Armenian Heritage Foundation’s Inaugural Endowed Lecture, Sept. 23


BOSTON — The K. George and Carolann S. Najarian, MD Inaugural Lecture on Human Rights will be held on Thursday, September 23, at 7 p.m. at Faneuil Hall, announced James M. Kalustian, president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation.

Free and open to the public, the fully-endowed lecture is a public program of the Armenian Heritage Foundation, sponsor of Armenian Heritage Park on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston.

The Inaugural Lecture is being held this September in recognition of the groundbreaking of the park on the Greenway in 2010.

Kerry Kennedy, human rights activist, founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Washington, DC and author of Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who are Changing Our World, is the keynote speaker.

Opening Remarks will be offered by Peter Balakian, Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities, Colgate University, poet and author of The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response — A History of International Human Rights and Forgotten Heroes, which was the inspiration for this series. He wrote about the New England women and men — intellectuals, politicians, diplomats, religious leaders and ordinary citizens — who, beginning in the 1890s at Faneuil Hall, heard the eyewitness accounts of the atrocities taking place against the Armenian minority of the Ottoman Empire during World War I and were called to action. Distinguished Bostonians, among them Julia Ward Howe, Clara Barton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Alice Stone Blackwell, heard these accounts and were moved to assist the Armenians.

As a result, the American Red Cross launched its first international mission with Clara Barton bringing aid to the Armenians. Philanthropists nationwide raised over $100 million in support. This was America’s first internationally-focused human rights movement.

The purpose of the lecture series is to advance understanding of human rights issues and the societal abuses faced by millions today, and to increase awareness of the work of individuals and organizations so that we are all more actively engaged.

The inaugural lecture is being offered in partnership with The Bostonian Society/Old State House represented by Eric Hayes, chair of the Board of Directors, and Brian W.J. LeMay, executive director. The Bostonian Society, a non-profit organization, was founded in 1881 to rally support for saving the Old State House, which was the center of all political life and debate in Colonial Boston. The society’s mission is to strengthen the fabric of civil society by building meaningful connections to Boston and all Bostonians — past, present and future — through the creative use of public history.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino are honorary chairs. Co-chairs of the inaugural lecture representing their participating organizations are: Martha F. Davis, PhD, faculty director, Northeastern School of Law, Human Rights and the Global Economy; A. Frank Donaghue, CEO and deputy director, Physicians for Human Rights USA; Michael A. Grodin, MD, executive director, Global Lawyers and Physicians, Boston University School of Public Health; David Hollenbach, SJ, director, Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice; Shant Mardirossian, chairman of the board, Near East Foundation; Margot Stern Strom, founder/executive director, Facing History and Ourselves; Adam Strom, director of research and development, Facing History and Ourselves; Deborah W. Nutter, PhD, senior associate dean, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, PhD, acting director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Human Rights and Justice; and Joshua Rubenstein, Northeast regional director, Amnesty International USA.
The Armenian Heritage Foundation’s annual lecture on human rights has been endowed by K. George and Carolann S. Najarian, MD, in honor of Dr. Najarian’s late father, Avedis Abrahamian. 

Abrahamian survived the Armenian Genocide, leaving Turkey in 1915 and arriving at the port of Providence, RI, at the age of 15. He eventually settled in New York in 1921. He received his high school diploma in New York City on his 60th birthday.  The lack of a formal education, however, did not prevent him from being a voracious reader of historical texts and educating himself on the critical issues facing his generation. As he sat in his small paint store in The Bronx, he welcomed customers, friends and family to join him in the back room for a glass of orange juice and more importantly, discussion — often heated — on the critical issues facing America.  

In the 1930s, he was warning against continued failure to grant African-Americans equal rights. By postponing this injustice, he forewarned, American would pay a high price.    
On the back pages of the New York Times in the mid 1960s, it was reported that “advisors” were going to Vietnam and villagers were being relocated. He cautioned against the escalating war saying, “this is what was done to us — to the Armenians. They moved us out of our villages saying it was for our benefit — the US is now doing the same in Vietnam — it will not go well.” “This endowed lecture on human rights is in my father’s honor as he taught so many about the need to pay attention, spot injustice, and speak out wherever and whenever it occurs,” Carolann Najarian said.

Highly regarded philanthropic leaders, K. George Najarian, a native of Cambridge, and Carolann S. Najarian, originally of New York City, have been actively involved in Boston’s Armenian-American community for many years. In 1989, in response to the earthquake that devastated Armenia, they helped to establish the Armenian Health Alliance, Inc., a Boston-based non-profit organization to provide direct medical relief to the victims of the earthquake, and more recently, the war-ravaged areas of Nagorno-Karabagh. At that time, Carolann Najarian left an active medical practice to volunteer full-time as president of the Armenian Health Alliance. The Najarians also provided major support in 1999 to establish the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry Trust, a non-profit organization based in
Armenia. In 1989, she was named “one of Boston’s most interesting women” in Boston Women magazine.

Since 1987, the Najarians have made more than 50 trips to the Republic of Armenia and to Nagorno-Karabagh. The purpose of these trips was to assess the medical needs and deliver needed assistance to hospitals in major cities and villages in rural areas. In 1994, Carolann Najarian founded the Primary Care Center of Gumri, the city most devastated by the earthquake of 1988, to provide free care and medicine. In 1995, she founded the Arpen Center for Expectant Mothers, in the Karabagh capital city of Stepanakert, to provide monthly assistance of food, vitamins, clothing and other basic necessities. She documented her experiences in A Call from Home: Armenia and Karabagh, My Journal (1999), which brings together her experience growing up as the daughter of Armenian immigrants and that of a medical relief worker in Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh.

The Najarians’ more local philanthropic activities include establishing scholarships for students at Boston University School of Medicine, Queens College and Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, as well as support of non-profits including the Food Project, Facing History and Ourselves and the Salvation Army in Cambridge.

University faculty and human rights activists are among the foundation’s Lecture Planning Committee which includes: Carolann S. Najarian, MD, Joyce Barsam, PhD, Phyllis Dohanian, Linda Kaboolian, PhD, Audrey A. Kalajian and Barbara Tellalian. In addition, there is a Communications Committee, in formation, whose members, to date, are: Tatoul Badalian, Donna Greer Shervanian, Judy Talanian Shagoury and Walter Nahabedian.