Nareg Kuyumjian’s speech on behalf of the Armenian Youth Federation Western United States at commemorations of the ARF’s 132nd anniversary, Glendale, California, February 19, 2023
Dear esteemed guests, clergy, Ungerer and Ungerouhiner, hamagirner,
It’s hard to describe the impact the 2nd Artsakh War had on us.
Many of us knew Ungers who joined the war effort— in small ways and big.
They are with us here today.
200 prisoners of war: They are here with us today.
And so are the 120,000 Artsakhtsis hanging on by sheer will. They are here.
They are here with us in spirit to honor the Cause that gives meaning to it all: the sun that remains inextinguishable above our heads.
The revival of the Armenian nation after the 2nd Artsakh War is a story of resilience and faith.
Resilience: in the face of a humiliating capitulation, a loss of the land we worship— masoonk asdvadzayin—as much as a thrashing of our resolve as a nation to fight, to protect, to withstand.
Faith: that we can, will, and are standing up again stronger and better than before. That we have a lot of work ahead but that we are ready to meet the challenges awaiting us.
Working with, learning from, and standing alongside my Ungers in the AYF West, I see what great resilience and faith we truly have.
Some of you might know that I haven’t lived in LA for the past 5 years…
I’ve connected with Ungers about the differences between the western and eastern AYFs and communities more generally. I should say that they have some unique shourchbars out east and a man named Onnik Dinkjian, that I’d argue is in many ways unparalleled.
But what struck me to my core was how much remained constant in my life when I moved back to LA
Within days I was lining up chairs for a chapter meeting, within weeks I was organizing a blockade of Wilshire Ave, within months we put on an educational seminar at AYF camp with over 90 Ungers present…
Ungers, born and raised on either side of this vast country, sworn with the same oath, sacrificing for the same purpose, scheming for the same victory, organizing for the same Cause
Being a part of a powerful, smart, and dedicated group of Armenian-American youth, I feel empowered as a young Tashnagtsagan…
A son of a 132-year struggle for justice, for decolonization, for liberation, that is not afraid to say
YES, we can have national values AND human values…
YES, we can sing about the assassination of Talaat Pasha with smiles of vengeance AND walk through halls of Congress with democratic intentions.
YES, we can celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of Lisbon 5 AND fight for peace in Artsakh.
YES, we can pride ourselves on being Revolutionary AND stand firm against everything the so-called Velvet Revolution has brought about…
The AYF is strong, fired up, and ready to continue adapting, progressing, and fighting for a free, independent, and united Armenia: fed with the sweat and tears of the panvor’s shovel, educated with Aghpalian’s pen, ordained with Njteh’s tseghagronagan sword, and united by Rosdom’s fist.
Seeing how much we share as Armenian-American youth gives me a sense of unity, comradery, hope…
But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but hear, see, and feel that a lot had changed in the region over the past couple of years
In addition to the pivotal times we face as a nation, we as a region have been shook by a sharp divide in our community between those who maintain their vow to the Cause and those who have elected to tear down the very structure that has kept that Cause alive for 132 years
I speak on behalf of the AYF when I say: we are tired of our agoumps being held hostage from us, we are disgusted by the open attack on the Bylaws and Program that have inspired our service to the homeland and our people, and we are unwilling in any way to compromise who we are as Tashnagtsagan youth to serve the interests of one single person or group who have failed to see who the real enemy is.
All the same, the AYF isn’t waiting for anybody to do its work because we see what we are able to accomplish if we work together…
We saw that the United States government’s genocide denialism stood in the way of a moral and pro-Armenian engagement with the South Caucasus…
So we took action through protest and advocacy and helped pass H.Res. 296 and S.B. 150 for complete and near-unanimous Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide
We saw Turkey’s increasingly belligerent behavior and President Biden’s unique opportunity to put America on the right side of history
So we helped secure genocide recognition from the POTUS by maintaining pressure on the administration during the darkest hours of the 2nd Artsakh War
We saw the egregious denialism and hate speech expressed by the Mayor of Irvine in Orange County,
So we spoke truth to power and received an apology AND a promise to erect a Genocide memorial in Irvine to honor and commemorate the memory of our ancestors
We saw that our community in Pennsylvania was under threat from an Erdogan-supporter, genocide denier in Mehmet Oz
So we said if you deny genocide, we deny you and won… organizing in the streets and through social media to make sure that America understands loud and clear that genocide denial has no place in Congress.
Big victories or small, the AYF owes to the next generation what Njteh passed on to us 90 years ago: to pay the spirit of service forward…
…because, in the end, we have made a choice and that choice is to serve our nation through the Tashnagtsutyun: to serve means to be selfless in our work and our leadership; to serve means to be men and women for others; to serve means to understand that we are united as much by what we want to achieve as who we believe ourselves to be.
I believe that the Armenian nation stands to gain from that
I believe that America stands to gain from that
And I believe that each one of us stands to gain from saying it with our chest…
We are Tashnagtsagan.