100 Lives Initiative Establishes Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity


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George Clooney

George Clooney

100 Lives 1100 Lives Initiative Establishes Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity
By Aram Arkun
Mirror-Spectator Staff
NEW YORK — The 100 Lives initiative held a press conference via conference call on March 10 to publicize this new humanitarian program. The purpose of the new organization is “to express gratitude to the individuals and institutions whose heroic actions saved thousands of Armenian lives during the Genocide” and address issues of ongoing genocide and human rights violations today. It focuses on three elements: “learning from the past, delivering for the present and shaping a better future.”
Cofounders Ruben Vardanyan and Dr. Noubar Afeyan provided information about 100 Lives and answered questions during the conference call. The third cofounder, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, did not participate in the call. Salpi Ghazarian, director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Armenian Studies, served as moderator.
Vardanyan, an investment banker and philanthropist who was born in Armenia but grew up in Russia, and Afeyan, a Boston-based biotech and life sciences entrepreneur, began to think about how to use the centennial of the Armenian Genocide in a productive way in 2009. In an earlier MediaMax interview with Ara Tadevosyan, Vardanyan explained that the actual preparations began some nine months earlier to launch the 100 Lives project. He viewed the project as a link between Armenians and the outside world. He was motivated by the story of his grandfather, who as a survivor of the Armenian Genocide grew up in an orphanage but created a successful life for himself and became a history professor at Yerevan State University. Vardanyan declared that he drew a different lesson than most did from the Genocide. He said, “We won because we managed to save ourselves despite all difficulties and troubles and made strides in various areas and countries. Yes, we should remember and honor the memory of the victims and the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by other countries, particularly by Turkey, is important for us, but our main message to the world is that we are alive and we are strong. And to remember and to demand one should be alive and strong.”
During the conference call Afeyan said that he too was motivated by his family history of benefiting from a savior. His grandfather survived because he was protected by German officers during the Genocide. A central component of the initiative is to record the stories of those who helped Armenians survive. Aside from academic research and already preserved personal accounts, the organization is seeking submissions through its website of more such accounts to publicize (symbolically 100 stories for 100 years). This will be part of an effort to express the gratitude of Armenians, as well as to offer models of behavior to the rest of the world when similar tragedies occur in the future.
A more concrete way of doing this is through the establishment of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, named after Genocide survivor Aurora Mardiganian, who survived the Armenian Genocide and wrote her tragic story and later starred in the 1919 film based on it, titled “Ravished Armenia.” The prize will be given annually to “people who put themselves at risk to enable others to survive and thrive,” or, in other words, those who advance humanitarian causes and save human lives. The prize of $1 million will be given to the organization identified by the recipient as his/her inspiration.
The members of the nine-member selection committee include actor George Clooney, the co-chair of the committee; Nobel Peace Prize laureates Elie Wiesel (committee co-chair) and Óscar Arias; Mary Robinson, a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights; Gareth Evans, an adviser to the United Nations on genocide prevention; Hina Jilani, former United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Right Defenders; and Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The nomination period will extend from June to December 2015. Clooney will go to Yerevan to announce the first award on April 24, 2016.
Over the past few years, Vardanyan and some friends worked with Not On Our Watch (NOOW), an organization established by Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and several other activists dedicated to preventing mass atrocities. This was the beginning of the collaboration with Clooney. NOOW and 100 Lives have formed a strategic partnership to combat genocide.
The 100 Lives initiative will support humanitarian projects throughout the world as it grows and expands. Afeyan said that it will also provide grants and support to individuals, institutions and even countries which have helped Armenians during their period of crisis. It wants to “inspire others to stop, to think about those who have helped them during a moment of crisis, and to express gratitude by doing something in return.”
According to the 100 Lives website, its partners include the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the National Archives of Armenia, and the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute. Afeyan said that though it has partners, the 100 Lives organization will remain independent as a distinct organization. It is working on establishing foundations in various countries that will allow it to do this by raising money and getting more individuals to participate in new projects.
A conversation between Ruben Vardanyan and George Clooney took place on March 10 at New York’s Harold Pratt House, moderated by PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill, to discuss the prize and efforts to combat genocide. Even before this event took place, news about the prize was covered in the New York Times (March 10) and other American mass media.
More information on the initiative is available at 100lives.com. To find out more about Not On Our Watch, visit http://notonourwatchproject.org/