By Tsoleen Sarian
WATERTOWN — Volunteers are the heart and soul of our communities.
Organizations like Project SAVE Armenian Photograph Archives flourish thanks in great part to the support of volunteers.
Twenty-four individuals who donate their time, energy, and skills to Project SAVE Archives gathered together on September 21, for an appreciation luncheon at The Talk Restaurant.
Tsoleen Sarian, Project SAVE’s Associate Director, welcomed the gathering and noted that this year Sept. 21st marks the 25th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia’s independence. She also mentioned Project SAVE’s mission to preserve Armenian identity by protecting and sharing our photographic heritage, and thanked the volunteers.
“As we look beyond major milestones like last year’s Genocide Centennial, our work is more crucial than ever, collecting and preserving the diversity and vitality of the Armenian people to celebrate, honor, teach, and share the Armenian story,” Sarian pointed out. “This is our legacy, and I’m glad we’re in it together. We’re keeping Armenian history and heritage vibrant and accessible.”
Project SAVE’s founder and CEO, Ruth Thomasian, then presented Volunteer Appreciation Awards to: Ed Kazanjian and Daiga Lorena, each for five years of dedicated service scanning, processing, and cataloging photos; and Tom Vartabedian, board member, who has given seven years of devoted leadership while also publicizing and promoting Project SAVE Archives.
Kazanjian mentioned that his frequent travels to Historic Armenia have serve him well at Project SAVE. “Seeing vintage photographs of the places I’ve visited allows me to relate to many of the photographs that pass through my hands on a more personal, emotional level,” he said. He himself, and his wife are both Project SAVE photo donors.
Lorena, Latvian by birth, tells of feeling connected to Project SAVE in special ways because she was born in 1975, the year Project SAVE was founded, and also because her homeland was Soviet just as Armenia was. “These past five years I’ve become acquainted with the Armenian community through the photographs,” she said. “A lot of Latvian and Armenian history is very similar. I feel very much at home here at Project SAVE — the staff are like family to me.”
Vartabedian has served on the Board of Directors doing what he does best: photographing our events and writing about them for the Armenian and American papers. Now, Project SAVE is proud to cosponsor Tom’s and Sona Dulgarian Gevorkian’s photography exhibit “East Meets West” with the Armenian Museum of America. Vartabedian’s photos are from his trips to Armenia and Gevorkian’s from her travels throughout Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh/NKR). An opening public reception will take place Sunday, Oct. 23, from 2 to 4 pm. Exhibit runs through November.
“The task of documenting and disseminating thousands of historic photographs that may otherwise have been lost or neglected is a daunting task,” said Vartabedian. “Ruth and her staff and their unwavering team of volunteers, have more than lived up to the challenge. It’s exciting to be a part of this spirit of cooperation in our community.”
Also honored was staff member Aram Sarkissian for his 15 years working part time as administrative and archival assistant, and presently as translator. The 76-year-old was a principal and teacher in Lebanon before immigrating to the USA in 1989.
“Each day I’m here,” said Sarkissian. “I find myself surrounded by history, and I learn something new.” “My knowledge is being shared with others who are working toward the important cause of preserving our heritage through photographs and their stories.”
The event was also an opportunity to speak of Project SAVE’s work with the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR), based nearby in Belmont.
A regular feature at volunteer luncheons is the two invited guests with whom Project SAVE has worked during the year, who inform our volunteers of our combined wide-reaching activities. This year’s guests were Sarah Ignatius, NAASR executive director, and NAASR’s academic director, Marc Mamigonian.
“Our association with NAASR is one that has developed in the best interests of both organizations,” said Ruth Thomasian. “We share in each other’s service and commitment to the Armenian community. During this past year our organizations have cosponsored lectures related to photography and photographers, and have referred researchers in search of original materials to each other.” The two organizations were each cosponsors of the Armenian Genealogical Conference earlier this year in Watertown as well as speaker participants at the Genocide Education workshop for teachers.
Since April 2015, Project SAVE and NAASR have worked together with Mount Auburn Cemetery docent Steve Pinkerton, who was also at the luncheon, to develop and lead the Armenian Heritage Walk, the first of which honored the 100th commemoration of the Genocide. With some 3,000 Armenians laid to rest there, Mount Auburn Cemetery is a museum and archives full of history preserved in stone. A third Armenian Heritage Walk is planned for next April, and an effort to place a grave stone on the unmarked burial site of the first Armenian buried in Mount Auburn was discussed at the luncheon.
“Both our organizations have a very open attitude in making our resources available,” Ignatius pointed out. “We’ve maintained a strong integrity over all these years in preserving Armenian history for future generations.”
Ignatius joined NAASR in January. “It’s been an exciting transition for me to be part of an organization with such a talented board and staff,” she noted. “Right now, we’re in the midst of a $2.5 million campaign to transform our building into a more open and welcoming facility with an expanded library, elevator and twice the capacity.”
Mamigonian spoke of first meeting Ruth Thomasian. “I was a young kid when my Aunt Polly Hovsepian, a long time Project SAVE volunteer, brought Ruth to visit my family in Dover, NH, to collect and document our photographs. That memory has stayed with me through the years and has been an important influence on my work at NAASR.”
NAASR will host their 60th anniversary gala November 12 at the Burlington Marriott with keynote speaker Eric Bogosian.