NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—The Armenian Relief Society of Western USA’s (ARS) Javakhk Fund Committee held its eighth annual gala fundraiser on March 18 aboard the yacht Electra “Crystal/Eternity.”
The program highlighted the reasons to stay on course in support of ARS youth centers and other beneficial programs, particularly for the Armenian youth in Javakhk.
Following welcoming remarks by promising ARS Javakhk Fund Committee members Kareen Sassounian and Vache Thomassian, Haigoush Kohler then introduced the honored guests, including Anahid Stepanian, representative of the ARF Central Committee, and speakers. Kohler, the Javakhk Fund Committee Chairperson, detailed the committee’s focus on two projects, the first of which is an illustrated children’s book, Javakhk – A World That Cares, written by Jennifer Salmassian and recently published in English, with an Armenian version soon forthcoming. The second is a newly published bilingual brochure detailing the ARS Javakhk Fund Committee’s financially funded programs and projects benefiting healthcare, education, and youth activities in Javakhk.
Dr. Nyree Derderian, ARS Regional Executive Board Chairperson, thanked committee members, representatives of sister organizations, and guests for their contribution towards the success of this fundraising event. She reminded of the dismal condition of the Javakhk Armenians in 2001, when the ARS decided to lend a hand. With the help of dedicated supporters, the ARS was able to establish the youth centers and make a difference.
Anna Mnatsakanian, coordinator of ARS International Programs in Yerevan, Armenia, whose responsibilities have included orphans programs, provided a special perspective regarding the situation in Javakhk. She noted that orphanages serve different purposes during different times, but there had not been any need to have any orphanages, even during the Soviet era in neither Javakhk nor Artsakh. The extended families took charge of any orphans. In 2005, she found out that an orphanage had been established by the Georgian authorities with ethnic Georgian orphans brought in for the purpose of repopulating the area through orphanages, since settlement of non-Armenians in the area had not been very successful, as other ethnicities even buried their dead back in their ethnic enclaves, instead of Javakhk. Mnatsakanian hoped that the supporters understand the significance of their contribution in Javakhk.
The keynote speaker was Elizabeth Chouldjian, ANCA Communications Director in Washington DC, who had joined ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian in a visit to Javakhk and Tbilisi last September. Chouldjian praised the ARS for its commitment to youth development in Javakhk, including the establishment of several youth centers, which offer language and computer training programs and host cultural events. She cited the critical role U.S. assistance played in the region, including the $200 million renovation of the roads connecting Javakhk to Tbilisi and Armenia.
Chouldjian then outlined the challenges facing the Javakhk Armenians, including unemployment and underemployment levels reaching up to 40 per cent of the population and difficulties with the local secondary and higher education system.
Following Hachikian’s visit to the region, Chouldjian outlined ANCA efforts to secure meaningful economic assistance for Javakhk, citing a recent Congressional letter to House Appropriators which called for 10% of the Fiscal Year 2013 U.S. assistance to Georgia to be targeted toward job-creation efforts in the region. She went on to discuss ongoing efforts by Armenian American community leaders to work with USAID directly to explore public-private partnership opportunities to promote business development in Javakhk.
A video presentation followed the keynote speech, which provided an overview of ARS programs and comments from leaders in Javakhk, highlighting the hardships and challenges that affect the day-to-day life of Armenians in the region, prompting migrations to Russia.
Entertainment was intertwined along with fundraising. Renowned singer Nersig Isbirian sang Armenian traditional and patriotic favorites and Jasik Jarahian’s up to the minute reporting of the latest donations to assist the ARS programs in Javakhk were received with great enthusiasm.
At the conclusion of the evening, the yacht for Javakhk sailed smoothly back to the Newport Bay harbor with dedicated supporters, who remain steadfast in helping Armenians in Javakhk.