AYF 75th Anniversary Marked in New York

NEW YORK–On October 5 the New York Armenian Youth Federation-Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Hayortik chapter led the Greater New York Armenian community in celebrating the AYF’s 75th anniversary. The event gathered members from local organizations such as Hamazkayin, Homenetmen, Armenian Relief Society chapters, and representatives from the Republic of Armenia’s Mission to the United Nations. Also present were St. Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church pastor Rev. Fr. Nareg Terterian, St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral pastor Rev. Fr. Mesob Lakissian, Bishop Anoushavan Tanelian from the Armenian Prelacy. The capacity crowd joined the AYF at the Armenian Center in Woodside, N.Y., to recall the historical significance of the organization’s founding and to honor its continued strength today.

After the singing of Mer Hairenik chapter executive member Sossi Essajanian welcomed clergy and guests. "Returning to our roots and for 75 years thereafter we continue to show that from the AYF’s tree blooms youth that stand guard for Armenia’s rights today, tomorrow and always," she said. Following this introduction Hyortik executive member Razmig Haroun addressed the audience on behalf of the chapter. In his remarks he talked about continuing the ideals and vision of AYF founder General Karekin Nejdeh. He said that what was given to the youth after 75 years today’s members will take as a foundation for the next 75 years.

Turing to the AYF’s work today Haroun talked about Armenia. He said, "Today Armenia is facing many changes, in particular in relations with its neighbors. Just as always the Armenian Youth Federation made its voice heard during [Turkish President Abdullah] Gul’s [recent] visit [to Armenia] not with hatred but proving that there are people who defend Armenia’s rights and reiterate that friendship requires mutual respect otherwise it is a mockery." Haroun concluded by stating again the thread of continuity–the ideals–celebrated this evening: that the AYF is always read to serve the Armenian nation. Here he recalled Nejdeh’s words about the timeless nature of ideas: "It is only the idea that does not have a death, neither a casket nor a grave."

Next the St. Illuminator’s Armenian Day School students took the stage to recite Baruyr Sevag’s "Mer Oukhduh," followed by a singing of "Artyok Ovker en." Hyortik member Nanor Harutunian then gave a historical and educational presentation about the AYF, in particular its work in the Greater New York area. Presented in both Armenian and English Harutunian explained the reasons for the founding, the aim of the first convention, and some programs as they were carried out by the Hyortik chapter. She continued to discuss the acquisition of AYF Camp Haiastan in 1940, emergence of political activity in the 1960s, the establishment of the National Junior Seminar in 1971, and the Tri-Regional seminar in the 1980s. The historical portion also highlighted the "Tebi Yerkir" outreach program established in the 1990s that featured a summer internship program in Armenia. She then turned to the AYF and in particular the Hyortiks today, talking about the over 1000 members fleshing out the strong ran’s of the organization regionally today. Her presentation covered the Olympics in recent years, the organization’s ungeragan spirit, its focus on an educational foundation, efforts on the political front, and work with the AYF junior organization.

Harutunian concluded that the AYF stands as the leading Armenian-American youth organization. She said that with its various programs and emphasis on leadership and nationalistic spirit the AYF continues to serve as a gathering place for the youth wherever they live. Her presentation was also accompanied by a slide show of more than 70 images ranging from the founding AYF convention, to pictures of an AYF baseball team, to the building of Camp Haiastan and camping trips in the 1970s. Later slides depicted the Hyortiks as they remembered slain journalist Hrant Dink, celebrated the Artaskh Liberation Struggle, and celebrated anniversaries of the Khanasor Expedition and the Lisbon 5 event.

Following these commen’s a short documentary was presented by Hyortik member Justin Kaladjian. The film featured interviews with members from different generations who passed through the ran’s of the AYF Hyortik chapter. Interviewees talked about the AYF’s activities when they were members, how they served the local community, and their constant focus on keeping the Armenian spirit alive in the youth while standing guard for the Armenian Cause. All generations also emphasized the fraternal spirit that is the bedrock of the organization.

The stage was then given to the Hyortik juniors to contribute their reflections on AYF’s 75 years. Junior chapter president Mesak Sarkissian spoke briefly about the role of the AYF in the Armenian community at large stating that the New York junior chapter is active and vibrant. "Inspired by our past and motivated by the needs of our people, we are always ready and willing to work in furtherance of the Armenian cause. We realize that we are the future of the Armenian community and we are ready and willing to do our part. Through our dedication and enthusiasm we are united in our commitment for a free, independent and united Armenia."

The ARF Armen Garo Gomideh also offered a few words of reflection presented by unger Hrant Markarian. In his commen’s Markarian talked about the youth and the future, first reflecting on the importance of the organization’s foundation. He said, "For 75 years you dedicated your lives and today that organization lives and breathes in all of us." He also spoke about the vision of AYF founder Karekin Nejdeh; he said, "[He] was not just a person but an idea," and with this thought asked today’s youth to continue building on his vision.

Finally Bishop Anoushavan Tanelian spoke about the continued spirit of the youth. He said, "Today is a day of celebration. When we leave this center we will all feel a bit younger." Tanelian also spoke about the establishment of the organization 75 years ago by Nejdeh and reflected on the impact of his vision for the youth and the Armenian nation. "The youth are the backbone of the community," he said and then turned his commen’s to the new cohort of youth and stated that "What the past generations have not seen you will make a reality."

After these concluding remarks the event ended with the singing of Harach Nahadag after which current and former AYF members were invited on stage to cut a cake brought in honor of the anniversary. Over 60 people filled the stage for a "chapter" picture after which attendees mingled and enjoyed refreshmen’s to a background of Armenian patriotic music.

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