NEW YORK, NY—Marking a century of Armenian-American political advocacy, the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) just celebrated and honored visionaries whose work has significantly impacted the Armenian Cause.
Hundreds of community leaders and grassroots advocates from throughout the Eastern United States gathered at the ANCA’s 12th annual gala on Saturday, October 13, 2018 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. This year’s honorees included Oscar-winning director Terry George and producer Dr. Eric Esrailian for their film “The Promise.” Community activist and educator Kenneth Sarajian was also honored for tirelessly incorporating Hai Tahd into every aspect of his life. Three future Armenian leaders—the 2018 ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship participants—were recognized as well.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Division for Human Rights Watch, served as master of ceremonies. Following the national anthems of the United States and Armenia by Hooshere Bezdikian and the invocation by His Grace Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate, Whitson reflected on this year’s 100th anniversary of the formation of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia, the forerunner of the ANCA. She highlighted that among the ANCA’s strengths today was the broad diversity of its supporters; its ability to unify people across multiple generations, from varied geographic and professional backgrounds, and from across the political spectrum to work for Hai Tahd, the Armenian Cause.
In her welcome address, ANCA Eastern Region board member Audrey Mardoian said, “We were heartened by the large number of youth who attended, and we are confident that the future of Hai Tahd work is in good hands.”
Every year during the gala, the ANCA-ER honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward issues relevant to Armenian-Americans with the Freedom Award. This year, the ANCA-ER honored Terry George, writer and director of “The Promise” and Dr. Eric Esrailian, producer of “The Promise.” Presenting the awards was Consolee Nishimwe, author, human rights advocate and survivor of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
George and Dr. Esrailian helped fulfill the vision of the late Kirk Kerkorian – educating the public about the perseverance of the Armenian nation through the internationally recognized film “The Promise.” Furthering their initiative, the proceeds of the film were used to establish The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law. In their remarks, both George and Dr. Esrailian commended the ANCA on its help in promoting the film.
George said, “We have endured so much together… the Irish, the Rwandans, the Armenians…That suffering defined our people and it defined us as we traveled around the world. And you look now and the diaspora of the Irish and the diaspora of the Armenians are some of the strongest cultures and people around the world… That feeling of community is what drove me, along with Eric and all of our crew to make this film. We created something that is a learning tool that is eternal… it’s there to teach our children and to teach people who don’t know. One of the most gratifying things about making this film is when people come up afterwards and say I didn’t know this happened… because we are spreading the word… about what happened in the past, but what can’t happen again in the future.”
In his videotaped message accepting the award, Dr. Esrailian discussed the pressure and obstacles involved during the filming of “The Promise.” He commended his team and reflected on the man who inspired the effort—Kerkorian. He called him the “dearest hero of the Armenian nation.”
“The film has truly exceeded our expectations. There has been an overwhelming amount of attention and awareness of the Armenian Genocide since the launch of the film. And we were able to create a movement to keep the promise, to never forget the Armenian Genocide and to hopefully shine a light and prevent future atrocities,” said Dr. Esrailian.
The Vahan Cardashian Award is given annually to an ANCA-ER activist or supporter who demonstrates longstanding accomplishments on behalf of the Armenian Cause. This year, the ANCA-ER honored Ken Sarajian, an educator and lifelong Hai Tahd activist. Along with building key congressional relationships throughout the years, he most recently joined Shant Mardirossian to promote a new Armenian Genocide curriculum at the New Jersey Council of Social Studies, educating teachers on the life-saving efforts of Near East Relief during the Armenian Genocide. Sarajian continues to work diligently within the Armenian community and in his chosen field of public education to promote civic activism and awareness.
In his acceptance speech, Sarajian recognized activists of the past such as Leo Sarkisian and those of the present saying, “This is us doing this stuff together. It is about the people we meet. If we ever think it’s about what we do, we’re wrong. It’s about why we do it. This is us. It’s not just me. It’s what you guys do. So this is my journey. I am a storyteller who tells our story now. Whether it’s in the classroom, Congress or the state legislature, the story is not just about what happened 100 years ago, it’s about what’s happening today as the genocide continues…”
Mardoian returned to the stage to deliver the ANCA Eastern Region’s message. She invited everyone to join her in a moment of silence in memory of 27-year-old ANCA activist Movses Ter-Oganesyan, who passed away earlier in the week, and for 2016 Cardashian Award recipient Levon Palian, who passed away in September.
