The Howard Karagheusian Foundation’s 95 Years of Philanthropy

YEREVAN—It was a celebration of philanthropy spanning nearly a century and an homage to the remarkable family that brought hope and healing to thousands—all with quiet determination. Theirs was the kind of inconspicuous benevolence that epitomizes selfless acts of charity.

Orphanage in France.
Orphanage in France.

After 95 years of delivering life-saving humanitarian services to needy Armenian communities, the Howard Karagheusian Foundation (also known as the Howard Karagheusian Commemorative Corporation-HKCC), received a spectacular anniversary tribute in Armenia. A series of celebratory events took place during the republic’s Independence Day festivities. Highlights included an all-star classical music concert in addition to receiving high honors from both the Armenian Church and State.

High Praise and Recognition from National and Religious Leadership

On Sept. 20 President Serge Sarkisian welcomed the HKCC delegation at the Armenian State House. He bestowed Michael Haratunian, in his role as president of HKCC, with the First Degree Medal on the order of the president of Armenia for service to the Homeland.

Sarkisian emphasized the international impact made by the HKCC. “From Europe and the Middle East to Armenia and Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh/NKR), the HKCC has delivered a vast array of humanitarian and medical assistance to many thousands of children. Taken altogether, the extent of its humanitarian efforts deserves our respect and recognition.” The entirety of his remarks were read aloud during the gala concert later that same evening.

The day before, the HKCC leadership visited Holy Etchmiadzin where they participated in Sunday service, followed by a ceremony bestowing the Foundation with a gondak, which is an acknowledgement for years of humanitarian service to the Armenian Nation.

A visit with the Armenian Minister of Diaspora also took place, at which time Minister Hranush Hakobyan extolled the virtues of HKCC not only in Armenia but also in communities in crisis. She recognized the heroic efforts of the HKCC Syria branch to continue providing indispensable services to the remaining Syrian-Armenian residents. She also outlined ROA initiatives to provide assistance as well.

An All-Star Gala

On the evening of the Sept. 20, a sold-out gala celebration entitled, “In the Name of a Son,” took place at the world-class Aram Khachaturian Philharmonic Hall. A cross-section of stakeholders, beneficiaries, non-governmental organizations, and government representatives were in attendance, as well as music lovers from all walks of Armenian life. In addition to the HKCC in-country director for Armenia, Ruzanna Aghayan, also present were in-country directors Serop Ohanian of HKCC Lebanon and Dr. Bedros Darakjian of HKCC Syria.

The tribute began with remarks from HKCC president Michael Haratunian. Having served in that capacity for 20 years, Haratunian, along with other long-time members of the board, has been a driving force in upholding the HKCC mission through changing times.

Haratunian stated that gathering in an independent Armenia on the eve of its 25th Independence Day is something that the Karagheusians could have never imagined. “Although we may not have suffering of the Genocide to contend with, our work is not done,” he said. “Unfortunately, our people still need help. Not only in the Middle East, but also in Armenia. I assure you that we will work even harder to come to the aid of Armenia’s people. This is our promise to you.”

The Loss of One Child Redeemed The Lives of Many

Next came a motion-graphic video presentation, produced and directed by Los Angeles filmmaker Garen Mirzaian, dedicated to the Karagheusians—an Armenian-American family that resided in New York City at the turn of the century.

“Since the Foundation has operated all these years without any publicity and with great modesty, many of us still don’t know who exactly Howard Karagheusian is and what he stands for. It’s important to put the name in context and understand the legacy from which the Foundation is motivated every day” explained Irina Lazarian, Managing Director of HKCC, which is headquartered in New York City not far from where the Karagheusians lived and worked.

In a moving sequence of vintage and present-day imagery set to music and professional narration written by NY-based creative director Kathryn Manuelian, the poignant story of this pioneering family unfolded. In 1918, the great Influenza pandemic took the life of 14-year old Howard Karagheusian. Three years earlier, the genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey began, leaving thousands of orphans exposed to abduction, conversion, starvation and disease. This inspired Howard’s parents, Mihran and Zabel, to establish a refuge for Armenian orphans in memory of their only son.

