PARAMUS, N.J. and FRESNO, Calif. – The 102nd annual meeting of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) was held at the Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church on Saturday, October 23, 2021.
AMAA president Nazareth Darakjian, M.D. presided over the meeting. Rev. Razmig Minassian, executive director of Camp Arev, offered a prayer and a short devotion based on 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3. Rev. Minassian focused on Paul’s encouraging words to the Thessalonians about their work produced by faith, their labor promoted by love and their endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. He reminded all who gathered at the meeting that in faith we look back at what God has done in our lives, that love is the mechanism in which we live by today and that we are a people of hope. Without hope, we are doomed. But through Christ, we have hope for a better day.
During the meeting, AMAA executive director and CEO Zaven Khanjian presented his report on the AMAA’s activities during the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year. Reports were also received from AMAA officers, directors and committee chairs. Representatives of the Armenian Evangelical Unions, the Armenian Evangelical World Council and affiliated organizations also presented their reports, shared their joys and concerns and praised God for another successful year despite restrictions due to the COVID pandemic.
Republic of Artsakh State Minister Artak Beglaryan greeted the attendees and credited his Christian education and his spirit of service to the AMAA summer camps in Artsakh he attended when he was a child. Beglaryan was in California upon the invitation of the AMAA as the guest of honor of its 102nd annual meeting. He was also the keynote speaker at the banquet on Saturday evening.
The AMAA’s general membership elected the following nine members to the Board of Directors Class of 2024 for a three-year term: Ronald Altoon, Lucienne Aynilian, Bryan Bedrosian, Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian, John Cherkezian, Christine Momjian, Roseann Saliba, Eileen Chopourian Stephey, Ed.D. and Aram Shemmassian, M.D.
At the conclusion of the business meeting, guests from around the globe participated in a bus tour of “Armenian Fresno,” with visits to the David of Sassoon sculpture by Varaz Samuelian, the Lawrence Condrajian Cone (designed by Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church), the William Saroyan residence, the Masis Ararat Cemetery, the Soghomon Tehlirian monument and the Armenian Genocide monument on the campus of California State University, Fresno. Tour organizer Joyce Kierejczyk, Varoujan Der Simonian of the Armenian Museum of Fresno and Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian of the CSU Fresno Armenian Studies program offered expert commentary throughout the tour.
The Saturday sessions culminated in a banquet dedicated to the Artsakh Republic, which took place in the fellowship hall of the First Armenian Presbyterian Church (FAPC). Banquet co-sponsors and co-chairs John Abdulian, M.D. and LindaKay Bedrosian Abdulian welcomed the attendees to the sold-out event. Mrs. Abdulian, president of National Raisin Company and AMAA board member, served as mistress of ceremonies and thanked AMAA president Darakjian and executive director Khanjian for their servant leadership.
Tenor Misak Israelyan, a native of Vanadzor, offered stirring renditions of the US and Armenian national anthems. Senior pastor of FAPC Rev. Gregory Vahack Haroutunian offered the prayer of invocation.
Guests were screened a special video on the AMAA camping ministry in Artsakh, which began near Stepanakert in 1995 and moved to Shushi in the summer of 2003. The video depicted a quarter century of AMAA camping ministry in Artsakh, with more than 800 young people participating in each annual summer session. The video also saluted Carlotta and the late Ernest Bedrosian, Katherine and the late Krikor Bedrosian, Kenneth and Jane Bedrosian and their extended family for faithful sponsorship of AMAA’s Camp Bedrosian in Shushi since 2003. The campsite was lost to the Azeri military in the 44-day war that ended November 10, 2020.
“Bedrosian Camp is not a building, land or soil—it is spirit,” said Khanjian. “We will build a camp in Shushi one more time.” Darakjian later presented an oil portrait of the camp to the Bedrosian family. AMAA Armenia representative Harout Nercessian presented the family with albums of photographs from the 25-year camping ministry. Speaking for the extended family, AMAA board member Bryan Bedrosian offered moving remarks in both English and Armenian.
Guests dined on beef filet and chicken kebab and accompaniments prepared by the Holy Trinity Men’s Society and served by the employees of National Raisin Company. Following the meal, tenor Israelyan offered the venerable hymn “How Great Thou Art” in English and the Artsakh anthems “Life and Battle” and “We Will Live” in Armenian.
Newly-appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the United States Lilit Makunts marked her first visit to California at the banquet and warmly saluted the AMAA for offering humanitarian aid, inspiring the Armenian people to hope for a better life and future and for emphasizing the education of youth. “After the 44-day Artsakh war, we have only one place to go—forward,” she said.
