Category Archives: Armenia
By Harut Sassounian
Throughout the years, since Armenia’s independence in 1991, I have had the unique opportunity of spending hundreds of hours with the country’s three previous Presidents, discussing privately with them Armenia’s many problems. I offered them my professional assessments and frequently my criticisms of the way they were running the country. Although the Presidents were not pleased that I was pointing out their shortcomings and mistakes, they understood that my intent was not to disparage them, but to help them improve the living conditions of the population.
Ever since the earthquake of 1988, I have been doing charitable work in Armenia and Artsakh, initially as President of the United Armenian Fund (UAF), subsequently the Armenia Artsakh Fund (AAF), and as Vice Chairman of Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation, delivering over $800 million of humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh by the UAF and AAF, and managing $242 million of infrastructure projects funded by Lincy. Despite all the corruption prevailing in Armenia during those years, I fought hard to protect the humanitarian supplies and funds, persistently bringing to the attention of the Presidents the abuses by high rankling officials, and demanding that they be disciplined or fired.
During my 58 trips to Armenia and Artsakh, I saw firsthand the miserable conditions of most people in our homeland, deprived of money, food, medicines, clothing and other basic needs. Seeing the Presidents’ neglect of the people’s deprivations, I frequently and forcefully brought their dismal situation to the attention of the country’s leadership. I was particularly upset when I heard government officials speaking about Armenia needing investments, not charity. I found such remarks to be callous of the people’s suffering. After each such pronouncement, I confronted these officials explaining the negative effect of their statements.
Consequently, I was surprised when Armenia’s new Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, a man of the people, during his remarks in New York on September 23, 2018, announced that in the context of Armenia-Diaspora relations, work must be encouraged, not charity: “Armenians can assist Armenia only with one option: carry out economic activity in Armenia, establish any business, and work. Today, Armenia’s understanding is the following: It is a country where it is possible to carry out economic activity, establish a business, earn profits, get rich and enrich. Our message to all of you is the following: get rich and enrich. We want Armenia to be known as such a country. Not charitable, but developmental projects must be implemented in Armenia….”
To be fair to the Prime Minister, in his speech, he also spoke about many other topics which I agree with whole-heartedly. He has tremendous support both in Armenia and around the world! He has practically eliminated corruption in Armenian society and has represented the voice of the people who had remained voiceless for more than a quarter of a century since independence. However, just as I have told the previous Presidents, I would like to provide the following explanations to the new Prime Minister:
- I fully support the Prime Minister’s initiative that Armenia needs economic investments in order to create jobs and expand exports. By creating jobs, not only the people will have the income to pay for their daily expenses, but the government will also have the tax revenues to support the country’s and population’s multiple needs.
- However, the Prime Minister’s urging that “work must be encouraged, not charity,” would deprive hundreds of thousands of poor people of their basic necessities. Investments take time to trickle down to the people and produce results. In the meantime, if charitable efforts are discouraged, many poor people will not survive.
- Not all Diaspora Armenians can invest in the Armenian Republic. There are dozens of charitable organizations which by law cannot get involved in economic activities, as they can only do charity. Since the earthquake and Armenia’s independence, Armenian and international charities have provided a large amount of aid to Armenia and Artsakh. If it were not for this humanitarian assistance, the standard of living would have been even lower, jeopardizing the survival of many Armenians. By discouraging charity, we are simply asking charitable organizations not to help the needy people of Armenia.
- Armenian governments so far have been unable to meet the many needs of their population due to lack of money. Diaspora’s charitable organizations have provided the aid that the government could not. If there were no charitable assistance in Armenia ever since independence, the people’s many needs would not have been taken care of and Armenia would have been a poorer country.
