BY FLORENCE AVAKIAN
WALTHAM,Massachusetts—The 100th Anniversary of any gathering is a magical event. The Armenian Missionary Association of America’s 100th Annual Meeting Banquet was especially noteworthy, as it celebrated the Armenian Evangelical Church and the 173rd Anniversary of its founding. The celebratory banquet was held from October 18 to 20 in Boston.
The significance of the AMAA’s 100th anniversary was marked by the presence of hundreds of members, friends, and faithful who came from as far away as Australia, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Greece, France, and the East and West Coasts of the United States.
The highlight of the extraordinary weekend was the grand banquet on the night of Saturday, October 19, which began with a cocktail reception, followed by a delicious dinner in the elegantly decorated ballroom.
The more than 300 guests present were warmly welcomed by banquet co-chair Michèle Simourian both in English and Armenian. Skillfully running the program was Master of Ceremonies and Banquet Co-Chair John Simourian, who, with the right touches, introduced the prominent individuals present, including Armenia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Varuzhan Nersesyan, and Rev. Antranig Baljian, representing the Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian.
Following the singing of the National anthems, and the invocation delivered by Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian, Pastor of the Armenian Memorial Church in Worcester, MA, Ambassador Nersesyan was introduced.
The Armenian diplomat recalled the founding of the AMAA in Worcester 101 years ago following the Armenian Genocide when “hundreds of thousands of Armenian men, women and children were still roaming in the deserts in Syria, Lebanon and the Middle East, suffering from hunger, poverty and the lack of any minimal conditions of life.”
He pointed out the enormous contributions of the AMAA in the last 100 years, including during the devastating 1988 earthquake, during and after the birth of the independent Armenian Republic, the time of Artsakh’s fight for liberation, and its creation for a better future providing shelter, food, and education in 24 countries.
“And during the recent tragic war in Syria, the AMAA has been ready to support any Armenians willing to settle in Armenia in the aftermath of Turkey’s recent attack on the north of Syria,” the Ambassador explained.
All of these activities demonstrate that the AMAA is a “unique and deeply national Armenian institution,” the Armenian diplomat stated. “With such a great heritage, and rigorous determination, the AMAA will continue confidently in its mission in the 21st century,” he stated to thunderous applause.
AMAA President Dr. Nazareth Darakjian who emotionally relayed coming to the U.S. 43 years ago following “the horrors of the Lebanese civil war,” spoke about the AMAA’s powerful history, which today serves the Armenian Community in 24 countries with a yearly budget of more than 10 million dollars.
This generation has capabilities that far exceed those in 1918, he stated. “Our work is not done as long as there is hunger for God’s work, as long as there are children who are thirsty for education, and as long as there are families or individuals for whom finding daily bread is a daily challenge. May God make us worthy of this mission.”
A video of the Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian High School in Yerevan’s Malatia-Sebastia district was shown. The school is entirely funded by the AMAA and has been tuition-free for more than 580 students.
Lucine Mnatsakanyan, a graduate of the Avedisian High School, was invited, by Dr. Darakjian, to come forward and accept the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate and the glass plaque for the Avedisian High School in honor of the Avedisians who were not present. The school is the first building in the Republic of Armenia to achieve such an award and was also awarded the LEED Earth Designation – given only to the very first building project in each developing country to satisfy the USGBC LEED criteria.
Mnatsakanyan who is now a student at the American University of Armenia, paid tribute to the great attributes of the Avedisian High School, saying, “We are raised to be true Christians and citizens, and have been exposed to all the studies of an exemplary education.”
Delighting the audience, two acclaimed world class musicians, tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan, and mezzo soprano Victoria Avetisyan, who had started the banquet program with the American and Armenian anthems, sang several Armenian and international favorites, including the soul stirring “Pari Arakil,” “Habanera,” “Solo Mio,” and “Hayastan.”
Manucharyan, who has sung at the renowned Metropolitan Opera in New York, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and other concert halls in the U.S., Italy and Ireland, brought the house down with his rendition of “Pari Arakil,” dedicated to Armenia’s symbolic beloved bird (the crane). The couple’s dramatic singing of “Hayastan” was another crowd pleaser.
AMAA Vice President Dr. Michael Voskian paid tribute to the history of the Armenian Evangelical Church, which he revealed has grown and consists of 124 churches and five unions in Armenia, North America, the Near East, France, and Eurasia.
Representing the Armenian Evangelical Churches around the globe is the Armenian Evangelical World Council, with its President Rev. Joël Mikaélian who was asked to come forward by Dr. Voskian.
Also honored were Rev. Dr. Avedis Boynerian, host of the Armenian Memorial Church, as well as Rev. Stephen Carlyle of the first Armenian Evangelical Church in North America established on January 1, 1892 – the Armenian Church of the Martyrs in Worcester, MA. All were presented with special plaques.
During the joyous evening, a female guest suddenly passed out, and was immediately attended to by attending doctors until the ambulance came. As this was happening, several small groups of badvelis (pastors) spontaneously rose making small circles with their arms on each other’s shoulders, bending their heads, and silently praying for the ill woman.
For this journalist who had never witnessed such a powerful action, it was both inspiring and, for many, an action of true faith.
Expressing deep appreciation to the “ingenious and hard-working” banquet committee, the AMAA staff and all involved individuals for the successful weekend and banquet, AMAA Executive Director and CEO Zaven Khanjian asked Stephen Papazian, the Moderator of the Armenian Church of the Martyrs of Worcester, to come forward to receive a “Sugar Sculpture” donated by Linda Khachadurian.
Revealing the main challenge of his position, Zaven Khanjian stated “a challenge that I struggle with is the difficulty in conveying a well-deserved gratitude to righteous men and women who fly on the wings of goodness in life, and who instead, faithfully direct it to God.”
The AMAA Executive Director also announced that a symposium will soon take place in Armenia on the Post Genocide endeavor to save the remnants of the survivors. It is being organized by the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute Foundation, and sponsored by the Armenian Missionary Association of America.
“It will honor and bring to light the many heroes who miraculously embraced the orphaned Armenian children and widowed mothers with shelter, healing, food, education, and lovingly shielded them from the killing fields of Der El-Zor.”
He remembered that, today, anguished civilians in the towns and villages in Syria, deportation is once again taking place, leaving behind all they possess. “But the clear victims are the Syrian people, including the progeny of the Genocide survivors.
“The AMAA has faced the spiritual and humanitarian challenges of our people, and we have collectively and positively answered the call, and through your righteous giving will continue to make it happen,” he said in conclusion to a standing ovation.
The closing prayer and Benediction by Rev. Joël Mikaélian, and the singing of “God Bless America” brought an extraordinary and inspiring Banquet and weekend to a glorious close.