This February marks my fifth year as an AYF member. I joined the AYF when I was 22 years old, which is much later than others. At first, the AYF didn’t mean much to me. I knew about it because of my mother’s stories during her time as an AYF member in the 90s. It wasn’t until I attended my first Junior Seminar in 2018 that I gained a full understanding of the AYF. I learned about its history, the meaning of its membership and the level of pride it instills in its members.
The AYF has since played a significant role in shaping my Armenian identity. The AYF means being an activist and fighting for what you believe is right. The AYF means meeting new friends and faces from across the region, some of whom are children of former members who know my mother from her time in the AYF. The AYF means being a proud Armenian and never turning down an opportunity to explain what being Armenian means. It gives me even more reason to sit down and elaborate on what is going on in Armenia and Artsakh right now. Being part of the AYF means encouraging Armenian youth to learn more about their culture.
I chose to be an AYF member because I wanted to be part of the bigger picture. Here in Florida, with such a small community of Armenians, I felt very limited in my resources as an Armenian. I joined the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) when I was 18, because at the time, Florida did not have an AYF chapter. In the ARS, I didn’t notice many younger members; at my first convention in 2016, I was the youngest member in attendance. So naturally, when the AYF South Florida “Arev” Chapter was reinstated in 2018, I joined for a bigger reason. Many of my peers joined for the seminars and the sporting events, which are all wonderful aspects of the AYF. But it’s not why I became an AYF member. Being part of the bigger picture means being involved locally, regionally and beyond. This means making a change, big or small, by encouraging and educating a younger member locally, participating as a regional council member, or even taking steps onto Armenian soil through internships. I am an AYF member because I believe in the mission of this organization, and I want to pass it down to future generations.
During my five years as an AYF member, I’ve learned that being Armenian is a beautiful part of my identity that no one can take away. Whether you’re half Armenian, can’t speak or read Armenian, don’t live in a community with many Armenians, you are still an amazing Armenian being. I am so proud to be Armenian. As an AYF member, I am thankful to have learned more about my culture and how I can make an impact on my homeland as a Diasporan.
There are two specific moments that will stay with me; both occurred at Junior Seminar. My first Junior Seminar was my first ever regional AYF event as a member; it was an eye-opening experience that inspired me to serve on the Junior Seminar Council (JSC) in 2020. Then in 2022, I recall sitting in the “Zartir Lao” lecture and writing a letter for the 2072 JSC time capsule on the back of a banner that was signed by every single AYF member in attendance. This was an emotional moment with all the tumultuous events happening in post-war Armenia at the time; I will also remember when our juniors sang the powerful “Zartir Lao” in unison.
As I’m entering my 27th year in life and my last full year as an AYF member, I hope I was able to make a small impression in AYF history. I hope to be an example for younger and future members. I hope to learn more and make more friends. I know I will forever be proud of being an AYF member. Happy 90th anniversary, AYF. I can’t wait to see what will be accomplished in the next 10 years at the 100th.