NEW YORK, NY—The Armenian Relief Society (ARS) “Mayr” Chapter of New York welcomed guests to its annual Mother of the Year celebration on Sunday, October 2nd at St. Illuminator’s Armenian Cathedral. This year’s luncheon honored Anais Tcholakian for over 50 years of service to the ARS.
Among the guests were ARS members, Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian of St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, Yeretsgin Ojeen Lakissian, Board of Trustees members, ARS Eastern Region vice chair Talin Daghlian and chair of the UN Commission on the Status of Women Houry Geudelekian, Tcholakian’s daughter.
In her opening remarks in Armenian, ARS “Mayr” Chapter chair Maria Ebrimian welcomed all to a momentous occasion. She was followed by vice chair Talene Nigdelian, who poignantly explained the role of the mother figure and Tcholakian’s impact on the ARS. Soloist Anahit Zakaryan graced the room with her enchanting voice, singing the Armenian, American and ARS anthems. After a moment of silence for Armenia’s fallen heroes and a blessing by Rev. Fr. Lakissian, it was time to enjoy the delicious Armenian food catered by Krichian’s Grill and Bistro. Entertainment was provided by DJ Shant.
Daghlian opened the second half of the program with a touching message, and Zakaryan delighted the audience with another performance. Then, Ebrimian was joined by Mina Hovsepian to read Tcholakian’s biography before presenting her with the honorary ARS “Mother of the Year” award.
Geudelekian and her son Tavit each spoke eloquently about their mother and grandmother, respectively. Rev. Fr. Lakissian expressed his gratitude toward Tcholakian, thanking her for her years of service in many different community organizations, including the ARS, Hamazkayin, St. Illuminator’s Saturday School and St. Illuminator’s Cathedral. He described Tcholakian as a loving mother, a patriot and a hardworking and loyal ARS member.
At the end of the program, Tcholakian thanked everyone for the gathering, especially Der Mesrob for accepting the ARS with open arms and also Yeretsgin Ojeen for decorating the church hall for the luncheon with beautiful balloons and handmade centerpieces. She also thanked Yervant Kasparian for his unrelenting help and the ARS “Mayr” Chapter Executive Committee and subcommittee for putting together such a joyous event.
The afternoon ended with a raffle drawing with unique gifts and cake.
The following formal remarks were delivered by Tavit Geudelekian for his grandmother Anais Tcholakian.
Where is Armenia?
If we consult a map, we find it bordered by friend and foe. Ringed round by history, politics and survival. But this picture seems incomplete. We peer to the west and see Mount Ararat staring back at us from within Turkish borders. We look to the east as the ongoing tragedy of conflict rages in Artsakh. To the north, our mixed history with the Soviet Union, to the south the vast influence of the Middle East which seems to blend with our culture in subtle ways.
It seems a map does not provide the most accurate answer to my question. So where is Armenia? Let’s ask a great Armenian-American writer.
There is an often-misquoted passage from William Saroyan that might help us. It goes, “For when two Armenians meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”
As a first-generation American, I understand the importance of nationalism within this quote. It’s the glue that seems to hold us together at the seams. When all else fails, when we forget our dance, forget our family’s secret to creating the perfect manteh or ghapama, we can fall back on the imagined ideal of our nation-state, and somehow magically, the act of two Armenians sitting and chatting over sourj should create a new Armenia on that very spot.
While I understand the sentimentality that’s also at work in that quote, I know that the political, linguistic and traditional differences between Eastern and Western Armenians create a deep set of challenges to Saroyan’s idea. I don’t think it’s enough for two Armenians to simply exist together in order for us to find Armenia.
So where is Armenia?
I can’t speak for everyone in this room, but I can tell you where my Armenia is found.
My Armenia is found preparing chikufte in a high-walled kitchen in Sunnyside, Queens. The window is open, allowing the smell of frying potatoes and cigarette smoke to mix with hot summer pavement.
My Armenia is found in a seemingly infinite collection of proverbs that guided my young mind toward the foundations of ethics and morality. “Not even a snake would bite the person who is drinking from the river.”
My Armenia is found here in the basement of St. Illuminators, struggling to pencil the familiar shapes of our alphabet onto paper, under the watchful eye of my Sunday school teacher, and my memie Anais.
My Armenia is found every Christmas. Not the December travesty with the white-bearded home-invader. My Armenia is found in the Christmas in January, with too many of us crowded into a too-small apartment, retelling stories of our family’s journey that seem to shift in details with each retelling.
My Armenia is found in a woman who is an actress, a dancer, a singer and a comedian, even though she says she doesn’t like comedy.
My Armenia is found working tirelessly for this church and its congregants. A church that serves as her second home in the world, not just in this city.
My Armenia is found on cruise ships and sitting at slot machines. My Armenia is on a first-name basis with every employee at the CVS on 41st street and Queens Boulevard.
My Armenia has given so much of her time and her energy to promote and enable the platform of the ARS, bringing its rich historical work to multiple generations of the Armenian Diaspora.
My Armenia is found in my grandmother, my memie, Anais.