HKCC Remains a Haven of Hope

Little did the couple know that their daring initiative, which began in Turkey itself, would go well beyond providing food and shelter to homeless youth—especially in the ensuing decades, when their older daughter Leila took up the mantle. Under her leadership, HKCC continued to serve new generations at risk, particularly those from refugee families struggling to rebuild their lives in the Middle East and other regional hot spots.

Then, in the late 1980’s, the Foundation instituted programs in Armenia and Artsakh, assisting communities impacted by the Spitak earthquake, war, and economic hardship. Today, the Foundation continues upgrading its equipment and facilities. Recently, the dental clinic in Vanadzor was the second of six thriving HKCC-run facilities in Armenia and NKR to receive a state-of-the art digital X-ray machine.

The dental clinic in Vanadzor received a state-of-the art digital X-ray machine.
The dental clinic in Vanadzor received a state-of-the art digital X-ray machine.

In Lebanon and Syria, where there are large Armenian populations, the Karagheusian Foundation continues to touch the lives of needy families, providing vital healthcare, educational and social-assistance, vocational training as well as supporting schools, orphanages, hospitals, and other community institutions. In light of the raging civil war that continues to disrupt communities in other towns and cities of Syria, the Foundation forges ahead under perilous circumstances. Vital services are delivered to innocent children and uprooted families of all faiths.

Armenia’s Native Sons Return to Pay Tribute

The musical portion of the event featured three internationally acclaimed prodigies, all of whom have roots in Armenia. Hakob Ghasabyan, whose parents emigrated from Armenia to France; Narek Hakhnazaryan, cellist; and Sergey Khachatryan, violinist. Currently living outside of Armenia, they eagerly accepted HKCC’s invitation to perform under the baton of another native son—the brilliant conductor of the State Philharmonic Orchestra of Armenia, Eduard Topchjan.

The concert opened with a captivating rendition of Caccini’s Ave Maria, performed by 13-year old Hakob Ghasabyan, a rising young star in his own right in France. This was followed by Narek Hakhnazaryan’s bravura performance of a cello concerto by Dvořák, composed in New York City in 1895, (the same year the Karagheusians immigrated to New York and achieved great success as purveyors of high quality oriental rugs, with a factory in Freehold NJ and a posh Fifth Avenue Manhattan showroom).

The second portion of the concert began with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesus”, performed as a duet by Hakob Ghasabyan and Sylva Petrosyan, a participant of Armenia’s Young Opera Singers program, directed by Levon
Javadyan. Then Sergey Khachatryan took the stage to deliver a virtuoso performance of Shostakovich’s concerto for violin composed in 1946. The evening closed with one last performance by Hakob of Leonard Cohen’s global hit “Hallelujah” (From the movie Shrek). This was a sneak preview of the classical arrangement created specifically for Hakob by Warner Classics. It will be officially released this November.

After the performances, the guest musicians expressed their own sentiments toward the Foundation. Sergey Khachatryan had this to say: “Let me express my appreciation for the dedication and work that this foundation is doing. It is an immense help for us Armenians. So many thanks to you and all the people involved.”

The youngest of the artists Hakob Ghasabyan also reflected on the significance of the event. “It was not just a regular concert, but a meaningful story of the Karagheusians that touched me deeply. It was an honor for me to play a tiny part in that kind of purpose. And, of course, it was the happiest moment for me to perform in my homeland, in the big philharmonic hall with world class musicians such as Sergey Khachatryan, Narek Hakhnazaryan and of course the fabulous philharmonic orchestra with maestro Eduard Topchjan.”

Irina Lazarian summed it up by saying, “It was an unforgettable week, worthy of the tremendous effort of all who made this tribute such a success,” she said. “The overwhelming and emotionally-charged response to the HKCC story only reinforces our commitment to deliver the highest quality health and social services to underprivileged children and families.

She went on to add, “The only difference is that now people know the legacy behind the mission and the young boy in whose name so much good has been done. We hope it inspires all of us to find our own vision, purpose and passion to help make the Armenian Nation better off than before.“

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you for having reported this great event in Erevan. Very moving initiative and very moving event, that Sergeÿ KHatchatryan and Narek Haknazarian were involved in that event and of course the little Hakobyan, although he is not world-known as the first two.
    And also very proud for the Karagheusian’ name and their actuel représentatives, Michael Harutunian, I personnaly know and his co-workers.

    J.J.KARAGUEUZIAN – Lyon – France

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.