GLENDALE–Seven young Armenian-Armenia’s joined the ran’s of the Armenian Youth Federation on Wednesday as they swore to uphold the organization’s founding principles in an oath ceremony dating back to the AYF’s founding in 1933.
At the close of the ceremony, Vazrig Aprahamian, Razmig Macadonian, Christina Issa, Niree Kodaverdian, Shant Thomassian, Albert Hovsepian and Kristine Jegalian, became full-fledged members of the AYF, the largest and one of the oldest Armenian youth organization in the United States.
Last month, the AYF welcomed 10 new members into its ran’s when the Las Vegas “Sosse Mayrig” Chapter was officially inaugurated as the newest AYF chapter in the West Coast. About 100 youth and community members from California and Nevada turned out for the event.
Wednesday’s ceremony featured remarks by members of the AYF Central Executive members Vache Thomassian and Caspar Jivalegian, as well as AYF alumni Viken Sonentz-Papazian and Steven Dedeian.
Sonentz Papazian, who is the chairman of the Armenian National Committee-Western Region, spoke about the organization’s roots and founding, highlighting the dedication and perseverance of those who had the foresight to sacrifice for the organization in its early years of existence.
In his remarks, Sonentz Papazian noted that General Garegin Njdeh had the foresight to recognize that the Armenian youth in America needed to be organized if they were going to prevent assimilation.
"With blood still literally on his hands from having defending the Armenian homeland, he came to the United States in the early 1930s and rallied Armenian youth throughout the country," he said.
After the Armenian Genocide, survivors that migrated to the United States slowly began to integrate with Armenia’s that had arrived in the late 19th century. Local committees of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation began to create youth groups across the nation and on January 14, 1933, the ARF Central Committee of America decided to create a national youth organization by combining the existing ones and setting up new chapters where they did not exist.
When it was founded in Boston, the AYF was concerned with stopping assimilation and instilling the youth with a sense of Armenian heritage, community and pride, as it sought to work toward the establishment of a free, independent, and united Armenia.
"Seeing new members taking the oath to join the AYF today is a testament to the level of concern and engagement there is amongst young Armenia’s, regardless of generation," said Thomassian. "We are confident that by connecting dedicated individuals with the means in which they can make positive change, we will see a brighter future for our youth, communities and nation."
Although seven decades have passed since its birth, the AYF’s goals continue to focus on the cultivation of Armenian identity and community, according to Vazrig Aprahamian, one of the seven members sworn in on Wednesday.
"Even as a novice, the friends I’ve made, the work I’ve accomplished and the things I’ve learned touched me deeply and gave me a passion and purpose I didn’t have before," he said. "I joined because I wanted to learn more about my heritage. I wanted to make Armenian history."
From the beginning, the AYF took on the role of an Armenian school, giving priority to its educational programs. Each of the original forty chapters organized educationals aimed at building links between diasporan youth and the Homeland of their parents and grandparents.
"There’s no mystery to the fact that AYF members, by and large, go on to high leadership roles in the community," said Dedeian, an attorney and longtime ANC board member who currently serves on the ARF Western US Central Committee. "I credit the AYF for giving me the basics and teaching me how an organization should operate and a how an orderly meeting should be run."
These skills are not taught in schools, or around the dinner table, he said in his remarks during the oath ceremony.
The AYF provides a safe environment to learn and grow, according to Kodaverdian, who spent the year as chairperson of the Crescenta Valley AYF’s social committee, organizing various fundraisers and the chapter’s signature Open Mic night.
Issa, who was active as a novice in the AYF’s public relations committee before taking her oath explained that the organization gave her the opportunity to collaborate with fellow committee members to design a new PR brochure for the AYF.
"My involvement has not only taught me about the Armenian cause, but also given me the opportunity to challenge myself," she said. "I have gained valuable experiences and leadership skills that I would not have gained otherwise."
"Wherever you look on the Armenian-American landscape, you see the indelible mark of the AYF in the leaders it has produced and the community it has helped create," Dedeian said.
"The bonds I made while in the AYF are close relationships that I have kept till this day," he explained. "My closest friends didn’t come from school, but from the AYF."
In its early years, the AYF struggled to build and grow Armenian communities throughout the United States. Over the decades, it rallied the generations to continue the fight for Genocide Recognition and maintain the dream of a free, independent, and united Armenia. In the 1980s and 1990s it organized humanitarian relief for the victims of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia, it demonstrated in support of Armenian independence and sent volunteers to fight in Karabakh liberation struggle.
Today, the AYF has 31 chapters throughout the United States. It continues to educate and organize the Armenian-American youth. It awards scholarships, maintains a bilingual quarterly publication, operates summer camps in the west and east coasts, and runs a major humanitarian mission that has been providing social services in some of Armenia’s most vulnerable regions since 1994.
"By committing to work for the betterment of our communities and our homeland these youth have, generation after generation, demonstrated that they are ready to meet the challenges of the day that have not only faced our communities in the United States, but the entire Armenian nation," Thomassian said.