LIGONIER, Penn. – Over Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) members gathered for the 51st annual Junior Seminar. Members from around the region met at Ligonier Camp and Conference Center, a new venue with a larger capacity, paving the way for one of the largest Junior Seminars in history with 277 juniors and 116 seniors in attendance. Through a grant awarded by the Armenian Youth Foundation, 59 first-time attendees were sponsored and were able to attend at no cost.
This year’s theme was “Ճամբայ Բացէ’ք” or “Open the Way.” The theme’s meaning was two-fold, as it is famously recited in the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) anthem “Mshag Panvor” while also being relevant in the context of the ongoing blockade imposed on Artsakh. The weekend’s lectures focused on historical and present-day instances of the AYF and ARF taking action to attain and maintain our identity and homeland.
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On Friday evening, members arrived and settled into their cabins, meeting their cabinmates and counselors from different chapters. In the evening, chapters showed off where they’re from in a science fair-like format where local traditions and unique anecdotes were exchanged. AYF members then danced the night away to traditional Armenian music.
On Saturday morning, Juniors woke up for breakfast and headed to the flagpoles for the first flag raising of the weekend. During their opening remarks, members of the Junior Seminar Council (JSC) thanked everyone for attending and explained the importance and significance of this year’s theme. The first of eight lecture slots began Saturday morning, as cabins separated into lecture groups and headed to their respective locations.
This year’s nine topics and lecturers were:
- ANCA Advocacy – Sosy Bouroujian
- ARF Fedayis – Zohrab Khaligian
- ARF Ideology – Sebouh Hamakorzian
- Armenian Music – Nareh Mkrtschjan
- AYF Around the World – Diko Khodanian
- AYF Review Decade by Decade – Aram Kaloustian
- Fighting Assimilation – Sipan Ohannesian
- Operation Nemesis – Yeghisapet Chouldjian
- Tebi Yergir – Garin Bedian
Over the weekend, 17-year-old AYF Seniors participated in the Leaders in Training (LIT) program with their own lectures and meetings. They also worked with Senior counselors and shadowed them in the cabins. This program helps to prepare AYF members for their future responsibilities as a counselor and other leadership roles and opportunities. Part of the LIT schedule included activities and discussions on communication, professionalism and leadership. The LIT program was run by former Central Executive members and alumni Kenar Charchaflian of the Worcester “Aram” Chapter and Nairi Khachatourian of the Greater Boston “Nejdeh” chapter.
“The LIT program helped teach us how to combine our passions for the Armenian cause and the AYF with leadership skills that are applicable in every part of life,” said Hovsep Seferian, an LIT from the Washington DC “Ani” Chapter. “In that way, we became more well-rounded leaders, Armenians and people as a whole.”
As was done in years past, the ARF Central Committee held their monthly meeting again at Junior Seminar this year. The Central Committee members were impressed with the topics and focus of the seminar, as well as the enthusiasm of the AYF Juniors. On Saturday night, the Central Committee had the opportunity to speak with the Senior counselors and LITs, touching upon the current situation in Armenia and Artsakh.
Arshak Mesrobian from the ARF Bureau Office of Youth Affairs (BOYA) was an honorable guest, who joined the ARF CC in their panel discussion with Senior members and LITs. He spoke about the state of the ARF youth organizations around the world and emphasized the importance of every Senior’s participation and effort to better the region.
On Saturday night, the JSC organized two activities. Juniors were split up into small groups and played an Artsakh-themed game of Jeopardy put together by the Artsakh Task Force, an AYF Central Council recently formed at this year’s annual convention. As the game was winding down, the Juniors were surprised to learn that members of the JSC had gone “missing,” and that it was up to them to figure out what happened. The detective game was inspired by the thrilling AYF Camp Haiastan tradition in which teams receive a set of clues, form and present hypotheses as to who was the culprit, and then are shown a short film of how the story actually developed. After the video was played, the JSC jumped out from the darkness and formally introduced themselves with short biographies and fun walk-up songs. The Juniors were then dismissed to rest up before their last day of lectures.
