BETHESDA, MD — A capacity crowd of Armenian Youth Federation – Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) members, alumni and supporters celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Washington, DC “Ani” senior chapter and the 50th anniversary of the “Sevan” junior chapter, joining together for an evening of power and purpose.
“Eighty years ago, on February 20, 1942, some 20 DC area Armenian youth came together at 9:00 in the evening, under the watchful leadership of ARF Sebouh Gomideh chair U. Arshavir Shavarshooni and ARF regional representative U. Roupen Gavoor, reviewed the aims of the organization Gen. Karekin Njdeh had founded, filled in their applications, paid their 25 cents dues, and took their oath to serve their homeland and community,” opened AYF DC “Ani” chapter treasurer Nayiri Shahnazarian, who served as the mistress of ceremonies for the event at Soorp Khatch Armenian Church Arabian Hall on Saturday. “Those ungers and ungerouhis set the stage for 80 years of camaraderie for a sacred cause – organizing around what would become the five pillars of AYF youth activism – educational, athletic, Hai Tahd, social and cultural.”
Shahnazarian then led attendees down AYF Washington, DC memory lane by first inviting chapter alumni and AYF Olympics Kings Oscar Asadour Caroglanian and Hratch Najarian to share their experiences.
Caroglanian offered snapshots of the early days of the chapter when meetings were held in family homes, and members traveled to neighboring chapters for basketball and bowling tournaments. “Upon my return [from serving in the US Army] in 1954, the Olympics were held in Washington, DC,” explained Caroglanian. “This is when I became active again and was later elected as a delegate to the 1956 convention in Springfield, MA. My life took an amazing turn when I met my future wife at the dance that weekend. Eleanor Seda (Der Parseghian) Caroglanian, a Tseghagron and member of the AYF Watertown “Gaydzag” chapter, and I have been married for 65 years. Thanks to that AYF Convention, we formed a family, and our children Michael and Lisa also went on to join the ranks of the AYF.”
Najarian, who is finishing up his sixth year on the Camp Haiastan Board of Directors and is a four-time co-chair of AYF Washington, DC Olympics (including the upcoming 2023 event), also reminisced. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he said. “The Washington, DC chapter has always been one of the pillars of the AYF and continues to be so today. We have to make a concerted effort to stay connected to our roots and to our heritage. And the AYF is one of the avenues in achieving that goal. A place to plant roots and build lifelong relationships that connect our children’s hearts and minds to our Armenian heritage.”
Galy Jackmakjian, secretary of the AYF DC “Ani” chapter and chair of the AYF Eastern Region Central Language Council, was invited to shed light on her experiences in Artsakh as part of the 2022 AYF Western US Internship in Artsakh program. Jackmakjian interned at the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) “Sose” Kindergarten and the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Artsakh office. She also worked with Homenetmen Artsakh. “There is nothing more fulfilling than working for a cause that has no ‘I,’ no ‘we,’ and no face – only a mission to raise Armenians with pride, with knowledge, and with faith in a free, independent and united Armenia,” she said.
Meghri Aguilian is a proud AYF DC “Sevan” junior, a member of the Washington, DC Homenetmen scouts and a graduate of Hamasdegh Armenian School. She bravely took the stage to talk about her story and appreciation for the AYF. Aguilian expressed her challenges growing up as an Armenian in America. She reflected on tough times in school, stating, “I didn’t feel comfortable in my Armenian identity at school. I dreaded attendance because I knew that the teachers would mispronounce my name and my classmates would make fun of me for it,” she shared, acknowledging the impact of these experiences on her self-esteem. “It’s so important, and I cannot emphasize this enough, for our youth to be educated not only of our past, but of the present and the future for Armenia,” explained Aguilian. “The more meetings I attended, the more connected I felt to my Armenian identity, and the more proud I became. I spent meetings talking with my friends, talking about the future for our country, how I can help, and it’s truly had the most positive impact on my life…I love being part of the AYF.” Aguilian’s passion radiated through the room that evening, leaving the audience with a sense of relief in the following generation full of Meghris.
