Հզօր ենք Միասին: Together, we’re strong.
WRIGHTWOOD—More than 130 youth from the Armenian Youth Federation Western United States, Eastern Region USA, Canada, Australia, and South America participated in this year’s Penta-Regional Seminar (known as the Tri-Regional Seminar) at AYF Camp in southern California in early June. This biennial seminar that is hosted by either the AYF Western U.S., Eastern USA, or Canada in their respective regions for the first time included participants from both Australia and South America.
Members participated in informative lectures and group discussions about topics ranging from the Hai Tahd, current politics in Armenia, homeland initiatives, the state of the ARF following the 33rd World Congress, public relations and regional characteristics and differences.
The 2019 Penta-Regional Seminar was directed by Carmen Ohanian, a 35 year ARF member currently serving as the Co-Chairperson of the ARF Western USA Central Committee. Ohanian was also one of the few women present at the most recent ARF World Congress.
The seminar began on Thursday, June 6 at the Melkon and Angel Melkonian Youth Center in Chatsworth . There, longtime ARF member Stepan Altounian set the tone for the weekend by providing a brief background about how the Tri-Regional Seminar came into being right after the different regions for the AYF were created in the early 1970s. This first night served as an opportunity for members to gather at the local community center, have Armenian barbeque, and meet each other in order to prepare for the upcoming weekend.
Friday, participants made their way to AYF Camp in Big Pines, where there was a set agenda that began with a scavenger hunt and an ice breaker. After members became acclimated to the camp, Armenian National Committee of America National Chairman Raffi Hamparian was the first lecturer with the topic of Hai Tahd in the Diaspora. Hamparian delivered an overview of what the ANCA has most recently been working on and how AYF members could assist Armenia and Artsakh through grassroots efforts in the Diaspora. Mentioning the recent killing of Artsakh Defense Army soldier Sipan Melkonyan, Hamparian stated that by making our voices heard in the halls of Congress, we can make sure to prevent these casualties from taking place in order to provide a safe and secure life for every citizen of the independent Republic of Artsakh. Hamparian cited recent examples like the 40 million recently secured for Armenia through the Speier Amendment and the Cox Amendment that included funding for U.S. assistance for life-saving de-mining programs and expanded rehabilitation services in the Republic of Artsakh as tangible results directly achieved through advocacy efforts.
Saturday morning began with a skype session with ARF member and Yerkir Media’s Director for News and Political Programs Gegham Manukyan. Manukyan gave an overview of the political landscape in Armenia in the last year following the Velvet Revolution, while also laying out the ARF’s positions and upcoming strategies. He made sure to also explain efforts of the AYF in Armenia in addressing various matters including the “Ahazank” movement.
The Armenian government introduced and recently approved a flat personal income tax rate, cut corporate taxes and provided preferential tax rates for startups and small businesses. The flat tax code would collapse those brackets into a single 23 percent tax rate regardless of income to be reduced to 20 percent within the next three years. The AYF’s Armenian branch has emerged as one of the most vocal critics and argues that the new tax scheme would shift the budgetary burden away from the super-rich and onto the working poor. As a result, the AYF launched a campaign called Ahazank (alarm), which is designed to “combat not only these proposed changes but the growing misinformation in the country.”
Manukyan’s lecture lead to a very fruitful discussion on the work of the ARF in Armenia as members had the opportunity to ask questions about the party’s upcoming initiatives and moves in Armenia’s political sphere.
Afterward, members walked to Jackson lake to listen to representatives of the participating regions present about their regional activities, initiatives, priorities, and the issues that each respective community faces. Members were able to learn about the number of AYF Senior and Junior members that each region had, the level of activism, and what challenges and hardships each region dealt with. This discussion served as a precursor for the discussion on regional programs.
Among all the activities that the different regions organize, almost all organize AYF Youth Corps camps for underprivileged youth in Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk. Each region is assigned a different region of Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk and through these assignments organize summer camps modeled after AYF Camp and Camp Haiastan. In addition, all regions have different homeland initiatives that they work on raising funds for and implementing year around. And lastly, all regions deal with digital media whether it’s conveying their message to the populace, properly documenting their activities, or presenting the best image for the organization.
As a result, the next part of the seminar consisted of dividing into several groups and addressing the three topics: AYF Youth Corps/Camp Vanadzor/Camp Javakhk, homeland initiatives and serving the local community, and public relations, marketing, and digital media. Members were able to critically provide feedback on how to better implement various programs that were discussed and were also able to bounce ideas off of each other. Through having representatives from 5 different regions in the room, the alternative perspectives were very enlightening and innovative. The discussion at seminar addressed how to make Youth Corps more efficient and more appealing to Armenian youth, how we, as members, can balance serving our local community and our homeland, and what tools we should use in 2019 to better reach out to our community and present our organization given all the digital media platforms that currently exist. The engagement and positive enthusiasm that was sparked from this discussion continued throughout the weekend.
Following some free time, Carmen Ohanian delivered a lecture on her experiences from the recent ARF World Congress and as a female leader in our organization. Ohanian was one of the eight women that participated in the 33rd World Congress of the ARF where there were 100 delegates and guests. During her remarks, she spoke about the recent resolution about the gender quota that was passed as well as general female representation in the ARF and AYF. Ohanian’s position as director served as a great opportunity for attendees to learn more about her and her work as an inspiring leader for young women to join the ranks and actively seek positions within the party. Overall, she provided great insight throughout the weekend and expressed her continued willingness to work with and guide the youth as they advance in their work in the AYF and ARF.
The final speaker of the seminar was ARF Bureau Member Aram Kaloustian who explained the work of the ARF’s Bureau Youth Office and presented the current priorities of the ARF regarding the youth. In his presentation, Kaloustian introduced the two new staff members of the Bureau Youth Office, Arshak Mesrobian in Armenia and Sarineh Abrahamian in Holland, who each gave a prerecorded message to all the attendees conveying their excitement on their new role and readiness to work with AYF youth across the globe. Kaloustian, born in Connecticut, and raised in San Francisco and Pasadena, is an AYF alumni and was elected to the Bureau following the 33rd ARF World Congress. He helped members garner a better understanding of the Bureau Youth Office as well as the current activities the Bureau has set regarding the youth.
Saturday night, the 130 plus attendees were joined by Arick Gevorkian, who played the accordion around the campfire while passionately leading a night of revolutionary songs. Gevorkian knew exactly what songs to play to inspire and get everyone involved. He later also played the piano as members attempted to finish every song in the AYF Camp Songbook.
The Penta-Regional Seminar served most importantly as a form of motivation and a platform to connect with other youth across the globe. Members from 5 different regions and 3 different continents were under one roof at AYF Camp to learn from one another, exchange ideas, and to help advance the Armenian Youth Federation. The seminar also provided a chance for members to be critical of the organization and to think analytically about the actions carried out thus far globally. Ultimately, it helped establish lifelong bonds and a sense of camaraderie unlike any other through discussion, dance, and dialogue.