WATERTOWN, Mass.—More than 300 gathered for an evening of celebration, recognition, and reflection at the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region’s (ANCA-ER) 6th Annual Banquet, where Armenian studies luminary Dr. Richard Hovannisian and Artsakh (Karabagh) rights champion, her Ladyship Baroness Caroline Cox, were bestowed the organization’s highest honors.
After successful events held annually in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, New Jersey was the site of the Dec. 1 banquet, with the festivities held at the beautiful Sheraton Crossroads in Mahwah.
Pallone praises youth outreach, education efforts
Among the special guests was New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone (D), who praised the grassroots efforts of the ANCA and paid tribute to Dr. Hovannisian and Baroness Cox with Community Service Awards. “One of the best things about the ANCA is the different programs they have and how they educate and get young people involved,” said Pallone. “As the founder and co-chair of the Armenian Caucus in the House [of Representatives] for so many years, I will tell you that without the ANCA, grassroots activities of the Armenian community would really be very minimal.”
Hovannisian: titan of Armenian scholarship
Marc Mamigonian, director of academic affairs at the National Association of Armenian Studies (NAASR), gave a moving introduction about Hovannisian, the Vahan Cardashian Award recipient.
Hovannisian, he said “is among the first generation of scholars who shaped the field that was in its infancy when he began teaching at UCLA a half century ago. In 1969, he became the first professor of modern Armenian studies in the United States. … You may have heard that Professor Hovannisian is retired. Friends, don’t believe him,” Mamigonian joked.
Hovannisian is a professor of Armenian and Near Eastern studies at UCLA. He has authored many books and edited and contributed to at least a dozen other works. In 1987, he was appointed the first holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA.
“I’m deeply honored and thankful to the ANCA for considering me worthy of receiving this award. Vahan Cardashian remains a champion and a symbol for the Armenian people. I feel very satisfied after my long career, and I feel rewarded that I’ve had more than a half century of wonderful experiences in the classroom teaching generations regarding Armenian history and identity,” Hovannisian said.
Cox: matron saint of Artsakh quest for freedom
Virginia Davies, a longtime friend and supporter of the ANCA, introduced Baroness Cox before presenting her with the ANCA Freedom Award.
“Karabagh has known no more committed and no more constant friend than Baroness Cox. From a position of great influence in the British House of Lords, Baroness Cox has spent 25 years educating, advocating, and leading humanitarian efforts on the ground in Karabagh,” said Davies.
Cox came to the podium to a standing ovation, like Hovannisian, and warmly greeted those in attendance. She presented a brief slideshow, showing photos from her travels to Karabagh and offering inspiring thoughts for the future.
“Speaking in the British Parliament is a place to give voice to the voiceless, to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. … I would like to say thank you to the Armenian people, who in that holy land of Artsakh have formed that front line of faith and freedom for the rest of the world. We who live in freedom, we who call ourselves Christian, owe you a debt of gratitude for holding that front line for us. With all my heart, I thank you,” the Baroness said.
Cox has visited Armenia and Nagorno- Karabagh 78 times to date, many of them during the war with Azerbaijan in the early 1990’s, and is planning on at least two more visits in 2013. Working with the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), she helped establish the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center in Stepanakert in 1998, which has become a leader in providing care and rehabilitation for those with physical or mental disabilities. It looks after babies, children, and adults who have been disabled from birth, as well as patients suffering from war injuries, accidents, and illnesses such as strokes.
HART is internationally recognized as a “center of excellence,” disseminating its wide-ranging therapeutic repertoire far beyond Karabagh to other countries throughout the South Caucasus.
Baroness Cox was awarded the ANCA Freedom Award for her undying support of the Armenian people and for her dedication to human rights for all. She has traveled to many other countries, particularly those affected by severe human rights violations, to provide aid to those in need.
As part of her trip to the U.S., Cox was accompanied by ANCA Eastern Region Executive Director Michelle Hagopian, HART-US Executive Director Donna Mundy, ANC of United Kingdom member Vahan Krikorian, and ANCA Eastern Region Board Member Ani Tchaghlasian, at a series of meetings with human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Human Rights Foundation.
Spotlight on power of grassroots advocacy
A consistent theme in the remarks offered throughout the evening was the expansion of the ANCA’s dedicated network of grassroots supporter throughout the Eastern United States.
ANCA ER Banquet Committee Co-chairperson Karine Shnorhokian was eloquent in her welcoming message, thanking her fellow banquet committee volunteers and the collective efforts of all present to ensure not only the success of the banquet, but of the broader goals of the organization.