Ani Mard is one of three advisors to the AYF “Sevan” juniors and chair of the AYF Eastern US Central Hai Tahd Council. This past summer, she was a counselor at ARS Camp Javakhk in Daragyugh in the region of Tsalka. Mard discussed the three different aspects: the itinerary of the camp and its ever-so-excited campers; Daragyugh’s landscape; and the everlasting bonds she created with counselors and campers. Mard reminded the audience of Javakhk’s inclusion in the ARF Manifesto and stated, “The AYF-ER is the only region that actively supports the ARS Camp Javakhk Program – bringing youth together to connect with the Armenian community of Javakhk, who share our love for our nation and cause.” She encouraged the youth to go to Javakhk. “You will leave Javakhk with a new family, a new home and a newfound love for the Hairenik,” she concluded.
The program moved on to highlight Armenia’s Syunik region – the home of AYF founder Karekin Njdeh. AYF DC “Sevan” Junior chair Sune Hamparian focused on the village of Artsvanik, where her family has ancestral roots and where they spend their summers in service to the homeland. Hamparian reminisced about her summer with children in Artsvanik and the DC junior chapter’s personal connection with the children of Kapan, developed through a Zoom call with the AYF junior chapter there. Hamparian put into words the feelings that this meeting sparked in all of the AYF members who were present, stating:
“Oceans apart, we saw we had the same hopes.
Oceans apart, we learned we share the same devotion to our homeland.
We discovered, that we were just like them.
Many flames, one fire.
Many members – many ungers, one spirit.”
AYF-ER Central Executive vice-chair and ANCA-ER Board member Aram Balian, for his part, discussed his recent trip to Armenia and Artsakh with the AYF Internship in Armenia. Balian also highlighted the successes of the AYF-ER’s “Together for Artsakh” program, which has raised $54,000 for AYF of Artsakh projects – $10,000 through the efforts of the Washington, DC AYF. The renovation of a community center and camps in the region of Martakert were among the dozens of programs already completed. “We have as members, supporters and alumni of the AYF, and in our ceaseless struggle, our ceaseless love, our ceaseless existence, shown what it means to be Armenian, what it means to be part of this tiny tribe of people who, horror after horror, injustice after injustice, refuse to surrender,” said Balian in an emotional speech. “We refuse to surrender because our justice has not been achieved. Together we will continue our march to justice until the historic and timeless rights of our nation are fully secured, until we see a free, independent and united Hayastan. For together we will struggle until victory, and together we will be the best hope for our future. Together we are strong and united, we will prevail. Together…for Artsakh.”
The AYF was honored to have the participation of Armenian Bar Association members at the milestone celebration, who were in Washington, DC for their annual meeting. Chairwoman Lucy Varpetian shared the aims and successes of the organization and saluted the DC AYF chapter’s commitment to the Armenian homeland. Armenian Bar Association members made a generous donation to the chapter to support its ongoing educational and cultural priorities.
The evening had a robust cultural program, including the recitation of Yeghishe Charents’ “Yes Im Anush Hayastani” by Hamparian, Sebouh Kassardjian, Karine Najarian and Maria Stepanyan, all DC AYF “Sevan” executive members.
AYF DC “Ani” chapter novice members Lilia and Alexandra Yaralian, two talented vocalists and kanunists, made their Washington, DC debut, playing various selections by Komitas, Khatchatur Avetisyan and Sayat Nova. The Yaralians both received degrees in ethnomusicology from UCLA and are now attending graduate school at the University of Maryland – College Park.
AYF DC “Ani” chapter member Lorie Simonian, who grew up in the Providence “Varantian” chapter, sang the US, Armenia and Artsakh anthems. Rev. Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church graciously blessed attendees and a dinner catered by Nora’s Kabob.
“Together we went to Artsakh, Javakhk, Syunik and Artsakh again and learned about the incredible work our AYF youth are doing in our homeland and right here in Washington, DC. The return to Artsakh was most fitting – because our brothers and sisters are in greater peril than ever during the Republic’s 30 years of independence. With 70 percent of Artsakh in enemy hands and officials in Yerevan all too willing to negotiate away Artsakh’s right to self-determination, the AYF-YOARF will continue to stand up for Artsakh freedom and Armenia security above all else as the foundation for our struggle for justice and an Armenian homeland – free, independent and united,” concluded Shahnazarian.