On March 18, the “Erebouni” and “Mayr” Chapters of the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) hosted the ARS Eastern Region seminar at the St. Illuminator’s Cathedral Hall in New York. More than 85 members from the “Agnouni,” “Ani,” “Artemis,” “Bergen County,” “Erebouni,” “Lousintak,” “Mayr,” “Shakeh,” “Soseh,” and “Spitak” Chapters participated in the seminar.
His Holiness, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, has declared 2013 “The Year of the Armenian Mother.” The ARS Eastern Regional Executive Board dedicated the seminar to the Armenian Mother, who is the pillar of our national existence, having sacrificed herself throughout our history.
ARS Eastern USA Board member Sevan Kolejian welcomed the guests and gave opening remarks, during which she spoke about the important role that Armenian women, our mothers, have played in strengthening and preserving our cultural identity. She thanked St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral Pastor, Father Mesrob Lakissian, who generously donated the use of the hall for the seminar.
ARS Eastern USA chairwoman Ani Attar addressed the attendees and thanked them for making the effort to participate in the seminar, contributing greatly to its success. Attar quoted from Hovhannes Shiraz’s “Mayr-s” poem:
Mer houysi toorn eh mayrs / Mer dan madurn eh mayrs / Mer hatsn ou choorn eh mayrs / Mer teghn ou jarn eh mayrs / Mer dan jerakn eh mayrs
We salute and honor our Armenian mothers for the heroes they are and their continual dedication to the needs of the Armenian people in Armenia and the diaspora, she said.
Attar then introduced Dr. Chris Garo Sassouni, the son of Vicken Sassouni, and grandson of Garo and Leola Sassouni, who made a presentation on the life of Leola Sassouni.
Chris Sassouni was unaware of the importance his grandparents had played in shaping Armenian history. His grandmother, Leola (who changed her name from Hripsime), was a fedayee who fought alongside her male counterparts as an equal. She was an excellent horsewoman and marksman. Leola fought at the crucial battle of Sardarabad; she had given birth to her first child just two months prior. In addition to her fighting skills, she was instrumental in navigating to safety 10,000 Armenian orphans of the genocide. She instituted the “Benag me geragoor” program and was a founder of the Armenian Red Cross, which was later renamed the Armenian Relief Society. Garo Sassouni was a Minister in the first Republic of Armenia. When the family later immigrated to the United States, Leola remained active in the ARS. The Watertown “Leola Sassouni” Chapter was named after her.
Chris Sassouni received a standing ovation from the attendees, not just in gratitude for his informative presentation, but in honor of his grandmother. Leola Sassouni was a true Ungerouhi of the highest order.
Seminar participants were then treated to a delicious lunch, prepared by the host chapters. After lunch, Attar introduced the second guest speaker, Bared Maronian, a documentary filmmaker and four-time regional Emmy Award winner who has produced four Armenian films. His latest work is “Orphans of the Genocide,” which contains original footage of the genocide, taken from mostly German archives. It depicts the tragedy as it played out, especially for the children.
Maronian is currently working on another documentary film, entitled “Women of 1915.” This project is in its beginning stages but will bring to life the lives of the many courageous women who sacrificed their own comfort and safety for that of others.
In appreciation, both Sassouni and Maronian were presented with the most recent edition of the “Atlas of Historical Armenia,” published by the Armenian National Education Committee.
Father Lakissian offered his inspiring words and commended the ARS for its work. He blessed the attendees with a closing prayer.
The ARS Regional Board of Directors thanked the organizers of this very successful seminar, and also thanked the 80 members who made the effort to attend, many traveling for hours to participate. It was a wonderful day of camaraderie, reinforcing the purpose of the ARS, and honoring those who came before us.