After successful careers in real estate and finance, Victor Zarougian and Judy Saryan of Boston have championed Armenian philanthropy in many ways. Their latest effort combines their passion for sustainable agriculture, with the International Center for Agribusiness Research and Education Foundation (ICARE) — and for art, with the Armenian Artists Project (AAP). In doing so, they are raising awareness for both organizations and creating new opportunities to sustain Armenian enterprise.
Philanthropists to the Core
Zarougian was born in Cairo, Egypt and immigrated to the US in 1962. After attaining his BA at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, he pursued a career in urban real estate management and development. He has a strong interest in geography and developmental economics which he has put to excellent use in his philanthropic efforts, particularly in Armenia, with organizations such as the Tufenkian Foundation, COAF, ICARE, TUMO and others.
Saryan was born in Delaware and graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts with a major in economics. She spent her career in the financial industry, most recently at Eaton Vance Management, where she was vice president and portfolio manager. After retirement, Saryan decided to pursue her passion for literature and history, and in partnership with AIWA, published translations of Zabel Yessayan and others. She also has worked on philanthropic projects with AIWA, NAASR, COAF, CINF, AGBU, TUMO, and ICARE.
Zarougian’s and Saryan’s passion for supporting Armenia took a new turn in recent years, as they decided to pursue two major goals concurrently: to support sustainable agriculture in Armenia, and to support Armenian artists — both areas that have long been part of Armenia’s history and accomplishments.
In 2005, Texas A&M University, Armenian National Agrarian University and the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service founded ICARE—a non-governmental and non-commercial organization in Yerevan. It provides degrees in agribusiness education to achieve sustainable entrepreneurial activities in the food and agriculture sectors in Armenia. ICARE is an umbrella institution for the Agribusiness Teaching Center (ATC), the Agribusiness Research Center (ARC) and the EVN Wine Academy. It also prepares agribusiness specialists at undergraduate and graduate levels, armed with broad economic, marketing and managerial skills, up-to-date communication abilities and excellent knowledge of English. These skills make ATC graduates competitive in the growing regional agribusiness sector.
Because they saw the immense benefits of renewable energy in Armenia, Zarougian and Saryan first partnered with ICARE in 2014 on their solar panel project, the largest solar project in Armenia at the time. They continued their involvement with a donation for the development of the EVN Wine Academy. Zarougian and Saryan appreciated the practical and high-quality education that ICARE offers. They are working with ICARE to establish its EcoFarm, an incubation center promoting environmentally conscious agriculture, agribusiness research and startups, and responding to the challenges of climate change. This work is in response to the socio-economic condition of Armenia and to the opportunity to develop a leading-edge institution.
Around the same time, through colleagues, Zarougian and Saryan came in contact with AAP, which supports Armenian artists and economy by selling their works online around the world, with proceeds going to the artist and to charitable efforts in Armenia. AAP has already sold more than $150,000 worth of artwork by 35 Armenian artists and contributed approximately $65,000 to Armenia’s economy and charities supporting Armenia.
Zarougian and Saryan saw an opportunity for a truly distinctive synergy between ICARE and AAP. They made a donation to AAP artist and sculptor Nune Tumanyan to create a sculpture of Zabel Yessayan, a courageous Armenian woman (1878-1943) who was a renowned writer, political activist, editor and teacher, to be installed in front of the ICARE EcoFarm. They felt it was important to highlight the impact of Yessayan on Armenian literature, history and education and to also support a female Armenian artist. In doing so, they have raised awareness of both organizations in their efforts to support and sustain the homeland.
Titled Անվհեր Զապէլ, or Intrepid Zabel, the greater-than-life-size sculpture reflects her courage and devotion as a leader and advocate for human rights. In many ways it reflects the spirit captured in a famous quote by the author: “You must raise your gaze higher; you must sharpen your mind in order to undertake useful and wide-reaching work.”
The work also reflects the passion of its sculptor for her homeland and its women. Born in Yerevan, Tumanyan has held positions as a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Armenia, the head of the Department of Sculpture and Artists’ Union of Armenia. She is also author and curator of the project “Urban Sculpture,” aimed at improving the artistic look of Yerevan through the creative works of the sculptors of Armenia. She has won numerous awards at the Ravenna Biennale in Italy and has had work exhibited at the National Art Gallery of Armenia and around the world.
The sculpture is scheduled to be installed at a formal ceremony at ICARE next fall.
A New Armenia
Although the pandemic resulted in some delays for these concurrent projects, Zarougian and Saryan and their partners are moving forward. “As Armenians from the Diaspora, we recognize the debt we have to our history and culture,” they said. “By supporting the creative efforts of Armenian educators and artists, we help to continue our cultural tradition and to work towards the future growth and innovation of strong institutions in the homeland.”