By Tom Vartabedian From The Armenian Weekly
WATERTOWN–Mass.–It was a grim old building of cathedral aspect-found at 2121 Stuart St.–in Boston’s nightclub district-where the Hairenik Association gained its early impetus as a mecca for the Armenian people. Over the course of some 100 years–it has weathered the storm of generations–offering challenges of its own that have shaped the course of our modern history.
Today–on the threshold of a new millennium–the loyal and faithful once again responded to the challenge last Saturday by burning the mortgage of the new Hairenik building [which houses the offices of our sister publications on the East Coast–the Hairenik and The Armenian Weekly] at a fundraising banquet held at Watertown’s Armenian Cultural & Educational Center. More than 300 people turned out in an incredible show of support for their "Hairenik" ("fatherland")–sending a $152,000 debt up in smoke and ensuring greater stability to an edifice which still houses two weekly publications and a host of organizations at 80 Bigelow Ave.
"The Hairenik publications have long been the voice behind the Armenian people," said Antranig Kasbarian–a member of the ARF Central Committee and a former Armenian Weekly editor. "Now it is the Armenian people who have spoken with a firm showing of support. We have much to celebrate this evening."
Over the few months–gomidehs and benefactors of the Hairenik responded generously to the fund drive–canvassing their communities and making great sacrifices along the way. By the evening’s inception–$131,000 had already been raised. This was buoyed by an additional $28,000 in last-minute contributions during the course of the evening–pushing the total well over the top. Providing the impetus was a $5,000 gift from Albert and Queenie Bagian of Pennsylvania–matching a previous donation in the same amount from Allen Devrishian of New Jersey. In all–close to 500 donors stepped forward to greet the call.
"We’re a party that strives to meet the needs of the Armenian people in a democratic fashion," said Kasbarian–who noted that the Hairenik’s success relies on broad–grass-roots support–with numerous contributions coming from people of modest means from across the country. "An institution such as ours cannot endure on merit alone," he continued. "We need to reinvest in ourselves–so that our children can carry the torch on a sustained basis. A sound and firm press is extremely significant in shaping our future."
Kasbarian–along with fellow ARF Central Committee member Angele Manoogian–co-chaired a Regional Steering Committee which included members John Avedissian–Albert Bagian–Shant Chebookjian–Popken Hachigian–Asbed Kotchikian–Vahe Maroukhian–Joshua Tevekelian and Tom Vartabedian. The group spearheaded a campaign aimed at retiring the Hairenik’s building mortgage–the remaining principal of which stood at about $152,000.
Since 1899–the Hairenik has not only housed newspapers–but has also served as the home and headquarters to the ARF Central Committee–along with the Armenian Relief society–Armenian Youth Federation–and the Homenetmen Armenian General Athletic Union. The Hairenik also houses the offices of the ARS Central Board (International)–the Armenian Review–and the archives of the first Independent Republic of Armenia (1918-1920). As such–the institution may be seen as a nerve center that connects our disparate Armenian-American communities under a common umbrella–with a common mission and purpose.
The evening also paid tribute to two venerable statesmen of the Hairenik Publications: James H. Tashjian–whose 32-year reign as Weekly editor from 1945 to 1977 has proved the longest in tenure–and Sarkis Atamian–a well-known author of The Armenian Community–commentator–and patriot of his time.
Tashjian was presented with the coveted Mesrob Mashtots Medal for cultural achievement by His Grace Bishop Oshagan Choloyan–while Atamian received several gifts from the Hairenik in appreciation for his golden deeds to both the publication and organization. Both individuals were touted for educating and inspiring a generation of do-gooders–each with boundless energy and conviction.
Shant Chebookjian served as toastmaster–adding a bit of sentiment in his own way. He–too–rekindled the flame of camaraderie which graced the Hairenik’s walls–giving testament to the monument–one layer at a time. "Behind every movement is a driving force and we’ve had our share," said Chebookjian. "The Hairenik has kept our identity monumental and compelling. we are indebted to the many who have filled its ran’s."
Chebookjian invited members of the audience to stand-those who had been touched by Tashjian in any shape or manner-and half the crowd rose to its feet.
Bishop Choloyan then presented a stirring liturgy of his own–paying tribute to the Hairenik and its prolific history. We have inherited the fate of the past–and are responsible for generating hope for the future," said the Prelate. "To lose your identity–or to have it unjustly taken from you–is the worst of all fates. The Hairenik has served as a beacon of hope–of national identity–and of our quest for justice. The future needs preparation and we must provide it."
Vahakn Karakashian–editor of the Hairenik Weekly–also tendered remarks befitting the occasion. His focus was the upcoming Hairenik centennial–as he issued a call for renewed strength and vitality. In particular–he referred to the titans of yesteryear–Siamanto–Vratsian–Darbinian–Mekhitarian–Tololyan–Donabedian–and others–who have set a shining example of dedication and literary achievement which today’s editors strive to follow.
Other sidelights included a photo exhibit of the Hairenik Association and a vivid display of images from Karabakh by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian. The festivities concluded after Zohrab Tazian of Fort Wayne–Indiana took to the podium and announced the most recent round of donations–more than $28,000 in all–which put the total over the top and ensured a successful mortgage-burning function. Bishop Choloyan–joined by Kasbarian and other CC member Angele Manoogian and CC chairman Vasken Aivazian– then took a lighter to the mortgage document and set it aflame–sparking cheers from the crowd.
He was joined by committee members and the evening’s honorees as the evening drew to a memorable close with the singing of "Mer Hairenik."