On Sunday, after the final four lectures and flag-lowering ceremony, everyone walked down to the lower campgrounds for a celebration in honor of the 105th anniversary of the First Independence of the Republic of Armenia. Remarks were delivered by JSC chair Emin Abrahamian, AYF Central Executive member Meghri Dervartanian and Mesrobian. The Juniors then sang two iconic revolutionary songs: “Sardarabad” and “Kini Lits,” celebrating one of the three main victories that achieved Armenia’s first independence and recounting the story of the ARF’s Operation Nemesis, respectively.
Dressed to impress and ready to dance, the Sunday night festivities kicked off with Armenian folk and pop music under the main pavilion. It was a sight to be seen as over 400 Armenian youth gathered under one roof to celebrate their age-old culture.
During a break, the Central Junior Council announced the winners of the 2023 AYF Camp Haiastan Campership Essay Contest. First place winners received a $1,000 scholarship and runners-up received $500 toward their AYF Camp Haiastan tuition. The winners of the essay contest were:
- YOUNGER GROUP
- 1st place – Nareen Bedrossian (New York “Hyortik”)
- 2nd place – Ari Shirozian (Philadelphia “Papken Suni”)
- MIDDLE GROUP
- 1st place – Hagop Dechoian (New Jersey “Arsen”)
- 2nd place – Haig Penenian (Washington DC “Ani”)
- OLDER GROUP
- 1st place – Anais Bardizbanian (New York “Hyortik”)
- 2nd place – Aved Bandazian (Washington DC “Ani)
The announcement was followed by a unique swearing-in ceremony conducted by the Central Executive. New members and those who swore-in virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic were allowed to experience a true AYF-YOARF oath ceremony, surrounded by a supportive sea of members.
The surprises weren’t over just yet, when the power went out halfway through the dance. Confusion set in amongst the middle and older group Juniors, as the younger group cabins had already been called to start getting ready for bed. What they didn’t know was that this was a rehearsed blackout by the Seniors to set up disco lights, DJ equipment and glowsticks. Within a few minutes, the pavilion turned into an all-out dance party with Abrahamian hopping on the DJ decks to provide live entertainment. Following the dance party, members participated in a Junior Seminar tradition, singing revolutionary songs until the early hours of the morning.
On Monday morning, AYF Juniors and Seniors headed home on their respective buses, physically tired but emotionally energized. The CE and JSC hope that AYF Juniors were motivated by this year’s event and continue to pave their way toward a free, independent and united Armenia. Below are some testimonials from Junior members about their transformative experience.
“There’s no place, other than Junior Seminar, that I would be able to sing, dance, learn and honor our Armenian heritage along with other AYF members. I loved expressing our AYF spirit and left determined to do even more for our community. “ Heidi Borekciyan, New Jersey “Arsen”
“As an AYF Junior going to Seminar for the second time, this one was magical. The atmosphere during the weekend was amazing; the new friends I made were awesome. This year was just different. It wasn’t just another seminar.” Peter Zaytounian, Providence “Varantian”
“Seminar is my favorite AYF event of the year since it’s one of the best ways to connect with Armenians all around the east coast. I’ve made friends that I’ll know for a lifetime, and I’ve made so many memories that I’ll never forget. I’m so thankful to have learned more about Armenian history, politics and culture.” Maral Zeitlian, Manhattan “Moush”
“Junior Seminar was a great experience that I enjoy coming back to year after year. I love seeing my friends from all different chapters and spending time with them as well.” Sareen Bedrossian, New York “Hyortik” Junior Executive Chair
“I enjoyed the lectures. They either gave some history about Armenia or explained our duties as young Armenians, to help contribute to the Armenian community. I also enjoyed the group dances and songs that bring people together to celebrate our rich and beautiful culture.” Nicholas Nersesian-Lopez, Philadelphia “Papken Suni”