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Armenian National Institute Exhibit Opens at Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Defense

Major General Lee Tafanelli of the Kansas Army National Guard with U.S. military delegation, U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy, Dr. Ashot Melkonian of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, and Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan at the Republic of Armenia’s Defense Ministry for the opening of the ANI exhibit.

YEREVAN, ARMENIA – United States Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy and Kansas Army National Guard Adjutant-General, Major General Lee Tafanelli, joined Armenia’s Minister of Defense Davit Tonoyan for the opening of the exhibit “The United States Military in the First Republic of Armenia 1919-1920” on January 27 at the Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Defense in Yerevan.

Created by the Washington, D.C.-based Armenian National Institute, the new exhibit focuses on the enormous extent of humanitarian assistance rendered by the United States to Armenia in the aftermath of World War I through the services of American military missions sent to Armenia.

In his opening remarks, Minister Tonoyan thanked Ambassador Tracy for the support extended by the United States in recent years to Armenia. Reflecting on the historical exhibit, Tonoyan noted that: “For many, U.S. assistance during those years was critical, especially the new opportunities created to provide education thanks to which many Armenians received schooling during that difficult time and went on to make impressive achievements.”

Ambassador Tracy delivered welcoming remarks congratulating those present on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the Armenian Army and spoke about the important work done over the past 100 years.

U.S. General Tafanelli along with his delegation of officers viewed the exhibit and are in Yerevan as part of the U.S.-Armenia military partnership program.

U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy, Major General Lee Tafanelli, and Babken Vartanian at the Republic of Armenia’s Defense Ministry for the opening of the ANI exhibit.

Regional Director Arpi Vartanian, speaking on behalf of the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Institute, pointed out the importance of the high level military mission that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson dispatched to Armenia and stressed their effective intervention in stabilizing the humanitarian crisis in the country despite the small size of the American contingents. She thanked as well Armenia’s servicemen on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the founding of Armenia’s modern-day army.

The 27-panel exhibit documents the tremendous importance of the U.S. humanitarian intervention during the most difficult years in the life of the newly-formed Armenian state. Based upon the photographic collection of an American medical officer, Dr. Walter P. Davenport, the exhibit reveals the depth and breadth of measures taken by U.S. military personnel to stabilize the humanitarian crisis in Armenia, and especially the caretaking of the most vulnerable part of the population through hospitals, orphanages, food distribution points, and other facilities.

Subtitled “The American Relief Administration and Walter Davenport of the U.S. Army Medical Corps,” the exhibit reveals how in 1919, U.S. military personnel and civilian aid workers cared for tens of thousands of children. As Dr. Davenport reported: “At the present time we are furnishing food and medical relief to 75,000 children daily, this work being done through the medium of orphanages, orphanage hospitals, soup kitchens, cocoa kitchens, milk stations, bread distributing points, orphanage infirmaries, and public dispensaries.”

Dr. Walter P. Davenport with local Armenian medical staff.

The Davenport collection of photographs not only documents the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Armenia, but also the measurable difference American relief efforts made in the span of only a few months. The exhibit displays official and personal records related to Dr. Davenport’s activities in Armenia, which he subsequently reported in The Military Surgeon journal. With 103 photographs, 3 maps, 14 documents, and several newspaper articles, the exhibit pictorially reconstructs the conditions that U.S. military personnel witnessed in Armenia.

The digital version of the ANI exhibit is available on online and free to download from the ANI website where five other exhibits may be viewed. Designed for instructional purposes, the exhibits explain several aspects of the Armenian Genocide that were well documented photographically.

YMCA Features Armenian National Institute Exhibit on American Humanitarians During the First Republic of Armenia

WASHINGTON, DC – The YMCA welcomed the April release of the special digital exhibit issued by the Armenian National Institute (ANI) exploring the role of two exceptional individuals, who volunteered to stay in Armenia during the critical year of 1918 when fellow American relief workers were withdrawn in view of the intensification of warfare in the region.

The ANI exhibit profiles the two Americans, John Elder and James O. Arroll, sent to Armenia by the YMCA, and explains their numerous contributions towards relieving the humanitarian crisis in April and May 1918 when the armed forces of Ottoman Turkey invaded the country. Based on John Elder’s photographs and testimony, as well as additional material from the YMCA Archives, the exhibit pays tribute to the extraordinary efforts of these two men, whose achievements were widely recognized at the time.

Ryan Bean, Reference and Outreach Archivist at the YMCA Archives, who supported the project, remarked: “The Armenian National Institute has done a fantastic job telling this story. It is both tragic and heartbreaking on the one hand, and inspiring and humbling on the other. The timeliness of this exhibit is very appropriate, and I believe we could all learn a lesson from Elder and Arroll.”

In its April 24 posting on its Facebook page, where the exhibit could be viewed, the YMCA Archives extends “Congratulations to Dr. Rouben Adalian and the Armenian National Institute on the release of the digital exhibit ‘The Critical Role of the YMCA and American Relief in Armenia a Century Ago.’ This exhibit both illuminates a tragic humanitarian disaster as well as highlights the capacity of the human spirit to persevere and do good in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation.”

YMCA Europe, which encompasses 43 countries, also highlights the exhibit titled “American Relief in the First Republic of Armenia 1918-1920: John Elder and James Arroll in Yerevan, Gyumri, Sevan & Etchmiadzin,” on its website.

