As the returning chair of the AYF-YOARF Central Senior Seminar Council (CSSC), I believe there is no better way to attend an AYF event than as an organizer. This past weekend, we united 60 members from 14 AYF chapters across the Midwest, New England, Mid-Atlantic and Western Region at AYF-YOARF Camp Haiastan in Franklin, MA for the annual Eastern Region Senior Seminar.
The council consisted of the following AYF members: George Donoyan (Providence “Varantian”), Antranig Douglas (Middlesex County West “Musa Ler”), Niree Kaprielian (New Jersey “Arsen”), Mourad Tossounian (Detroit “Kopernik Tandourjian”) and myself (Racine “Armen Garo”). The theme of this year’s Senior Seminar was Zartir Zinvor–Զարթի՛ր Զինուոր–Awaken, Soldier. We believe that all AYF members are soldiers in the fight for a free, united and independent Armenia. This year’s theme offered a fresh approach on the idea of what it means to be a “soldier” and emphasized that all AYF members, regardless of age, location or occupation, collectively share responsibility in the fight. While honoring the sacrifice of our historic freedom fighters and those defending Armenian lands today, this seminar incorporated the symbolism of the quill and the shovel in addition to the sword. My personal mission this weekend was to coordinate a program in an environment that would inspire and mobilize all attendees into taking action for Armenia through a selfless approach to their lifestyles, activism and careers.
Our first lecturer, Dzovinar Hatzakordzian of the Armenian National Committee of Michigan, discussed her life of service to the Armenian Cause. Born in Lebanon, Hatzakordzian recounted the chapters of her life leading to her present occupation as a teacher at AGBU Manoogian School. Hatzakordzian is results-oriented, and she described this as prompting her decision to join the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in the United States. She spoke passionately about her work lobbying for Armenian issues in state government, which ramped up significantly during the pandemic out of necessity due to the 2020 Artsakh War.
For the second lecture, attendees were warmly greeted by Armenian Weekly editor Pauline Getzoyan, who provided behind-the-scenes insight into the journalism practices of the press organ, including examples of how her four-person team receives and reports on stories from primary sources. Many AYF members expressed frustration with neutral coverage on the attacks in Armenia from major media outlets. In response, Getzoyan emphasized the downfalls of sensationalism in media and encouraged fact-checking when creating, consuming and sharing news. She left the audience with the question of how they would personally consider contributing to the Weekly and encouraged submissions.
Some light rain did not stop AYF members from carrying out their next activity: a dance workshop with Alex Avaneszadeh of the LA-based Lernazang ensemble, which specializes in decolonizing Armenian traditions. Avanaszadeh was invited to teach dances in the azgagrakan idiom, which differs from dance forms performed on-stage. AYF members all joined pinkies to learn the pampouri and shatakhi razmapar under the pavilion, which could barely contain the line of 60 dancers moving rhythmically to the sounds of zurna.
After lunch, our attention was directed to Ani Tchaghlasian for her lecture on international human rights law. Tchaghlasian, a member of the ARF Eastern Region Central Committee, works closely with the team at the Armenian Legal Center. She gave an overview of the capabilities and limitations of human rights law, outlined the process of making cases for justice for Armenian POWs and their families and gave updates on the progress being made toward holding Azerbaijani offenders accountable for war crimes.
Dr. Kim Hekimian rounded out the day of lectures with a professional call-to-action. Dr. Hekimian began with a digital survey asking attendees what barriers they feel prevent them from pursuing professional options in Armenia, which generated a word cloud of the most popular responses. She went on to debunk these barriers and discuss her AYF/ARF background and experience as a public health professional. She also offered advice for charting career paths in Armenia.
The council moderated a final culminating panel with Getzoyan, Dr. Hekimian and Tchaghlasian. Their intellect and personalities shined as they responded to questions and covered topics from the most effective projects and initiatives, how to get involved in helping Armenia, what mistakes previous generations have made and what can be learned.
The moderator acknowledged that the panel sitting before us comprised the first fully-female lecture panel the AYF has seen at a seminar, which was met with a round of applause and discussion of how gender has impacted their experiences as professionals in their fields and members of the Armenian community. Attendees commented their support for the representation, especially given that two-thirds of attendees were female, and emphasized the need for continued discussions on individual identities and how they play a role in our organizations.
Having spent the first half of the year thoughtfully planning each detail of the weekend, I felt affirmed seeing the attendees enjoying time well-spent together and ultimately understanding the theme, which was so wonderfully articulated by our brilliant lecturers. The topics not only displayed a range of battles being fought for our cause, but were presented in a way which asked members to engage with and apply them.
If there’s anything I have learned from serving on the council, it is that meaningful weekends like this don’t just happen. They are built by a hardworking and creative team from intentional choices and hours of volunteer work. At times, it can be easy to get sleepy and lose sight of our goals. I need only remind myself of the unknowable impact we have when we empower our youth to feel awakened once more.