A Tribute to a Renaissance Woman and Trailblazer…Anne Atanossian

Anne Atanossian

Along the road of the journey of life on earth, we are blessed to meet people who change our vector and inspire us to new heights. Whether they are chance encounters or long-term friendships, they are all worthy of remembrance, because they influenced who we have become. I have been fortunate to meet many such people along my path who have had a significant influence on my identity. We lost Anne Atanossian a few weeks ago, and her impact  will not end with the conclusion of her earthly life. Anne was a long-time part of the Washington, D.C. Armenian community who galvanized many through her grace, intellect and example. Great role models do not look for followers or those to mentor. It is a much more organic process that occurs as a result of their talent and humility. Such was the case with Anne.

My encounter with her brilliance began in 1971. I was in my late teens and in the early stages of my bond with our Armenian cause. Armenian political activism was also in its infancy, as this was a time before the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and Armenian Assembly. It was 20 years before the independence of Armenia. Advocacy for genocide recognition was a diaspora project managed by emerging committees and campaigns. Anne and her beloved husband Harry had an idea to bring together activists of all generations in Washington to protest against Turkish denial. They formed an ad hoc committee called the Action Committee for Armenian Rights (ACAR). The small but organized group sponsored several activities, but the highlight was a demonstration in Washington in April 1971. They partnered with respected patriot Dr. Haigaz Grigorian to begin a new chapter in our struggle for justice in the nation’s capital. 

My involvement up to that point was limited to a few rallies in Boston and one memorable trip to the United Nations. The ACAR publicized the demonstration to the communities on the east coast. Our family became aware of the rally through the Armenian church network. My father Carnig, an ardent Armenian patriot and WWII veteran, suggested we attend. He drove my sister Priscilla, my friend Varoujan and me from Indian Orchard to D.C. The rally was well attended and held in the shadow of the Turkish embassy. It was there that I first met Anne and witnessed her magnetic leadership. Her organizational skills and passion for Armenian rights were inspiring to the hundreds of young Armenians in attendance. Political activism was a recent phenomenon for our generation—a generation eager to apply our knowledge of the injustices against our people. Similar to many of my peers, we were the beneficiaries of a heritage-based education that provided a foundation for contributing to our cause. Over that weekend, Anne became a beacon for us, as we marveled at her ability to connect people to a common purpose. During a small group gathering, it became obvious that she deeply cared about the youth and was an incredibly effective motivator. That weekend was a watershed event in my entry into Hai Tahd. Anne and Harry continued their efforts with the ACAR until the spark they lit ignited new national efforts. 

We must always remember and respect those who had the foresight and courage to trailblaze. Anne left a huge footprint in the growth of political activism in this country. I remember that weekend and subsequent activities as if they occurred yesterday. This vivid recollection is attributed to the impact they had on my own journey. There have been countless demonstrations, advocacy campaigns and educational processes, but I have often thought about Anne and Harry. For myself, and I would assume many others, it began on those streets in Washington. 

Years went by, and my path crossed with the Atanossians a few times, but in 2011 an unexpected encounter brought the past to the present. Our family made our first trip to Armenia that year and joined a small tour group. We grew close with an Armenian woman named Noni (Nazeli DeBlasio) from New York who also was visiting for the first time. Typical of Armenians and the interconnecting branches of many dialogues, we quickly discovered that she had been in the Long Island AYF and attended the St. Sarkis Church. Under the shadow of eternal Ararat, our conversation shifted into our history and the Genocide. Noni asked me how I got involved. I told her about my teenage years in New England, the special experience in Washington and the couple who led this life-changing event. 

When I mentioned Anne and Harry, Noni looked stunned and declared that they were her dear aunt and uncle (Harry was her mom’s brother from Providence). Older memories instantly became current, as I learned more about this incredible couple. During that conversation and subsequent discussions, I shared with Noni my deep respect for Anne and the impact she had on many of us. Noni was kind enough to keep us informed of her status over the years, and it was she who called me with the sad news of Anne’s passing. I believe that with faith there are no coincidences. Our paths crossing with Noni created a beautiful friendship and gave us wonderful insight into Anne and her extended family. It also enabled me to recall some very important years and articulate to others their meaningful impact. I am fortunate to have learned about this incredible individual who led one of the most important inflection points in my life as an Armenian. A pilot light was lit that has never extinguished. Anne belongs on the list of those to whom I am eternally grateful.

Leadership requires the courage to focus on the mission and ignore the noise. Her love of our culture and community fueled a unique and inspiring brand of leadership.