Then Mardoian discussed many of the ANCA’s accomplishments; she highlighted the work of local ANC’s such as Merrimack Valley’s Armenian Genocide education program, which was implemented at 50 area high schools. She also reminded the audience of the upcoming elections in November, urging them to vote for ANCA-endorsed candidates.
Mardoian then introduced Victoria Messikian, who spoke on behalf of the 2018 Leo Sarkisian summer interns: Boston University junior Antranig Kechejian, Fordham University junior Victoria Messikian, and Indiana University senior Adrienne Tazian-Schwartz. Messikian thanked the ANCA for having the opportunity to learn about the many facets of Hai Tahd during the Washington, D.C-based internship, pledging that the next generation of ANCA activists is ready for the challenge. Shortly after, Tereza Yerimyan, Director of the ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program and Leo Sarkisian Summer Internship Program, presented awards to the interns recognizing their participation in the program.
In his remarks, George Aghjayan, Chair of the ANCA Eastern Region Endowment Fund, stressed the importance of ANCA programs such as the Leo Sarkisian and Capitol Gateway, its expanding genocide education efforts and numerous other ANCA initiatives. He noted how the ANCA is preparing the next generation of ANC activists and urged generous donors to expand their support by contributing to the endowment fund.
The final speaker of the evening was ANCA National Board Chair Raffi Hamparian. Hamparian reflected on the impact that Cardashian honoree Sarajian had on his own life as a young man in New Jersey, inspiring him to become a Hai Tahd activist. He outlined numerous important initiatives currently being pursued in Washington, D.C., including support for demining efforts and a rehabilitation center in Artsakh, implementing stronger peacekeeping measures along the Line of Contact in Artsakh, increased U.S. funding for schools in Armenia, support for reforestation in Armenia, and pursuit of justice for the Armenian Genocide.
Special guests included H.E. Mher Margaryan, Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mr. Robert Avetisyan, Republic of Artsakh’s Permanent Representative to the United States and Dr. Khatchig Mouradian, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Bureau Member.
The evening also featured a silent auction, featuring numerous items donated from local Armenian and non-Armenian businesses and individuals, as well as organizations such as AYF Camp Haiastan and the ACAA Cruise Committee. Included in the items was a signed original script of the film “The Promise,” items autographed by Serj Tankian, sports memorabilia and many more.
For more information about this year’s gala, please visit www.ancaef.org/gala.
I was introduced to the legend of Kenneth J. Sarajian in the early 1970s. He was walking around the swimming pool at the Armenian Youth Federation Olympics Hotel headquarters with the beige handset and expandable cord of a desk telephone hanging out the right pocket of his size Extra Large Bermuda shorts. If you don’t know what a desk telephone is, shame, shame, shame. It seemed as if everyone in the hotel knew him and he knew him or her as well.
Nearly 50 years later, the Armenian National Committee of America is honoring Kenneth J. Sarajian with the Vahan Cardashian award for his lifelong contributions to the advancement of Armenian causes. The honor will be granted to him on October 13, 2018 at a respected and distinguished dinner in New York City.
Of my peers, the three people who are on the Mt. Rushmore of the A.Y.F. leadership and participation are Kenneth Sarajian, Michael Najarian and Michael Hagopian.
Of my mentors during that time, the four people on Mt. Rushmore are Aram Sonny Gavoor (Violet Merian), Avedis Avo Alashaian (Rosemary Merjanian), Shant Chebookjian (Rosanne Karoghlanian) and Tom Vartabedian (Nancy Yeghoian).
A third Mt. Rushmore is needed with the faces of Hachig Kazarian, John Berberian, Ken Kalajian, Roger Krikorian, Robert Sohigian and Onnik Dinkjian.
If you are of a certain age, and were involved in the Armenian Youth Federation, there are certain individuals who have become synonymous with their city or state of residence. Ken Sarajian and New Jersey have that connection for me.