Vardan Hambardzumyan, who heads the YMCA in Armenia and presently serves as Executive Secretary of YMCA Europe, wrote that he was “absolutely grateful to ANI for disclosing so eloquently the story of the YMCA in the Republic of Armenia back in 1918.”

Elder and Arroll were in Armenia when the critical Battle of Sardarabad was waged in May 1918 securing the independence of the country. Working in Yerevan, Elder and Arroll focused on caring for orphans and refugees. Their contributions were recognized as critical under the circumstances, and their personal heroism, taking the risks that they did by remaining at their posts, was widely appreciated by Armenians. Celebrating their special role, a memorial postcard was issued in Yerevan featuring the two young Americans.

James O. Arroll (left) and John Elder (right)

John Elder recorded the hair-raising news from the battlefront in his journal, describing, blow by blow, the major developments of the day. On April 30, he wrote: “Discouraging news from Tillis. The British staff preparing to leave. We were advised to leave at once.” On May 16, he asked: “Has the end come at last? Official telegrams report that the Turks are bombarding Alexandropol [Gyumri]…The Turks have cut the railroad on both sides of Alexandropol, which means we are cut off from funds.” On May 21, he reported: “Alexandropol has fallen. The Turks demand the railroad to Julfa in order to transport their troops, and the Armenians are prepared to give it.” Two days later, on May 23, he gloomily wrote: “The storm clouds are rapidly approaching Igdir, only 25 miles away is reported in Turkish hands, so things look desperate.”

On May 26, he jotted down a different kind of news: “Well you never can tell what may happen. Just as the end seems at hand the pendulum swings the other way and the terrible Turk is in full retreat…After a two day battle at Sardarabad the Turks have been completely routed.”

With the establishment of peace, John Elder witnessed the momentous event of the restoration of government, which he appreciated for its historic importance, recording on August 11: “I had the thrill of attending the opening session of the Parliament of the Republic of Armenia. What an exciting time it was. A free and independent Armenia for the first time in 600 years or more! There was a great crowd present, and through an interpreter I gave an address of congratulations on the historic occasion.”

After more than a year of strenuous effort, described in detail in the exhibit, John Elder received a letter from John R. Mott, General Secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA in New York, applauding his outstanding record of service and expressing concern for his well-being. The letter begins with reference to Dr. Clarence D. Ussher “testifying to the very high value of the service which you have rendered in Armenia.” The story of Dr. Ussher was covered in a digital exhibit previously issued by ANI under the title “The First Refuge and the Last Defense: The Armenian Church, Etchmiadzin, and the Armenian Genocide.”

All of the digital exhibits posted on the ANI website are freely downloadable, and are provided to the public in high resolution to be readily printable anytime and anywhere from standard-size up to poster-size.

Founded in 1997, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) is a 501(c)(3) educational charity based in Washington, D.C., and is dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.

An Unforgettable Summer

Mireille Samra (center right) with Armenian American interns on Capitol Hill

By Mireille Samra
Special Guest Contributor

After packing my five very heavy suit cases, I felt prepared to enter my direct flight to Washington D.C. Why might a South Florida native fly to Washington D.C. other then touring all the national monuments and museums? The simplest answer is to learn. My name is Mireille Samra and I am currently enrolled in the Armenian Assembly of America’s Terjenian-Thomas Summer Internship Program in Washington, D.C. Through the internship with the Assembly, I was placed on Capitol Hill, in the Office of Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Vice Chairman of the Armenian Caucus in Congress.

President of Armenia, Armen Sargsyan with Mireille Samra at the Embassy of Armenia in Washington, D.C.

As an intern with the Armenian Assembly this summer, I have gained several new professional and personal connections. I was able to meet the President of Armenia twice in one day, along with the honorable First Lady of Armenia, on their first official visit to the U.S. So far, the 2018 class of Assembly interns have met with several community, political, and industry leaders. Early on, we met with the Director of the Armenian National Institute (ANI), Dr. Ruben Adalian. ANI provides historical information concerning the Armenian Genocide. In addition, the Assembly program provides us with direct meetings with elected officials, such as Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Congressman Bilirakis, and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), to name a few.

Armenian Assembly interns talking with Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) in his Capitol Hill office.

Currently, I have only been in D.C. for about one month. In that short amount of time, I have been learning things I could have never expected to learn, from how the metro (subway) system works, and the fact that finding parking in Washington, D.C. is like winning the lottery! Growing up, I’ve been known for always taking opportunities and not thinking much about them. Truthfully, this internship has taught me a lot. A typical workweek is Monday through Friday, 9:00am to 6:00pm, most days. Working on Capitol Hill, the people you meet are endless. Just last week I was giving a tour of the Capitol when the Queen of Jordan Rania Al-Abdullah walked by a few feet away from me! Something that keeps the internship on the Hill very interesting is that no two days are ever the same. For any Armenian American that is passionate about working hard in a big city and learning, the summer internship with the Armenian Assembly of America is a must before graduating.

Mireille Samra is a resident of Boca Raton, Florida and an active member of the South Florida Armenian American community. She graduated from Spanish River High School and currently studies Criminal Justice at Lynn University in Boca Raton.