President Serge Sargisian Thrills Boston Area Community with Visits with Governor, Heritage Park, Universities
By Alin K. Gregorian
WATERTOWN — President Serge Sargisian, accompanied by several ministers and advisors, paid a four-day visit to Massachusetts starting March 28, where he strengthened his country’s ties with the local Armenian community as well as stressed the natural ties between his country’s eager-to-learn and bright population and the world-class universities and high-tech innovation.
On the night of March 30, about 500 people gathered at the hall of St. James Armenian Church here for a community meeting with visiting Armenian President Serge Sargisian and his delegation.
The program, much like the four-day activities before and after, were marked by unity throughout the various segments of the community and a calling for the protection and prosperity of Armenia.
“God Bless Serge Sargisian to protect Armenia and Karabagh,” said Archbishop Khajag Barsamian.
Barsamian praised the country of Armenia for celebrating its 25th birthday.
Ara Nazarian, on behalf of co-chairs Jim Kalustian and Anthony Barsamian, welcomed the president and his delegation, saying it was appropriate that he be here, at the birthplace of the American Revolution. He also reminded those assembled that Massachusetts has the oldest Armenian community in the US, many of them survivors of the Armenian Genocide and their descendants.
“We are here, marking the 25 anniversary of the independence of Armenia. Our independence follows of hundreds of years of subjugation.” Between the earthquake, the disintegration of the Soviet Union as well as the war of independence over Karabagh, all of them “tested our mettle yet we rose to the occasion and defended our borders while laying the foundations for the new country.”
“The rebirth of our nation and the liberation of Artsakh are the greatest achievements of our modern day history,” Nazarian said.
Then, alluding to the common complaint of corruption, Nazarian said, “We must not remain complacent and take the path of least resistance. We blame our problems on oligarchs, corruption and injustice,” he said. “These ills are not the cause of our problems; they are symptoms of the larger issue, which are attitude and vision.”
Next, he praised the work of the Luys Foundation, co-founded by Sargisian, saying that the education of the youth must take priority, a country for brain capacity.
He urged unity, including through the church, which garnered applause.
“We can also work on long simmering issues facing our nation. Our church can play a strong role in fostering unification. We can work together to unsow the seeds of divisions imposed upon us in the 1920s,” as well as bring back Western Armenian language from the brink of extinction.
He noted, “I am confident that our greatest moments are yet to come.”
Dr. Noubar Afeyan, who has long been active in Armenia, innovation and high-tech, as well as the Armenian community, said, “The 100th anniversary for all of us has been a turning point. It has moved us in ways that we cannot explain. We felt in the past 100 years more as victims and somewhat looking for a way to move ahead without forgetting, of course. The 100th anniversary gave us that occasion.”
He praised the Pope and several leaders for their proclamations recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
Afeyan then focused on Massachusetts and its schools. “I want to single out Vigen Sargsyan tonight. A product of Massachusetts’s education, from Tufts University, who as chief of staff did a marvelous job [organizing the centennial events in Armenia]. He could have organized any global event,” he said.
He said the word “diaspora” is used too loosely. The Armenian Diaspora, he explained, has existed for centuries. It was only in the past century, however that the ranks of the diaspora were filled, after the Armenian Genocide. “It just means dispersion. Means when the whole completely disintegrates and goes into the parts,” he explained.
“Reconstituting the Armenian nation is our ultimate victory which will make the diaspora disappear,” he said, adding that those who do not live in Armenia, “through ideology, through the church, through our commitment to Armenia, we are something different than a diaspora.”
Afeyan stressed that complaining is not an option. “Obvious the way to do that, is to make Armenia a more productive and safe place,” he said. But that is not enough. He said those living outside Armenia can make a pledge to make a contribution to Armenia as well as the diasporan community.
He then spoke about the Aurora Prize, “an expression of gratitude to those who helped save our lives.”
He then spoke about in 1992 invited to meet with “then-new priest,” Rev. Mesrob Aramian.
“He had devoted himself to projects that advanced Armenia,” such as founding the Gandzasar seminary. He got the support of many local Boston Armenians.
“Not only did he do what he said, but he went to found the VEM radio station and the AYB school that is revolutionizing education in Armenia and pioneering with others the Armenian baccalaureate.
He praised the Luys Foundation, headed by Jacqueline Karaaslanian.
“Armenia historically has been a center of education, of excellence, tradition, history and hope. We lost that position largely due to the Genocide and the years that ensued. Massachusetts in the United States is the center of education, historic tradition and founding events, the center of hope. Much as Massachusetts is to the United States, our hope is that Armenia restores itself to become the Massachusetts of the world. That is this beacon of advanced thinking, advanced action, hope and forward thinking,” Afeyan concluded.
Grigor Hovhannissian, the new Armenian ambassador to the US, praised the reception that Sargisian had received earlier that day at the State House by Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.
He also listed the delegation accompanying the president, including Education Minister Levon Mkrtchyan, Ambassador to the United Nations Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Diaspora Minister Hranoush Hakobyan, Advisor to the President Very Rev. Mesrob Aramian and the next speaker, the president’s chief of staff, Vigen Sargsyan.
Sargsyan started saying, “Hello my fellow Bostonian Armenians. What a treat to see the dear faces that were so supportive years ago,” he said.
He said he held onto a flyer from the Cambridge Yerevan Sister City Association titled “Shining Through Darkness.” The program was one of young professionals visiting the area from Armenia.
