Armenian Youth Federation

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Armenian Youth Federation (AYF-YOARF)
Founded January 14, 1933
Ideology Social Democracy
Mother party Armenian Revolutionary Federation
Website www.ayf.am

The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF-YOARF) (Armenian: Հայկական Երիտասարդաց Դաշնակցութիւն/ՀՅԴ Գանատայի Երիտասարդական Միութիւն (in Canada)) is the youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation founded in 1933. The AYF stands on five pillars that guide its activities: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. Moreover, the AYF promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF's objectives.

History[edit]

Early years[edit]

On January 14, 1933, which is marked as the founding date of the Armenian Youth Federation, the ARF Central Committee of America decided to create a national youth organization by combining the existing ones and setting up new chapters where such groups did not exist. After the decision was made, an invitation was sent to representatives of interested youth groups on the East Coast to join a conference on Sunday, July 16, 1933, in the old Hairenik Hall in Boston, MA. The conference was to discuss the unification of the interested youth groups.

Forty youths from the Massachusetts Armenian communities of Boston, Brockton, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lynn, Watertown, Whitinsville, and Worcester were present at the conference. This conference decided to hold a convention in June 1934, at which time the elections of the first Central Executive of the AYF were to be held. They also decided the ARF should appoint a committee of seniors to assist the organization for the coming year.

In the 1933-34 fiscal year many new chapters were formed across the country. It was due to the inspirational teachings of charismatic General Garegin Nzhdeh that AYF attracted thousands of members and supporters during that one year.

Forty chapters were represented during the first AYF Convention that took place at the Hairenik Hall in 1934. It was decided then that the organization was to be named the ARF Tseghagrons (or "young pledgers"), which was concerned with stopping assimilation and instilling the youth with Armenian pride. But the main goal remained to work against Kemalist Turkey and the Soviet Union for the establishment of a free, independent, and united Armenia. The convention also elected the first Central Executive composed of five members. The members of the Central Executive were Hamparsoum Gelanian, John Der Hovanessian, Hagop Hagopian, Arthur Giragosian and K. Merton Bozoian.

Soon after the first Convention, the Armenian Youth Federation expanded north of the border, forming its first Canadian chapter in St. Catharines, Ontario in 1934.

The Armenian Youth Federation worked to define the organization during its first years. Chapters were organizing programs such as the drum and bugle corps, theater troupes and charity service work like Boston's "Siamanto Santa".

The Armenian Youth Federation, which was often playing the role of an Armenian school, gave priority to its educational program. Each of the forty chapters organized "educationals" on the chapter level. The Central Executive provided lists of educational topics, printed a songbook of Armenian patriotic songs, published the book Highlights in Armenian History, written by the first AYF executive secretary James Mandalian, and produced biographies of historical figures. Chapters would conduct examinations at the end of each fiscal year, the results of which would be sent to the AYF central office to be graded. Individual participation was encouraged by a three-point educational plan, which was conceived by Harry Sachaklian.

In 1935 the AYF established a scholarship fund for worthy and needy students who were pursuing higher education. Whereas other organizations at the time gave students aid in the form of loans, the AYF was the first Armenian organization in the United States to provide grants to the students.[citation needed]

One of the centerpieces of the AYF today is the Olympics, which began in 1934 in Brockton and immediately became an annual tradition. The Worcester "Aram" Chapter won every single event at the first Olympics setting an unsurpassable record. Other aspects of the athletic program included boxing, wrestling, baseball, soccer, and basketball, for which numerous inter-chapter tournaments were organized.

World War II[edit]

In 1941, the organization changed its name from the ARF Tseghakrons to the Armenian Youth Federation. This change was necessary because the name "Tseghakrons" was difficult to manage among non-Armenian speakers and it was being maliciously misinterpreted in some quarters.[citation needed] From that point on, the organization in the United States would be known as the AYF.

Life during the Great Depression and Second World War presented many new challenges for the Armenian community in America. Although faced with these additional challenges the AYF was able to continue growing, both in size and nature. The greatest effect of war on the AYF was the entrance of many AYF members into the US Armed Forces.

In 1944-45, it is estimated that over 1000 AYF members were in the Armed Forces.[citation needed] Chapters sent letters, issues of Hairenik Weekly, local news, packages, and presents to members in uniform. Also during this time, the AYF raised a combined total of approximately three quarters of a million dollars in war bonds and stamps. This campaign funded the purchase of a B-25 Mitchell and a B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft for the Allied war effort.

The AYF held a testimonial banquet in Detroit on June 29, 1946 to honor the members returning to the US from the War and to pay tribute to those forty AYF members who had been killed during the war.

During 1942-1946 more than 800 youth joined the ranks of the Armenian Youth Federation. The AYF created the "Song of the Year" program, which helped members learn Armenian National and Revolutionary songs, and organized essay contests, which spurred a good deal of research. Also, the first edition of the well-known AYF "Blue Book" series was published in the 1945-46 fiscal year.

With the end of the World War, AYF activity increased. Members returning from the war provided additional manpower to the organization, but this increase was short lived. The post-war years were followed by an era of declining membership due to geographic and demographic changes in the community. Despite these changes the AYF laid the foundation for another generation of youth. New programs were added to AYF's already wide array of activities, while established programs grew both in size and scope.

1950s[edit]

During the 1950s the "Blue Book" educational series focused primarily on Armenian History, but also covered geography, culture and customs, the arts, and other subjects. Complete with maps and photographs, these "Blue Books" formed a sound foundation for the educational program.

One of the greatest achievements of the post war years was the creation of the AYF Junior Organization in 1948. The Junior movement soon spread throughout the country and soon rivaled the Senior organization with its own "Blue Book" program, Olympics, conferences, essay and literature contests, and more.

