By Taleen Babayan
FLArmenians Guest Contributor
ASBURY PARK, NJ — The sixth annual “Return to Asbury” kef weekend returns to its historic roots, as Armenian music legend Onnik Dinkjian headlines the popular summer event, scheduled for Aug. 25-27.
The kef music of Onnik and his son, internationally renowned multi-instrumentalist Ara Dinkjian, will evoke the 1950s and 1960s, when Armenians originally gathered in Asbury Park and socialized on the beach, danced to kef music, played tavlou (backgammon), and spent their summer weekends filled with Armenian spirit and camaraderie.
The event, which was revitalized six years ago, brings back that same sentiment highlighted by the musical talents of the Dinkjians as well as the new generation of musicians, including Steve Vosbikian Jr., who grew up listening to both Onnik and Ara, and says he considers it an honor to share the stage with them.
“It means everything to share the stage with these men, both of whom are not only fine musicians but fine family men who have taught us about much more than music,” said Vosbikian, the event’s music development director and a descendant of members of the Vosbikian Band, who played kef music in Asbury Park decades ago. “Onnik and Ara are our kings and our fathers. They are an important part of our Armenian musical culture and identity.”
The weekend will kick off with a happy hour at the beachfront Watermark on Friday evening, followed by a day of fun and games on the 7th Avenue Beach. The joyous kef concert will take place Saturday evening at the famous hotel The Berkeley.
“Armenian music is a commonality in Armenian communities and the tie that binds us,” said committee member Arsine Kaloustian. “This event is a vital part of maintaining our cultural continuity, and also forging friendships, networks (and sometimes marriages!) that cross not only state lines but sometimes international lines as well.”
“Return to Asbury, which is an independent event led by a small committee, focuses on music, dancing, and a good cause,” noted committee member David Norian. All proceeds for the event will benefit Armenian music education, specifically to donate musical instruments for Armenian school children and keep the kef going well into the future.
“Return to Asbury is about people and place, and if we can bring the legendary voice of Onnik back to Asbury Park, for it to be heard again in the halls and in the air that once was filled with these same sounds, then we have achieved the goal we started out with five years ago,” Norian said.
“Return to Asbury” will take place Aug 25-27, 2017, with the big kef dance on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit: returntoasbury2017.eventbrite.com.
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(FAR Blog, Yerevan) – More than 50 students came dressed in their finest for a special meeting to say thanks to their benefactor – renowned American-Armenian writer and journalist Margaret Ajemian Ahnert of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. They were bubbling with energy and excitement to meet with the woman who believed in them and gave them a chance to delve into the world of journalism.
Margaret arrived at Yerevan State University (YSU) with her family with a goal to share updates on her award-winning book ‘The Knock at the Door: A Journey Through the Darkness of the Armenian Genocide,’ to inspire her students, and to, once again, share her mother Ester Ajemian’s story as a Genocide survivor.
The welcome speech by the YSU Journalism Faculty Dean Naghash Martirosyan, eloquently described how the Ester Ajemian Scholarship Program has influenced the students’ experience at YSU, and how important it was to make a positive difference in the lives of the graduates, reiterating the idea that the collaboration will continue.
Established in 2010, the Ester Ajemian Scholarship Program is administered by the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR). It provides full tuition and monthly stipends to female graduate students in Armenia. So far, more than 20 young female scholars have become the proud beneficiaries of Margaret’s generosity.
During the event, Margaret Ahnert shared her commitment to supporting young female journalists through the scholarship, emphasizing with certainty that her students are her world. “I love my family, but when it comes to my students, I say, ‘Sorry Stephane [her son], but the students first,’” she smiles, adding, “I grew up in the Bronx. We didn’t have money to go to college, so after I did go, I thought about the other girls who were like me. When I came to Armenia, I noticed that in a family where a couple had a son and a daughter, the latter had less educational opportunities. So, I thought about establishing the foundation in memory of my mother that would support female students.”
Emma is among five second-year students in YSU’s graduate journalism program who are supported by the Ester Ajemian Scholarship. Along with a copy of The Knock at the Door, Emma has brought a nice bouquet of flowers to the event. “The book is mine, the flowers are for Margaret Ahnert,” she claims. “This is the second year I have received this scholarship, and I’ve never had the opportunity to meet her face to face. I wanted to let her know how much this opportunity has meant to me.”
At the close of the meeting, Margaret Ahnert was awarded with a special appreciation plaque for her continuous support to YSU’s female journalists. The students confided that they felt many emotions that day, since each of them had a unique story connected with Margaret’s generous contribution. Her support has provided huge financial relief for each of the student’s their families.
During her trip in Armenia, Margaret also paid a visit to the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute to deliver copies of The Knock at the Door translated into six languages – Armenian, Russian, Turkish, French, Italian, and Spanish.
“I have been on a ten-year book tour, and wherever I go, I spread light on the Armenian identity as a daughter of a survivor of the Genocide. In my book, I’m talking about the dialogue of two women – mother and daughter. It resonates with the foreigners. They say, “Oh! It’s like my Irish mother,” she said during an interview with a local TV station, stressing the idea that the story should mostly be told to the odars, or non-Armenians.
A humanist by soul and media specialist by specialty, Margaret Ahnert has received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor (2011) and the Distinguished Humanitarian Award from The Little Flower Children and Family Services in New York. She has also worked as a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, taught art appreciation classes, and ran the Fernwood Resort and Hotel in Bushkill, Pennsylvania. Margaret Ahnert is also a member of the National League of American Pen Women.