The Honorable Armen Baibourtian, PhD, Consul General of the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles, expressed delight at being present for the banquet and described Fresno as “the place where our Armenian roots are in the western United States.” Baibourtian was accompanied by the Honorable Berj Apkarian, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Fresno since 2014.
The banquet committee introduced the keynote speaker with an AMAA video entitled, “A Success Story Against All Odds.” Beglaryan lost his vision in a landmine incident in 1995. A one time camper at the AMAA Camp in Stepanakert, Beglaryan went on to study at Yerevan State University, University College London and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He served as Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh for two years and was appointed State Minister on June 1, 2021.
“It’s symbolic to be in Fresno because it is the symbol of survival and revival after the Genocide of 1915,” said Beglaryan. “The example of Fresno will be quite encouraging to us.” Beglaryan examined the future of Artsakh following the 44-day war and cited long term and short term challenges. The long term challenges include: (1) security, (2) demography; (3) economic development; (4) government reforms and (5) education. Beglaryan said the short term challenges include: (1) housing; (2) social and labor productivity; (3) physical and psychological rehabilitation of the populace; (4) infrastructure and (5) institutional capacity. To address these challenges, Beglaryan called for self-analysis at all levels, unity, strategic thinking, patience, persistence and an attitude of service. “Jesus sacrificed His life to give us a chance; the Artsakh soldiers sacrificed their lives for the same goal. We should live our lives so that their lives were not given in vain,” he concluded.
Khanjian presented Beglaryan and his advisor David Hagopian with a variety of gifts, including a framed motto, “Perseverance—Never Give Up!” Khanjian thanked the host and banquet committees and the Armenian community of Fresno for their warm hospitality.
The 102nd annual meeting host committee included the senior pastor of Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church of Fresno Rev. Nerses Balabanian, associate pastor of Pilgrim Church Rev. Kevin Kasper and co-chairs Edward and Roseann Saliba. The annual meeting banquet committee included co-chairs Dr. John and LindaKay Bedrosian Abdulian, Khanjian, Katherine Bedrosian, Jane Bedrosian Asmar, Louisa Janbazian, Christine Kutlu, Magda Poulos, Nancy Rivera, Missy Karabian Statler and Marie Viducich.
Khanjian concluded with the words of Jesus of Nazareth: “‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’ [March 16: 15] AMAA’s march goes on!” Reverend Albert Paytyan, president of the Union of Evangelical Churches in Armenia, offered the benediction and Reverend Nerses Balabanian led the singing of the Doxology (“Park yev Badeev”).
On Sunday, October 24, members and guests joined the Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church of Fresno for a special worship service jointly with the FAPC congregation. Rev. Dr. Haroutune Selimian, president of the Armenian Evangelical Community in Syriam preached in Armenian a message based on Isaiah 54:1-4. “The message of this passage,” he said, “is what the prophet would have said: Spread out your tent and let the curtains of your dwelling be stretched; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.” He concluded his message reflecting on the current situation in Artsakh: “God has chosen us as co-workers, and He encourages us to fill those ruined cities with people.”
Rev. Dr. Ron Tovmassian, senior pastor of the United Armenian Congregational Church of Los Angeles, said in his English message: “As believers, we will not have a heart for those who need to know the Lord, unless we realize there is no difference between us and them in God’s eyes… While churches are a comfortable place for believers to gather, those who do not know the Lord will be out of place in a worshipping community. We must not just sit back and hope they come to us, like Jesus we must go out and seek them where they are and share God’s love with them. That is our mission as individuals, as churches and it is the mission of the AMAA consistently pursuing, to go out into the world and share the light of God’s salvation.”
A special prayer was offered by Rev. L. Nishan Bakalian in memory of AMAA members and friends who made the transition to eternal life during the past year. Rev. Dr. Vahan H. Tootikian officiated the installation of the members and officers of the AMAA Board of Directors.
Prior to the AMAA’s annual meeting, on Wednesday, October 20, representing the AMAA, Dr. Hasmig Baran accompanied the State Minister and the guests to pay cordial visits to Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America at St. Leon Armenian Cathedral in Burbank, CA and Bishop Torkom Donoyan, Prelate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Orthodox Church of America at the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church in La Crescenta. The following week, Khanjian accompanied the State Minister and paid cordial visits to the Consulate General of Armenia, St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Catholic Cathedral and the headquarters of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America in Glendale, CA.