Also ranking as one of the period's outstanding accomplishments was the opening of Camp Haiastan in Franklin, Massachusetts in 1951. Starting off slowly, and with separate boys and girls sessions, the camp grew gradually throughout the 1950s, becoming co-ed in 1957 and breaking the 50-camper mark the same year.

A year later, the Armenian Youth Federation marked its 25th anniversary with celebrations great and small throughout the US and Canada. These activities helped generate enthusiasm in the ranks and revitalize the organization as a new decade approached.

1960s[edit]

The 1960s were a time of great change and growth for the AYF. By this time, some of the smaller and more geographically isolated communities began to see the beginning of the end as Armenians relocated to other, larger metropolitan areas. The role of AYF forever changed from being a gathering point for local Armenian youth to serving as a substitute for an Armenian lifestyle that was no longer day-to-day.

One of the single biggest changes to occur in the 1960s was the emergence of political activity in the Armenian community. During this time, there were important changes occurring on the Armenian political scene as the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide ushered a new era of demonstrative political action, reiterating the demands for just reparations and the return of Turkish-occupied but historically Armenian lands.

1970s and 1980s[edit]

By the early 1970s, the AYF had become even more dynamic and continued to grow. Some of the larger Junior and Senior chapters held over 100 members.

In 1970, the Armenian Youth Federation Camp was established for members living on the west coast. For the first couple of years, the AYF rented different locations suitable for summer camp. The AYF Camp Committee decided to acquire its own place in the San Gabriel Mountains. The YMCA Camp Big Pines site happened to be available and very much suitable to the needs of the Armenian Youth Federation, because it was close to the Los Angeles area, and easily assessable to the San Joaquin Valley. In early 1978, negotiations were conducted for a ninety-year lease. The camp was purchased for $80,000.

In earlier years, five regional structures (New England, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, California and Canada) had been created to address the problems brought on by the organization's vast expanse. By the 1970s, however, the obstacles of geography had become overwhelming. The 1973-74 fiscal year saw the split of the AYF into three separate administrative entities: Western U.S., Eastern U.S., and Canada. Later, the Canadian branch dropped the AYF name altogether and became the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Youth Organization of Canada (ARFYOC).

During the early 1980s, the AYF had largely become a political organization that coordinated events such as hunger strikes and demonstrations to protest against the denial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 by the Turkish Government and the rest of the world.

Modern times[edit]

In the late 1980s, the AYF added onto its title, and became the Armenian Youth Federation-Youth Organization Of The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF). In the early 1990s the AYF found a new challenge: Nagorno-Karabakh. In 1988 the struggle for independence in the Karabagh region started. AYF became involved in fund raising activities to supply much-needed funds to the people in Karabakh. Even after the independence of Nagorno-Karabagh in 1991 and the cease-fire in 1993, the AYF continued to help the region. In 1994 the AYF Western Region decided to create a program, called the AYF Youth Corps, that sent about ten youths that year and continues to send up to 15 each summer. The mission of the Youth Corps is to help rebuild schools, camps, churches, etc. in the various regions of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Chapters[edit]

Each AYF chapter represents a given geographical region, corresponding to significant Armenian population centers. Chapters traditionally take on nicknames form Armenian history and culture, often place names or national heroes.

The Eastern United States is divided into three districts: Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, and New England. Mid-Atlantic District:

City/region Chapter
New Jersey "Arsen"
New York City "Hyortik"
Ocala, Florida "Keri"
Philadelphia "Sebouh" (Senior) and "Papken Suni" (Junior)
Washington, DC "Ani" (Senior) and "Sevan" (Junior)

Mid-West District:

City/region Chapter
Chicago "Ararat"
Detroit "Kopernik Tandourjian"
Granite City, Illinois "Antranig"
Racine, Wisconsin "Armen Garo"

New England District:

City/region Chapter
Albany, New York "Shoushi"
Blackstone Valley "Artsakh"
Greater Boston "Nejdeh"
North Andover, Massachusetts "Sassoun"
Providence, Rhode Island "Varantian"
Hartford, Connecticut "Zeytoun"
Worcester, Massachusetts "Aram"

The Western United States consists of the following chapters:

City/region Chapter
Burbank, California "Varak"
Crescenta Valley "Zartonk"
East Valley "Shahen Megherian"
Fresno, California "Kevork Chavoush"
Glendale, California "Roupen"
Hollywood, California "Musa Dagh"
Houston, Texas "Dro"
Montebello, California "Vahan Cardashian"
Orange County, California "Ashod Yergat"
Pasadena, California "Nigol Touman"
Phoenix, Arizona "Kedashen"
San Francisco, California "Rosdom"
Torrance, California "Potorig"
West Valley "Sardarabad"

The Armenian Youth Federation of Canada consists of the following chapters:

City/region Chapter
Cambridge, Ontario "Aram Manoukian"
Hamilton, Ontario "Ararat"
Laval, Quebec "Pegor Ashod"
Montreal, Quebec "Levon Shant"
St. Catharines, Ontario "Haratch"
Toronto, Ontario "Simon Zavarian"
Vancouver, British Columbia "Arshavir Shiragian"
Windsor, Ontario "Keri"

The AYF in South America consists of the following chapters:

City/region Chapter
Palermo, Buenos Aires "Arshavir Shiraguian"
Flores, Buenos Aires "Stepan Dzadhigian"
Valentín Alsina, Buenos Aires "Soghomon Tehlirian"
Córdoba, Argentina "Aram Yerganian"
Montevideo "Misak Torlakian"
São Paulo unnamed

The Chapter in Australia:

City/region Chapter
Sydney "Nigol Touman"

The Chapter in the United Kingdom:

City/region Chapter
London "Khanasor"

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]