NEW YORK – The launch of an initiative entitled 100 LIVES was announced on March 10 at Harold Pratt House in New York, during a reception and program that was attended by several hundred guests and project participants
Organizers said that 100 Lives aims celebrate those who saved Armenians during the genocide, and support individuals and organizations that keep the legacy of gratitude alive.
The initiative is led by a group of Diasporan Armenians including the President of Carnegie Corporation Vartan Gregorian, and entrepreneurs Ruben Vardanyan and Noubar Afeyan.
The project aims to uncover and recount stories about survivors and their saviors, which will be collected through academic research, personal accounts, and story submissions by the public to the 100lives.com website.
“The humanity, generosity, strength and sacrifice shown by those who saved so many Armenians compel us to tell these stories,” said Ruben Vardanyan, co-founder of 100 LIVES. “Now is the time to shine a light on those most extraordinary lives, to build on the lessons they teach us, and to express our gratitude for what they did.”
Also in attendance was Armenian Revolutionary Federation Western US Central Committee chairman Dr. Viken Hovsepian.
Academy Award winner and activist George Clooney joined Vardanyan on stage in a panel moderated by managing editor of Washington Week and co-anchor and co-managing editor of PBS NewsHour, Gwen Ifill. When asked why it was important for him to be involved in such a project, Clooney explained that it is these types of initiatives that help shed light on ongoing atrocities. “We don’t want to triage in the end, I think that’s silly and too late. Our thought was let’s explore anyway we can to expose these things and make it more difficult to happen in the broad daylight, because we know it happens in the dark,” said Clooney.
“We really want people to get involved with 100 LIVES, to celebrate those that overcome adversity and give back to others, just as the Armenian community is doing in this centenary year,” said Clooney.
100 LIVES will also invest in projects, “as a tangible expression of gratitude.” The funding will be invested in “Gratitude Projects” relating to Armenia, countries with a strong Armenian diaspora, or countries with links to the people, families, institutions, or communities that saved and helped Armenians during the genocide.
The 100 LIVES Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was also announced as a means to empower modern-day saviors. The annual grant of $1 million will be awarded to a recipient who will, in turn, present it to the organization identified as the inspiration for their action.
The selection committee of the annual Aurora Prize include human rights champions from around the world, including Clooney, Nobel Peace Prize winners Elie Wiesel and Oscar Arias, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, UN Secretary-General Advisor on Genocide, Gareth Evans, globally respected human rights activist Hina Jilani and President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian. 100 LIVES has announced that Clooney will award the inaugural Prize at a ceremony to be held in Yerevan, Armenia on April 24, 2016.
Clooney, who is one of the founders of Not on Our Watch, a 100 LIVES partner organization, will join human rights advocate and Chairman of the American Holocaust Memorial, Elie Wiesel, as co-chairman of the prize’s Selection Committee.
During Tuesday’s program. Clooney said he was to be associated with 100 LIVES as it shares a common mission with his foundation, Not On Our Watch, to focus global attention on the impact of genocide as well as putting resources toward ending mass atrocities around the world.
“It should weigh heavily on all of us that genocide still takes place today,” said Clooney, who also discussed the Armenian Genocide, saying: “The fact the term ‘genocide’ was introduced several decades after those horrible events doesn’t mean they didn’t take place!”
The actor also recounted that when he took an interest in Armenia and its history, he was confronted by some US senators who advised him to not forget about US interests in Turkey.
“This is how I learned that we have Incirlik Air Base in Turkey,” said Clooney smiling.
On a lighter note, Clooney said his wife Amal Alamuddin-Clooney, who advocated on behalf of Armenia earlier this in the Perincek case at the European Court of Human Rights, was unaware of his collaboration with the 100 Lives initiative.
“After the court hearing, many Armenians in Los Angeles confessed to me that they would like to kiss my wife,” the actor added.
“I have personally witnessed the devastation that genocide wreaks, which sadly continues today,” said Wiesel. “But I also recognize the resilience of the human spirit.”
“We must remember and honor the remarkable efforts of those saviors who intervened a century ago to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again,” said Wiesel.
The Aurora Prize is named after Aurora Mardiganian who, as a child, survived the Armenian Genocide and went on to devote her life to providing humanitarian relief and raising awareness about the plight of the Armenians. Mardiganian is best known for starring in “Ravished Armenia,” also known as “Auction of Souls,” a 1919 American film based on the Armenian Genocide.
One of Mardiganian’s relatives, Ani Karabashian, addressed the crowd on behalf the family and stressed the importance of the initiative.
The 100 LIVES initiative will also digitize the written record of the Armenian Genocide—something that the founders believe can help preserve the memory of the genocide.
“There are a small number of survivors of the Armenian Genocide left with us. It is crucial that we ensure that, as we approach the centennial, we take this opportunity to leave a lasting imprint of what happened a century ago onto the world’s collective conscience,” said Vartan Gregorian.
“Resilience, strength, survival and gratitude are characteristics exhibited by Armenians, though not by us exclusively. They are found in all people,” said 100 LIVES co-founder Noubar Afeyan, adding, “We developed the concept of #BeArmenian #BeAlive to encapsulate the strength of the human spirit – not just for Armenians, but for everyone.”