AGBU Wraps Up Centennial Year with Special Series of Events in Armen

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

AGBU Wraps Up Centennial Year with Special Series of Events in Armenia & Karabakh

After celebrating the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s (AGBU)
Centennial in over 34 cities around the world, the organization
marked the end of the yearlong festivities with a series of events
in Armenia and Karabakh from April 2 to 8, 2007. The 150-member
delegation of AGBU Council of Trustees and Central Board members,
District and Chapter Chairmen, donors, members and friends, headed by
AGBU President Berge Setrakian, converged in Yerevan to participate
in the impressive conclusion to a jubilee year.

Representatives and members from 18 countries and nine US cities came
together to pay homage to the organization that was founded in 1906
and, one hundred years later, with over 90 Districts, Chapters and
Young Professionals groups in 25 countries, has grown to become the
world’s premier Armenian non-profit organization.

The decision to wrap up the centennial year in Armenia was a symbolic
gesture to mark the solidarity between Armenians around the world.

Highlights from the closing weekend included a conference to
discuss the organization’s educational programs, a meeting of Young
Professionals (YP) from around the world, the presentation by Armenian
President Robert Kocharian of the Mkhitar Heratsi Award to three AGBU
Trustees, Sarkis Demirdjian, Nazar Nazarian and Karnig Yacoubian, and
the burial of the first ever time capsule by an Armenian organization.


On April 2, ninety AGBU members embarked on a three-day trip
to Karabakh, accompanied by members of the Yerevan media, to see
firsthand the remarkable progress the small republic has made over the
years. The last time a large-scale AGBU delegation visited Karabakh
was in 2004 during AGBU’s 83rd General Assembly and, since then,
the organization’s programs have continued to grow and expand.

At a meeting with the AGBU delegation, Karabakh Prime Minister
Anushavan Danielian recognized the organization’s visionary guidance,
"From the very beginning of our difficult days, AGBU was with us. We
built the independence of Karabakh together. We see Karabakh getting
stronger, it encourages us and gives us hope, and it encourages you
because you see that your investments were not in vain."

AGBU members witnessed the success of the organization’s work
during a half-day trip to the Hadrut region, in the southeast of
the country. Guests toured the thriving village of Norashen, which
began with 10 families in its first year and now numbers 44 families
with about 144 individuals. One of the village leaders pointed out
that, by the end of the year, the village will number 200. The AGBU
delegation also toured the newer AGBU-funded settlements of Pareshen
and Nor Jrakn, both of which continue to expand.

During the tour, Central Board Member Levon Kebabdjian spoke about
the Karabakh Repopulation Project’s original idea that has now
blossomed into three villages with the support of AGBU’s Chapters,
YPs and individual donors from Boston, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Southern
California, Sydney, Toronto, and beyond.

In a meeting with Karabakh officials in the capital later that day,
AGBU delegates asked questions about the infrastructure projects in
the Hadrut region and the government’s role in tackling water and
transportation problems that remain in the region of the AGBU-funded
villages. Prime Minister Danielian assured the visitors that the
government was solving the issues one by one and lauded AGBU’s
continuing cooperation and success.

That evening, guests enjoyed a lively performance by the AGBU-funded
Karabakh Chamber Orchestra (KCO), which was established in 2004 and
has since flourished to become the Republic’s premier musical ensemble.

During their journey back to Yerevan on April 4, the delegation
stopped in Shushi to tour the local church and met with Archbishop
Barkev Martirosyan of Karabakh.


On April 4 and 5, AGBU members from Districts and Chapters around the
world participated in a series of presentations and roundtable meetings
at the Marriott Armenia Hotel and the American University of Armenia’s
Business Center, designed to elicit new ideas and formulate a future
direction for the organization. Topics of discussion included how to
best reach young Armenians, bring youth closer to both their local
communities and their heritage, and maintain the Armenian language
in the global Armenian community.

