By Gilda Buchakjian (Kupelian)
PARAMUS, N.J.—On the occasion of the upcoming centennial of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), a splendid program organized by the development committee of Haigazian University (HU) of Beirut was a fitting occasion to celebrate the centenary of Rev. Dr. John Markarian, the founding president of the University. The elegant gala, attended by alumni and supporters of the university, was graciously hosted on July 22 at the residence of alumnus Andreas Roubian, in Saddle River, N.J.
Describing the only Armenian university in the Diaspora as the “jewel” of the Middle East, the master of ceremonies, alumnus Serge Buchakjian, spoke of the culture of “academic excellence inspired by our heritage” that HU has fostered over the years. The unwritten mission of the institution, as the MC deftly qualified, was being a “bridge linking students of diverse backgrounds, a beacon of hope and peace, reflecting the cosmopolitan pluralistic society where it is located.” Poignant testimonials from HU graduates spoke volumes about the significance of this unique institution of higher learning.
The opening prayer was delivered by AMAA West Coast Executive Director Levon Filian. As he described how a painting differs from a masterpiece, Filian drew from the Biblical narrative, and likened the attendees to masterpieces in the image of the Creator.
AMAA Executive Director/CEO Zaven Khanjian spoke of the achievements of the AMAA in the Diaspora and in Armenia, and Haigazian University as “the product of vision, and sacrifice,” which inspired the present. And looking into the impending future, Khanjian said, “those who make up the AMAA with their talents, resources, and contribution will guarantee the future.”
On this most auspicious occasion, Khanjian presented a special congratulatory letter to Dr. Markarian from HH Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia, a former student of Dr. Markarian’s at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut during the latter’s tenure in the early 1970s.
Joyce Stein, the daughter of Stephen Philibosian, one of the visionary founders of HU, a member of the board of the AMAA, and of the HU Trustees, and herself a loyal and unwavering supporter of the university, introduced the honoree Rev. Dr. John Markarian. Mrs. Stein recounted how her father and Steven Mehakian approached John Markarian, then a member of the faculty at Lafayette College, with the proposal to “change the face of education in the Middle East.” Markarian, “the very fitting, unflappable, intrepid academic, with a sense of humor,” took on the challenge, thus launching HU. He created an environment for academic excellence, which continues to this day under the capable presidency of Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian. She then awarded the honoree a rare photo from his early years in Beirut.
Prior to the heartwarming celebration of his 100th birthday with cakes and communal wishes, Dr. John Markarian thanked all those instrumental in the success of HU. And in characteristic humility, he said his work has “been a privilege rather than a chore.” He highly praised the current administration at HU under the leadership of Dr. Haidostian. He credited his family for joining him on his initial venture in Beirut, and his wife Inge for his youthful life. With his unique sense of humor, he imparted a gem of wisdom about longevity that centered on posnology, “the science and the art of joyful living.”
The museum-like residence of host Andreas Roubian, a connoisseur and expert on the painter Ivan Aivazovsky, was replete with many paintings by the Armenian artist, an impressive representation of Russian and Napoleonic art. Roubian has spent his life researching and collecting Aivazovsky’s paintings, and some consider his collection the world’s most important outside of Russia.
Sotheby’s Americas chairman and a senior auctioneer, Mr. Benjamin Doller, an expert in 19th century European Art, focused on Aivazovsky’s legacy and how Andy Warhol was mesmerized with Aivazovsky’s art. Mr Doller, who is also involved in charitable causes to benefit education, expressed his appreciation for Roubian’s involvement in philanthropy, and credited the host with being a true collector, acquiring art because he primarily loved and appreciated its beauty.
Dr. Ani Darakjian, the dedicated chairperson of the Haigazian University Board of Trustees, and granddaughter of Rev. Dikran Antreassian, chair of the Musa Dagh defense council during the Armenian Genocide (the real-life clergyman portrayed in the film “The Promise”), congratulated Dr. Markarian for his two tenures as the proficient president of the University. She commended the academic contribution of the university to all learners of the region, and especially for “providing a chance to those who cannot afford it.”
The current HU president, Rev. Dr. Paul Haidotsian, forwarded his heartfelt appreciation and congratulations to Dr. Markarian for his pioneering role and innovative work, and to the AMAA for its momentous and far-reaching accomplishments.
A welcome surprise announcement was the generous contribution of Tina and David Segel to underwrite the cost of updating the HU website.
The enchanting musical interlude, interspersed with enthusiastic applause, was provided by the talented soloist Liliana Natalie Buickians and pianist Kurt Eric Galvan, who played expertly on a 19th century Steinway. The well-selected repertoire included renditions by Italian and French composers and culminated in much appreciated Armenian songs composed by Komitas.
Warm words of appreciation were addressed to the guests and supporters of Haigazian University; to the co-chairs of the development committee, Serge Buchakjian and Tina Segel;to the hosts, Andreas and Priya for their superb hospitality and home-prepared delectable buffet; to the AMAA leadership, Dr. Nazareth Darakjian, and AMAA staff; to all the speakers; to Anita Buchakjian for her indispensable assistance at the gala; and to Dro Abrahamian and Maria Bakalian at HU for their support; and to Dr. Haidostian for his remarkable work at HU.
To conclude in the words of Serge Buchakjian, “After 62 years of existence, resilience, and excellence,” the hope is to continue to support Haigazian University. The quote from Winston Churchill sums it all: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”