Detroit Avak-Vanig Plans 41st Vasbouragan Convention

They have not forgotten their brave and illustrious past. And with the same intense dedication to their Armenian roots, the Detroit Avak-Vanig chapter of the Vasbouragan Society is planning their 41st biennial convention to be held the last weekend of June in the city where their organization began.

According to Avak-Vanig president Paul Bardizbanian and treasurer Hrayr Toukhanian, plans are progressing smoothly and 15-20 delegates are expected from such strong Vanetsi strongholds as Fresno, Los Angeles, Boston, and Detroit. Both Paul and Hrayr have given many years of service to their local chapter and intend for this to be a memorable gathering.

The convention meetings will be held at the Double Tree Inn located near Ford Rd. and the Southfield Expressway in Dearborn, Mich. An informal reception for guests will take place Friday evening at the St. Sarkis Church Hall. Guests will be treated to a showing of Garo Lachinian’s film of his trip to Vasbouragan featuring the Old City, Citadel, Aykestan, and Akhtamar.

The convention dinner and dance will be Saturday evening at the Armenian Community Center. For dancing and listening pleasure, Armenian music will be provided by the popular local Nigosian Band. Father Andon Atamian of St. Vartan’s Armenian Catholic Church will give a brief presentation honoring Krikor Naregatsi’s 1,000th anniversary. It is admirable the Vanetsis remember to pay tribute to their notables from so long ago.

Krikor Naregatsi, 950-1010, was born in the province of Vasbouragan to a very religious family. The intellectual has many accomplishments, but he is best known for his Book of Prayers or Lamentations. Naregatsi spent his whole life in Vasbouragan, mainly in the monastery. Even though he only knew Armenian, his writings have been translated into many languages.

On Sunday morning, June 27, church services will be held at St. Sarkis Church. A hokehankist for the herosarmards will be said, followed by coffee hour.

You know who the Vanetsis are. They are the ones who hold their heads just a little bit higher and brag just a little bit stronger about which part of Armenia they originate. Their parents gave them names like Vahan, Van, Vaughn, Vanig, and Vahagn, making their birthright obvious. At dances they quickly line up to do the Vanetsi Bar.

Van, once known as Tushpa, was the capital of ancient Urartu from the 13th century B.C. It is believed the Urartians mixed with the arriving Armenians and their architecture and engineering skills were a standard model for that period. Before the genocide of 1915, that area had an Armenian population of 185,000. Sadly none remain. Some members still speak a dialect of Armenian that is unique to the Vanetsis. And Van still beats strong in the hearts of Vanetsis no matter where or how far they have resettled from their early beginnings.

The Vasbouragan Society was founded in 1931 in Detroit by Armenian survivors who had somehow made their way to America after the horrors of the late 19th and early 20th century. These survivor settlers were fueled by the heroic spirit and memories that emanated from the 1915 “Defense of Van”—their historic stand-off of Turkish invaders.

The survivors’ goal was to establish chapters throughout the United States and to maintain world-wide communication with Vanetsis everywhere.

One of this area’s proudest Vanetsi was the late Souren Aprahamian, a centenarian who even in his advanced years traveled back to the homeland because of his love for “Vosbouragan.” Elders like Oghig Mooradian, well into her 90’s, still attend meetings along with one-time “Vanetsi of the Year” Lillian Masropian. They exemplify that enduring Vanetsi spirit, which now their children have inherited.

When we say “Akh-Tamar” we speak of the beautiful island on Lake Van where young lovers ended their lives as they tried to swim to reach each other. Lake Van is also the location of Holy Cross Church, recently renovated by the Turks as a museum for tourists. To the disdain of Armenians, the Turks have not replaced the cross on top of the church. Tenth-century King Gagik built his magnificent royal residence here with the church and gardens, considered one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture.

The Vanetsis proudly claim not only early-20th century artist Arshile Gorky as their own but also the beloved religious leader Khrimian Hairig; he was the Catholicos known for his heresa paper ladle speech, and also as the father of the Armenian revolutionary movement.

Continuing in their quest to educate, the present Vasbouragans give high school awards and college scholarships to Vanetsi descendants. They have supported 10 Armenian schools in the U.S. and supported orphans and intellectuals in their endeavors overseas, which includes building monuments in Armenia. In general, they support all Armenian institutions. They are proud of their history as brave fighters especially in their historic defense of Van, “Herosamard.”

All Vanetsis agree that Vasbouragan was so beautiful that it still prompts the age-old saying: “Van in this world, paradise in the next.”

And Detroit in 2010. Welcome to our town, Vanetsis.

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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