- Even if the Diaspora would start investing in Armenia today, that does not mean that the influx of new funds would take care of all the needs of the people overnight. Certainly, a large number of people would eventually be employed, but many others, such as the elderly, would still be left with hardly any income from their negligible pensions. Those who are unaware of the extent of appalling poverty in Armenia should read the Guardian newspaper’s Sept. 29, 2018 article by Nick Danziger, titled: “‘It’s better to die’: the struggle to survive poverty in Armenia.”
- There is the mistaken notion that if there were many investments in Armenia, there would be no need for charity. In almost all countries, even in the most advanced ones, there are hundreds of charitable organizations that tend to the needs of the poor. In the United States alone, billions of dollars are provided annually to needy individuals and families by charitable organizations. If the Americans require charity, Armenians would certainly need charitable assistance for a long time to come.
Paradoxically, Prime Minister Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakopyan, recently launched her own charitable organization “My Step Foundation” to support educational, healthcare, social and cultural projects. She is doing what’s absolutely necessary because the people of Armenia desperately need help.
BOCA RATON, FL – Over 50 members and guests of the Armenian Relief Society, Eastern USA (ARS-EUSA) gathered in Boca Raton, Florida from Thursday, August 9th to Sunday, August 12th to participate in the organization’s 98th Convention.
The Florida “Sosseh” Chapter, hosts of this Convention, were loudly lauded and applauded for their warm hospitality and outstanding planning. On Thursday night, the opening ceremonies took place at the local hall used by the South Florida Armenian community for their events. Welcoming remarks were extended by the Chairperson of the Convention Committee, Ungh. Mary Andonian. She introduced Talin Daghlian, Chair of the Board of Directors of the ARS-EUSA, to address the gathering.
Congratulatory remarks and words of encouragement were extended by representatives of the sister organizations. Ung. Jano Avedissian, representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Eastern Region Central Committee touched upon the scope of the work of the ARS and its continued dedication to serving the Armenian people worldwide.
The delegates were moved by the message of Kaliana Maronian, the Armenian Youth Federation representative who described her experience as a staff member at Camp Javakh, located in the Armenian enclave in the Republic of Georgia. Closing remarks and prayer were offered by His Grace Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vicar General of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church. At the conclusion of his address, the Serpazan led the attendees in a moving rendition of Giligia.
The meeting officially began on Thursday with the election of the Convention Chairpersons: Unghs. Seda Aghamianz (Cambridge Shushi) and Mayda Melkonian (Watertown Leola Sassouni). Elected to the position of Secretary were Ungs. Knar Kiledjian (N.J. “Shakeh”) and Floria Kasparian (N.J. Agnouni) (Armenian-language secretaries) and Ungs. Nevair Oranjian (NY Erebouni) and Ani Zargarian (Cambridge Shushi) .
Representing the Central Executive of the Armenian Relief Society was Ungh. Silva Takvorian Kouyoumdjian. Ungh. Annie Ohanian, Chairperson of ARS of Canada was also in attendance representing her Region. Board guests to the Convention were Ungh. Heather Krafian and Unger Khatchig Mouradian.
Unger Mouradian was honored this year as the Agnouni Award recipient. The award is presented to an individual who has shown exceptional commitment to advancing the mission of the ARS.
Guests invited by the Convention were: Ungh. Nevart Kouyoumdjian from the Watertown Leola Sassouni Chapter and Unghs. Mary Andonian, Sose Tokatlian Maltez, and Annette Amiraian Maggio, all from the Florida Sosseh Chapter.
The following were selected to serve on the various Convention Committees:
Nominating: Unghs. Sevan Kolejian, Maral Kaprielian, Yeran Manjikian, Linda Tarzian and Nayda Voskerijian. Resolution: Unghs. Jill Dolik, Helen Bardakjian and Edna Galo. Auditing and Budgeting: Unghs. Maral Nakashian, Sarah Dudek and Margie Babikian Medina. Correspondence: Unghs. Arlene Jessourian, Pauline Dostoumian and Ani Keshishian.
Unhg. Angele Manoogian was appointed the Parliamentarian and Ungh. Sona Garabettian was appointed Sergeant-at-Arms.
