The founders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation—Kristapor (Mikaelian), Rosdom (Stepan Zorian) and (Simon) Zavarian—were young when they came together to unite a nation under siege by its Ottoman and Russian imperial rulers. So were other notable ARF members such as Papken Suni, General Dro, Karekin Njdeh to name a few, who pledged their lives to the liberation struggle of the Armenian Nation and became an eternal part of the pantheon of our national heroes.
This year, the ARF Western US Central Committee will mark the 127th anniversary of its founding on January 14 in an annual celebration that traditionally includes an accounting of its activities to the community and an outline of its continued commitment to the Armenian Cause and service to the people.
The celebration on Sunday will coincide with the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian Youth Federation—the ARF’s youth organization. So, it’s only fitting to focus on the achievements of this venerable organization, which was founded on January 14, 1933 in Boston by General Karekin Njdeh.
The ARF, throughout its 127-year history, has flourished and advanced due to the active participation of its young members, as well as, since 1933, a vibrant AYF rank and file, who have propelled our national agenda, always adapting to innovation and progress, but never losing sight of the national goals and ideals of the organization.
The ARF decided to dispatch Njdeh to the United States to replicate what its founders did in the late 1890’s: bring together the Armenian youth who were in the throes of building Diaspora communities, which were at that point emerging due to the relocation of Armenians after the Armenian Genocide.
Njdeh was supposed to gather the diverse Armenian youth under one umbrella and organize them into an active force to advance the Armenian Cause and to ensure that future generations of Armenians, living outside the homeland, would cling to their identity and continue the fight for justice for the Armenian Nation.
Today, the AYF, which since its founding has become a vibrant international ARF youth movement, continues to be one of the more relevant Armenian youth organizations. Through innovative approaches and a commitment to advance the Armenian Cause, the AYF has been able to continue the Armenian liberation struggle throughout the decades in the Diaspora and, since 1991, in the homeland.
A few examples from recent years illustrate that the AYF not only is an active participant in community life, but is also a leader in advancing the cause.
A few years ago, the AYF of Western United States began work on university campuses by bringing together not just Armenian students, but also engaging the entire student body in an effort to urge university administrators to divest from Turkey. The “Divest Turkey” movement soon spread to other University of California campuses and became the blueprint, based on which the California State Assembly approved a measure to divest state funds from Turkey.
Seeing that our heroic soldiers in Armenia, who were front-and-center during the Karabakh war, were not receiving the proper care or medical attention, the AYF launched its “With Our Soldiers” campaign and by collecting funds from the community, it was able to provide medical assistance to the veterans of the Karabakh war. By April 2016, the “With Our Soldiers” campaign had proven itself to be a force in advancing the needs of our heroic soldiers. So when the April War devastated Artsakh, the AYF rose to the occasion. Within months of the war, the “With Our Soldier” campaign had collected thousands of dollars and its volunteers—ambassadors—visited the homes and families of every single soldier who had perished during that attack and presented them with a modest gift—a token of our appreciation for their sons’ service to the Armenian Nation.
These are but a few examples of the AYF’s current efforts. It’s long-running Youth Corps program has been connecting Armenian youth from the Diaspora to the homeland for almost 25 years, with hundreds of AYF members and young people from the community having experienced the rewards of this project and have given back to the youth in Armenia. For almost half a century, the AYF Camp has been a critical part of the lives of thousands of Armenian-Americans, who have gone on to serve the community and take on leadership roles. Its junior organization, the AYF Juniors, has also been at the forefront of advancing the Armenian youth and providing them with the tools to become active and resourceful members of the community and the nation.
The accomplishments of the AYF are too many to list. The fact that its mission is still relevant, 85 year later, speaks not only to the impetus of its founding but also to the dedication of its members who are carrying the torch for justice and freedom for the Armenian Nation.
The AYF must continue to lead—set the agenda—for the community to follow. Its members must continue to engage in all facets of the community and national life and bring their uniquely fresh perspectives to set the course for future advancement.
The current crop of AYF members is part of the cherished independence generation that has not seen a reality without an Armenian republic. For them, the every-day concerns of our homeland are as important as the challenges of maintaining their Armenian heritage in the Diaspora.
The youth continue to propel the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, whose members must take pride in their accomplishments, but also must make room for them as future leaders of the party and of the nation.