Over 400 AYF-YOARF gather for the 52nd annual Junior Seminar

The 52nd annual AYF-YOARF Junior Seminar in Ligonier, Pennsylvania

LIGONIER, Penn.—On Memorial Day weekend, over 400 Armenian Youth Federation – Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) members came together for the 52nd annual AYF-YOARF Junior Seminar. Members from around the region returned to Ligonier Camp and Conference Center, with 274 Juniors, 39 Leaders in Training (LITs) and 89 Seniors in attendance. Through a grant awarded by the Armenian Youth Foundation, 58 first-time attendees were sponsored and attended at no cost.

This year’s theme was Անսահման Ապագայ, or “Limitless Future.” The theme encompassed a multitude of meanings: no limit to our borders, no limit to our capabilities and no limit to how we utilize our skills and talents to honor Armenia and our people. The weekend’s educational program focused on the Armenian history and culture that form these ever-changing borders.

On the evening of May 24, members arrived and settled into their cabins to meet their fellow ungers and ungerouhis from different chapters. This year, the cabins were named after influential Armenians, Armenian landmarks and businesses founded by successful Armenians, including Reddit, PicsArt and Moderna. Chapters participated in an epic lip-sync battle for the Friday night activity, showing off choreography in sync with music that best represented their chapters. AYF members then danced to traditional Armenian songs including “Pampouri,” “Yarkhushta” and more.

The next 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 of this year’s theme. The first of eight educationals began as cabins separated into groups and headed to their respective locations. 

Members of the 2024 Junior Seminar Council

This year’s eleven topics and lecturers were:

  • Keys to a Community – Antranig Karageozian
  • Artsakh: On the Ground – Gev Iskajyan
  • The Armenian Dream – Vrej Dawli
  • Impact of the Armenian Language – Galy Jackmakjian
  • Here and Now – Sosy Bouroujian and Ani Tchaghlasian
  • Media Literacy and Propaganda –  Alison Tahmizian Meuse
  • Evolution of Armenian Trade – Alex Sarafian
  • Our Borders – Haig Minasian
  • Armenian Dance – Barkev Sanossian
  • Heghapokhootune – Ani Khachatourian
  • Finding Your Roots – Levon Attarian

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Over the weekend, 17-year-old AYF Seniors participated in the LIT program with their own lectures and meetings. They also worked with Senior counselors and shadowed them in the cabins. This program prepares AYF members for their future responsibilities as counselors and in other leadership roles and opportunities. The LIT schedule included activities and discussions on communication, professionalism and leadership. The LIT program was again run by former Central Executive members and alumni Kenar Charchaflian and Nairi Khachatourian.

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This year’s seminar attendees got a glimpse of life in Artsakh during the blockade and leading up to the cleansing of over 120,000 ethnic Armenians living there. Iskajyan’s firsthand accounts offered raw imagery and details of the dire conditions that Artsakh natives endured for nearly a year. The open conversation allowed Juniors and Seniors to better understand what led to the current state of Artsakh and ask thought-provoking questions.

On Saturday night, the JSC organized a camp-wide night activity that was split by age group. Juniors ages 10-12 teamed up and participated in Wacky Olympics, a series of fun mini-games that had the main hall rocking with cheers and jeers. The middle group got together to tie-dye shirts and play Name That Tune, a game in which they competed to identify songs by listening to a short snippet. Finally, the oldest of the bunch got to know each other better through a simulation of the famous reality TV series “The Bachelorette,” followed by a bonfire and smores.

As Juniors and Seniors attended their first two educationals on Sunday and headed to lunch, there was a buzz in the air. The free time after lunch marked the famed game of esheg, in which teams of 10-15 ungers take turns setting up a wall and trying to undermine each others’ structural integrity. This unwritten tradition is a highlight of the weekend and highly anticipated by all the attendees. The game saw the return of a veteran team made up of former Central Executive and Senior members who were aging out. It was a special free time that brought the entire camp together for an incredible spectacle.

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With members dressed to impress and ready to dance, the Sunday night festivities kicked off with Armenian folk and pop music in the main educational hall. Due to intense thunderstorms, the dance was moved from the main pavilion, but the over 400 Armenian youth gathered in one room were still a sight to be seen. Early in the night, ungers put on a stunning show, dancing “Yarkhushta” and celebrating their age-old culture with everyone watching in awe. 

During a break, the Central Junior Council announced the winners of the 2024 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 – Ari Shirozian (Philadelphia “Papken Suni”)
    • 2nd place – Alec Manicone (New York “Hyortik”)
  • Middle group 
    • 1st place – Amy Karageozian (Albany “Shoushi”)
    • 2nd place – Victoria Penenian (Washington D.C. “Sevan”)
  • Older group 
    • 1st place – Sarhad Melkonian (New Jersey “Arsen”)
    • 2nd place – Karine Najarian (Washington D.C. “Sevan”)

On Monday morning, 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 members about their transformative experiences.

“It was my first time at Junior Seminar, and I absolutely loved it. What I loved most was seeing my friends from different chapters. Because that’s what seminar is all about. Seeing your friends and making new ones. And of course learning about the Armenian language, history, and culture.” Aline Killian, Chicago “Ararat” chapter, 12 years old

“I always love going to Junior Seminar during Memorial Day Weekend, because I get to stay involved in my Armenian community. I enjoy seeing my old friends and making new ones from different chapters. It also makes me excited for Camp Haiastan over the summer.” Juliette Tarpinian, New Jersey “Arsen” chapter, 13 years old

“At Seminar we did a lot of activities during our free time and our night activities. I had a lot of fun, and I met a lot of new people from out of town that I look forward to seeing at other events.” Mourad Bagdasarian, Detroit “Kopernik Tandourjian” chapter, 11 years old

“At Seminar I really enjoyed my experience with everyone there, especially my cabin mates and counselor. One of the things I enjoyed was how I got to be with kids in different chapters and not just my own. I got to learn a lot about people in Armenia, the maps and more. If you have never been to Seminar you should go because you will learn some Armenian, learn about Armenia and make a lot of friends.” Sebouh Najarian, Washington D.C. “Sevan” chapter, 11 years old

“I loved seeing my friends and hearing the lectures. The lectures really motivated me and made me feel more passionate about the current situation in Armenia. I’m already excited for next year!” Sarine Markarian, Greater Boston “Nejdeh” chapter, 15 years old

“This year’s Junior Seminar LIT program was great because it taught me skills that are fundamental to becoming a strong voice in my Armenian community. The program was not only interesting, but kept me engaged and excited for our next meeting with each other.” Van Adishian, New Jersey “Arsen” chapter, 17 years old

Founded in 1933, The Armenian Youth Federation is an international, non-profit, youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The AYF-YOARF Eastern United States stands on five pillars that guide its central activities and initiatives: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. The AYF also promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF’s objectives.

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