Let the celebration begin!
In what was a memorable night to a century of service, the Armenian Relief Society’s Eastern Region kicked off the first of what is expected to become many testimonies across the country and throughout the world leading into 2010.
Even founder Khatchadoor Maloomian (Agnouni) would have been proud to see where his organization has transgressed over these 10 decades to one which envelopes 223 chapters in 26 countries.
But this evening–March 28–belonged to the Eastern Region and its 33 chapters representing some 1,200 members. Of these, 113 hold venerable status with 50 or more years service. A dozen of them were in attendance, despite their advanced ages, including Helen Parnagian from the California “Anahid” Chapter.
Herand Markarian, serving as master of ceremonies, called them “the torchbearers of this organization.”
“It is you who have given your blood, sweat and tears to the ARS,” he said emphatically. “You have given credibility to this wonderful organization. We commend you all.”
Of the 180 guests attending, more than half represented membership. Many of their stories were included in a striking centennial book that was the size of a telephone directory.
Also distributed to guests were wooden bookmarks containing the Armenian alphabet with a painting of Mount Ararat and the H.O.M. (ARS) seal.
Eighty-year-old Lousin Der Ohanesian Sarian stood proud as a member of the New Jersey “Agnouni” Chapter for six decades. When a tear rolled down her cheek, it was one of joy, not sadness.
“This is for all the predecessors who came before me,” she said. “No organization can succeed without sacrifice and loyalty. What I’ve done for this organization has repaid me with my proud heritage. The ARS has been my life, my heart, and my soul.”
She was 19 when her mother Yepros showed her the way. Four daughters and six grandchildren all proceeded to the Hovnanian School in New Jersey.
This octogenarian still attends meetings regularly.
“I’m very thankful to see this day,” she brought out. “To those who come after me, may the future remain bright.”
The centennial was a testament to a small group of committee members who began work on this milestone two years ago under the leadership of Angele Manoogian.
Most all of it was done by phone with conference calls. Fifteen voices ringing simultaneously was mind-boggling at times but decisions were made and tasks implemented. For them, it became just another mission.
“The ARS gave many of us a new life in the new world,” said Manoogian, who was instrumental in making the event a success. “It’s kept our generations Armenian, survived turbulence and change, and managed to perpetuate itself with a vitality and spirit that can only be admired.”
Manoogian applauded the fundraising efforts behind this–a healthy $250,000–which will serve as a base toward a $1 million goal. Over the next year, other chapters will be encouraged to hold centennial galas to help finance many of these ARS charities both here and abroad.
The Mid-Atlantic celebration can thank Sonia Bezdikian and her committee for making it possible. Most were from the New York-New Jersey area who gathered on the 20th floor of the posh Yale Club in downtown Manhattan under the stars.
Why New York?
It’s where the ARS official launched its mission. New York represents the birthplace of the ARS.
“We’ve worked diligently, not only to assure a memorable evening but to assist the ARS international body in its quest to establish a strong financial foundation through its Centennial Endowment Fund,” Bezdikian brought out.
“Our efforts are in honor and memory of the strong and talented Armenian women who blazed the path for us to follow.”
The evening opened with His Grace Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan offering invocation, along with appropriate words of commendation. The prelate had a most busy day, presiding over the conference of trustees and NRA delegates in Worcester before heading to New York.
Thanks to the ARS, Archbishop Choloyan was able to pursue his theological studies. He wasted no time in divulging that fact and expressing his gratitude.
“The Armenian Relief Society must be commended for fostering a spirit of good fellowship and high ethical standards over these 100 years,” he said. “We must build upon the strengths of the past to promote an equally viable future. The ARS has represented the golden chain which has tied us together as a single family.”
With that, a litany of speakers approached the podium with messages of their own, all appropriate, reflective, and motivational in content.
Markarian lifted his glass and called for a collective toast.
“In the midst of turmoil, we need the ARS to continue bonding collectivity. Long live longevity,” he rejoiced.
Soloist Hooshere Bezdikian Kaligian stirred the gathering with the national anthems of America, Armenia, and the ARS.
In representing the ARS Central Executive as its chairwoman, Vicky Marashlian called for a renewed commitment, a continued standard of excellence, and the ability to keep pace with the modern world.
“By modernizing our structures, our activities as a consultative member of the United Nations Economic and Social Committee will become more effective in international circles,” she noted.
“The ARS is an organization that was born of the many tragedies and countless needs of our nation, sustained by our people’s solid moral and material support.”
Marashlian said during the coming months, scattered communities throughout the Americas, Europe, Australia, Armenia, and elsewhere will assemble in halls like these to honor 10 decades of continuous service.
“The ARS mission is not a temporary phenomenon,” she emphasized, “but a movement that keeps pace with the destiny of our nation.”
The mission she describes is one bred from indulgence. It’s survived depression and repression, changing habits of members, and evolution. And it involves everything from a new birthing center in Akhurian, Armenia, orphanages, schools, and child sponsorships to scholarships, internships, stewardships, immigrant support and a number of other humanitarian deeds.
Knarik Kiledjian, chairwoman of the ARS Eastern Regional, was equally as emphatic in her message. She began by commending the mothers and grandmothers who paved the way for generations that followed.
“Carry the torch and continue the challenge,” she said. “We’ve remained true to our name, our mission, and our nation. Our milestones have been a source of inspiration for others to follow. As we stand on the verge of a second century, we can be proud of our achievements while acknowledging our challenges. The ARS will always serve the humanitarian deeds of the Armenian people.”
Eastern Region treasurer Ani Attar, in representing the Board of Directors, gave a personal reflection highlighting her 23 years as a member, what it did for herself, her family, and the ungerouhis she so diligently served.
“We honor those who worked tirelessly under the most difficult circumstances to make sure the Armenian people were nurtured and educated properly,” she maintained. “And we thank all the benefactors who have stepped to the forefront in support of our missions. Most of all, we extend our gratitude to the predecessors who built and shaped the ARS into a solid institution.”
“For those willing to join, there is nothing more rewarding than to help your community through the ARS,” she resumed.
A 15-minute video on ARS history provided a hiatus from the speakers, after which Armen Martirossian, ambassador and permanent representative of Armenia to the United Nations, was introduced.
“The work being done both here and in Armenia has been a model of inspiration for all to acknowledge,” he said. “It’s allowed us to live in peace and security, given our people a destination, and stimulated our very existence. Crisis has been met and basic services must be continued and strengthened.”
The keynote speaker was U.S. Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, who made the trip cross-country from California to attend. The noted legislator has long been a supporter of Armenian issues, more notably a genocide resolution, and pledged her support to get America aboard. Being of Armenian descent makes her a worthy candidate.
Eshoo said the time is ripe for President Barack Obama to sign a bill that will bring recognition to the genocide and promote the wellbeing of people everywhere.
“Deny the truth and you sanction a lie, you strengthen barbarism, you give aid and comfort, even encouragement to the most evil among us,” she said. “Face up to the truth and you heal the wounds and you unleash that most powerful of human qualities–the power of forgiveness and the freedom to move forward together.”