When I decided to tell this story, I wanted to seek the wisdom of one of Anne’s peers from those incredible early days. After asking several friends who were a part of the Washington scene during that time, most suggested that I speak with Eleanor Caroglanian. Eleanor and her husband Oscar were close friends of Anne and Harry for decades. They were equally active in the community, and Oscar led the remarkably successful 70th anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide at Arlington National Cemetery. From my observations of Anne during those early activist days, it was apparent that she was a very talented woman who willingly shared her gifts with her people. After speaking with Noni and Eleanor, I learned that she was truly a Renaissance woman. More than 50 years ago, Anne was one of the few female leaders in our community, and I am certain that she inspired many young Armenian women and men to greater heights. Leadership requires the courage to focus on the mission and ignore the noise. Her love of our culture and community fueled a unique and inspiring brand of leadership. Professionally, Anne was equally remarkable. For many years she was the head of the English department at Wheaton (Md.) High School. She was a prolific writer and always responded with grace when her talents were needed. Anne was quite fluent in Shakespearean literature, and she practiced her knowledge as an actor in the prestigious Arena Theatre in Washington. Anne was able to willingly contribute to her communities in a variety of ways with her speaking, writing and acting capabilities. Consider for a moment how many high school students she must have motivated and mentored simply through her natural ability.

Anne was originally from New York, and her family moved to the Washington area after the war. She met her husband Harry through the AYF, and they made their life together in the metro D.C. area. In addition to being an early role model of female leadership in the Armenian community, she was a beloved wife, mother, aunt, cousin and friend to many during her extraordinary life. The breadth of her impact is so extensive that it reminds me of the adage, “If you want to accomplish something, ask a busy person.” Several individuals who knew her well speak often of her intelligence and talent. I was impressed that they also spoke of these attributes with immense respect, which is a clear indication of her compassion and humility. 

Our life on earth is sometimes referred to as a journey, during which we are privileged to meet some very special people. Perhaps they mentored us at a critical juncture of our lives or provided us the support that we all need at some point. As Armenians in America, we have the unique and rewarding opportunity to meet people who become friends for a lifetime in various geographies. Sometimes we meet people briefly who we will never forget. Anne Atanossian was one of those special people. I always have high regard for those with vision. When Anne and Harry decided to do something special for Genocide recognition, we had very little infrastructure. It took vision, energy and courage to overcome the obstacles, as our “reawakening” was in its early moments. It took someone like Anne to fulfill that opportunity, and we should all be thankful for the footprint she left for our cause. After those early days, our advocacy and activism went through a period of remarkable growth, due in part to the work of those early trailblazers.

It has often been said that the greatest legacy is to be remembered. A society that fails to remember those who created what we have inherited is indeed shallow. We will always remember Anne, because her legacy is one of unique leadership and inspiration. Her gifts live on through the many who have been impacted by her teaching, writing and opening of doors that were previously closed. We offer our sympathy to her family and are comforted by the knowledge that she has been reunited with her husband and son. Those of us continuing our earthly life will remember her for the important pillars that she established for the foundation we enjoy today. Asdvadz Hokin Louysavoreh. May God illuminate her soul.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.


  1. Dearest Stepan
    Such a magnificent tribute to our beloved friends Anne and Harry Atanossian. they truly were dedicated and devoted American Armenians.
    God Bless you for all that you do…I remember when Charles Aznavour was present at our banquet for the 70th commemoration, he was asked …..do you consider yourself a Frenchmen or an Armenian……His answer was always 100% French and 100% Armenian and that was exactly how Anne and Harry felt…Love and dedication to both nations they loved.

  2. This was a truly fitting remembrance of a remarkable woman. It should be noted that the ACAR was actually created by the AYF Central Executive. Anne and Dr. Haigaz played key roles in the April 24th DC demonstration in 1971. Armen Jeknavorian and myself initiated the demonstration. Andrew Kzirian.

  3. Your concluding paragraph, Stepan, reminded me of Eric Bogosian’s concluding paragraph of his *Operation Nemesis” book. He wrote“we come into this world with nothing and we leave with nothing. We all know, either implicitly or explicitly, that all we really have is our place in the memories of others. We exist to the degree that we know and remember one another; even the most isolated among us. We share a collective understanding that we are all part of a greater whole”.

  4. Beautifully written. Anne was a force! I remember her through my childhood eyes frequently at the podium of Soorp Khatch Church Hall. She had a sharp way with words and a deep fire for our Cause, both of which I admired as a little girl. Asdvadz Hokin Loosavoreh.

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