The Vahan Cardashian Award is given annually to an ANCA supporter who demonstrates longstanding dedication and active involvement in the Armenian American community and its issues. The award is named for Yale-educated lawyer Vahan Cardashian who set aside his successful New York practice to dedicate himself to the establishment of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA), the predecessor organization to the Armenian National Committee, and to advocate for the plight of the Armenian nation during and after the Armenian Genocide.
This year, the Armenian National Committee of America-Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) will award Ken Sarajian the prestigious Vahan Cardashian award. In Ken’s eyes, the issue of the Armenian Cause is something that galvanizes us, helps us grow, helps us educate ourselves and helps us be a community that can aid Armenia today. He has tirelessly incorporated Hai Tahd into every aspect of his life – through his role as a teacher, making the topic relevant to his students, encouraging youth to engage in Armenian issues. He has also promoted making friends with all individuals, Armenian or not, and enticing them to play a role in furthering the Armenian Cause. Notably, Ken served as the co-chair of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide commemoration, and the co vice-chair of the 100th anniversary commemoration. Always moving forward with passion and a steady will, Ken emulates the qualities that make for a Vahan Cardashian awardee.
With a story that begins much like everyone else’s, family initiated Ken’s involvement in the Armenian community. Ken, who was 12 years old in 1965, was taken to his first demonstration for the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide by his father. That moment sparked his lifelog journey of activism. “It was all part of the 60’s when people were taking to the streets. And Armenians took to the streets, and then I understood it was something bigger,” says Ken about that seminal point in his life.
[Those involved in the Armenian community] will find that the path they go on, if they go on with a pure heart and not with their own agenda, will enrich their journey and their lives. They can help our homeland, they can help us here in America. You see what one or
two people can do…
He was involved with his local New Jersey AYF-YOARF chapter, and part of a community where he was exposed to individuals with ties to the independence of Armenia. Men including Arshvir Shiragian and Dr. Armen Garo served as inspirational figures that pushed him to deepen his involvement.
When Ken served on the AYF-YOARF Central Executive as a young adult, he connected with ANCA members who understood the value of engaging the youth, notably Leo Sarkisian (who Ken describes as a “guiding force”) and Harry Derderian. These two men followed the philosophy that if they attended events accompanied by the younger generation, the youth would learn valuable skills. And that is exactly what happened to Ken. “I learned from them, I listened to them, and I got more involved.” Leo Sarkisian saw something within him, and Ken was placed on the board of the ANCA Eastern Region.
His journey, from start to present, has taught him essential lessons. Most importantly, he learned that as you deepen your involvement in the community, you realize that nobody does anything by himself. When speaking of his achievements, he humbly interjects, “It’s nothing I did. It’s because I met people in different places. And [all I’ve done] grew and evolved organically.”
His activism has given him three vital, intangible things: an inner purpose, an inner strength and depth of character. Essentially, a sense of who he is. He often reflects on how much less his life would be if he were not a part of this cause.
This is why he encourages everyone, especially the youth, to become involved. “[Those involved in the Armenian community] will find that the path they go on, if they go on with a pure heart and not with their own agenda, will enrich their journey and their lives. They can help our homeland, they can help us here in America. You see what one or two people can do…”
Ken is one of those great people who has moved mountains for the community. His efforts can be seen in both his personal and professional life, as he is a history teacher who gives lectures on the topic of genocide. On April 24th, 2015, Ken’s colleagues organized a program to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide and all genocides. He was completely uninvolved; the program came as a surprise. “The auditorium was packed to the gills, standing room only. These people knew how much it meant to me, they organized the whole thing on their own…The choral teacher taught the chorus a song in Armenian to sing; it was the most phenomenal program. And they did it because they knew what it meant [to me].”
This is why Ken considers himself a lucky man, and why he is convinced that he does not do anything alone. “I am just lucky to know people who do stuff. Isn’t that wonderful?”
He has created a network – of friends, family, colleagues, students and strangers – and he has led them and inspired them to understand and involve themselves in some way in the Armenian Cause. Perhaps unknowingly, he has filled the role of the great individuals who inspired him throughout his childhood. He has become someone others look up to, someone others will speak of as an inspiration when they achieve great things. All Ken has ever done is “speak the truth and speak from the heart”, and by doing so, he has and continues to inspire everyone who crosses his path.
The ANCA ER Gala will take place on Saturday, October 13, 2018 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in NYC. To purchase tickets or for more information on our honorees please visit https://ancaef.org/gala/ or call 201-788-5425.