WRIGHTWOOD, CA–Several dozen youth gathered at AYF Camp this past weekend for the Armenian Youth Federation’s annual Educational Seminar, where the issues of assimilation and repatriation were explored through lectures, discussions, debates, and other group activities.
The seminar kicked off Friday night with Director Elizabeth Chouljian, ANCA’s Communications Director and an AYF alumna herself, presenting the opening remarks and asking the campers to introduce themselves individually. Chouldjian created a welcoming environment, insisting that everyone call her Ungerouhi Yeghso.
The educational portion of the weekend started on Saturday morning. The first guest lecturer, Ara Mgrdichian, challenged participants to see themselves and their community from an “out-of-the-box” perspective by questioning conscious and subconscious notions of identity. The second guest lecturer, Dr. Hagop Kouloujian, spoke about the phenomenon of assimilation through the prism of language. Chouldjian presented her own lecture on the ANCA and its role in preserving Armenian identity and community. The campers then participated in a group discussion led by Ungerouhi Yeghso to explore the theoretical and practical motivations and challenges surrounding the issue of repatriation to Armenia.
“Having a solid educational foundation within the membership is essential for any community organization, and even more so for AYF,” said organizer Aris Hovasapian. “We want to be able to train the future leaders of our community, and exposing our members to new ideas or challenging them with new concepts is certainly a step in the right direction.”
The AYF’s Educational Council, which organized the event, was optimistic about achieving the goals of introducing ideas that are new to the participants, and presenting concepts they can apply in daily life. “The type of education that we stress has limitless applications, but the greatest act would be for someone to take what they learned over the weekend and use it as a catalyst to do something greater that could eventually benefit the community at large.” said Hovasapian.
Mgrdichian, an AYF alumnus and a violence prevention counselor at Hoover High School, presented “Assimilation and the Youth Living in the Diaspora,” which exposed the campers to an alternative vantage point on the problems Armenian youth face today. He challenged participants to define Armenian identity and what encompasses being Armenian. With identity crisis in the modern Diaspora being a very crucial and controversial topic, the discussion quickly turned into a debate. Mgrdichian concluded that Armenian youth need not label themselves and put boundaries on what precisely defines being Armenian. The focus, he stressed, should be on bringing Armenians together to propel the Armenian Cause forward.
Dr. Kouloujian, a professor of Armenian language at UCLA, presented “Assimilation and the Importance of the Armenian Language,” which showed an historical evolution of the Armenian language, from its inception and eras of expansion to its current phase of atrophy and endangerment. Dr. Kouloujian prepared his lecture specially for this event, and the participants were very appreciative that he spent the time to gather so much research and create a PowerPoint presentation.
Organizer Berj Parseghian welcomed Dr. Kouloujian’s unconventional approach: “A fresh new perspective was offered by Professor Kouloujian. He explained that if a language does not evolve and remains stagnant, that language will eventually disappear,” he recalled. “We need innovation, new words, new poets, new writers, a 21st century Armenian language… Let’s create a critical mass around this concept… A 21st century Armenian.”
“Every educational was amazing,” said participant and AYF-WR Central Executive chairperson Arek Santikian. “Ungerouhi Yeghso broke down her points very well in relation to Hye Tad and the AYF’s role in it. Additionally, the lecture regarding the Armenian language was a true wake up call to me. I realized that it is extremely important to pick up a book or two, every month or so, and simply read it. It is up to us to not only cherish our culture and history, but to maintain it, preserve it and evolve with it.”
Chouldjian shared Santikian’s sentiments and had similar words of praise for the participants. “These young people had such depth in all of the information and all of the discussions that they had,” said Chouldjian about the interaction she witnessed throughout the weekend. “During the actual lectures themselves, the participation was great, but even in the off sections when kids were trying to take a break, the whole discussion was how do we make Armenia better, how do we make our nation better, and how do we work better here in the Diaspora. It was just absolutely inspiring to see that.”
The organizers said they were very pleased with the amount of participation by attendees, and impressed by all the new faces. “It is always great to see new members excited and actively participating in discussion because their input is greatly valued. Many people had a few different chances to speak and express their thoughts on all the different topics discussed” said organizer Aline Karakozian.
The educational portion of the seminar was followed by an oath ceremony Saturday evening where 10 AYF novices were officially welcomed into the AYF. “The room was filled with mostly our younger membership, which made me extremely happy.” Said Santikian “A number of novices also came up to participate and eventually take their oath. The energy was at a high level throughout the entire weekend, and it showed during the discussion portion of the seminar. I was very impressed with the viewpoints of many of our members.”
When asked to gauge the success of the event, Karakozian said, “We definitely had a successful weekend with plenty of positive feedback.” The seminar, she continued, was fun and educational and gave participants a unique “opportunity to discuss issues that have become very important to our people.”
Karakozian was happy that participants “were able to share our ideas on what we should be doing as Armenians and as AYF members to help prevent assimilation and how to begin a movement of repatriation to our homeland.”
Parseghian summed up the general feeling of the seminar’s participants: “Our measure of success comes from the weekend being a catalyst for youth to think, innovate, and struggle… it was awesome.”