BY ALIQUE CHERCHIAN
What I assumed to be just another weekend getaway with AYF members at AYF Camp, ended up being a once in a lifetime experience. This weekend wasn’t at all ordinary, but instead a weekend that molded and shaped my understanding of our cause and where we stand, today. It’s safe to say that the weekend of June 6th-9th of 2013 became a life-changing experience for me, as well as for my fellow ungers across North America.
The weekend began when our ungers from the East Coast and Canada flew in, uniting all three regions. AYF members who flew in early had the opportunity to tour and visit our AYF Western Region Central Offices, where they listened to representatives from our sister organizations, the Sardarabad Bookstore, and much more. After spending Thursday night at the Armenian Center in Pasadena, which included a presentation led by Unger Stepan Keshishian and talks by representatives of all three regions about their respective programs in the homeland, the educational series began. The first one had to do with the history and growth of AYF Camp by Tamar Yardemian Baboujian. Next, an educational about the Armenian National Committee of America, including HyeVotes, Politics, and Advocacy Days, was presented by Tereza Yerimyan. Lastly, Unger Vicken Hovsepian spoke about the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the Western Region. When listening to questions by members of the East Coast and Canada, one could already expect an intellectually stimulating and informative weekend ahead. Before heading over to camp that day, we made a stop at the Montebello Armenian Genocide Monument in order to pay our respects to our ancestors.
On Friday night, after getting to know everyone a little bit better, we had our first educational up at camp. We had the privilege of having our weekend directed by Unger Mourad Topalian. He presented the first lecture on the social and political issues we face in Armenia. Each AYF member there was challenged to come up with different problems and obstacles facing our homeland today. I wasn’t too surprised to see that many of us had the same things written down. Though, it was surprising to hear each member say something different than the rest.
The next morning was followed by the traditional AYF Camp flag-raising ceremony and early morning exercises. After breakfast, Unger Giro Manoyan, the ARF Bureau Political Affairs Director who flew in from Armenia to join us for the entire weekend, provided us with valuable information regarding the People’s Movement in Armenia and the most recent elections that took place.
After lunch and some free time, our second activity was led by Unger Vicken Sosikian. We had an open discussion regarding the commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. While sharing ideas and suggestions with Armenian youth regarding the anniversary, I realized that this is what truly makes the AYF unique. There were countless agreements as well as disagreements. With every new idea and comment, however, it became obvious to all of us how much we were growing in sync with one another in our strong will to further our cause. It only made us closer to one another. We even started a Tri-Regional Genocide Committee by the end of that discussion. We are an organization that acts, and we did just that.
Before Dinner, Unger Giro Manoyan gave us our second educational of the day, the Conflicting Policies in our nation, and Armenia. The rest of our Saturday prior to our big Khrakhjank/Kef, Ungers Mourad and Giro also guided us through Hai Tahd (the Armenian Cause), its next phase for 2013, and deeper social and political issues.
My favorite part of the weekend was what we called the “pre-dance jam session” before our memorable Khrakhjank. A few of us had taken our instruments up to camp that weekend. If there was something that could somehow sum up the strong connection we all felt during the weekend, it would be what I personally experienced at that moment. Just outside, in the little walkway to the lodge, I was surrounded by a few ungers, and we all had our instruments with us. Each of us were from different regions and began to play our hearts out as we naturally followed each other’s beat and rhythm. Having only met for the first time, it was as though we had been playing music with each other for years. There was even a moment when we began to play an Armenian rhythm and melody, and a few of the ungers who were watching and listening began to dance. Words cannot describe how I felt, and I only wish that I could go back and relive that moment.
Once we all got back inside, the music lived on within us. I have never danced so much shoorchbar (circle-dance) in my life. Looking around the room, it hit me that, yes, we all had met for the first time, but we quickly became a family. All of us—ungers from all across North America—hand in hand, dancing, singing, and laughing together. However, the night was still young. There was no better way to follow up our dance than ending the night by singing our hearts out. With our arms around one another, we sang our revolutionary songs together led by Unger Krisdapor Arabian. We sang until the sun came up.
This entire weekend was a life-changing experience for me, and I can safely say the same for my ungers who were there with me. Traditionally, you would expect there to be small social cliques from each region. However, we were all one unit and one family for the entire weekend—one region and one chapter. We all felt an amazing sense of belonging; we were home, surrounded by members of a beautiful organization. Even after the educationals had finished, we still engaged in conversation to come up with ideas and ways to help improve everything from politics to recognition, the ARF, and even our AYF Juniors. Words cannot describe how incredible it was to be surrounded by people who felt the same way I did—who finished my sentences, and had the same sense of optimism.
As a participant of the 2013 Tri-Regionals, I left with a greater purpose to my life and understanding that everything I do will be to help benefit and further our cause. After discussing how we felt about the weekend with one another, it was reassuring to know that we all left with the same fire and passion inside us. After this weekend, I’m confident in saying that the AYF is in the hands of members who will strengthen and lead our cause towards a bright future.
I am impatiently looking forward to the next Tri-Regionals Seminar in Canada. In the meantime, let’s take action!