SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y.—Azadouhi (named freedom) was an emaciated infant near death when she was rescued by the Near East Relief during the Armenian Genocide. Five years later, she had blossomed into a robust, intelligent, and playful child due to the dedicated care of this benevolent organization.
Azadouhi was one of thousands of Armenian children rescued and cared for by the Near East Relief, which today is the worldwide philanthropic organization, the Near East Foundation (NEF). Currently, it actively operates in eight countries, including Armenia, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, and Syria.
On Sat., Sept. 12, the Near East Foundation hosted a gala reception at the Rockefeller Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow to raise funds for its large collection of archival material spanning 94 years of philanthropic history. The collection includes documents, reports, photos, negatives, and even clothing, flags, and lace doilies made by the orphans. John D. Rockefeller was the first of many famous American donors to the Near East Relief even before it was founded, having supported Armenians during the 1896 Hamidian massacres.
The Rockefeller Archive Center, located in the Sleepy Hollow Rockefeller estate surrounded by a bucolic and picturesque landscape, includes some 60 million documents, half a million photos, and 2,000 films in 11 temperature-controlled vaults covering several 20th-century philanthropies, including those from the Near East Foundation.
The gathering included representatives from Armenia Fund USA, Ararat Import Export LLC, Museum of Jewish Heritage, Armenian Diocese (Eastern), Armenian Prelacy (Eastern), Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Assembly, Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial, Armenian National Committee of America, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, St. Gregory the Enlightener Armenian Church of White Plains, Tufenkian Foundation, Rockefeller Archive Center, several board members of the Near East Foundation, and its president, Alexander Papachristou.
World’s Leading Archives
Welcoming the more than 70 guests who had enjoyed a cocktail reception with music by the Musica Bella Orchestra was James Allen Smith, the vice president and director of research and education at the Rockefeller Archive Center. He termed the Rockefeller collection as the “leading archives in the world covering civil society and philanthropy in the last 140 years.” Annually, some 200 to 300 scholars do research in institutional memory and critical evaluation.
NEF chairman Shant Mardirossian called the day a “family reunion” and related that it marked the 94th anniversary of the NEF’s founding. He paid special tribute to the many outstanding American families associated with the Near East Relief, including the Rockefellers, Dodges, Clevelands, Bartons, and Morgenthaus, among many others. He pointed out that the AGBU inherited many of the Near East Relief orphanages and schools throughout the Middle East, and revealed that the current headquarters of the Catholicos of Cilicia sits on the site of property donated to the church by the Near East Relief.
In one of the most touching segments, David Mann, the son of Nellie Miller Mann, a Near East Relief worker in Beirut, and Martha Gurahian, the daughter of Siranoush Davitian, a Near East Relief orphan in the legendary Bird’s Nest Orphanage, both read excerpts from their mothers’ letters and diaries, detailing heartfelt occurrences from the daily lives of the orphans, who ranged in age from infancy to 17.
An Oasis in the Desert
These children had witnessed the horrors during the death marches, had suffered from starvation, illness, trachoma, bleeding feet, poor hygiene, and many other critical conditions, before arriving at the Near East Relief orphanages. In a dramatic gesture, Gurahian held up a grammar book her mother had saved from her days in the Bird’s Nest. “I will always keep this treasured book,” she said with obvious emotion.
Henry “Ben” Morgenthau IV, the great grandson of U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau, noted that he had grown up surrounded by Armenian families. He related that Ambassador Morgenthau, “in public life acted as an ambassador, but behind the scenes, confronted the Turks continually, appealing to the State Department and the American people to stop the atrocities.”
Due to the ambassador’s tireless efforts, the American Committee for Syrian and Armenian Relief was formed—the precursor to the Near East Relief. Ben Morgenthau reported that $117 million was raised, saving the lives of 132,000 orphans. He also reported that the Morgenthau family commemorates April 24th every year, and that when he visited Armenia with his father and brother in 1999, he participated in several events, including the dedication of the “Morgenthau School” in Yerevan, and placing soil from the grave of Ambassador Morgenthau in the “Wall of Heroes.”
In his remarks, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Marshall Evans, who like Ambassador Morgenthau displayed courage and integrity in his position, emphasized the crucial need for preserving these historical records. He revealed that the oldest archival and first fireproof building in the western hemisphere is in Williamsburg, Va. He pointed out that there has always been “an impulse to alter public records. In the old days, they burned them. Now they shred them. Public records are treasures of our democracy and human history. We should not leave this task to governments.”
In spite of many archival records, the U.S. government still does not recognize the genocide, he stated. “Archives are absolutely necessary and important to understand our past, but they are not sufficient. Join me in applauding the Rockefellers, the Dodges, the Bartons, etc. These valuable records in the Rockefeller Center must be preserved and safeguarded!” he declared with emphasis.
During the event, written remarks by Carnegie Corporation president Dr. Vartan Gregorian were read, and two films were shown, one by Zareh Tjeknavorian, entitled, “Lest They Perish,” paying tribute to the founders of the Near East Relief, and another by the Near East Foundation, depicting its current projects throughout the Middle East and Africa. Mardirossian also gave a detailed presentation of the NEF’s current micro-economic development project in rural Armenian villages, which it is conducting in partnership with Armenia Fund USA.
The evening concluded with symbolic words from the film: “Our past is a reflection of who we are today, winning hearts and minds…one person at a time.”