Looking Ahead: Beyond the Centennial


From left, Dr. Noubar Afeyan, George Clooney, Ruben Vardanyan and Dr. Vartan Gregorian

From left, Dr. Noubar Afeyan, George Clooney, Ruben Vardanyan and Dr. Vartan Gregorian

By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

 

BOSTON — April 24, 1915 has come and gone. The centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide is behind us and it is time for a look back at the events in the aftermath of that momentous anniversary.

Everything seems to have gone right for the Armenians this year, from Pope Francis taking the lead on Genocide recognition, to well-organized, well-attended and highly-publicized events throughout the world. Not only that, but Turkey’s leadership, often a few steps ahead in terms of organization and funding, fumbled the Gallipoli centennial, artificially moved to April 24 to counter the anniversary, and clumsily responded to the Pope and other international figures who spoke out in support of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The Gallipoli efforts were derided for what they were — a contrived commemoration — and the harsh response of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Pope did not go over well internationally.

In other words, for once, the wind was behind the Armenians.

One of the people who played a role locally and nationally in the commemorative programs was Dr. Noubar Afeyan, chair of the National Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide Centennial (NCAGC) Steering Committee. In a frank interview, he looked back at what he and his committee, as well as the community and Armenia got right, and what could have been done better to mark this special year.

And the news is pretty positive.

“The overall impression I get that on the one hand people were surprised at the outpouring of support from non-Armenian groups, the sheer newspaper coverage all over the world. They were overwhelmingly sympathetic to airing our grievance,” said Afeyan.

Afeyan is CEO of Flagship Ventures and is a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

“My first impression is the level of surprise by a lot of Armenians, me included, who thought we were not ready for 2015. We thought it would go by, but we did a lot better than expected,” Afeyan said.

And post April, he said, “The difference is palpable.”

“There is a general sense of an Armenian rebirth, a resurgence of sorts. I felt some energy. It was the case in the Vatican and in Washington. There was a sense of renewed energy and hope. There was an overall strength. There was a justice element in there, but also a recognition of an important chapter in world history.”

The NCAGC organized a series of programs in the nation’s capital, including a banquet, a concert, a mass with Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II and Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Aram I, as well as a banquet.

One positive appearance in Washington may in retrospect leave some in the community disappointed. Afeyan said in particular the unity and easy cooperation and interaction of the two top church leaders, Karekin II and Aram I, might have created the hope in many that the divided Armenian Church was heading toward unity. That day is certainly not on the horizon just yet.

One other major change was made in the global Armenian family, and that, Afeyan said, was the decision of the Armenian Church to canonize all the victims of the Armenian Genocide. “It irreversibly changed the narrative,” Afeyan said. “There is the notion that we don’t grieve over saints. Instead, they are a source of guidance and protection, not grieving.”

The commemorative events and the surrounding successes were a sort of “coming of age for the community. If you look, it took us a long, long time to be strong enough and have the tools” for such a showing.

One factor in the cohesion within the community is the new world of social media. “Now you can put a post on facebook and there will be 25,000 responses,” he said. “Within hours of April 24 being finished, there was a beautiful picture [a collage] of 20 different protests from 20 different cities,” he said. “It spread like wildfire.”

In addition, on this momentous anniversary, the diaspora was able to have global representation in the country of Armenia, giving it a platform to host heads of state for a solemn ceremony with heads of state from Russia and France, among many others.

Now, Afeyan said, it is up to diasporan institutions to rethink their mandates.

As the diaspora has matured and thrown down deeper roots, traditional missions won’t serve the population in the coming years. He said, “They have to think ahead to what it means to be Armenian 25 years now. Whose problem is that?”

The focus of Armenians, in addition to the nurturing of the diasporan population, should be on Armenia and its nascent infrastructure.

“We have to use our collective energy to do more and matter more,” he said.

He is putting his money behind his beliefs. Earlier this year, he and Russian-Armenian entrepreneur Ruben Vardanyan and Carnegie Corporation President Dr. Vartan Gregorian founded 100 Lives, an initiative to pay tribute to those who reached out to Armenians during their darkest time. The organization’s $1-million Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity will be given out next April to someone who has made an exceptional impact on preserving human life or advancing humanitarian causes, despite the obstacles in their way. The winner of the award will not get the money, but choose the organization or individual that he or she recognizes as vital.

“It is to express gratitude to people who have helped us survive and revive,” Afeyan said.

Afeyan and fellow founders Vardanyan and Gregorian will present the prize in April 2016 in Yerevan. Nominations will be accepted starting in July and the judging will be handled by an assembled panel.

“It will be given from Armenia to the world by bringing attention” to the issue of the Armenian Genocide. “It is not a personal prize as a reward. It is advancing the very behaviors we want to see in the world.”

The group is cooperating with the National Archives of Armenia, the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute and the Armenian General Benevolent Union.

In addition, its website allows for Armenians everywhere to submit their families’ stories of survival.

Afeyan has long been involved with founding projects in Armenia. in the Armenia 2020 project as well as the Dilijan International School (United World College Dilijan), which is one of 15 schools globally that focus on encouraging diversity, giving back to the community and environmental awareness, among other beliefs.

“The development of Armenia is very hard, very tortuous. It requires a lot of patience. I am very sure that in time, there will be a move toward a more stable and better governed and more prosperous country,” he said.

“My parents had nothing they could do” regarding helping Armenia. Now, he said, we can. “Journalists have a big role to play in that.”

To find out about 100 Lives, or to leave a story, visit https://100lives.com/en/