AYF Eastern Region Hosts ARF Educational Weekend in Connecticut
By U. Michelle Hagopian
PLAINVILLE, Conn.—In the ARF’s 125th anniversary year, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Eastern Region hosted its biennial ARF Educational Weekend on Nov. 6-8 at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Plainville. The weekend, planned by the AYF-ER Central Executive, brought in 25 AYF members from across the Eastern Region. The weekend serves to inform AYF members about the ARF and its platform, projects, and ideology.
The program began on Saturday morning with a lecture from Alex Sarafian of New Jersey, who discussed the Artsakh Fund’s housing development project in the village of Arajamugh in the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR/Artsakh). The Artsakh Fund is a project of the Armenian Cultural Association of America (ACAA), Inc. Sarafian gave the AYFers a history of the village and the fund’s efforts in raising money to build more houses to resettle Karabagh’s strategic border areas, which have been vacated after the Artsakh War.
ARF Bureau member Khatchig Mouradian picked up the next lecture on the concept of socialism and its role in the ARF. Mouradian is no stranger to speaking to the AYF—both in the Eastern U.S. and across the globe—and he engaged the members in attendance by tying in modern-day examples of social issues, such as gender equality, socioeconomic status, and corruption. He successfully made an extremely broad concept digestible with concrete ideas and addressed the ARF’s history through the years in the process.
After lunch, Greg Bedian, an ARF Eastern Region Central Committee member, spoke to the crowd about the role of an ARF member. His lecture ran the gamut of responsibilities, from organizing events to serving in leadership roles in local communities. Bedian also gave realistic examples of how ARF members’ roles change as they age, and he showed the AYFers how the party’s views and platform have helped shape the ARF even 125 years after its formation byUngers Christapor Mikaelian, Stepan Zorian, and Simon Zavarian.
Following a brief break, Kim Hekimian of New Jersey talked about women in the ARF and her work in Armenia, which centered around maternal and child health and nutrition. Hekimian, who currently teaches at Columbia University, was asked to address how one connects her passion to her homeland, a perfect fit considering her research focused on infant feeding practices, breastfeeding, and nutrition during pregnancy. Her dissertation involved conducting the first national survey of infant nutrition practices in Armenia at the time, which led to a nation-wide breastfeeding promotion program. After this program, breastfeeding rates tripled and post-neonatal mortality declined in Armenia. Her lecture resonated with attendees because she demonstrated how perseverance and passion (through education) can benefit the Armenian people in areas that are largely lacking resources and awareness in our culture.
At this point in the afternoon, participants were involved in an activity that involved writing down any initial thoughts or views that they have regarding the ARF. They were also asked to write down how they could use their skill sets or fields of study to help the Armenian people, whether in the diaspora or in Armenia/Karabagh. This activity helped fuel a productive open discussion for the rest of the day, with input from the Central Executive and other ARF members in attendance.
The final lecture of the day was given by Rupen Janbazian, former member of the Central Executive of AYF Canada and contributor to the Armenian Weekly. Janbazian gave an in-depth overview of ARF history from 1890 to now. He addressed the early years, the Armenian Genocide, the 50th anniversary, political controversies, and major shifts in the party. He broke down the information in a useful way that prompted questions from attendees, especially with regard to ARF hierarchy and crucial decisions through the party’s 125 years.
The day concluded with a wrap-up discussion that picked up where the mid-afternoon one left off, and it also welcomed new questions and comments from the AYFers. The day ended on a high note with a group photo before everyone went to an entertainment center in nearby Bristol, where they had dinner together and bowled late into the night to bad pop music.
ARF Educational Weekend always seeks to be informative for the AYF members in attendance. This year was no different, with a variety of speakers that some AYFers had never met. With tangible examples of how the ARF affects the pulse and future of the Armenian community, it is easy to see how its role as a major player for the Armenian nation is firmly in place 125 years after the party’s inception.