This past April, as Armenian Americans across the country were working hard and eagerly waiting to see if President Biden would recognize the Armenian Genocide in his first April 24th remembrance day statement, the community was also mourning the loss of three extraordinary men who would leave the their mark on the world in a way that makes all of us proud to be both Armenian and American.
In the beginning of April, the news broke that long time philanthropist and American homebuilder Hirair Hovnanian had passed away at his residence in Yerevan, Armenia, where he had retired after an impressive and successful life and career.
A bold, daring and caring individual, a visionary leader, the founder and benefactor of many charities, and devoted longtime Chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America’s Board, Hirair Hovnanian leaves behind a remarkable legacy. Hirair was an amazing leader and mentor, always ready to roll up his sleeves and tackle any challenge. Hirair’s integrity, passion, dedication, commitment, work ethic, and love of his people, were extraordinary.
A successful businessman, whose generosity extended to causes around the world, Hirair felt energized by the independence of Armenia, and did everything in his power to assist the newly independent Republic. He demonstrated his commitment to Armenia by resettling in his homeland where his philanthropy extended beyond precedent. Hirair responded immediately to the 1988 earthquake and embarked upon the recovery and rebuilding of the devastated areas. A builder and developer by profession, he knew exactly the type of assistance required and established a building parts manufacturing plant to accelerate the reconstruction process. His generous contributions in support of educational and religious institutions in Armenia and the diaspora are legion.
At the helm of the Assembly, he helped shape non-partisan advocacy, creating an example of a united voice for Armenian Americans in Washington, D.C., and strongly believed in the unique role of American leadership in advancing democracy and human rights. He lent every measure of support within his means towards the affirmation of the Armenian Genocide, including the establishment of the Armenian National Institute. He welcomed Armenian Assembly interns to his home every summer and embraced the next generation with his infectious enthusiasm for all things Armenian. Through his boundless generosity, he touched the lives of countless citizens in Armenia and Artsakh to whom he exemplified the best of the Armenian diaspora.
“We are all saddened by this great loss and remain immensely grateful to Hirair for his unparalleled legacy. He was the champion of every cause that benefited the Armenian people, and he never hesitated to lead from the front with unwavering dedication and commitment. May he rest in peace,” read a statement from the Armenian Assembly.
Ambassador Set Charles Momjian, a former trustee and board member of the Armenian Assembly, passed away on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania.
“He was born in Atlantic City on April 9, 1930 to Julia and Charles Momjian, both orphaned refugees from the Armenian genocide who were raised by American missionaries. The two parents were born in Malatya in the Ottoman Empire. Charles died at an early age and the family, which included younger brother Albert, had a difficult time during the Depression era,” the Armenian Mirror-Spectator reported.
After enrolling in the U.S. Army, Set Momjian led a prolific career in marketing and advertising at the Ford Motor Company. He went on to become a special advisor to U.S. presidents, and, per President Jimmy Carter’s appointment, served as a U.S. representative to the United Nations with the rank of Ambassador. Momjian was also appointed as a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Momjian’s impactful commitment to the Assembly and Armenian causes on Capitol Hill is still relevant today. His longtime friendship with President Joe Biden was cultivated during train rides he shared in the 1980s with the Delaware Senator, who was then Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and marshaled through committee approval of an Armenian Genocide resolution, which Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) brought to the Senate Floor in 1990.
“The Assembly appreciates the Momjian family’s dedication, including Set Charles Momjian’s brother Albert’s many years of service as the Assembly’s Solicitor, a role which Albert’s son, Mark Momjian, currently holds. The Assembly extends its condolences to Set Charles Momjian’s family and loved ones,” an announcement from the Assembly stated. Momjian was also active with the AGBU and the Knights of Vartan.
Three days later, on Thursday, April 15th, the world mourned the loss of Dr. Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation, and one of the most famous Armenians in American history.
Dr. Gregorian was invaluable in the Armenian American community’s efforts to educate the public about the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of its denial. He led the way for others who followed in his footsteps in academia, administrative leadership at top universities, and as a world leader of philanthropy and education. His life’s work, much to long to list in a single column, took him to incredible places across the globe and led to his service in prestigious posts, such as the “Savior of The New York Public Library,” as the New York Times catalogued, as well as President of Brown University, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to name but a few.
“This is a painful loss for all Armenians, the United States, and the world. His achievements will stand the test of time, and the spirit in which he delivered those achievements will always be valued. May he rest in peace,” a statement from the Armenian Assembly read.
