. Mitch would have been pleased that Hachig Kazarian was on the stage Sunday evening.

It was a pleasure to see Armenian Weekly editor Pauline Getzoyan and assistant editor Leeza Arakelian. I hadn’t seen Pauline for years, and it was my first time meeting Leeza. They are an unbelievable team and a pleasure to work with. Our intrepid crew of Olympics reporters all agree this is the best editorial team we have worked with at the Weekly, and we have worked with some good ones.

While I saw her all weekend long, I didn’t interview Heather Apigian Krafian. But, I did read her Facebook post on Labor Day. She stated what we all think. “We have all been blessed by the AYF. Let’s remember to always return the favor to what we have received from this noble organization; support, donate and volunteer. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else this Labor Day weekend than with my family and being with my AYF village.”

Weekly columnist Stepan Piligian wrote a beautiful article about the “soul of this iconic gathering” on September 7. “AYF Olympics weekend is one of those rare experiences that brings everyone to their past, present and future,” he wrote. We all know how special the AYF and the AYF Olympics have been and will continue to be in defining our Armenian identity.

There are two ads I always look for beyond the submissions from my own family. I love the ad in memory of Mal Varadian with his quote, “Make it better than it was” and the one from Harry Derderian and Armen Harootian in memory of Tom Vartabedian with the words, “Never to be forgotten, the Eternal Olympic Spirit.” The intrepid crew that works on the AYF Olympics Special Issue lives by Mal’s tenet and certainly channels the Eternal Olympic Spirit in our work. Mal and Tom are cornerstones of the enduring legacy of the AYF Olympics.

Another case in point is Brockton’s greatest cheerleader and advocate John Merian. I’m not sure when we met, but I know it was at an Olympics. Our friendship has grown in the last 10 years. It’s always great to see John. We talk like we see each other all the time. John loves the AYF and being Armenian. He wishes the AYF Brockton Chapter were still active and viable and made sure I was aware that the first AYF Olympics was in Brockton and that Worcester was the first winner. He was so happy, as was all of Worcester, to see local friends and relatives being honored on Friday night. John truly embodies the AYF spirit. He closed his Facebook post on Labor Day with, “And now it’s time to say our goodbyes until next year. It’s a sad but happy feeling that only those attending will know.”

A snippet of Angel’s 1962 article in the Weekly

John’s maternal aunt was Angel Perethian, who wrote a column after every Olympics. I searched for her name in the online Hairenik Archives and found an article in the September 29, 1962 Hairenik WeeklyAngel Perethian Writes Impressions of Olympics. This must have been before her articles were called “Angel Over the Olympics.” The article took up three-quarters of a page, and she must have named 200 people. Tom Vartabedian always said that Angel’s article would be the first article most people read in the Olympic issue. No wonder, people wanted to see if they were featured. 

I keep referring to the intrepid crew that works on the Armenian Weekly’s AYF Olympics Special Issue. Who are they? We have writers including Harry Derderian, Bob Tutunjian who doubles as Olympic historian and statistician, Andre Khachaturian, Leeza Arakelian and myself. This year, we have more photographers than ever before. Sona Gevorkian is a longtime photographer like me. Last year, she brought on Arevig Kaligian, who helped us out again this year. Tamar Kanarian is usually with us, but she was in Germany with the delegation of the Armenian Church, Holy See of Cilicia, at the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly. How cool was that! Her father Rich volunteered to take her place. As we were in Worcester, we also had Ken Martin taking photos. While videotaping a busy concessions crew on Saturday, Leeza met New Jersey “Arsen” member Aren Shnorhokian, who contributed his photographs from the weekend as well. Welcome Rich, Arevig, Ken and Aren. We used to say it took five of us to do what Tom Vartabedian used to do all by himself. Well, this year it took a team of 10. It is a true labor of love and an awesome group of people to work with.

As I write this, we are all putting the finishing touches on our articles and photos. We do this with very heavy hearts as we follow the news coming out of Armenia and Azeri aggression. We may write about the AYF spirit or the Olympic spirit, but these are part of the greater Armenian spirit and our love for our nation and people. This is what binds us together. Getseh Hayastan. These words never meant more than they do right now.

Mark Gavoor
Mark Gavoor is Associate Professor of Operations Management in the School of Business and Nonprofit Management at North Park University in Chicago. He is an avid blogger and oud player.

1 Comment

  1. Brill, cuz, as expected! Love all the non-athletic anecdotes. Will hopefully be by your side next year in DC. DAG

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