Children of Armenia Fund Holds 5th Annual Awards Dinner at Cipriani

By Taleen Babayan
Mirror-Spectator Staff

NEW YORK — An evening of recognition and fundraising for the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) celebrated its eight years of service to Armenia’s youngest citizens.

The elegant evening held at Cipriani, one of the most elegant venues in the city, was well attended. A plethora of prominent guests participated in the program, among them former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, Emmy and Tony awardwinning actress Andrea Martin, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Tony Award-winner Bill Erwin. The evening was capped by a brilliant performance by Cirque du Soleil.

Dr. Garo Armen founded COAF to assist remote and deprived villages of Armenia. In its short history, the organization has changed the lives of some 20,000 people there.

Martin, the master of ceremonies, began the evening with a performance of the song, Come On-A My House, whose lyrics were penned by Ross Bagdasarian and William Saroyan, and originally became a hit for Rosemary Clooney. Martin admirably emceed the program, peppering it with witty comments and making it most interesting and entertaining.

Thanking the audience for their support to COAF, head of programs Ovsana Yeghoyan spoke about the hope and optimism COAF has brought to the villages in Armenia.

“Because of you and your generosity, children in villages opened their eyes and looked into their futures,” said Yeghoyan, who cited a specific example of a student named Lilit, who said that her school was a scary place to go before COAF, but now she and her fellow classmates enjoy and cherish their time in school. “Garo, no one can believe how much time and effort you put into bringing change into our children’s lives,” said Yeghoyan.

The evening had its inspirational moments, such as when Armen invited the Feinberg family on stage and honored them with the 2008 Save a Generation Benefactor Award for their dedication to and support for COAF. When the organization was in its beginning stages, Larry Feinberg and his wife, Cynthia, donated $1 million to the cause, even though they did not know much about Armenia or COAF. Following in her parents’ footsteps, their daughter Samantha donated birthday money from her 11th birthday to COAF, a trend that others have followed. This past summer he and his daughter Samantha traveled to Armenia and to the villages which COAF helps.

“Upon our trip to Armenia, the profound change to these villages is beyond my comprehension,” said Larry Feinberg. “We are thrilled to be involved with COAF. Hopefully this is just the beginning of something very big.”

A live auction took place after the audience viewed the trailer for the upcoming documentary Armen is working on, titled, “A Bloom in the Desert.” Christie’s auctioneer Taline Aynilian (also co-chair of COAF’s benefit committee) led the auction of a trip to Armenia and a painting by Gagik Ghazanchyan.

Acknowledgments were made by President of COAF Antranig Sarkissian, who recognized many people in the audience, including clergy members Fr. Mardiros Chevian, dean of St. Vartan Cathedral, Very Rev. Vahan Hovanessian, pastor of Holy Martyrs Armenian Church, Bishop Manuel Batakian, Exarch of Armenian Catholics in the United States and Canada and Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, vicar general of the Prelacy of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

Among the Armenian-American luminaries attending this noteworthy event were Carnegie Foundation President Vartan Gregorian, designer Michael Aram and Scholastic Inc. Vice President of International Business Development Carol Sakoian. “The challenges are great, the jobs are unfinished. We should give back to save a generation,” said Sarkissian.

Following the night’s acknowledgments, Tony award winner Bill Irwin delivered an entertaining performance of Shakespeare’s “The Seven Ages of Man.”

Evans introduced Kristof, the recipient of the 2008 Save a Generation Humanitarian Award. Evans said he was thrilled when Armen asked him to introduce Kristof. “I have been a longtime careful reader of Kristof. I didn’t know he was Armenian. I just knew that he was damn good at what he did,” said Evans. “Tonight, the Children of Armenia Fund, with profound admiration, gratitude and humility honors Kristof.”

Accepting his award, Kristof said he was moved by Evans’ words and praised him for showing the courage to raise the issue of the Armenian Genocide. “His career suffered for it, but if we can’t begin to address the truth of the Armenian Genocide, then we can’t address the truth of Genocide today so we owe you a huge thanks,” said Kristof.

Kristof said that modest assistance can transform people’s lives and Armenia is growing very quickly. “COAF is following a formula that has worked in Armenia. Thank you I salute you for what you’re doing,” said Kristof.

In an exclusive statement to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, before receiving his award, Kristof said he was flattered to receive the award. “I admire the bottom-up approach the fund takes and as someone who is part Armenian I appreciate what it does for Armenia and its people.”

For the last part of the program, Armen gave a historical perspective on COAF’s efforts since its inception, and an update on their accomplishments in two Armenian villages, Karakert and Lernagog. He explained that the villages in Armenia used to be subsidized by the Soviets, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union, these villages have faced tremendous despair. When Armen went to the Armavir region of Armenia in 2003, he was told it was the “hopeless of the hopeless.” Nevertheless he undertook the seemingly impossible challenge of turning around the villages in the region, which had no electricity, gas and scarcity of water.

In Karakert, COAF built a public park, reconstructed buildings, and in 2004 created a strategic plan to help the economy in this region. Partnering with World Bank, COAF was able to repair the irrigation system of Karakert, which has improved farming. As more and more villages began to turn to COAF for help, the organization decided to start a “cluster project” and reach out to other villages, following the same formula. Armen noted that Paul Newman’s foundation has helped COAF greatly, and a total of nine villages have benefited from COAF.

“We provided them with the tools and the knowledge and the rest they do themselves,” said Dr. Armen, stressing that they have created a formula which can be replicated and done over and over again. “By helping others we can make the world a better and stable place.”