Most encouraging during the two-day conference was the enthusiastic
participation of YPs, who stood ready to take part in new
initiatives. Many of them voiced their critical opinions on the
question of identity, and their desire to see AGBU continue to keep
young Armenians involved and included in future discussions. It
became evident that the YP movement is not only the future of AGBU,
but also a crucial part of its present.

During a special session devoted to education, Central Board Member
Carol Aslanian and Education Director Artoun Hamalian presented
an overview of AGBU’s current education programs and plans for new
projects. There was a frank discussion about the importance of the
Armenian language and the increasing difficulties in developing
fluency in communities where immersion is not an option.

Hamalian pointed out that three main elements constitute the basis of
the future direction of AGBU’s educational programming: maintaining
the quality of the existing schools; streamlining curricula for all
schools; and developing resources that will reach greater numbers
of Armenians. Currently, he pointed out, there are 5,500 students in
AGBU schools in 14 countries.

Building on the organization’s interest in making its educational
resources available to more and more Armenians, Silicon Valley Chapter
Chairman Yervant Zorian demonstrated the AGBU-sponsored electronic
Armenian-language education resources currently being developed by
Yerevan State University’s Information Technology (IT) Department
and the Silicon Valley-based company, Virage Logic. Zorian guided
conference participants through a step-by-step presentation on how
distance learning can reach those both inside and outside of large
Armenian communities worldwide, and help create a user-friendly
experience that will make Armenian-language instruction both easy
and fun.

The President of the American University of Armenia (AUA), Haroutune
Armenian, spoke about the current activities and future projects
of the AUA, the country’s premier post-graduate institution. After
the presentations, AGBU President, Berge Setrakian, spoke about the
organization’s commitment to education as a crucial component of the
preservation of Armenian identity in the diaspora. He also elaborated
on the organization’s plans to build a center for diasporan youth in
Armenia, which will begin construction within the next few years and be
named for two historic AGBU benefactors, Krikor and Garabed Melkonian.


On April 6, 2007, Armenian President Robert Kocharian received members
of AGBU’s Council of Trustees and Central Board of Directors to review
and address issues of common interest, including the challenges
of the new century, and Armenia’s leadership role in the future of
the international Armenian community. During the meeting, President
Kocharian congratulated AGBU’s leadership and members on the occasion
of AGBU’s 100th anniversary and noted that the organization continues
to play an invaluable role in the preservation of the Armenian identity
around the world.

President Kocharian awarded three AGBU Trustees, Sarkis Demirdjian,
Nazar Nazarian, and Karnig Yacoubian, with the Mkhitar Heratsi medal
for their decades of service and generosity to the Armenian nation.

Established in 1993, the Mkhitar Heratsi Medal is awarded by the
Armenian President for services to the development of health care,
high professionalism, practical work, as well as for significant
philanthropic activities in the Republic of Armenia.


A remarkable achievement of the Armenia Centennial Conference was
the powerful presence, the largest ever at an AGBU conference, of
the organization’s YPs. Close to 25 leaders from AGBU’s international
network of YP Groups and partners from four continents set short-term
and mid-term goals for their future during a plenary meeting,
emphasizing new YP initiatives, such as a pan-YP fundraising effort,
leadership training seminars, and outreach to Armenian university

In addition, YPs had the unique opportunity to meet with AGBU President
Berge Setrakian, Central Board Members Carol Aslanian, Aris Atamian,
Ruben Kechichian, Sam Simonian and Vasken Yacoubian, and AGBU Trustee
Karnig Yacoubian, to discuss the evolving role of YPs within AGBU.

For many YPs present, it was the first occasion for them to meet
face to face. To break the ice, the delegation of YPs spent Saturday
afternoon at the AUA Business Center with Dr. Tom Samuelian, Dean
of American University of Armenia Law Department, who facilitated
a 90-minute workshop on networking. Providing an explanation of
the difference between bonding and bridging models of networking,
he emphasized the need to move towards a bridging model to increase
social connectedness among Armenians from various parts of the world.


