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Category Archives: General Update

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Why is October “Armenian Cultural Month”?

“Wistfulness” (2013) by Sevada Grigoryan

(Eastern Diocese) – To Armenians in the United States, “Armenian Cultural Month” has been a feature of community life for as long as they can remember. It arrives each October—and with it a flurry of lectures, readings, exhibits, sacred celebrations, and events intended to remind Armenians of the richness of their cultural heritage.

But how and when did it begin? And why was October chosen as the annual showcase for Armenian culture?

Surprisingly, Armenian Cultural Month originated in the Eastern Diocese, and this month marks its 75th anniversary.

Credit for launching the observance goes to Archbishop Karekin Hovsepian: the late Primate of the Diocese (1939-1944), who went on to become the Catholicos of Cilicia (1945-1952).

An Armenian intellectual figure of international reputation, a stirring orator, and one of the great churchmen of the 20th century, Hovsepian was responsible for many of the enduring developments of the Armenian Church in America. It was Archbishop Hovsepian who conceived of building a “national home” for the Armenians of America—an idea which would eventually evolve into the St. Vartan Cathedral project. Among his innovations was the official Diocesan publication, Hayastanyaitz Yegeghetzi, which later prospered under the English title, The Armenian Church.

An old edition of that publication reveals that Archbishop Hovsepian named October as a month for celebrating Armenian culture in an encyclical dated August 14, 1942.

The Primate’s encyclical (yes—diocesan primates, and not just the catholicos, could issue encyclicals in those days), written in Armenian, was titled “To Our Faithful People and Diocesan Parish Organizations.” It explained that on August 6, Archbishop Hovsepian had presided over a gathering of Diocesan leaders—among them the executive council (precursor to the Diocesan Council), officials of the Diocesan educational and organizational bodies, and the editors of Hayastanyaitz Yegeghetzi.

In the course of the meeting the basic idea of Armenian Cultural Month was born. A series of what we today would call “action items” describe how the observance would be realized:

  • All parishes would celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Tarkamantchats—the Feast of the Holy Translators—and pastors would sermonize on the saints who devised the Armenian alphabet, translated the Scriptures, and laid the foundation for the flowering of Armenian literature.
  • A special collection would be done in every parish, with proceeds used to help needy Armenian schools, or for the promotion of cultural events.
  • Cultural activities like plays, readings, and art exhibits would be organized at the parish and Diocesan levels.
  • The observance would begin in October of 1942, and would thereafter become an annual event, celebrated every October.
  • The Diocesan center would publish a special issue of Hayastanyaitz Yegeghetzi dedicated to Armenian culture; Armenian newspapers would be asked to publish articles on cultural month, and to help promote the observance.

In introducing the idea to the public, Archbishop Hovsepian emphasized that “culture” broadly understood—literature, language, music and art—had always found a welcoming home in the Armenian Church, alongside the church’s mission to preach the Gospel of Christ to its people. Hovsepian noted that the church had been a “school” to the nation, encouraging literacy among the people and broadening their awareness of history and the larger world.

In the greatest expression of this “cultural” role, the written Armenian language had begun as a sacred undertaking of the church, to translate the Bible into Armenian. Indeed, October was chosen as the candidate for Armenian Cultural Month because it includes that most distinctive of Armenian holy days, the Feast of the Holy Translators, celebrated every year on the Saturday before the 5th Sunday after Khatchveratz (the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross).

With characteristically poetic words, Archbishop Hovsepian concluded his encyclical by taking a larger view of the importance of culture to the enduring story of the Armenian people. (The extract below is translated from Armenian):

“We have to enlighten our people so they can understand and appreciate the value of our Armenian language, literature, and culture. These are the treasures of the Armenian Church and nation—our foundation, and the things that will ensure our continuance.”

These points, presented in the encyclical and reproduced in the September 1942 issue of Hayastanyaitz Yegeghetzi, remain the essential outlines of Armenian Cultural Month, 75 years later.

Fr. Krikor Maksoudian (adapted from his original Armenian essay by C. H. Zakian)

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Hakob Hakobyan and Father Art Exhibit on Display at Tranter-Sinni Gallery

U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Armenia, Artsakh

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) join U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, Jr. and Armenian Ambassador to the U.S. Grigor Hovhannissian in a meeting with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairs Representatives Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), David Valadao (R-CA), and Jackie Speier (D-CA), along with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) returned from Armenia with a better understanding of the challenges facing the region. Reps. Valadao, Pallone, and Gabbard also visited Artsakh.

Reflecting on his past trips to Armenia and Artsakh, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pallone stated: “The progress of the country economically and politically is immediately evident. I visited Armenia several times in the 1990s and early 2000s. Great strides have been made in terms of economic development and improvements in the political system since then.” He continued: “Overall, this trip was a great opportunity for Armenia Caucus members to learn what we need to follow-up on when we’re back in Congress to improve U.S.-Armenian relations with regards to trade, military cooperation, and many other areas.”

The four-day trip, from September 18-21, allowed for several face-to-face meetings with high-level government officials. The delegation met with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who acknowledged the Congressional Delegation’s visit as a crucial step towards strengthening Armenia’s relations with the United States, and expressed his gratitude for their efforts towards deepening bilateral relations in all areas.

They also met Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, National Assembly Speaker Ara Babloyan, Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Deputy Foreign Minister Ashot Hovakimian, and His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians at Holy Etchmiadzin.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), His Holiness Karekin II, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI).

Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Valadao said: “Living in the Central Valley, I have heard many stories and descriptions of Armenia from my neighbors and friends. Having the opportunity to experience the country they love firsthand was an unforgettable and enlightening experience. In addition to visiting historic landmarks and learning more about the Armenian culture, I met Armenian business leaders and government officials, examining the positive impact of the strong bond between our two nations.”