I also think of Onnik Dinkjian, Avo Alashaian and Kenny’s brother Richard.
When I think of Armenians from Granite City, Illinois, I think of Michael (Karen Sogoian), Stephen (Susan Lee) and Jeffrey Hagopian (Lynne). Put Lisa and Greg Bedian and Vahe Habeshian in that mix.
Bettendorf, Iowa belongs to Tako “Mama” Sharoian and her offspring, including the Gearys.
Chicago raised the Mardoians, Lucy and Chris Boyajian, Knarig Boyajian, Noreen Kevorkian and Yeretzgeen Evelyn Boyajian (Tirouhi Mkrtscjian).
Denise Lansing owns Racine, Wisconsin.
The Karentz family of Indianapolis has just as much claim to the city as a certain Louisiana bred quarterback wearing #18 in a football uniform.
Grand Rapids, Michigan strung together the tennis Saryans.
The Kouyoumdjians inherited Cleveland, Ohio from John D. Rockefeller.
Galt, Ontario was the stomping grounds of Ralph Markarian (Audrey Sogoian).
Guelph, Ontario belongs to the golfing Buzbuzians named Greg and Jeff as well as shopping centre magnate, Karnig Mann.
Preston, Ontario lays claim to Mark and John Palvetzian, both of whom mastered tennis with wood rackets.
(In a radius of about ten miles or 16.0934 kilometers, where are you going to find six guys with more character and as handsome as this sextet? You can credit Molson’s or Labatt’s beer, Tim Horton’s coffee and doughnuts, or Canadian Club Whiskey. Or you can just say that there is something special about the good clean air and water of Canada.)
Peter Jelalian can lay claim to multiple areas: New York City (Queens) and as the Barone of Camp Haiastan. Counselors Kenny Simonian (Sonya Shoushanian), Jimmy Dardouni and Jimmy Altounian (Priscilla Piligian) are also attached to Camp Haiastan.
How do you pick just one person from all the great folks in the Boston area, I think the six Najarian brothers should be in that group. You must include Robert Tutunjian and Shooshan Kassabian. Don’t forget Ron Tutunjian. Richard Chebookjian, Laura Terzian, Johnny Kulegian, Leo Topjian, Sharon Paul, blue-eyed Lynn Tanashian up in Lowell, the Arabians, Marguerite Kevorkian, Stepan and Satenig Dulgerian, the Megerdichians, the Aylaians, Fred Hintlian, Ara Krafian, the Mangasarians, and so many, many more.
Philadelphia and the Vosbikian Clan are one and the same. Add the Keshgegians to that list and Garo Der Kaloustian.
Despite all the success the Providence Varantian Chapter achieved, one personality stands above the rest. The late Reverend Vartan (Nubar) Kassabian died much too early but contributed so much. You can’t think of Providence without thinking of Stepan and Richard Kanarian, the Varadians, the Abrahamians and the Piligians.
Six-foot-five inch Hagop Antranigian owns the state of Maine as much as that family in Kennebunkport and the mall in Kittery.
I am not going to name a single person or a single name from Detroit, other than Aram and Manoushag Gavoor. I still live in the expanded Metro Detroit area and if I leave off a name, I will be skewered like a shish full of peppers, tomatoes and onions on the grill at the St. Sarkis Armenian Church Grape Blessing picnic shepherded by Father Hrant Kevorkian.
I know there are many, many more names I am leaving off, and I apologize profusely, but it is only because my sixty-six year old brain is running as slow as my ten-year-old Dell desktop computer with a Windows Vista operating system.
Look at all the names on this page. I dare you to pick a bad apple out of the entire orchard. The combination of Armenian nationality, dedication to the first Christian Church starting in 301 A.D., the Armenian Youth Federation experience, and the “IAN” at the end of our last name some time in our ancestry all contribute to the formula. It is a shame God gave so many of the Armenian girls that nice thick head of hair when us guys have so little, but what the heck.
The baby boomer generation salutes Kenneth J. Sarajian and his family. We are proud of his accomplishments, dedication, friendship and sense of humor. We will be with you in New York City on October 13, 2018 giving you a standing ovation.
Highland, Michigan 48357