AYF Olympics: Opening Ceremonies Full of Pomp and Circumstance

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Whether it was 200 athletes marching in unison and filling a stadium with spirit or doves flittering above, this year’s Opening Ceremonies was nothing short of pomp and prestige.

One would expect nothing less from a Providence community bent on celebrating this Olympiad with an overdose of class.

Chapter president Hrant Khatchadourian opened the festivities with a hearty welcome, commending the work that transpired over the past two years in keeping this tradition a perpetual reality.

Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, vicar general, gave the invocation in place of the Prelate who was out of the country and missed his first Olympics. His words were well received.

He pointed to 2009 as the “Year of the Youth” by His Holiness Aram 1, Catholicos of the Greater House of Cilicia.

“In this respect, the AYF has played a key role in bringing Armenian youth together and keeping them connected to their rich heritage,” said the vicar general. “Remain true to the values which you have been raised with inside your Armenian homes. Be actively involved. Always remember that your church and community need your ideas and ideals.”

Mark Mesrobian, the Steering Committee alumni chairman, looked to his parents as being instrumental cogs in this Olympics. “Mez” was part of the Ad Book Committee while Anto received a Varadian Spirit Award for years of dedicated service, including this one. His uncle Ralph Rafaelian was another recipient. “From its inception, the AYF has been a surrogate family to its members,” said Mesrobian. “More than in past years, we’ve had to overcome some unique challenges—from the economic downturn to Tiger Woods’ takeover of Providence hotels. That hasn’t stopped us from taking tradition to a ‘Hyer’ ground.”

Sister Stephanie Mesrobian took the podium as mistress of ceremonies and offered more words of wisdom.

“The athletic program was one of the first priorities established by the AYF and the Olympics quickly became the centerpiece,” she said. “People like Mal Varadian, whose family name graces the AYF Spirit Award, so eloquently captured the meaning of the Olympics to this organization. The games teach us discipline, motivation, and self-confidence. They build character. May the strength and speed of our athletes provide us with the continuing fortitude to build a stronger Armenian nation.”

A moment of silence was observed for two Olympic Kings and two pastors, all of whom succumbed during the past year: Ara Killian, Jack Papazian, Der Vartan Kassabian, and Rev. Archpriest Torkom Hagopian.

A chorus of AYF juniors sang both national anthems in what proved a nice touch from the standard soloists.

Municipal greetings were brought by Cranston mayor Alan Fung and Warwick mayor Scott Avedisian—both true friends to the Armenian community.

Recognized for her selection as an Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Aghnouni Award recipient was Joyce Yeremian. In representing the ARS, Suzanne Azarian, the vice-chairwoman of the Eastern USA Regional Board, lauded her organization on this centennial anniversary, which will culminate next March with an international gathering in New York City.

She pointed to the revamped Summer Studies Program as a way to connect with the Armenian heritage.

“Next spring, the ARS will host interactive seminars with professors of various backgrounds,” she said. “They will provide interesting and pertinent topics of discussion for students 17-25 years of age. We will also have a presence with Youth Connect at Camp Haiastan during the teen session next summer.”

In representing the AYF Central Executive, Lauren DaSilva paid tribute to both departed pastors (Der Vartan and Der Torkom) and urged greater participation from the membership. She lauded the Providence community for its seamless hospitality throughout the weekend.

“The AYF instills a sense of purpose, conscience, and nationalistic pride in its membership,” said DaSilva. “It continues the never-ending fight against assimilation while working to build the strength of our communities.”

ARF representative George Aghjayan called for unbridled support during an AYF rally in New York later this month, and wished the athletes well in the true spirit of sportsmanship and unity. He encouraged the athletes to complement their sport with other facets of the organization.

“Be there. Be stronger,” he told the crowd.

Representing the Homenetmen was Levon Attarian who encouraged the two organizations to work hand-in-hand and share a common bond.

“May the Olympic torch always shine upon us,” he reflected.

Also introduced were the four Olympic Kings and Queens—Mary Fermanian, Anahid Karentz Varadian, Harry Kushigian, and the late Vartkes Markarian—along with three winners of the Varadian Spirit Award—Maro Garabedian Dionisopoulos, Antranig Mesrobian, and Ralph Rafaelian.

Leading the parade of athletes were the Homenetmen flag and drum corps, followed by past and present members of the Olympic Governing Body who looked chic with their tri-color banners. They were joined by Central Executive members from a generation ago, led by Queenie (Fermanian) Haboian who didn’t let a wheelchair keep her behind. Queenie held the CE post during the 1950’s.

On came the athletes, led by efending champ Philly with a cast of 40, and ending with Providence and a cadre of 73 members, escorted by a host of Kings and Queens. In all, 12 chapters were represented including Montebello, Calif., which showed 10 participants.

And with that, Philly captains Stephanie and Peter Tashjian passed the torch to Providence captains Jon Burke and Armen Varadian when the doves were released, signaling the start of these 76th Olympic Games.


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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