FAR Donors Raffi and Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian Change Girl’s Life

Fund for Armenian Relief
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Edina N. Bobelian
Tel: (212) 889-5150; Fax: (212) 889-4849
E-mail: [email protected]

August 20, 2007


By Levon Lachikyan
Translated by Marina Bazayeva

This tale originated last year when Dr. and Mrs. Raffy and Vicki Shoghag
Hovanessian arrived in Armenia from Chicago to become better acquainted with
the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) programs. They also wished to identify a
children’s music school for their cousin who wanted to donate money raised
in memory of her late husband. So they left for Gyumri, the second largest
city of Republic of Armenia. Among other benevolent projects, they visited
the FAR-sponsored Azad Shishian Octet Music School, the educational
institution still operating in makeshift containers remaining in the
disaster borne city of Gyumri.

The Octet Music School functions out of temporary tin shelters dating from
the 1988 earthquake, lacks insulation, heating as well as an indoor lavatory
system. In spite of these circumstances, the FAR-sponsored school with 200
pupils, who often come from large and underprivileged families who cannot
afford to pay their kids’ tuition, continues to produce dedicated, talented

The contrast between their school environment and the beautiful music is
unbelievable. Yet, the students play Komitas as easily as Khatchadourian,
Mozart as well as Hayden. They are trained in a wide variety of musical
styles, from Armenian folk to classical to jazz to modern.

A concert was presented in honor of the American guests. When it was over,
Mrs. Hovanessian stroked a little violinist’s hair and asked for her name,
but the latter timidly dropped her eyes and stood still. The teachers
revealed that Ani (that was the girl’s name) had a congenital cleft palate,
consequently her only way of communication was in written form. No, there
is one more way: her big, glowing and clever eyes.

On their way back to Yerevan, this couple, who is well-known for their
benevolence in Armenia and in the Diaspora, was thinking of helping the 11-
year- old violinist. Prior to leaving for the U.S., they asked Dr. Gevorg
Yaghjyan, an eminent plastic surgeon in Yerevan, to look into little Ani’s
condition and correct it through plastic surgery.

Ani and her mother, father, two sisters and a brother live in Pokr (Small)
Sariar, a little Armenian village perched on the highlands, situated 25
miles away from Gyumri. It is almost heroism to get there from the city
since the rocky and puddled impassable road requires hands-on practice from
the driver and steady nerves from the passenger.

In the summer it is cool and damp, and in the winter snowy, which blocks the
only road that connects the village with the rest of the world. Even in
summers, there are no buses available, so it is hard to imagine that the
young girl and her mother conquer that road to reach Gyumri’s Octet School
of Music four times a week.

It turned out that Ani’s mother, Zaruhi Ghazaryan also studied in that same
school – the Octet Music School. Later on she continued her education in
the strings department of the Yerevan College of Music named after Romanos
Melikyan. `When Ani was born with that deficiency (the cleft palate) and I
imagined her crestfallen future,’ her mother recalls. `I decided to enroll
her in a music school so that she obtains a profession and earns her daily
bread. However, now when I witness her success, I want her to become a good

Yes, definitely, every parent wants to see his/her dreams fulfilled through
their kids. This young girl, as says the school principal Mr. Haroutyun
Asatryan, possesses absolute talent and even difficult pieces of music come
easy to her, be it Paganini, Sarasateh or Aram Khachatryan. The evidence is
in the numerous certificates and diplomas that Ani has been awarded in
Metropolitan and Republican contests and Olympiads.

Seeing Ani’s rural shabby house, it is hard to imagine that it is possible
to master the instruments’ queen, the violin, in such poor conditions.
Listening to her performance, one understands how much musicality and
feelings have been gifted by nature to this fragile human being. One
understands and wonders, grasps and becomes enraptured.

Ani’s father Andranik hardly manages to meet his large family’s numerous
needs. He owns a cow and a small plot outside the village. Both parents
and the children live, sleep and eat in a two-room ramshackle house next to
the cattle-shed. Manure is the only smell both inside the home and outside.
However, listening to Ani’s performance one forgets about various smells any
other disturbing circumstances. The classical and national music, and the
violin sounds take the listener away from this world, refining the body and
soul, charging with optimism and positive energy.

That energy was more than positive during their unexpected visit. The
persistent efforts of Dr. and Mrs. Hovanessian produced results. This year
they were informed by Dr. Yaghjyan that a group of Italian specialized
plastic surgeons arrived in Yerevan on a medical mercy mission. He arranged
for little Ani’s surgery to correct the cleft palate be one of the first
operations to be performed by them. Thus, only few days after their arrival
from Italy in early July, the Italian surgeon Fabio Massimo Abenavoli
operated on the girl, placing an artificial palate into her mouth’s cavity.

Mrs. Zaruhi was extremely ecstatic as her daughter started to articulate at
last in her mother tongue. Though the girl has weakened because of the
operation (she is not allowed to eat coarse foods for two post-operation
months), her look became more meaningful and a smile appeared on her pale
face. Now, through speech therapy, she has to polish her speech.

Ani Khachatryan is currently enrolled in Pokr Sariar’s secondary school’s
5th grade and Gyumri’s Octet Music School’s 4th grade. Who knows in the
future, on what international stages she might perform and what parts of the
world would enjoy listening to the Armenian ballad sounds years later.
Meanwhile, Ani is learning to communicate in an understandable language with
that world.

This is a vivid example of what human care and spirit of compassion and
perseverance can do. Humane persons and humanitarian organizations change
the destiny of an individual in particular, as well as, the Nation and
Country in general.

About FAR

Since its founding in response to the 1988 earthquake, FAR has served the
Armenian people through more than 220 relief and development programs in
Armenia, Karabagh and Javakhk. It has channeled more than $265 million in
humanitarian assistance by implementing a wide range of projects, including
emergency relief, construction, education, medical aid, and economic

FAR, one of the preeminent relief and development organization working
there, is dedicated to realizing the dream of a free, democratic,
prosperous, and culturally rich Armenian Homeland. It works towards a
brighter future by partnering with donors to provide hope, opportunity and
empowerment for the people in Armenia, Karabagh and Javakhk.

For more information on FAR or to send donations, contact FAR at 630 Second
Avenue, New York, NY 10016; telephone (212) 889-5150; fax (212) 889-4849;
website ; e-mail [email protected].

— 8/20/07

E-mail photo is available upon request.

PHOTO CAPTION: Ani Khachatryan, who studies at the FAR-sponsored Azad
Shishian Octet Music School in Gyumri, plays beautiful music on the violin.
After meeting Ani in 2006, Dr. and Mrs. Raffi and Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian
changed her life forever by arranging for a surgery to correct Ani’s
congenital cleft palate through FAR.