In addition to official meetings with the leadership of Armenia and Artsakh, the delegation met with Syrian refugees who found shelter in Armenia, the business community, and beneficiaries of U.S.-funded projects. They also went on special tours and visited American University of Armenia, Impact Hub Yerevan, Megerian Carpet Museum, and Armenia Fund’s rehabilitated music school.

“I saw first-hand the enormous contributions that the diaspora has made to build a bright future for Armenia. The hospitalities extended were second to none, whether it was a visit to the American University of Armenia, to winemakers or music students, Armenia is on the move with a deep determination to continue building a just and democratic society. I left the country with a great sense of gratitude and pride,” Rep. Eshoo stated. “My recent visit to Armenia as it celebrated its 25th year of independence, was an extraordinary experience for me personally and as a Member of Congress. I believe the trip strengthened the relationship between the United States and Armenia, and it also deepened my understanding of the challenges the country has and how the United States can be a helpful partner,” she continued.

Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY), Rep. Richard Lehman (D-CA), President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), and Rep. Wayne Owens (D-UT) in Armenia to observe the September 21 referendum vote on independence.

Rep. Sensenbrenner previously visited Armenia in 1991 and had the opportunity to observe the Armenian referendum, during which 95% of the population voted for independence from the Soviet Union. He witnessed the country during a crucial transition period as it took its first steps towards democracy, and was able to return many years later to see how the nation developed. The Congressional Delegation’s visit coincided with Armenia’s Independence Day on September 21.

“The need for cooperation between our two countries is ongoing, and this diplomatic mission was important to strengthen relationships and continue to keep lines of communication open. U.S. support has helped bolster Armenian democratic institutions and civil society, and our two countries must continue to work together to advance these interests. The U.S. and Armenia share strong bonds, as America is one of the largest destinations for the Armenian diaspora,” Rep. Sensenbrenner said. “These Armenians have gone on to contribute greatly to their new homes, as well as being influential in the continued struggle for recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex.

At the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute, the U.S. legislators laid flowers at the eternal fire of the Armenian Genocide Monument and observed a moment of silence in tribute to the victims.

Rep. Gabbard noted: “One major issue that continues to be unresolved, is global recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide. It is unconscionable that the United States government still has not formally recognized and condemned the Armenian Genocide. I stand with Armenians in America and around the world in condemning the Armenian Genocide, and I call on my colleagues to adopt House Resolution 220 so we never forget, or repeat, the suffering endured by the Armenian people.”

Armenian American Rep. Eshoo added: “Despite efforts beginning in 1975 to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide, Congress has yet to acknowledge what took place 102 years ago. The deliberate annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other minorities by the Ottoman Empire is a fact that must be acknowledged by the United States. Likewise, the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh must be resolved and the Minsk Group is important to this effort.”

Members of the delegation met with Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan and National Assembly Speaker Ashot Ghoulyan. During these meetings, they discussed the latest developments in the Artsakh peace process, the role of international organizations in preventing border incidents, as well as the efforts of the Armenian Caucus in strengthening U.S. relations with Armenia and Artsakh. President Sahakyan honored Reps. Pallone, Speier, and Eshoo with Medals of Gratitude for their longtime and substantial contribution to the recognition of the Republic of Artsakh.

Speaker Ghoulyan emphasized the importance of U.S. humanitarian assistance to Artsakh, and acknowledged the latest amendment introduced by Rep. Valadao to ensure continued U.S. support to the de-mining process in Artsakh. Last month, Rep. Valadao spearheaded a bipartisan amendment along with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Armenian Caucus Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Pallone, and Rep. Speier to ensure continued funding for de-mining projects in Artsakh.

(L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-CA) speaking in front of the Artsakh Republic National Assembly; Armenian Assembly Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian, Rep. Pallone, Artsakh National Assembly Chairman Ashot Ghoulyan, and Rep. Gabbard in front of “We Are Our Mountains” monument north of Stepanakert, Artsakh; and Rep. Pallone, Armenia Fund, Inc. President Maria Mehranian, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Gabbard, and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA).

Reps. Pallone and Gabbard traveled to Artsakh by helicopter with Assembly Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian, Artsakh Foreign Minister Karen Mirzoyan, Artsakh Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan, and Armenia Fund, Inc. President Maria Mehranian. The U.S. Representatives addressed the Artsakh Republic National Assembly during one of its sessions. Rep. Pallone described Artsakh as a state with a legitimate government, which declared independence consistent with international law, and has built an effective political structure. Rep. Gabbard emphasized the importance of the United States’ active involvement in the peace process and expressed support for the legitimate right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination.

“The resilience and courage I witnessed in the people of the Nagorno-Karabakh region who remain in an ongoing conflict over their independence, further demonstrates our shared values of freedom, democracy, and self-determination. We must support a diplomatic resolution to this ongoing conflict, such as what has been proposed by the Minsk Group (made up of the United States, France, and Russia), to allow for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to exercise their freedom and independence,” Rep. Gabbard said in a statement.

Rep. David Valadao at The Halo Trust in Artsakh.

Rep. Valadao also traveled to Artsakh and met with The HALO Trust to learn more about mine clearance along the borders. Following his visit, he stated: “Families in Nagorno Karabakh live under the constant threat of landmine accidents and I am grateful for the efforts of The HALO Trust to make Nagorno Karabakh a more safe and secure region.” Rep. Valadao continued, “While their work is renown worldwide, I appreciated witnessing their work and learning more about their efforts and dedication firsthand.”

The six Members of Congress are part of an exchange with Armenian Members of Parliament who are expected in Washington, D.C. in the coming months.

Click here to read the full statements by the Members of Congress who participated in the U.S. Congressional Delegation to Armenia.