BOSTON, Mass. (A.W.)—When it comes to humility and community service, look no further than Stephen Dulgarian and Ruth Thomasian, a couple of goodwill ambassadors who have brought homage and respect to their heritage through diverse ways.
Both were honored by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Eastern Region for their untiring devotion to the Armenian Cause before 300 guests at the Seaport Hotel Oct. 15.
The two icons, often known for their quiet and humble deeds, were presented the coveted Vahan Cardashian Award, given annually to an ANCA activist or supporter in honor of the Yale-educated lawyer who set aside his successful New York practice to advocate for the plight of the Armenian nation.
The evening was further accentuated by the presentation of the ANCA Freedom Award to Senators Robert and Elizabeth Dole. Throughout their tenures in Congress, both embraced the country of Armenia, especially in the post-earthquake era with a trip to that shattered land and vast missionary work.
The Freedom Award represents the highest honor bestowed by the ANCA on those who have exhibited an extraordinary commitment to Armenian American issues. Other recipients have included the late Senator Edward Kennedy, human rights activist Samantha Power, former Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, and New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez.
Because of Senator Bob Dole’s ill health, and his wife’s constant care, the two were unable to attend the dinner. Accepting on their behalf was ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
“The Doles helped shape and shepherd an entire era of Armenian advocacy,” said Hamparian. “Together, they opened a door to friendship, love, respect, and dialogue. They stood by the truth through the highest stations of American power and never relented in their support.”
An Armenian connection remains indelible. When Bob Dole returned from World War II with injuries that left his left arm useless and about to be amputated, Dr. Hampar Kelikian, an Armenian native of Hadjin, repaired the shattered shoulder and allowed the Senator to regain some use of the limb.
“Dr. Kelikian healed his body, mind, and spirit,” Hamparian added, paving the way for a relationship that educated the future Senator about the facts and morality of the Armenian Cause.
Hamparian further pointed to oncoming generations to perpetuate the work of the ANCA and continue to plant the flowering seeds on an inveterate history and heritage.
“So that we can sit as equals, contribute as friends, and celebrate as Armenians at the table of nations,” he brought out.
Hamparian also called for a strong Armenia, free and fair; a safe and secure Artsakh; a healthy Javakhk; and an acknowledged genocide with just reparations by its perpetrators.
Thomasian was singled out for her 36 years as founder, director, and purveyor of Project SAVE, an historical archive for Armenian photographs that has preserved and documented some 35,000 images dating back to 1860.
Over that time, 26 pictorial calendars have enhanced her mission, based on 65 Main St. in Watertown, the latest titled “Hype Hats, Hair, and Hands.”
“Her prodigious efforts have nourished the fruits of our banal existence and given recycled Armenian visuals a new purpose in our midst,” came the introduction. “Since 1975, Ruth has enhanced the fragmented heritage of a dispersed people through memories of life in historic Armenia and elsewhere.”
Among the congratulatory messages was one received from Wayne F. Smith, winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for the elimination of landmines.
Thomasian looked upon her earlier life as an isolated and uninvolved Armenian who suddenly found her way to Project SAVE, after leaving a tenured teaching position at age 24.
“Now, I know more than I ever dreamed possible, learned from people I’ve met and the stories they have shared,” she revealed. “I’ve been blessed with a devoted staff and Board of Directors, many of whom are volunteers who’ve joined me with their love of social history through photography.”
Thomasian also paid homage to Cardashian as “a man who had focus, purpose, passion, and a vision—all in the name of a free and united Armenia.”
Dulgarian’s book of golden deeds includes an active letter-writing campaign to legislators and newspapers in pursuit of justice and recognition toward human rights. The son of genocide survivors, he’s a 50-year member of the Lowell Gomideh and is currently working toward the erection of a genocide memorial in Lowell.
He’s made 12 trips to Armenia, supports many an “adopted” child in that land with his wife Angele, and served as an AYF advisor and coach for decades. It all translates to a lifetime of meritorious service for his ancestry.
“Of utmost concern should be the centennial observance in 2015 and the welfare of our remaining survivors,” Dulgarian brought out. “We should lobby for the passage of a much-belated genocide resolution in Congress, as well as a postage stamp commemorating our genocide.”
Dulgarian was joined at the dinner by his four children, their spouses, and several of his nine grandchildren, along with friends throughout the East Coast as far south as Florida.
“His home and hospitality, effort and enthusiasm toward a righteous Armenia have always been extended,” came his introduction. “A scholar, humanitarian, community activist, he remains a role model for others of his kind.”
The program opened with welcoming remarks from Rita Bejakian, followed by the singing of both national anthems by Tamar Kanarian. His Grace Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate, delivered the invocation after commending the committee’s diligent work and its focus on national and international issues.
Banquet Chairman Joshua Tevekelian emphasized the need toward affirmative action while encouraging others to grow involved.
“Each person in this audience can make a difference,” he said. “The ANCA is an organization based upon dedicated, passionate, and intelligent people who for the greater cause of our nation and her interests have come together to create a better Armenia.”
Tevekelian described both Cardashian Award recipients as pillars of the Armenian community who have enhanced the cause in their own subtle way.
“We owe them both a debt of gratitude,” he said. “They symbolize all the qualities that serve our role.”
Greg Bedian, ANCA-ER chairman, said much has changed over the past year while recovering from a hard-fought battle over the genocide resolution, despite relentless measures to get it passed.
“New realities in Washington, D.C., and the rest of the world have required us to devise fresh strategies and new approaches to pursuing the Armenian Cause,” he said. “The winds of change that are sweeping through the Middle East and the accompanying political realignment will present us with different opportunities and perhaps new allies to move our demands forward.”
Bedian further said the Turkish government is attempting to exert increased influence in the region while the Turkish-American community is getting increasingly sophisticated in its approach to counter our efforts.
“Our secret lies in the spirit of commitment,” he noted. “The ANCA has risen to the challenge and continues to be recognized by organs like the Wall Street Journal.”
In the nine years Tsoleen Sarian worked as an aide to former State Rep. Peter Koutoujian, the experience she gained proved instrumental as a community activist. “Tonight we celebrate activism, political willpower, and the courage to run for public office,” Sarian indicated. “We must get more Armenians involved with the political process and pledge our support to those running for office. Let them feel the full strength of our Armenian American Diaspora.” She acknowledged the following members of the Steering Committee: Tevekelian, Kristin Asadourian, Rita Bejakian, Ari Janessian, Tamar Kanarian, Sabine Keljik, Stepan Keshishian, Ani Khatchadourian, and Mariam Stepanyan.
Other messages were shared by Koutoujian, now a Middlesex County sheriff; George Aghjayan, representing the ARF; and Robert Avetisyan, permanent representative of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic to the United States.
Also recognized for his zealous efforts was ANCA Chairman Kenneth Hachikian, fresh from an invigorating speech in Armenia marking the 20th anniversary of the Armenian Republic. He was joined at the head table by his wife Gloria.
In lieu of table favors, a generous contribution was made to the ARS Education Fund, which assists orphans residing in Armenia and Karabagh who have reached the age of 18. Accepting on behalf of the organization was Tatul Sonentz-Papazian.
A silent auction preceded the dinner with cocktail music provided by the John Baboian Ensemble.
(Photos by Tom Vartabedian)