The major areas of discussion and review were domestic programs; finance/investments; projects in Armenia, Artsakh and Javakhk; strengthening organizational internal processes; and membership development.
Included in the domestic programs are support of Camp Haiastan, Norian Youth Connect, Graduate and Undergraduate Scholarships, Essay Contest for Armenian School Students, and Armenian National Educational Council (ANEC).
Projects in Armenia, Artsakh and Javakhk include Syrian Armenian Families in Armenia; Syrian Armenian Students Studying in Armenia; Amanor Program; Sponsor a Child Program, Orphan Educational Fund; Sponsor a Bed – Save a Life; Meds Tagher Soseh Kindergarten; Stepanagerd Soseh Kindergarten; Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center and Javkah Camp.
The Financial Report was well received. It reflected the robust nature of the financial controls which are allowing the organization to support so many programs and yet protect the investment portfolio.
The Convention delegates once again expressed their appreciation for all of the benefactors who have throughout the years been major supporters of the organization. The funds received along with the monies that come from the local chapters allows the ARS EUSA to continue its mission of serving the humanitarian needs of the Armenian people, here in the United States as well as in the homeland.
After reviewing the past year’s work, the delegates focused on short term and long term initiatives. Many plans were initiated some focused on internal issues and others on expanding programs.
On an organizational level, it was decided to expand the social media presence of the organization not only on a regional level but also on a chapter one. Also discussed were integrating new meet-up methods and updating the types of activities.
The importance of the establishment of Chapter historians who can gather archives and chronicle the chapters’ history was stressed.
The status of our elderly who are living alone was another focus of the Convention discussion. After an exchange of experiences and events, the delegates reaffirmed their commitment to assist the elderly in our communities in a number of ways, including visits, providing transportation and escorting them to special events and meetings.
In relation to efforts in Armenia, the Convention expressed its desire to explore ways and means to develop and underwrite a health and wellness education to be disseminated through the Mother and Child Clinic in Akhourian. The programs will focus on women and children issues, psychological/ emotional support, medical intervention and family education.
A recommendation was made to begin investigating the feasibility of fundraising to sponsor athletic activities and a field for the Nigol Aghpalian School in Akhourian which was built by the ARS-EUSA after the 1988 Earthquake.
A lengthy debate took place regarding the state of Armenian schools, both one-day and day ones. It was agreed that it has become a challenge in today’s busy world to have children and parent commit to spending a few hours a week learning the Armenian language. Various suggestions were made to improve curriculums as well as teaching methods.
In addition to the business sessions, the delegates were hosted to a number of social activities organized by the Florida Chapter. These activities not only gave delegates a pause from the meetings but also an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
The meeting concluded with the elections. Ungh.Talin Daghlian, outgoing Chairperson, and Ungh. Sonia Bezdikian, outgoing Advisor, were widely applauded for their efforts during the past 4 years for their service on the ARS Regional Board. In particular, Ungh. Daghlian for her leadership and Ungh. Sonia for her outstanding fundraising ability on behalf of the organization.
Ungh. Sandra Vartanian (New York Erebouni) and Ungh. Johanna Chilingirian (Cambridge Shushi) were reelected for another 2 –year term. Newly elected to serve a 2-year term were Ungh. Heather Krafian (Cambridge Shushi) and Ungh. Maral Nakashian (Washington Satenig). They will join Ungh. Ani Attar (Detroit), MaryAnne Bonjuklian (NJ Bergen County), Silva Sagherian (Detroit Tsolig) who are still serving their term. Elected as Alternates were Ungh. Helena Bardakjian (Detroit Zabel) and Ungh. Mary Andonian (Florida Sosseh).
The Armenian Relief Society of Eastern USA is grateful to all who inspire us with their warm generosity, thoughts and actions, without whom we could not help people globally, as well as in our local communities, through our many programs and projects.