By ANCA WR Summer Intern Sarin Keosian
Anyone who has attended AYF Camp knows the feeling one gets when they wake up on the Sunday they are scheduled to arrive at camp. You spring out of bed, probably faster than you ever have, and begin pacing from room to room making sure you have everything you need for the upcoming week. Your parents have loaded the car, however, you have been sitting impatiently in the backseat for about twenty minutes waiting to see your mother or father to put the key in the ignition and hear the sound of the engine running. You begin thinking of all that you have to look forward to: Wacky Olympics, egg toss, steal the bacon, song competition, and canoeing on Jackson Lake; but you know that what you are looking forward to the most is being reunited with your “ungers” and “ungeroohis”. This year, all of these familiar feeling came rushing back to my mind as I made my way to AYF Camp with the Executive Director of the ANCA WR Elen Asatryan, and my fellow intern Morris Sarafian to conduct an educational on the role and importance of the Armenian National Committee.
As we entered through the narrow dirt road, I saw the large forest green lodge to my left. This building was home to numerous lunches and dinners at camp, but also was the stage for educationals. Elen, Morris, and I advanced into the lodge with all of our supplies and turned our heads to realize the room was filled 130 bright, young faces. Elen mounted one of the picnic tables and introduced her, Morris, and myself, while also educating the campers on the activity of the day. This was no ordinary lecture, which was going to be given on the history and formation on the ANCA, but it was an activity which would allow the campers to practice one of their most vital powers, their voice. We were going to conduct a mock Presidential Election. Three groups were created with twenty campers each. These three groups had the responsibility of selecting their party name, party platform, and candidate. Each political party was not only discussing their possible platforms but also talking strategy. They had separated their campaign team into sign makers, specific members who would prepare their candidate for their speech, individuals who would communicate with voters about their candidate’s wants and needs for the United States, and most scandalously, certain investigators who were offering a sweet bribe to individuals who would promise to vote for their specific candidate.
Eventually, the time had come for the reporters, investigators, and presidential candidates to make their case to the voting body. The reporters from CNN, E! News, and Fox News educated the camp on their perception and opinions of every candidate. The reporter representing Fox News criticized one of the candidates regarding his promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The reporter compared the candidate’s platform to the Armenian-American experience with president Obama where he made promises which he did not keep. In addition, CNN’s reporter notified the voters that one of the candidates did not answer his questions directly, rather his campaign team took charge and spoke on behalf of their candidate. This was frowned upon by the reporter as he saw this as a representation of the candidate’s poor communication skills. Finally, the representative of E! News tackled the topic of what the candidates thought of Kim Kardashian’s visit to Armenia and also asked their opinions on Caitlyn Jenner. She applauded the candidates as they all advocated for freedom when it came to gender identification.
Next, the investigators began reading off the names of specific campers who had taken the bribes. One by one the campers made their way to the front of the lodge, grinning as they believed their names were being called in order to receive their bribe: a doughnut. However to their surprise, after all 28 campers stood in front of their fellow campers impatiently waiting for the tasty treat, they were caught off guard as our Executive Director, Elen, stepped in and stressed the importance of each and every individual’s voice, and how giving this power away for a fluffy doughnut would result in their vote being taken away. As expected, there were lots of opposition to this. The 28 campers made their way out of the lodge and peered into the windows in envy during the remainder of the activity. In order to settle the crowd down, we invited the candidates to give their speeches, which would address specific issues they aimed to tackle if elected. Sebou Ourfalian, Haig Douzdjian, and Lori Berberian all gave powerful speeches. They addressed very unique issues including, tackling poverty, hunger, and the education system. However, in the end the majority of campers had voted Lori Berberian of the People’s Party their president with a 23-vote margin. When the voting body was asked why the majority of them had voted for Lori, they praised her on her eloquent speaking, her openness when it came to the public’s opinion, and her relevant platforms. This educational not only reminded the entire camp of the importance of their voice and participation in democracy, but showed each and every one of them the power their vote could have when electing a knowledgeable candidate who would contribute to the furthering of the Armenian Cause.
AYF Camp stood as a platform for the ANCA-WR to communicate to Armenian Youth how powerful they and their voices could be. However, it also stands as a home away from home where Armenian-American youth can participate in activities which indulge them in Armenian history and culture. And, as we gathered around Jackson Lake with all campers, counselors, and the week’s Directors to take a group photo, I could not help but grin when I saw campers and counselors arm in arm, giggling ready to snap the photo. I felt a unique, heart-warming feeling as I imagined this AYF Camp family. I had no doubt they had fostered friendships that would last a lifetime, developed a strong sense of their Armenian identity which would undoubtedly reflect into their lives, and most importantly established a love for their traditions and their history.