BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
BEVERLY HILLS—Solidarity with the Nation, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, whose 120th anniversary celebration brought together some 1,000 prominent community leaders, activists and philanthropists at a gala banquet organized by the Armenian Cultural Foundation on Sunday, December 5 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
The banquet capped off a weekend of academic and community gatherings, each of which drew capacity crowds, to mark the ARF’s 120th anniversary. The first of those events took place Friday Dec. 3 in Glendale, where hundreds of community members came out to hear ARF members who are elected or appointed government officials in four countries and the challenges they face with the differing political realities in their respective roles. The second was an academic symposium organized by the Armenian Review and the USC Armenian Studies Institute, which took a critical look at the ARF in history and ideology, its presence in society and its role in shaping issues related to nation-building and strengthening of a state.
These same issues were often brought up during presentations or conversations with attendees at the gala banquet, where a diverse group of all cross-sections of the community had come together to pay tribute to the ARF. Each speaker or honoree highlighted the ARF’s unwavering commitment to aspirations of the Armenian nation and the critical role the party has played in shaping national events.
Among the hundreds of community activist, organizational leaders and guests were ARF Bureau member Dr. Viken Hovsepian and his wife, Nora; Consul General of Armenia in Los Angeles, Grigor Hovhanissyan; Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian Los Angeles; Father Krikor Shahinian of the Armenian Catholic Church; Reverend Joe Matossian, Minister to the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America; City Councilmember Paul Krekorian; Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian; Glendale City Councilmember Frank Quintero; Glendale Community College Board member Vahe Peroomian.
Also present were Lilit Galstyan, member of the ARF bloc of the Armenian Parliament; Armen Sagsyan, chairman of the ARF bloc of the parliament of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic; Gevik Vartanian, member of the parliament of Iran; Shahe Barsoumian, former Lebanese minister; and Maria Titizian, Vice-Chair of Socialist International and representative of the at Socialist International Women.
In what is a signal of ARF’s longevity and future perseverance, the evening program opened with Arek Santikian, a member of the ARF Shant Student Association and the chairman of the Armenian Youth Federation Western US, and Nareen Melkonian a member of the AYF San Fernando Valley Sardarabad Chapter. In English and Armenian, respectively, the two young leaders told the audience that they represent a generation that will continue the legacy of the ARF, which is the pursuit of the just aspirations of the Armenian people and the establishment of a free, united and independent Armenia.
In his welcoming remarks, Master of Ceremonies, Vahe Yacoubian, provided an overview of the ARF’s goal and mission and highlighted the impetus that has kept the party current and relevant and “whose obituary has not been written after 120 years.”
The ARF is “A political party founded and organized to safeguard the physical well-being of the Armenian people and pursue its national interests,” said Yacoubian, adding that “the ARF-Dashnaktsutiune continues to be a vibrant and active political machine, which has learned to reinvent itself every time it faced new challenges in changing political landscapes.”
Yacoubian recounted the many ways in which the ARF has become part and parcel of Armenian history and its important place at significant turning points in the reality of the Armenian nation.
“The ARF—Dashnaktsutiune remains a principal player in the domestic and international politics in the Republic of Armenia and views itself as a partner in the larger Sovereignty of the Armenian nation, irrespective of its status as opposition or member of a ruling coalition,” said Yacoubian.
The MC also addressed the academic symposium that was held a day earlier at USC and introduced the participating academicians and presenters who were in the audience and saying, “let us welcome them. Let us thank them. Let us tell them that we expect them to continue their sacred work.”
Following a moving rendition of the American and Armenian National anthems by Lara Garibian and Kevork Hadjian, Prelate Mardirossian offered the evening’s Invocation, during which he praised the historic impact of the ARF and prayed for its perseverance and longevity.
In his remarks, ARF Western US Central Committee Chairman Avedik Izmirlian drew the audience’s attention to the 30 flags representing the nations in which the ARF has an organizational presence. He explained that the ARF plays an active role in community and political life in 150 cities around the world, facing challenges and cultural distinctions in each place, yet it has perpetuated the national ideology and preserved the Armenian identity.
