Banquet benefits ‘Fund for Syrian Armenian Relief’
NEW YORK—Three extraordinary life-saving humanitarian actions were remembered and honored by the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America on Sun., Oct. 7, at the elegant New York Palace Hotel. The honorees included Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, the Near East Relief, and the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians. The awards were to have been presented by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, during his pontifical visit to New York, which was cancelled due to the critical situation in Syria.
“We who are here stand on the shoulders of previous generations who sacrificed their life and energy so we could enjoy the fruits of this country,” stated master of ceremonies Judge Sarkis Teshoian (RET) in his introductory remarks. Many Armenians who survived the genocide “ended up in Syria where today Armenian lives are at risk, as well as their churches, schools, and institutions. This is therefore the second reason to be here. We have an obligation to help our brothers and sisters in Syria,” he declared strongly.
Karen Jehanian, the co-chair of the Pontifical Visit National Steering Committee, welcomed the guests on behalf of the Executive Council. She succinctly described the mission goals of the Prelacy and noted that alongside its primary mission to transmit the teachings of Christianity, the Prelacy “preserves history, educates our young people, provides comfort to those in need, and seeks to give us a future that is rich in culture, spirituality, and faith. By your presence here today, by the contribution you make to your parish or community, you are being true to that faith and upholding the noble values of those who gave the Armenian people life-giving humanitarian aid when most needed.”
Proceeds of the event will benefit the Fund for Syrian Armenian Relief, a joint united effort of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Eastern Prelacy), the Armenian Catholic Eparchy, the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).
Core values of all religions
In a powerful message transmitted through video, Catholicos Aram stated, “Helping those who are marginalized is the core value of all religions. All those who share their resources with those in need are worthy of the highest respect by humanity. Helping others is not just sharing material resources. It is sharing the moral partnership to empower those who are powerless. Helping our people is crucial. We have a large community in Syria that is critically exposed.” As he paid tribute to the three honorees with words of praise and thanksgiving, he asked everyone “to pray for all the suffering around the world.”
As Judge Teshoian introduced the honorees, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan presented the special awards that were designed and prepared by Richard Dikran Tenguerian. The first presentation was made to Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, the world-famous Nobel laureate, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian, and explorer. As the League of Nations high commissioner for refugees, he worked tirelessly on behalf of the displaced victims of World War I. One of his major initiatives was the “Nansen Passport” for stateless people, a certificate that permitted stateless people, including thousands of Armenian survivors of the genocide, to travel freely. Nansen continued his humanitarian efforts on behalf of refugees and stateless people until his death in 1930. Archbishop Oshagan presented the award to Nansen’s granddaughter, Marit Greve, who traveled from Norway for the occasion. “We are a people who know how to die in order to live,” said the Prelate passionately, as Greve approached the podium.
In her remarks of appreciation, Greve, who has been to Armenia and is aware of the deep respect that Armenians worldwide hold for her grandfather, said, “One of the great disappointments for my grandfather was that he couldn’t do as much as he wanted to do for the Armenian people. Tonight was a wonderful experience, and I really feel very honored to represent my grandfather. I thank you, and am so proud to be with you tonight,” she said to a standing ovation.
Near East Relief
The second honoree was the Near East Relief, which was formed because of the clarion call of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., the American ambassador to Turkey who realized the Turks were carrying out a “campaign of race extermination.” The Near East Relief made possible the dramatic rebirth of the Armenian people and became the model for future relief and charitable organizations in the United States. Hundreds of orphanages were established by the Near East Relief and it was noted that the site of one of those orphanages in Antelias, Lebanon, became the central headquarters of the Holy See of Cilicia.
Shant Mardirossian, the chairman of the Near East Foundation (successor of Near East Relief) accepted the award and paid homage to those who formed Near East Relief and the thousands of relief workers. “If the perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide represented the worst of mankind, then the relief workers must be the inverse. When people were forced from their homes into the desert, they provided shelter. When there was famine, they provided food. When schools and churches were destroyed, they helped rebuild new ones. When businesses and properties were confiscated, they provided vocational training. When women and children were abducted and forced into slavery, they went door-to-door and emancipated them. Most of all, when others sought to destroy life, they saved it.” A standing ovation paid tribute to this organization that, in the Prelate’s words, “saved a nation.”
