Armenian Genocide Centennial Volunteers Applauded in Nation’s Capital
By Florence Avakian
WASHINGTON — It was both an appreciative occasion and one filled with reflection for the more than 2,500 Armenians and non-Armenians from all parts of America who selflessly brought their efforts to the three-day monumental activities of the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Washington D.C. last May.
The Dinner of Appreciation, dedicated to the volunteers of Greater Washington and organized by the Genocide Centennial Steering Committee, took place on September 3 at Maggiano’s Restaurant in Chevy Chase, Md. Many members of the Steering Committee were present, including Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy , Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of the Western Prelacy, Dr. Noubar Afeyan (chairman) and Jean-Jacques Hajjar (operating leader, Boston). Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese (CA) and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, were absent due to health reasons.
Also attending and instrumental in the Centennial preparations were the First Secretary of the Embassy of Armenia Karen Israyelian, the Armenian National Committee Executive Director Aram Hamparian, and the Armenian Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny.
“This is a testament to your dedication and to your drive for making this event a memorable one. You rose up to the challenge to make this event unique,” said Master of Ceremonies J.J. Hajjar, in his welcoming remarks. “Your hardship has been rewarded by a world class event that was enjoyed and relished by thousands of participants.” A volunteer himself from Boston, Hajjar revealed that he had been motivated by his family’s wise teachings, and a slogan from the Peace Corps: “This is the toughest job you will ever love.” He then voiced the hopes of many asking, “Can it be done again next year?”
For almost two years, these dedicated volunteers who were all members of Washington’s Soorp Khatch Armenian Church (Prelacy), and the St. Mary Armenian Church (Diocese), had worked together to bring this unique event to its successful fruition.
In his remarks, Steering Committee Chairman Noubar Afeyan related that two years ago when different organizations were thinking of how to commemorate the Centennial, he had received a call from Barsamian to lead a non-partisan group of East and West coast committee members to plan the event in the nation’s capital.
There were so many special occurrences during those momentous three days in Washington, Afeyan noted, including “energy, hope, and pride, the presence of Armenian President Serge Sargisian, US Vice President Joe Biden and UN Ambassador Samantha Power attending the Cathedral Ecumenical Service, the unity Badarak at the National Shrine with both catholicoses, all archbishops and nationwide Armenian clergy participating, the unforgettable concert of survival and triumph, the banquet, the gratitude awardees, and the sea of survivor descendants, and through it all the thousands of Armenians congregating in the Marriott Hotel lobby for three days.”
“What a year this has been,” he gushed, “with the Pope commemorating the Genocide in an inspiring Mass at the Vatican, the Genocide event in Armenia, the many nations that have acknowledged the Genocide, and finally the Washington, DC, event. This all symbolizes a new spirit of revival. The canonization of our martyrs raises an important challenge to us, the descendants of the survivors.”
He concluded, “We need to ask what we are doing with the second chance we have been given. How can we contribute to Genocide recognition, prevention and also recovery from this great tragedy, not just for Armenians, but more broadly for all who have suffered a likewise fate.”
Special Role for Church
The energy “we all felt in Washington,” Afeyan continued, “should be harnessed as we go forward in order to achieve our collective goals as Armenian-Americans. The Armenian Church has a special role to play as a unifying force for our community, and a motivator of the diaspora to stay engaged in advancing Armenian identity and advancement throughout the world.”
Following a short video presentation of the three day Centennial events, Afeyan presented Centennial Award trophies designed by artist Michael Aram to the chairpersons of all the committees, including the Badarak, the Liturgical, and Banquet organizers, the National Cathedral, the Strathmore Concert organizers, Logistics and Security, Displays and Cultural Activities, Finance, Outreach, and Public Relations Committees, Fr. Sarkis Aktavoukian, Fr. Hovsep Garabedian, Dr. Teny Abrahamian, Edvik Alexandrian, Louisa Baghdasarian, Levon Barsoumian, Bagrat Bayburtian, Jake Bournazian, Jack Guiragossian, Avak Kahvejian, Karine Sahagian, Onnig Sivaslian, Dr. Zareh Soghomonian, Alissa Tabirian, Program Manager Dr. Susan Pattie, Events Coordinator and Graphic Designer Eileen Trayan, and Advisor Kevork Marashlian.
Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian congratulated all the volunteers, calling them “heroes” and again emphasized the unity of all the community factions, who have formed a united committee after the May events, with its appropriate title of the Armenian Community Events Planners of Greater Washington (ACEP).
Armenian Embassy official Karen Israyelian offered the congratulations of Ambassador Tigran Sargsyan for a “job well done” and stressed the importance of both the presence and participation of the Armenian president in the Washington events. Appreciation to both the Steering Committee members and the volunteers was expressed by Aktavoukian and Karapetyan, parish priests of Soorp Khatch Armenian Church and the St. Mary Armenian Church.
Miracles Are Possible
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian who had opened the dinner with a special prayer, noted in comments following the event, that there was an overriding fear that because of Centennial activities in other cities, people would not come to the Washington function. “But a month before, all the three-day events were sold out,” he stated with pride. “When we are together and united, we can perform miracles. A united church is great testimony as to how important it is to resolve issues of the past, and start with a fresh approach.”
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, who offered the dinner’s closing prayer, complimented the “extraordinary organization” of the commemoration. He added, “Cooperation from the bottom to the top, and between different sides is a positive sign. It is an affirmation that cooperation works. Working together is now becoming normal. After all, we are the same nation, the same faith, with the same goals.”