FAR Banquet Honors Armenia’s Other Children


By Florence Avakian

NEW YORK — “Every time I saw a suffering child in Armenia, it reminded me of 1915,” said Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, who is credited with being a founding member of the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) Children’s Center in Yerevan. The year was 2000, and the center, then designated for Armenia’s most vulnerable children, was in deplorable condition. Now, 12 years later, the center is a safe, protective and compassionate home for abused, abandoned, poverty-stricken children under the sponsor- ship of FAR, and managed and run by a devot- ed and professional staff. In its 12-year record, it has helped 9,000 children.

On Friday, May 18, the Friends of the FAR Children’s Center held a gala banquet at the Kavookjian Hall of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America to honor this institution and the thousands of children who have benefited from its dedication. Among the guests attend- ing were Primate of the Armenian Diocese (Eastern) and FAR Board of Directors President Archbishop Khajag Barsamian; Diocesan Legate in Washington, DC, and FAR Board member Aykazian; Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Garen Nazarian; FAR Board Chairman Randy Sapah-Gulian; FAR Board Vice Chairpersons Dr. Edgar M. Housepian and Prof. Annette Choolfaian; FAR Friends Honorary Chair Sirvart Hovnanian and Director of the FAR Children’s Center Dr. Mira Antonyan, who had traveled from Armenia for the occasion.

One Child at a Time

Following the invocation by Aykazian, Sapah- Gulian as master of ceremonies, welcomed the more than 200 attendees who sat at tables dec- orated with unique centerpieces — lollipops fea- turing the smiling faces of the center’s children. He paid special tribute to Sirvart Hovnanian, wife of the late entrepreneur and benefactor Kevork Hovnanian, who with Archbishop Torkom Manoogian and Housepian, founded FAR. And he expressed deep apprecia- tion to Edward and Janet Mardigian who donat- ed $2 million in support of the FAR Edward and Helen Mardigian Child Protection Foundation.

Silva Torosian (with Nadia Gharibian) as the co-chair of the Friends of the FAR Children’s Center, in her greetings, called the evening a “celebration” of these children and the center “that is fighting to have them lead a normal life, one child at a time.”

In expressing appreciation to the Friends of FAR, Barsamian noted that the theme of the evening is “compassion for the welfare of oth- ers, for the most needy and defenseless.”

He recalled that more than two decades ago, at the time of the disastrous earthquake in Armenia, Manoogian, Kevork Hovnanian and Housepian “surveyed and made a compassion- ate vision for FAR as an outreach in health, medicine, education, economic and social devel- opment.” And in 2000, FAR took over the Children’s Center under the inspiration of Aykazian, becoming a place of “light, hope and love.”

In honor of Aykazian’s efforts “in taking up the fight for child protection” 12 years ago, the Primate gifted him with a silk painting made by one of the center’s children, showing a child healing from the wounds inflicted by society, “a child who symbolizes the thousands of young- sters in the Children’s Center.”

From a Hovel to a Home

Annette Choolfaian, professor at the New York Medical College, FAR Board vice chair and one of the founding members of the Children’s Center, recalled that with the collapse of the USSR, the child protection system also col-lapsed. Homeless, poverty-stricken, hungry street children were often arrested. She related that in 1997, Aykazian had seen the dilapidated building and called it “unacceptable.” Following negotiations by Aykazian and the Armenian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the building was given for 50 years to FAR, and with a generous donation by child advocacy expert Barbara Lorinci, opened in 2000. “A hovel became a home” for the 9,000 children that have passed through its doors. “From the housekeeper to the cook, the care and love of the staff have helped one child at a time. Join us on our extra- ordinary journey,” she urged.

A video presentation showcasing the center — the only one in Armenia for vulnerable youth suffering from poverty, abuse, neglect, aban- donment and crime, was shown on a large screen as the “best bastion of hope, and a place to heal in an unfortunate landscape.” It disyear. They recover and get out of hopeless situ- ations. The center is ready to admit and support any child in a difficult situation at any time of the day and night.”

Antonyan related that experts from more than 22 countries have recently visited the cen- ter, and “were surprised to see such an advanced center in Armenia. UNICEF has also recog- nized that its services are the best and most cost-effective in Armenia, with an advanced methodology.” However, because the Armenian government “is still lacking resources to properly protect its children, the role of the civilian community and charitable organizations is crucial. Every penny provided by you is of great value to us,” she said with emphasis. “Thank you for joining and being with us.

“Without you we could not make this differ- ence,” she said to a standing ovation. played the “one-on-one” counseling and care by the staff.

Secrets of the Center

Antonyan, the center’s director, revealed the secrets of the center — “warmth, love, under- standing, a non-critical attitude and profession- alism. These are all that was, and is needed for these children to recover from their damaged childhood. Up to 2005, the center served approximately 4,000 children who were mostly beggars. Since 2005, the children are no longer beggars in the streets. But for many, they are at severe risk due to the absence of relevant fami- ly care and due to neglect, sexual and physical abuses and maltreatment — all being consequences of poverty.”

Since its inception by FAR, the Children’s Center “has become a place of hope for more than 9,000 children,” she continued. “Around 200 children are sheltered in the center every During the evening, the Akhtamar Dance Ensemble in colorful Armenian costumes had performed several selections to the delight of the audience. And the Arthur Apkarian and the Armenia Band from Canada played music for he dancing pleasure of the guests. Thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the FAR Children’s Center, significant funds were raised.

To donate to the FAR Children’s Center in Yerevan, contact FAR at [email protected]