CLEVELAND, Ohio — Clergy, delegates, and community members gathered at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland, OH, on Friday evening, April 29, to honor two individuals for their support of the Armenian Church and contributions to the greater Armenian community. The Grand Banquet of the 114th Diocesan Assembly was hosted by the St. Gregory of Narek Armenian Church of Richmond Heights.
The award for the “Friend of the Armenians” was bestowed on Dr. Taner Akçam, professor of history and the Kaloosdian/Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University, in Worcester.
A native of Turkey, Akçam was arrested in 1976 while serving as editor-in-chief of a student political journal. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. A year later, he escaped to Germany, where he received political asylum and began his graduate work.
He received a Ph.D. from the University of Hannover with a dissertation titled, “Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide: On the Background of the Military Tribunals in Istanbul between 1919 and 1922.”
Akçam has written a number of books on the Armenian Genocide, including his landmark work of historical investigation, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility.
His book, The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity, received the Hourani Book Prize of the Middle East Studies Association, and was listed by Foreign Affairs magazine among the “Best International Relations Books of 2012.”
Last year saw the publication of the English edition of his book, The Spirit of the Laws: The Plunder of Wealth in the Armenian Genocide.
Akçam said that significant strides have been made in the struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide worldwide, and went on to stress the importance of education in raising awareness and achieving justice.
“Truth wins in the fields of education and scholarship,” he said. “Education is where the real investment needs to be made.”
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director, and a longtime friend of Akçam, extolled his courage in the face of denial and persecution. “He is a champion of human rights, a man who never stops fighting for justice,” Aykazian said.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), said that Professor Akçam “represents some very rare virtues — virtues that were understood and shared by that great generation of Armenians whose story Taner has documented.”
“He is a man dedicated to the truth,” the Primate said; “but imagine how difficult it was, as a young Turkish student, to pursue that dedication—to uncover a dark chapter in the history of a nation; to deal with it honestly, truthfully, wherever the evidence would lead. We are proud to have such a friend, and to name you as this year’s ‘Friend of the Armenians.’“
Receiving this year’s “Armenian Church Member of the Year” award was Armenian General Benevolent Union President Berge Setrakian.
As a partner in an international law firm with thousands of attorneys stationed around the world, Mr. Setrakian has led the AGBU as its President for 14 years. He is a trusted counselor to His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and a supporter of the growth and development of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin.
Under Setrakian’s leadership, AGBU and Holy Echmiadzin jointly developed youth centers and soup kitchens for the elderly in Armenia. Other projects include medical initiatives and educational opportunities for clergy.
Setrakian and his wife Vera undertook the complete renovation of the old pontifical residence at Holy Echmiadzin. The 300-year-old site now houses the Pontifical Museum dedicated to the memory of the catholicoi who resided there.
“Berge is a man of passion for all things Armenian. He has a high aspiration for our people — and for this reason he seeks out the best among us, and encourages greater achievement,” Barsamian said. “He is truly a man of international standing. Leaders of our community around the world look to Berge for his advice and judgment.”
Mr. Setrakian said the honor bestowed upon him by the Diocese comes in an especially poignant year, as 2016 marks both the 110th anniversary of the establishment of the AGBU and the 25th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia.
“Serving the Armenian community is a privilege, an honor, and above all, a calling,” Mr. Setrakian said. He went on to describe memories of participating in Armenian Church services as a child, and spoke about how he and his wife raised their own children — Ani and Lara — in the Armenian community.
“Our Christian identity has served as a source of strength for the Armenian people throughout history,” he said, noting the importance of passing on Armenian Christian values to younger generations. “We are all missionaries of our faith, and must support it on the road to renewal.”
The awards were presented to Akçam and Setrakian by Barsamian and Diocesan Council Chair James Kalustian.
“Both of tonight’s honorees are leaders on an international level,” Kalusitian said. “They are men who have gone to the very height of their professions. Their efforts on behalf of the Armenian community, the Armenian Church, and the Armenian Cause have had far-reaching effects.”
Rev. Hratch Sargsyan, pastor of St. Gregory of Narek Church, expressed gratitude to the parish committee that had organized the Diocesan Assembly and Grand Banquet.
“Organizing and hosting this Assembly served as an opportunity for our community to grow closer together,” he said. “It was truly a joyful journey.”
Diocesan Council member Antranig Garibian served as master of ceremonies. Musical selections were performed by pianist Dn. Ari Terjanian and the Narekatsi Choir of St. Gregory of Narek Church.
Archbishop Barsamian closed the evening with remarks and a prayer.
“This has been an evening filled with a spirit of common purpose and faith — a perfect example of our theme for the coming year on the ‘Legacy of Our Martyrs,’“ he said. “Tonight we have honored two individuals who exemplify, in powerful ways, the enduring relevance of that beautiful, brave generation, who emerged from the ashes a century ago and laid the groundwork for everything we enjoy today.”