The Armenian Youth Federation was born on January 14, 1933. It was on that day in Boston, Massachusetts, that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Central Committee of America decided to unify existing youth groups spread across the United States and build the foundation for a national Armenian youth organization.
Armenian hero, General Karekin Njdeh was soon invited to the United States to serve as a fieldworker to mobilize the communities around the idea of a unified youth movement. He toured the Eastern United States and Canada, encouraging the masses to join the ranks of the soon to be established organization. With his magnetic oratory and inspirational presence, hundreds of youth flocked to hear his appeals and apply to become part of newly formed youth movement.
In June 1934, the organization held its first Convention, which took place at the famous “Hairenik Hall” in Boston. General Njdeh served as the honorary chairman of the Convention, where forty chapters throughout the Eastern United States were represented. There, it was decided that the organization was to be named the ARF Tzeghagrons (young pledges). The first Convention also democratically set the anthem, programs, and aims of the organization and elected the first Central Executive body, composed of five members: Arthur Giragosian, K. Merton Bozoian, Hamparsoum Gelanian, John Der Hovanessian, and Hagop Hagopian.
The Formative Years
During its first, formative years, the ARF Tzeghagrons worked to further define the organization. Chapters organized various programs such as drum and bugle corps, theater troupes and charity services. A high priority was also placed upon education, with chapter-level lectures, Armenian patriotic songbooks, pamphlets on Armenian history, scholarships for higher education, and biographies of historical figures. Armenian youth gained within the organization that which was not being provided in the traditional school system: knowledge of themselves, their history, and their culture. The organization also provided an avenue for Armenian youth to build camaraderie with one another. Through programs such as the annual Tzeghagron Sports Festival (later, the AYF Olympics) the youth gathered together in a spirit of healthy athletic competition and social interaction.
At the 1941 ARF Tzeghagrons Convention in Chicago, it was decided that the organization’s name would change to the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). This change was necessary because the name “Tzeghagrons” was difficult to manage among non-Armenian speakers and it was being maliciously misinterpreted in some quarters. Moreover, the “Armenian Youth Federation” name broadened the scope of the organization, allowing for the encompassing of all Armenian youth. As it grew over the years, the AYF went on to establish annual seminars, celebrations, camps and conferences, which further instilled a sense of pride and comradeship among the youth.
Naturally, as an organization dedicated to the liberation of Armenia, the AYF was also active in opposing both Soviet rule in Armenia and the Republic of Turkey’s unrepentant consolidation of the Armenian Genocide. The AYF prepared young Armenians to be leaders within their community and active, not passive, citizens fighting for the just cause of their people. By the mid-1960s, the AYF was at the forefront of the international campaign demanding recognition and justice for the Armenian Genocide.
The AYF in Canada
In Canada, the first AYF chapter to come into existence was in St. Catharines, Ontario in 1934. Until 1974, the AYF was one organization which included over fifty chapters in three regions: the Eastern US region, the Western US region and the Canadian region. Each was governed by its own Regional Executive, which in turn was subject to the Central Executive, whose head office was Boston, Massachusetts. In 1974, the AYF went through a major administrative re-structure, which separated the three regions. Today, each has its own Central Executive, subject only to the ARF Central Executives of their own region.
The Armenian Youth Federation of Canada boasts several chapters in all the major Armenian communities across Canada, working towards bringing together and fostering nationalistic pride amongst all Armenian youth through educational, political, cultural, athletic and social activities.
The AYF Today
Today, the AYF continues to be the leading youth organization within the Armenian communities in the Diaspora. It remains committed to its initial mission of advancing the goals of a free, independent, and united Armenia; developing the moral, social and intellectual capacity of the Armenian youth; and operating under its five durable pillars—social, athletic, cultural, political and educational.
Over seven decades after its founding, the AYF stands prepared to adapt to changing times and meet the needs of the community at large. Knowing full well that its future rests in the hands of active Armenian youth lending their support and becoming involved in the organization, the AYF strives to reach a new generation of young Armenians and introduce vibrant programs relevant to current times.
The AYF has been an ever-present group at the forefront of various social and political Armenian related issues. We are committed to promoting nationalistic pride among the Armenian youth and community at large through through educational, political, cultural, athletic, and social activities. Of course, the ongoing challenge to stem assimilation and maintain Armenian culture within the Diaspora continues to be at the forefront of the AYF’s activities. The organization has maintained its vigilance surrounding issues related to recognition and just compensation for the crime of the Armenian Genocide. With the emergence of an independent Armenian Republic, the AYF has sharpened its focus on the development and advancement of the homeland.