AYF Tri-Regional Seminar 2024: Uniting Armenian youth across the globe

Attendees of the 2024 AYF Tri-Regional Seminar

FRANKLIN, Mass.—The biennial Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Tri-Regional Seminar of 2024, hosted by the AYF-YOARF Eastern Region, took place from June 12-16, 2024, at Camp Haiastan. The seminar drew over 100 enthusiastic AYF participants from the Eastern U.S., Western U.S., Canada and even Australia.

Participants arrived at AYF Camp Haiastan on Wednesday, June 12, and were warmly welcomed by the organizing council and members of the Eastern Region, setting the tone for an engaging and memorable weekend. 

On Thursday, a tour of Watertown, Massachusetts showcased the area’s current institutions and historical sites. Participants first visited the Armenian Museum of America. Then, attendees stopped by the historic Hairenik building, receiving tours of the ARF Archives by George Aghjayan and the newly-launched Antranig and Alice Karjian Hairenik Media Center by Alison Tahmizian Meuse. Following the Hairenik, attendees went on a Watertown walking tour, visiting the local Armenian establishments, restaurants and churches. Additionally, the group stopped at Mount Auburn Cemetery to pay respects to General Drastamat Kanayan (General Dro) and Shahan Natalie, both of whom have gravestones at the cemetery. These visits offered a deep dive into the rich history and contributions of the Armenian community in the area, fostering a profound sense of connection and pride among the attendees.

Upon returning to AYF Camp Haiastan, attendees were given a tour of the historic campgrounds by Executive Director Kenar Charchaflian. The last activity for the night, before a barbecue dinner, was Dikran Kaligian’s presentation of a historical background on the Tri-Regional Seminar and its origins. Khaligian served on the AYF Central Executive when the first Seminar was organized in 1984, exactly 40 years ago. Wrapping up Thursday’s itinerary was a campfire by Uncas Pond, while attendees socialized and continued to meet new people late into the night.

Participants in discussion during the Strength in Unity workshop

Friday morning kicked off a variety of educationals, discussions and workshops. The first discussion was a panel with the Central Executive members of the three North American regions. This panel allowed attendees to hear about the strengths as well as areas of improvement that each region’s central body has identified. The panelists also spoke about current challenges, including member and parent engagement, effects of assimilation and Junior recruitment and how to take steps towards addressing these challenges. 

The next lecture was a workshop executed by the AYF-YOARF Eastern Region Central Executive and Central Council members. The attendees were split up into breakout groups and assigned a topic based on answers in their applications. The breakout group topics included “Future of the AYF,” “Juniors,” “Role of ARF and AYF in Armenia” and “Community Outreach and Engagement.” The attendees provided diverse perspectives within each group’s discussion, and the workshops allowed for the participants to hear suggestions and thoughts on these important topics surrounding the AYF and Armenia’s future.

Yeghisapet Chouldjian lectures on connecting threads

After a delicious lunch provided by Eastern Lamejun Bakers of Watertown, the attendees gathered under the pavilion for their first traditional lecture presented by Yeghisapet Chouldjian. Her lecture was titled “Connecting Threads – Past, Present and Future of Activism” and gave the attendees a glimpse into past methods of activism, while focusing on future initiatives that the new generation must execute to achieve our organization’s goals. The lecture concluded with a presentation of actionable items brainstormed by each of the previous breakout groups’ discussions, ensuring that the creative ideas will continue to be pursued after the weekend’s conclusion.

A surprise downpour of rain greeted the attendees following Chouldjian’s lecture, but the spirit and excitement of the AYF members did not falter. Following her lecture, the Tri-Regional Seminar committee organized a “speed dating” activity. Attendees sat in the mess hall and had two-minute conversations with each person across the table from them. This allowed for all the attendees to directly interact and further introduce the members of each region to one another. 

Beyond the planned educational components, the Tri-Regional Seminar offered ample opportunities for socializing and networking. These open slots for discussion gave attendees time to discuss their thoughts on the workshops and lectures, while also having additional conversations regarding their experiences and assessments of their regions. Conversations  filled the campgrounds on the work of chapter executives, Central Councils, camping programs, Juniors and more.

Alex Galitsky’s lecture on progressive policies

Following morning exercises and breakfast on Saturday morning, Alex Galitsky presented on challenges faced in advocacy in his lecture titled “Pioneering Progressive Policies.” He highlighted the need to counter narratives from powerful opponents, such as the Azerbaijani government, the State Department and Nikol Pashinyan. Drawing from experiences on the Hill, Galitsky shared the importance of pushing back against opposition through strategic lobbying and persistent efforts. He also discussed the vital work of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), emphasizing how lobbying influences global politics and country-to-country relations. Through these efforts, the ANCA strives to ensure that Armenian perspectives are heard and considered on an international level. 

After Galitsky’s lecture, the ungers of the seminar participated in a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, or SWOT, analysis workshop. Participants broke into groups to discuss each section of the analysis for their local chapters, regions and the tri-regions. Following group discussions, one to two members of each group shared the ideas with the larger seminar group to promote ideation and conversation throughout the rest of the weekend.

Gev Iskajyan’s lecture on rising to the challenge

In the final lecture for the weekend, Gev Iskajyan presented on “Rising to the Challenge,” emphasizing the importance of perseverance as AYF members. He highlighted how unwavering dedication can lead to positive outcomes for the cause, even if extreme measures are sometimes necessary. He provided numerous examples from past predicaments (e.g., Turkey-Armenia Protocols, 2009, and recognition of the Armenian Genocide, 2020) to illustrate his point and showed attendees the value of perseverance and dedication in advancing their cause. Highlighting numerous contemporary examples, particularly from the West Coast, Iskajyan illustrated how unwavering commitment can lead to significant positive outcomes. The lecture encouraged members to remain steadfast in their efforts, reinforcing the message that their dedication can bring about meaningful change. The takeaway for AYFers was clear: perseverance, even in the face of challenges, is essential for achieving their goals and making a lasting impact.

Ironman volleyball activity

As the weekend’s educational lineup concluded, attendees were organized into groups for a fan-favorite AYF Camp Haiastan tradition: “Ironman.” During the Camp season, “Ironman” is a relay race in which individuals are split into teams and provided with a list of tasks to complete. The tasks must be completed in sequence, and the activity culminates in a half-court shot on the basketball court. As the first team reached the basketball court, they did not even allow a chance for the other teams to catch up, as Hagop Taraksian of Providence nailed the half-court shot on his first try. The winning team burst into celebration, and in true fraternal spirit, continued to cheer on the other two teams until they both made their half-court shots.

Through the evening, attendees once again spent the night by the campfire, continuing to establish new friendships and socialize with one another. A delicious chicken/shish kebab and pilaf dinner was prepared by Nerses and George Donoyan of Providence. Everyone sat by the campfire at the amphitheater singing heghapokhagan songs and conversing until the early hours of the morning.

The 2024 AYF Tri-Regional Seminar at Camp Haiastan was not just a successful event but a significant milestone in the ongoing effort to unite and empower Armenian youth worldwide. Many expressed a renewed sense of purpose and motivation to contribute to their local AYF chapters and regions, as well as the broader Armenian cause, emphasizing the importance of staying connected and continuing the work initiated at the seminar. As participants returned to their homes in the Eastern U.S., Western U.S., Canada and Australia, they carried with them the spirit of unity and a strengthened resolve to dedicate themselves to the AYF and its mission of a free, united and independent Armenia.

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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