“Together, we have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and our success could not happen without each and every one of you. … As the list of Freedom and Vahan Cardashian Award winners grows, those in this room tonight are witness to a special moment in history,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of the ANCA-ER, George Aghjayan discussed the importance of Hai Tahd and the ANCA’s work to rally the youth in support of our common cause.
“As we work on these things over the years, any cause like ours, which is so strongly activist-based, is going to take risks and have successes and failures over the years. We accept those failures and embrace the successes. … You’re going to see how many young people are involved in our cause and embrace the cause. This is something we’ve done exceptionally well,” Aghjayan commented.
ARF Eastern Region Central Committee Chairman Dr. Ara Chalian addressed the crowd, saying, “I’m excited with the work the ANCA does every day and what will come in the future. This is a grassroots organization. It’s everyone in the room; it’s those who have lifted their phones, asked questions, educated, hit the button on the computer. This is a celebration of a year’s work and a lifetime of work. Now, we can go out and engage others in this work.”
In his concluding remarks, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian offered many thanks to supporters. “Ours is an ethic of quiet service. Ours is a tradition of humble sacrifice. We’re not supposed to say thank you because we’re all doing our duty, our responsibility to our cause and our community. I think each of you in this room holds a special love and respect for everyone else here because you are brothers and sisters in common cause. We’re soldiers and that binds us very close together, and that’s a great treasure,” he commented.
Mistress of ceremonies Nora Kzirian navigated the evening with skill and eloquence, inviting Alyne Corrigan to sing the American and Armenian national anthems, followed by a moving invocation by Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America.
“We commend this organization’s dedication to truth and justice for the Armenian nation and for all peoples of the world,” said Archbishop Choloyan, who has worked with the ANCA national, regional, and local affiliates in support of justice for the Armenian Genocide, including efforts to secure the return of stolen Christian churches and properties from Turkey.
Very Rev. Fr. Thomas Garabedian of the Armenian Catholic Exarchate of America later offered the evening’s benediction.
Among the dignitaries in attendance were Ambassador Garen Nazarian, permanent representative of Armenia to the United Nations; ARF Bureau member Hagop Der Khatchadourian; ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian; Diocesan Council Vice Chairman Dr. Raffy Hovanessian; Prelacy Executive Council member Sarkis Ohanessian; Armenian Missionary Association of America Executive Director Levon Filian; Armenia Fund USA Chairman Khoren Bandazian; ARS Eastern Region Board members Suzy Azarian and Sevan Kolejian; AYF Eastern Region Central Executive member Yervant Kachichian; Hairenik Weekly Editor Zaven Torigian; Armenian Weekly Assistant Editor Nanore Barsoumian, and many prominent community benefactors.
The Armenian a cappella folk trio Zulal performed a variety of songs, entertaining the crowd with their smooth voices and unique sound. They journeyed back in time to historic Armenia and weaved a story through their music, captivating attendees and providing a break in the program.
Attendees also watched a seven-minute video of ANCA-ER highlights from the past year, which was directed by ANCA activist Justin Kaladjian.
The night began with an elegant cocktail reception and silent auction at 6:30 p.m. With more than 50 auction items, attendees were able to bid on a variety of gifts, from cruise tickets to autographed sports gear to authentic Armenian paintings.
Joining Shnorhokian in organizing the Eastern Region Banquet were Nicole Alashaian, Taline Chalian, Sarine Adishian, Aram Afarian, Talin Apkarian, Gassia Asadourian, Isabel Kubikian, Alice Movsesian, Tamar Nahabedian, James Sahagian, Maral Sahagian, Talar Sarafian, and Meline Toufayan. The silent auction committee was chaired by Bea Movsesian, with help from Talin Daghlian, Maral Kaprielian, Lynn Mahlebjian, Lisa Movsesian-Ramos, Mary Ohanessian, Silva Takvorian, and Stephanie Torossian.
Alex & Ani creator Carolyn Rafaelian also made a special charm necklace for Baroness Cox.
More than 100 banquet guests and ANCA activists from the New York and New Jersey area enjoyed a casual evening of celebration on Nov. 30 at 48 Lounge in New York City, organized by Tamar Nahabedian.
Pictures from the ANCA Eastern Region Banquet, taken by Diran Jebejian of Jebejian Images, are available on the ANCA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151214232781859.452118.16968936858&type=1. Video from the banquet will be posted to the ANCA YouTube page in the upcoming days, and can be viewed at www.youtube.com/ancagrassroots.