“In the history of nations, only those organizations and groups survive that have been able to keep up with the times and have always remained young, justified their existence through hard work and have amassed the commitment and trust of the people,” said Izmirlian.
“By relying upon that national foundation, we have and, today, continue to look toward the future, toward the path of attaining the rights of our people and the establishment of completely just social basis in our homeland,” said Izmirlian. “We are confident that the future is ours.”
Izmirlian paused and recognized those who have been ardent supporters of the ACF, namely the Carolann family, the Boujikians, the Biladjians and the Kradjians. He also thanked brothers Harout and Hagop Jabarian and their families for their support of the ACF and for donating the lapel pins of the ARF emblem, which were located at each place-setting in the hall.
He especially thanked Anto Baghdassarian, who, for the second time, was the sponsor of the entire event, and praised his commitment and service as an example for others. He also led the audience in applause for the banquet committee, which he said worked tirelessly to make the event a success.
Izmirlian then invited benefactors Mr. & Mrs. Harry and Cheryl Nadjarian to the stage, where he presented them with a commemorative set of gold coins depicting the images of ARF founders, Rostom, Kristapor and Zavarian that were produced in limited release for the centennial of the ARF in 1990.
Visibly moved and surprised, Mr. & Mrs. Nadjarian came onto to the podium, from where Harry Nadjarian expressed his heartfelt gratitude to Izmirlian. In his humbling remarks, Nadjarian conveyed his congratulations, but more importantly said that his generosity was his national responsibility toward a cause and party that, among other things, kept the Armenian tri-color alive, as a result we are able to see that flag fly high in Armenia and elsewhere in the world.
ARF Bureau member, Dr. Viken Hovsepian, thanked the audience for sharing in the celebration of “120 years of bold Armenian dreams and aspirations, and the passion to make those dreams a reality,”
“Whether you’re a member of the our Organization or one of its affiliates, whether you’re an old time supporter or a recent convert, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed and appreciated the work that gets done by this ‘umbrella organization,’ this family of organizations—if you will—and by all of its volunteers. What binds all of these units and the grassroots is not its leadership, not a single individual or an icon, but the belief in our collective cause,” said Hovsepian.
“What binds me, you, and the tens of thousands of volunteers is a belief system rooted in the simple thought, simple ideology that Armenia and Armenians as a whole deserve more and deserve better than what’s being handed to them… And the realization that getting to what we deserve, getting to our rights—whether our historic rights or the rights of our brethren in Armenia for a more just and more compassionate government and a brighter future—requires hard work,” explained Hovsepian.
“In this vein, our people have expected and continue to expect so much out of this Organization, and, frankly, you will not find us complaining. As a matter of fact, we welcome these high expectations, because they are sobering, humbling, and empowering. After all, it is these expectations, YOUR expectations, which ultimately form the basis of an accountability which keeps us vibrant, keeps us healthy, and most important of all—not corrupted,” said Hovsepian.
Following the inspiring words, Hovsepian introduced Varant and Hoori Melkonian, who were named “Honorees of the Decade,” for what was described as their commitment to the work of the experience. Hovsepian said it was the consistency of the Melkonians’ contributions to not only the ACF, but also the Homenetmen, the Javakhk Fund and the Armenians of Iraq that propelled the honor.
Varant and Hoori Melkonian were presented a plaque of the ARF emblem.
“To say I am humbled by this honor does not begin to describe how I feel right now. To be honored by an organization that represents truth and justice, an organization that was born to protect and defend the rights of our nation, an organization that exists to serve the interests of Armenia and the Diaspora, an organization that has withstood the test of time, one hundred and twenty years young, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. It is we who should honor you, the men and women working tirelessly to struggle for the Armenian Cause, unwavering in your will, unwavering in your dedication, the beacon guiding us to a better future for our people. I am truly grateful,” said Varant Melkonian, with his wife, Hoori, standing at his side.
“I saw the ARF protecting our tricolor flag when no one did. I saw the ARF protect the rights of the Armenian people worldwide. I saw the ARF building our communities and schools. I saw a better future for our people through the work of the ARF. I saw the ARF in me, in my family, and in my friends,” said Melkonian of his impressions of the organization. “I am Proud to know such an organization, I am proud to be considered part of its family.”
