By Jean Goshgarian Michael
PROVIDENCE, RI – On November 21, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Ani chapter hosted a very special evening with husband and wife duo John and June Mangassarian, who captivated the audience with pictures and stories from their recent trip to Armenia and Artsakh. “During our trip, more than anything we learned that this little place called Rhode Island has such a presence in today’s Armenia,” said John, who conducted the presentation with June’s assistance at the computer. “The mark Rhode Island Armenians have made, which surely includes the Ani chapter of the ARS, is unmistakable. We must all continue to support Armenia as it develops.”
Twelve years ago, June and her brother visited a very different country from today’s Armenia. At that time, the country appeared to be suffering from poverty, unemployment and a lack of promise. Now, 12 years later, they found Armenia to be a vibrant and bustling tourist vacation spot with many wonderful historic places to visit such as museums, churches, monasteries, wineries, restaurants, hotels and shopping attractions, all of which they enjoyed.
Some of the memorable places they visited during their 14-day adventure included the Armenia Tree Project (ATP), where they were able to plant their donated trees, Mother Armenia, and the Genocide Monument. One very meaningful visit was to the General Andranik Museum of Patriotic Movement, located adjacent to the Komitas Pantheon where about 60 famous Armenians are buried, including Komitas, William Saroyan and Aram Khachaturian. The Mangassarians’ uncle Barouyr Loosararian was a rug designer and fabricator who made a rug many years ago with the portrait of General Antranig. Along with their cousins Katie, Vlad, Kirk and Laurens, the couple presented the framed rug and plaque to Mrs. Arakelian, the owner/curator of the museum.
In Artsakh, the Mangassarians had the opportunity to visit a place near and dear to their hearts, the ARS Soseh Kindergarten in Stepanakert. At the end of the four-year Artsakh war and as reconstruction began in 1998, the ARS accepted the challenge of repairing a damaged building in Stepanakert to offer refuge and assistance to the many needy children and their families left homeless by war. In a very short time, the organization was able to welcome the first group of 87 children, ages three to six, to the ARS Soseh Kindergarten in Stepanakert, a precursor to the current network of Soseh kindergartens throughout Artsakh. Today, the completely re-built and renovated Stepanakert kindergarten provides services for 140 children.
In June 2016, the Ani chapter hosted a very successful fundraiser to assist with the rebuilding efforts. The Mangassarians were so touched by the project that they joined in the endeavor by making a generous donation in their mothers’ names, Eugenia Megerdichian and Elizabeth Mangassarian. While visiting the Kindergarten, they were very moved to see their mothers’ names engraved on the Giving Tree, along with Araxy and Ardashes Aykanian (their uncle) and the Providence ARS Ani Chapter. In honor of the couple’s visit, the children were excited to present an impromptu hantes during which they recited the “Hayr Mer” (Lord’s Prayer), sang and performed several Armenian dances. It was a heartwarming experience and truly one of the highlights of their trip.
The Mangassarians expressed their hopes for everyone to visit Armenia and Artsakh and share in their experiences. In fact, the trip had such an impact that they are going back in 2020, and as part of their journey they will help build a home with the Fuller Global Builders.
To conclude their presentation, the emotional couple left the audience with a meaningful quote pictured with a beautiful painting from the General Andranik Museum:
“When in the evening
You put your head to pillow
As you fall asleep
Think just a bit
About your people.”