As part of the celebration dinner at Nor Dzoraberd restaurant
on Saturday, April 7, six AGBU members were recognized for their
devotion and dedication to the organization’s mission. The honored
recipients were Vahe Artinian of Sydney, Australia; Vahram Hairabedian
of Buenos Aires, Argentina; Vahe Imasdounian, Chairman of the Southern
California District Committee, USA; Sossi Kelegian of Yerevan, Armenia;
Haig Messerlian of the Southern California District Committee, USA;
and Juan Nourikhan of Cordoba, Argentina.


Believing in the significant role that culture plays in the
perpetuation of the Armenian nation, AGBU sponsored a grand artistic
celebration at the Yerevan Opera House on April 8. Serving as the
official closing ceremony of AGBU’s Centennial, the program began with
remarks from Armenian political, spiritual and community leaders,
including His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians,
Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia Vartan Oskanian, Republic
of Karabakh President Arkady Ghoukassian, and AGBU President Berge

Reading an official statement from President Kocharian, Minister
Oskanian added that he was not only reading the President’s message
as Armenia’s Foreign Minister but also as a proud alumnus of the AGBU
Lazar Najarian-Calouste Gulbenkian School in Aleppo, Syria. The event
then continued with performances by AGBU’s Nork Children’s Center’s
Circus Group, Haykazounk Folk Ensemble and Shoghakat Choir, in addition
to the Gevorgian and Vaskenian Seminarians and the Barekamutyun Dance
Ensemble of Armenia. Also on stage was the AGBU-sponsored Armenian
Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Edouard Topchjan, which
performed selections by Aram Khachaturian, Johann Strauss, Alexander
Harutyunian and Giuseppe Verdi. The evening’s finale included an
ensemble performance of Robert Amirkhanian’s specially commissioned
work "Ode to AGBU Centennial."

One day earlier, participants of the event visited AGBU’s Yerevan
projects, such as the American University of Armenia, Ultrasound
Center, and Soup Kitchens. Their afternoon ended with a special
program presented to a full house by the talented youth from the
AGBU Nork Children’s Center. The performance was comprised of song,
traditional and modern dance, circus acts, and an exhibition of
art. Also participating was the AGBU AYA Antranik Dance Group from
Aleppo, Syria.


To pay homage to AGBU’s far-reaching achievements over the past
century, the Academy of Sciences in Armenia organized a conference
about AGBU on April 7 in Yerevan, which included paper presentations
by notable historians and academics in Armenia. Also on hand to speak
about AGBU’s accomplishments were Raymond Kevorkian, Head Librarian
of the AGBU Nubarian Library in Paris, and Ashot Ghazarian, Director
of AGBU’s Armenia Representation.

Kevorkian spoke in detail about the organization’s relief efforts
during the post-Genocide years in the Middle East, touching
particularly upon the refugee communities, orphanages and women’s
shelters in Lebanon and Syria starting in 1923. In addition, Ghazarian
gave an overview of the projects AGBU initiated in Soviet Armenia some
decades ago, and how the 1988 earthquake in northern Armenia brought
AGBU back to the homeland for good. He specifically mentioned the
projects that the organization currently sponsors in both Armenia
and Karabakh and how it cooperates closely with the Mother See of
Holy Etchmiadzin.

As a final tribute to AGBU’s Centennial, AGBU President Berge
Setrakian, His Holiness Karekin II, Central Board Members, District
and Chapter Chairmen and members gathered on the grounds of Holy
Etchmiadzin after Easter Sunday services to bury a time capsule,
which will remain sealed until the organization’s bicentennial in
2106. Items stored in the capsule include photos, biennial reports,
booklets, yearbooks, media publications, and other unique items that
will help the future generation gain knowledge about what AGBU had
achieved in its first one hundred years and how much the organization
will continue to have progressed until its two-hundredth birthday.

Photos and videos from the Armenia & Karabakh Conference and Closing
Event are available at:

Established in 1906, AGBU is the world’s largest non-profit Armenian
organization. Headquartered in New York City with an annual budget
of $34 million, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian identity
through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually
serving some 400,000 Armenians in over 37 countries.

For more information on AGBU, please visit our flagship website