“To be honored by doing simply what I must, inspires humility,” said Melkonian, who called on all “hamageers” (ARF supporters) to be just as engaged as any ARF member.
This year, the ACF paused to recognize one of its long-time supporters, who unexpectedly passed away this fall. During a special In Memoriam section, well-known community activist and benefactor Dr. Jacob Ourfali was honored and the announcement of the “Jacob Ourfali Endowment Fund” in his memory was made.
ACF Trust Fund Board member Pattyl Aposhian-Kasparian made moving remarks after a video presentation of photographs chronicling the late Dr. Ourfali’s life, times and community activism.
“I couldn’t even afford my own toothbrush, Dr. Orphali often reminded his youngest daughter Cindy. A man from humble beginnings has earned his mark in this world—as a devoted family man, teacher, doctor, civil leader and community centerfold,” Aposhian-Kasparian began her moving tribute.
“We thank the Orphali Family for establishing an endowment through the ACF Trust Fund. With the collective efforts of his family and friends, Dr. Orphali’s legacy will continue to celebrate his life all the while forging a parallel path to provide vital support to the Armenian Cultural Foundation. The Trust Fund is the endowment and planning arm of the organization which provides a portal to establish a legacy to shape and improve Armenian life for generations to come. The ACF Trust Fund’s ambitious yet viable Mission is to maintain a permanent, self sustaining source of income to support existing programs and develop new approaches to address emerging needs,” added Aposhian-Kasparian.
“Like Jacob Orphali, we are all champions—with the unyielding, relentless refusal to quit. We are fierce protectors of our Cause and must realize the necessity of the ACF Trust Fund for our future,” extolled the tribute.
Present at the banquet were Dr. Ourfali’s wife, Verona, and his three children, Jaina, Raffi and Cindy; and his brothers Shahe and Jirair Ourfali with their families.
In a powerful keynote address, longtime community activist Raffi Hamparian spoke about the ideals that have guided the ARF for 120 years and has created a family—a nation—of activists who, on a daily basis, work tirelessly to advance the Armenian Cause and fight for social justice and the rights of the Armenian people.
“We are united – tonight and forever – by a common cause. A cause not of the moment, nor of passing fashion… This is not a weathervane cause. But an enduring cause – forged by our common history, seared by our common pain and made brilliant by our common dreams,” said Hamparian.
“But at the end of the day – when all our cards are on the table – the ARF is the singular force – in the homeland and in the Diaspora,” added Hamparian.
“Let us all unite with the people, who have raised the flag of freedom. And in particular you, the youth, defenders of ideology always and everywhere, may you unite with your people. And you, the elderly, may you support and inspire the youth with your wisdom and experience. And you, the wealthy, may you open up your riches and support those who confront the enemy with an open chest. And you, the Armenian woman, may you breed inspiration into this holy cause. And you, the clergy, may you bless the soldier who fights for freedom. There is no time to wait. Let us unite, O’ Armenians and let us bravely advance the holy cause of achieving freedom. These words–etched into the ARF Manifesto in 1890–ring true today,” added Hamparian.
Throughout the program, following some of the speakers and presentations, the words of ARF leaders past echoed throughout the hall. Vignettes of speeches by past ARF leaders, Papken Papazian, Hrair Maroukhian and Garo Sassouni were shown on video screens, demonstrating that the imperatives of the past still ring true today.
In conclusion, benefactors who had donated $2,500 and above were asked to take part in a special candle-lighting ceremony. As each donor’s name was read, he/she lit a candle that was placed respective tables.
Entertainment for the evening was provided by the Cilicia Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mikael Avetisyan with Soprano, Marine Aprahamyan and Tenor, Suren Mkrtchyan. Kevork Hadjian performed patriotic songs prior to the candle-lighting ceremony.
The ACF Banquet brought to a close a weekend-long discussion and celebration of the ARF. More important, however, it reinvigorated and renewed the commitment of the community to continue the struggle for the Armenian Cause.
View the complete event photo gallery on the Asbarez Facebook Page here.