The Student News Site of Royal Oak High School

Acorn Newsmagazine

Acorn Newsmagazine

The Student News Site of Royal Oak High School

Acorn Newsmagazine

Celebrating Armenian Heritage in the Diaspora

Armenian Youth Federation hosts Olympics in D.C.

Labor Day weekend is commonly associated with barbecues, beaches, and relaxation as one final push of summer. But not for Armenians. Since 1934, Armenian Americans have gathered every Labor Day weekend to celebrate the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Olympics. In fact, the AYF is the only other organization aside from the Olympic Games and Special Olympics, to officially use “Olympics” in the name.

The Armenian Olympics is a highly competitive series of events where the best athletes from each region across the United States compete in all sorts of athletic events, including swimming, softball, and track and field.

Armenians represent a small, but enduring culture and nation dating back to approximately the 4th century B.C. They are known as the first Christians, and for their contributions to literature, high-end jewelry design, music, and the sciences. For teen Armenian Americans, the annual Olympics event is one of the most popularly attended.

This year, the AYF Olympics were held in Washington D.C. Armenians from the west to east coast, and even a few internationals, gathered in support of their regional chapters and the AYF as a whole. The Detroit Chapter, which I am a part of, won first place this year, an exciting finish to the weekend after we were neck and neck with the team from Boston. In addition to meeting people from all over the country, this Olympic weekend also makes me feel even closer to my chapter, as we are truly united as a team.

Each evening, there is a celebratory dance, where athletes, families, and supporters of the AYF gather to enjoy an Armenian singer or band. Armenians of all ages dance to the upbeat Armenian music, and after the performance, a DJ takes over and the young adults party well into the night with old and new friends. The final night features an awards ceremony highlighting sportsmanship as well as total point achievements.

The connections and the relationships we develop through the AYF are the most important part of the Armenian youth experience. It’s difficult to describe, even though it’s similar to many groups or organizations that are rooted in a sport, hobby, or career/educational group. People often get together and find each other, based on similarities. Armenians are foremost connected by having ancestors and relatives that are from Armenia. The cooking, language, music, upbringing, and church are all part of the experience, and make meeting each other outside of family both easy and natural.

Going to the AYF Olympics with my entire family this year exemplified the true connections we make with other Armenians. My older brother, David, was able to spend time with his best friends, who he remains close with, even though they are from other parts of the country. The same thing happened with my mother, who reconnected with her friends of over thirty years. No matter how much time is spent apart, the friendships are always the same, as if no time has passed. My sister Mary and I both made new friends who we instantly clicked with, just like our mom did all those years ago with her friends. It’s easy to quickly bond with people who have had similar upbringings, with big families who are always around, pilaf and kebab being constantly served, and prioritizing church/Armenian events.

Although this often happens among Armenian Americans without much effort, the Armenian Youth Federation is an organization that coordinates gatherings within different regions of the United States to encourage youth to meet regularly and share experiences. I also attend a summer camp in Boston, Mass. that is sponsored by the AYF. Camp Haiastan runs very similarly to American summer camps, with cabins, water activities, and sports, as well as Armenian education time (focusing on language, history, and current events).

In the United States, we are very privileged to be given the opportunity to continue celebrating our Armenian heritage. However, currently in Armenia, civilians are being pushed out of their land as Azeri forces claim land that has been occupied by Armenians for thousands of years. Armenians are being starved, tortured, and killed as they were in the 1915 Armenian Genocide, where almost two million Armenians were killed and tortured by the Ottoman Empire. Despite the tragedy of the Armenian Genocide, it is rarely mentioned, in part because of Turkey’s denial that it ever happened. History is bound to repeat itself if there is no awareness and once again, the rest of the world has stayed silent while Armenian land and lives are being lost.

Our passion is never lost though. Armenians around the world will continue to push to be heard, aid those being persecuted in the homeland, and continue to carry on the culture by gathering together. William Saroyan, an Armenian-American novelist and playwright once said:
“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing, and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”

Being Armenian is a gift, and by having these experiences and connecting with a group that is greater than myself, I am inspired to continue leading and growing awareness to support Armenia.

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About the Contributor
Lucie Coburn
Lucie Coburn, Reporter
Hi! My name is Lucie Coburn and I am a senior at Royal Oak High School. This is my first year on Acorn staff and I am so excited to be a part of the behind the scenes of the newsmagazine. I am constantly looking for ways to expand my knowledge on different subjects. Acorn will be a way for me to achieve this in a unique setting of researching, interviewing, and writing about topics that I am both familiar with and unfamiliar with. Outside of school, I love spending time with my family/friends, reading, and doing jigsaw puzzles! I am a part of Royal Oak’s student council, where I am able to give back to the school with other leaders who inspire me everyday. Being a leader as well as being connected to my family/culture is the reason for my ongoing involvement in the Armenian community. I am a proud member of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), through which I spent my entire summer working as a camp counselor at AYF Camp Haiastan. All of these experiences have made me who I am today and I can’t wait to continue to grow this year as a journalist and as a person!

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