He singled out Jack and Eva Medzorian for their support of the program.
He also spoke about Dr. Paul and Dr. Joyce Barsam greeting diplomats who had come here to study at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, as well as the Tavitian Foundation, which has supported the program, whose graduates are numbering more than 250 there, and who “who today make a major difference.”
“They are making a difference in a country with 3 million people, where per capita there are more Fletcher graduates than in the Untied States,” he said.
He praised the host families who instilled in all the visiting students a spirit of volunteerism. He, to the delight of the audience, recalled the late John Baronian, a tireless Tufts promoter. “His love for his roots, that was fundamental in shaping my image of Armenians of Boston.”
He added, “I will always remember that wise man, driving his big Cadillac, filled with Jumbos and cigars” … “telling me story, after story, always finishing with the phrase, Vigen, menk chenink ba ov piti ehneh (If we don’t, then who will).”
Sargsyan had headed the very successful commemorative activities marking the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, in Yerevan. “When I was called to that duty, my initial reaction was no. I was very much afraid that if I failed, it would be disastrous for the nation. But I thought of John Baronian, his family’s story of survival and I heard him say, ‘if we don’t do it, who will?’”
The four pillars of that commemoration, remembrance, gratitude, international fight against genocide and survival, were all pillars of John’s life, Sargsyan said.
“He truly believed that awareness is the best tool of crimes of genocide in the future,” Sargsyan said.
He praised the Armenian Heritage Park in the heart of Boston. “What a beautiful way to tell with grace honor and dignity the story of remembrance and gratitude to this beautiful city and state for extending a hand.”
The previous day, the president and his delegation had visited the park and the president had laid a wreath at the Armenian Genocide monument there. While there, he had also visited the nearby Holocaust Memorial and lunched at the oldest restaurant in the country, the Union Oyster House.
Sargsyan admitted that problems remain in Armenia, but that the country has made great strides.
“We do have emigration which is painful, dividing families,” he said, and an economy that still needs to make progress. However, he added, no matter what the shortcomings, everyone now should recall that the current problems in Armenia pale compared to the early days of the republic, when bread and fuel were hard to find, and when electricity was on only for two hours a day.
“Today Yerevan is a capital of a country with a vivid cultural life, diversity of educational opportunities, growing tourism, high security. … It is one of the new destinations of the IT world. No IT specialist in Armenia can claim that with skills today” he or she will not find a job.
He praised the founding of Luys Foundation. “We started with eight citizens of Armenia. Each year we get hundred new students at top-10 universities. We have 400 alums and current students who have their degrees from Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Cal Tech, you name it.”
Introducing President Sargisian, he praised his role not only as president, but also as prime minister and defense minister in Karabagh and Armenia.
President Sargisian, said, “Boston is of special significance for the newest history of Armenia. Numerous young diplomats, political scientists, lawyers and experts in other areas of our newly independent state have been sustained in the universities in this city,” he said. “They brought back with them the best traditions of empowerment and progress to our state.”
He thanked the local Armenian community for having “always been with the homeland at the critical junctures of our development, extending a helping hand both in the aftermath of the Spitak earthquake and in the course of the Artsakh liberation war,” he added.
He also spoke about unity in the community worldwide, saying “we have been able to demonstrate to the world that the Armenian will is strong and determined to continue its struggle to institute justice, to condemn the crimes perpetuated against humanity in order to prevent the crime of genocide from recurring anywhere in the world.”
That day, before the Azeri incursions in Artsakh had taken place, Sargisian said, “Our views coincide with the state motto of Massachusetts: by the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
Sargisian also spoke about the country economy, suggesting that by joining the Eurasian Economic Union, the country now is in position to gain access to the 170 million-plus market.
He also urged diasporans to come to Armenia and invest there. “There are free economic zones in Armenia that provide [investors] with tax and customs benefits,” he said. He added, however, that while the county certainly needs financial investments, “for the development of our country it more needs talents, skills and invaluable expertise of our diaspora fellows. If we tap the potential of our diaspora in as much as another Massachusetts community, such as the Irish do, that would give a great impetus to the development of Armenia.”
Sargisian added that his nation had taken in many Syrian refugees because “it is indeed the duty of our state to extend a helping hand to fellow Armenians in trouble.”
He anticipated the 25th anniversary of the nation, noting that the celebrations “will concentrate on youth and especially on the generation of independence. To this end, the Ministry of Diaspora, jointly with the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Luys and Ayb Foundation, initiated the annual youth gathering under the motto ‘Let us create together destination Armenia’ that will take place from June 11 to 16,” he noted.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Sargisian presented the Mkhitar Heratsi Medal to Aram Chobanian for his contributions to science and medicine.
He also presented Anthony Barsamian, Dr. Ara Nazarian and James Kalustian with medals of gratitude for their efforts for coordinating the centennial events on the East Coast.
Anthony Barsamian paid tribute to the unity of the community, saying that the bond amongst them helped ensure a smooth commemoration, as did the presidential visit, which came together in only three weeks. Berj Najarian closed the evening by representing President Sargisian with a football jersey with the number 25 in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia, a gift from the Kraft family.
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan of the Prelacy offered the closing prayers.
Other stops during the trip had included visiting Holy Trinity Armenian Church, St. Stephen’s Armenian Church, the Armenian Museum of America, Tufts University, St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School, the ARF headquarters in Watertown as well as the Baikar building, and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute on the campus of the University of Massachusetts, Boston.