The American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA) was founded by George Mardikian, who received the U.S. Medal of Freedom from President Harry Truman, and Suren Saroyan, who received recognition from President Lyndon Johnson. ANCHA mobilized large segments of the community to raise funds to help thousands of Armenians in Displaced Persons camps in Europe after World War II. Sixty-two ANCHA offices around the United States, staffed by hundreds of volunteers and backed by massive grass roots efforts, set the foundations that ultimately rescued thousands of Armenian. Over the span of half-a-century, ANCHA rescued and assisted tens of thousands of Armenians from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“It’s a legacy of generosity, caring, and sacrifice by ANCHA volunteers,” declared Archbishop Oshagan as he presented the award to Hourig Papazian Sahagian, the daughter of Arpi Papazian, a longtime volunteer and leader of ANCHA in New York, which was a central hub of the organization.
“The refugees came by boat, by plane to St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, where they were greeted,” Papazian Sahagian related. “My mother was able to direct their pathways to other parts of the United States.” Describing her mother as a “generalissimo,” she related how her mother unabashedly recruited friends and family to help. Papazian Sahagian paid tribute to all of the volunteers who worked for years—some, like her mother, from the very beginning of ANCHA to its end. Another ovation greeted her heartfelt remarks and the request that those in the audience who were sponsored by ANCHA to rise.
Closing the deeply inspiring program with his benediction, the Prelate, who had also given the invocation, again paid tribute to the three heroic honorees. “We are here because they gave the Armenians hope and life. Dr. Nansen, will be a friend of the Armenians forever; the Near East Relief, the first model American charitable organization, literally saved a nation; and ANCHA came to the rescue of Armenians in distress, who otherwise would have been lost,” the Prelate said. “Today, as we honor and thank them, we remember our brothers and sisters in Syria, our first diaspora community. When we continue the tradition of helping our people, we will experience the same satisfaction our parents did.”
Dignitaries introduced during the evening included Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, vicar of the Prelacy; Dr. and Mrs. Movses Abelian, United Nations Security Council affairs division director; Ambassador Garen and Mrs. Nazarian, permanent representative of the Republic of Armenia to the United Nations; Jack Mardoian, Esq., and Richard Sarajian, Esq., former chairmen of the Prelacy Executive Council; Dr. Raffy and Mrs. Vicky Hovanessian, vice-chairman of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern); Hagop Kouyoumdjian, chairman emeritus of Armenia Fund USA, and former treasurer of the Prelacy’s Executive Council; Khoren Bandazian, Esq., chairman of Armenia Fund USA and chairman of the Joint United Committee for the Centennial Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide; Dr. Hratch Zadoian, author of Our Brothers’ Keepers: The American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians, vice president emeritus of Queens College, and former vice chairman of the Prelacy’s Executive Council; Sue Aramian, benefactor of religious, activist, and charitable projects in Armenia and the diaspora; Dr. Antranig Kasbarian, chairman of the Central Committee of the ARF; and Aram Cazazian and Noubar Megerian, co-chairmen of the New York Banquet Committee.
A complimentary copy of Our Brothers’ Keepers: The American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA) by Dr. Hratch Zadoian was given to attendees. This recently published book, as well as earlier published works about Dr. Nansen and Near East Relief, are available for purchase at the Prelacy’s Book Store.
The special awards presented to the honorees were designed and prepared by Richard Dikran Tenguerian. Constructed in two levels, the bottom level is black symbolizing the dark past with a map of the historic Armenian cities where the genocide occurred. The map is a replica of the granite map on the face of the Martyrs’ Altar in St. Illuminator’s Cathedral. The top level is clear glass, symbolic of a bright future, with images of the major monuments dedicated to the genocide etched on the glass.
The memorable evening began with beautiful renditions of the American and Armenian national anthems by mezzo-soprano Solange Merdinian, and ended with the stirring and joyous singing of “Giligia,” by all.
A gallery of photographs can be viewed on the Prelacy’s web page at www.armenianprelacy.org.