LOS ANGELES—The Armenian Youth Federation – Western United States (AYF-WUS) held its 43rd Annual Convention on the weekend of September 9 at AYF Camp. More than 60 delegates from 13 AYF chapters were present at the Annual Convention, the highest legislative body of the organization.
Invited guests present at Convention included AYF Alumni, representatives from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau, ARF Central Committee, ARF, AYF Juniors Central Council, AYF Camp Management Board, and AYF Eastern United States.
The organization evaluated the previous fiscal year and set the vision, objectives, and budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Topics included the activities of the outgoing Central Executive; the performance of local chapters in relation to their goals and expectations; and the success of AYF initiatives and programs, both locally and in the homeland, particularly With Our Soldiers, Youth Corps, and Divest Turkey.
Some of the Convention’s goals and expectations for the coming year include: escalating the campaign for genocide reparations; refining the educational quality of Youth Corps and increasing participant development; spreading the divestment movement to remove university investments in the Turkish government; coalition-building with local communities and organizations; strengthening ties with the Homeland; supporting the youth and their nonviolent struggle to make Armenia and its economy more democratic; continuing to find innovative ways to better the Armenian community in the long-term.
The future of Artsakh was also a main point of focus during the convention, as delegates discussed the importance of supporting it in its fight for international recognition. The convention decided to institutionalize With Our Soldiers, a program that was relaunched in April to provide financial assistance to the families of fallen soldiers in Armenia and Artsakh. Delegates also discussed the potential of upcoming projects in Artsakh, which ranged from establishing an internship in Stepanakert to renovating a medical center in Shushi.
The Convention concluded with the election of the organization’s new Central Executive, whose function is to govern the administrative and organizational aspects of the AYF. The Convention opted for a seven-person body consisting of Puzant Berberian, Arev Hovsepian, Razmig Maadanian, Rafi Orphali, Garo Sarkisian, Razmig Sarkissian, and Kareen Shatikian.
Founded in 1933, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and the most influential Armenian- American youth organization in the United States, working to advance the social, political, education and cultural awareness among Armenian-American youth.
Upon conclusion of convention, the newly elected Central Executive decided to release the following text as an official statement of the AYF Western United States. It can be found in the Summer 2016 edition of Haytoug which is being released this week:
As we see the collapse of the modern Turkish state built by “The Father of All Turks” Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, we see glimpses of the future we want to build on the horizon of the Armenian people’s struggle for genocide justice and reparations.
No better visual metaphor exists for the state of Turkey today than statues of Ataturk across the country engulfed in flames during the rioting of the past few years. Beneath the foundations of this burning state, sprouts the Armenian spirit once thought buried, forgotten and erased within those artificial borders.
In the streets of Turkey, the homeland, and the diaspora today, we see the blossoming of new and old forms of resistance through occupy movements, political street theater, die-ins, divestment and more. The Armenian youth movement out of Turkey called Nor Zartonk (or the “New Awakening”) reminds us that “The Genocide Continues” with their occupation and subsequent liberation of Camp Armen. We see the active reclaiming of Armenian spaces in Turkey — both physically with the reclaiming of Camp Armen, and politically with the return of progressive Armenian thinkers in parliament such as Garo Paylan of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). After calling for an investigation into the crime of the Armenian Genocide during parliamentary session, Garo Paylan was physically attacked on the parliament floor. Now he and his HDP compatriots face legal and physical threats daily. Behind the spectacle of a failed military coup, vicious attacks are being carried out by the Turkish state on the civilian Kurdish and Armenian populations in present day occupied Western Armenia.
In our pursuit for genocide justice within the diaspora, we must make the reality of present day Turkey capture the imagination of our community. We see that these present conditions necessitate a deeper analysis of the Armenian Genocide in terms beyond the gorey details and statistics, with new focus and scholarship on the psychological, emotional, cultural, and especially the material and class conditions of the genocide that form the foundation of today’s Turkey. Here Armenian bodies are still unsafe and unfit for Turkish citizenship; Armenian identity is still in the closet and outlawed in the heart of our occupied homeland of Western Armenia. While much progress has been made through solidarity and collaboration with the Kurdish people, the new assault on democracy and the general Kurdish and Armenian populations by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has serious repercussions on the entire region and our collective futures. What is clear is this: the Armenian people of Turkey are asserting their equality and dignity; they have realized that they have nothing to lose but their chains. We must make clear that we support them and fight with them in joint struggle from the occupied territories, to the diaspora, to the homeland.
Ultimately, our central focus remains the organizing and investing in our global communities — to make them more whole. We understand this requires imagination and preparation: the imagination to learn from everything around us to innovate new tactics of creating justice; coupled with the methodical preparation, discipline and a community-minded approach.
We have come this far by thinking communally and organizing collectively. In the diaspora, we see an escalation of tactics resulting in protests of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, media coverage reaching the point of virality with hundreds of millions exposed to the Armenian Cause, and an expanding Divest Turkey campaign aimed at disrupting the machinery of the Turkish state’s oppression. We cannot succumb to the trap of individualism that robs us of our connection to something larger than ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of giants, building on the generations of work before us. 100 years of relentless building have brought the Armenian people to this monumental turning point in history. We know that struggle leads to progress and that we can only reap what we sow.
As we enter the reparations era of the Armenian people, the time is now to further escalate our demands for true reparations and to tolerate no business as usual. No peace will exist, and no status quo will be tolerated in the absence of justice and reparations.
Justice will not be doled out of a herise dish by the world’s superpowers. As always we will create our own justice, by reaping the constant urgency of now, as Armenians and as members of an interwoven fabric of communities and movements struggling together for individual and collective liberation.