Stanford Students’ Fast for Armenia on April 24

Stanford, California.
Anahid Yeremian
P.O. Box 655
Menlo Park, CA 94026
Tel: 650 – 926 – 6634
Fax: 650 – 926 – 5368
Email: [email protected]

Stanford Graduates Launch Annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration Fast
for Armenia

Chris Guzelian and Alex Vartan are pleasantly punctual for a pair of
busy Stanford graduate students. They are in my office, they tell me,
because they have come up with a novel way of helping the children of

The pair’s plan is simple but powerful. They are calling for an
international, day-long fast on Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day,
Saturday, April 24, 2004. Participants are asked to donate the money
that they would have spent on food that day to Armenian
charities. With a combined 10 years at Stanford in the heart of
Silicon Valley, Guzelian and Vartan understand the power of the
Internet in uniting people across the globe. So they have built
, making the donation process as simple as
buying a book from

Guzelian explains how he and Vartan decided on a fast as the
centerpiece of their charity movement, Fast for Armenia. `We knew we
wanted to have a charity drive on [April] 24th and hit upon this idea
to focus on aiding Armenia’s youth. Fasting serves as a reminder of
the abundance with which we Diaspora Armenians are blessed today, our
ancestors’ sacrifices and suffering, and the troubles Armenia’s
children contend with every day.’

Vartan stresses that the website isn’t just for collecting donations:
`The website will allow us to accept credit card donations with ease –
but more than that, it will offer detailed information about the
projects and have downloadable marketing material so that anyone can
help publicize this event at their school, church or place of work.’

Donors can specify whether their funds will go to the Children of
Armenia Fund’s (COAF) Model Village project, or its Textbooks for
Armenian Schoolchildren project. As beneficiaries of the inaugural
Fast for Armenia, these specific projects were carefully selected
because they are successfully meeting impoverished Armenians’ basic

COAF is a nonprofit 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. The Model Village
project is developing the basic infrastructure of Karakert, an
agricultural Armenian village with 5,000 inhabitants; as well as
programs that emphasize education, economic development and health
care needs

Dr. Garo Armen, the chairman and founder of COAF, explained to us that
the next five years will be critical for the children and the youth of
Armenia. “Without our help there is a substantial risk that they will
lose all hope and face an uncertain future. The goal of the programs
at COAF is to provide the basic infrastructure and training for these
children so that they can learn, as well as receive essential and
preventive medical care. COAF programs are designed to be sustainable
to ensure the long-term viability of Armenia,’ Guzelian said. `This
village on the Turkish border has no drinkable water, inadequate
medical facilities, and crumbling schoolhouses. But because of COAF,
spirits are high.’

By improving Karakert, COAF is demonstrating that even the most
destitute Armenian villages can be brought up to suitable standards of
living, cost-efficiently. Vartan notes, `Already, trucks are
delivering potable water and a new school is in the planning
stages. But much more needs to be done. COAF has organized a local
governing council and has asked them to prioritize their needs. The
number one priority of the community was improving their schools –
ahead of adding running water and bathrooms in homes.’

The project’s success is expected to motivate international aid
organizations and donors to realize that the development of rural
Armenia is both feasible and necessary. Once these programs have
demonstrated success, COAF expects the formula to be repeated
throughout rural parts of the country, which is critical for a
self-sustaining Armenia.

During the soviet era Armenia was given special consideration because
of its human and intellectual capital; since the collapse of the
Soviet Union the absence of resources and structure has created an
enormous void which risks the endangerment of this terrific people
resource. Thus the next five years are critical in making certain
that people’s hope for a promising future is maintained and the only
way to accomplish this is to make sure that there are substantive and
sustainable efforts underway as soon as possible.

COAF’s Textbooks for Armenian Children project delivers modern
textbooks to Armenian schoolchildren in regions where few, if any,
children have access to such materials. Guzelian and Vartan explain
that the future of Armenia depends on its intellectual
resources. These children will be the leaders, the artists, the
scientists, and the businessmen that will sustain Armenia in the long
term. Only $10 pays for a year’s use of textbooks for one child. The
Fast for Armenia drive will equip as many village schools with
textbooks as your generosity will permit.

Vartan stresses that the key to Fast for Armenia’s success is
widespread grassroots participation, and he believes that Armenians
and their friends will support it in impressive numbers.

Guzelian believes Fast for Armenia answers many common hopes of
Armenians in a unified project. `Each year,’ he explains, `so many
people make admirable efforts to get the public and world governments
to remember the genocide. Every year we see progress in baby steps,
and every year, we see so many Armenians and their supporters
disappointed that their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. We wanted an
outlet to constructively honor our ancestors and Fast for Armenia is
it. It commemorates the genocide as fittingly as ever, in part because
fasting requires self-sacrifice and devotion, which shows how strongly
Armenians believe in the need for official genocide recognition. But
equally important, the charity drive portion of Fast for Armenia
translates to hope for Armenia’s children and future.

`We believe everyone can and will participate in Fast for Armenia,’
continues Guzelian, tapping keenly on the table to emphasize his
point. `Whether you fast, donate money, or volunteer, do something! If
you have media connections, get them to report on Fast for Armenia, or
on the projects it is supporting. Even children are encouraged to
participate by, say, giving up their desserts or snacks. Get others,
including non-Armenians, to fast. Involve your workplaces, schools,
communities, churches and social organizations!’

In future years, Guzelian and Vartan plan to expand Fast for Armenia
by allowing other proven Armenian charities to become fundraising
recipients. `Any charitable organization that demonstrates it is
contributing to the well-being of the Armenian people could
potentially participate,’ says Vartan. `Fast for Armenia also wants to
recruit matching patrons, who will pledge to support the drive by
matching some fraction of its funds, dollar-for-dollar.’

I am awed and amazed, and wonder why someone didn’t think of this
sooner. I offer a quick question to my grandparents in heaven, `Is our
promise to `never forget’ being carried out to your satisfaction?’
After speaking to these young men, I know my answer is an enthusiastic
`Yes!’ I am filled with pride and hope, and I pledge them my
unwavering support and pray that you will, too.

As this ambitious pair of young Stanford graduates get up to leave, I
am convinced that the schoolchildren of Armenia and the inhabitants of
Karakert will have their dire conditions improved after April 24, and
that the genocide’s memory is being well guarded by this generation of
young Armenians.

For more information about Fast for Armenia and this year’s projects,
or to volunteer your assistance, log on to and
click on the `How can I help?’ link.

Photo: Chris Guzelian (left) and Alex Vartan take a moment to pose at
the arches of Stanford’s Inner Quad.