Attention those of you looking for the kef of the summer…
Return to Asbury is hitting the beach for our 6TH YEAR in a row!
And this time, we have the one and only Onnik Dinkjian joining us, returning to play in Asbury Park for the first time in over 40 years!
Last year, Return to Asbury raised enough money to donate 35 handmade shvis (a simple Armenian woodwind instrument) to the children of the Hovnanian School in New Milford, New Jersey. This year we plan to make a new gift of Armenian instruments to the Hovnanian School music department. Depending on the amount of funds we are able to raise, additional gifts to other Armenian schools and Armenian music programs may also be possible.
Friday, August 25th
KICKOFF COCKTAILS – 7pm-12am
Start the weekend off in style with happy hour cocktails at the exclusive Watermark Lounge on Asbury Park’s famous boardwalk.
The Watermark is located at 800 Ocean Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ 07712.
Saturday, August 25th
BEACH DAY – 11am
Enjoy a day at the 7th Avenue Beach. Make sure you bring some pocket money for beach passes, and look for the Armenian flags in the sand!
KEF PARTY: MAIN EVENT – 8pm-2am
Kef party featuring live Armenian music, mezze, cash bar, and dancing at the The Berkeley Hotel.
Featuring the King of Kef himself…
Ara Dinkjian – Keyboard
Steve Vosbikian, Jr. – Clarinet
David Hoplamazian – Violin
Raffi Massoyan – Oud
Christopher Vosbikian – Dumbeg
James Kzirian – Dumbeg
We have arranged for a discount room block for attendees at the Berkeley Hotel, which expires on August 11th.
To reserve your room, please visit:
Or you can call the hotel directly at (732) 776-6700 and mention discount code ‘RETURNTO’!
For Armenians on the East Coast in the 1950s and 60s, Asbury Park, New Jersey was THE place to come together on summer weekends. Days were spent on the beach and in the water, and at night everyone would gather at places called the Hye Hotel, the Van Hotel, the Sunset Lounge, and the Hye-Da-Way Kef Room…crowds lining the sidewalks, late night hook-ups, and the sounds of oud and doumbeg filling the air.
With Return to Asbury, we’re bringing back this summer tradition — in perfect symmetry with the historic beach town of Asbury Park, which is currently in the midst of its own exciting rebirth!
Tickets to all events can ONLY be purchased from this page. Because of restrictions with the venues, please note that tickets CANNOT be sold at the door. There are NO REFUNDS once tickets have been purchased. Please plan ahead!
Have questions, or a story or photo to share from the past? Please reach out to us at email@example.com.
NEW MILFORD, NJ – Members of the Return to Asbury Kef Weekend organizing committee were invited to participate in a ceremony at the Hovnanian School where they delivered Armenian musical instruments to school children. Funds to dedicate these hand-made-in-Armenia instruments were raised at the 2016 Return to Asbury Kef Weekend – an independent, non-profit event that takes place annually in Asbury Park, New Jersey. This year, the organizers decided to use the proceeds specifically for Armenian musical instruments to perpetuate Armenian music in America, and to carry forward the Armenian Kef culture for the next generation of Armenian American youth.
The 5th Annual Return to Asbury Kef weekend took place on August 5-6, 2016 at the city’s beautiful new hotel, The Asbury. Arsine Kaloustian, Taniel Koushakjian, Alan Minoyan, David Norian, and Steve Vosbikian organized the event, with the support of Florida Armenians.
“As the Chair of Return to Asbury for the last two years, it was my pleasure to be involved in the planning of this event for a third year, alongside such a dynamic group of Armenians who are all so dedicated to giving back to the community,” stated Kaloustian. “We tried to focus this year’s event, not only on the kef music that we all love to listen to on the beach, but also on looking forward to the future. It is vitally important that we pass our music and traditions down to the next generation if we want to avoid events like Return to Asbury from fading away into silence. This music and this event truly belongs to all of us,” Kaloustian said.
As part of the dedication ceremony held on Wednesday, November 16, 2016, renowned Armenian American musician Steve Vosbikian gave a musical demonstration, playing a variety of instruments to help inspire the students to become future musicians.
“The purpose of this event was to perpetuate Armenian music for our treasured Armenian youth, and I want to thank everyone who attended and supported this event,” stated Vosbikian. “This is only the beginning. Our hope for next year is to expand on this concept and bring the gift of music to even more of our youth,” Vosbikian said.
All of the proceeds were used to purchase 35 new Shvis for the music education program at the Hovnanian School. The Shvi is a simple Armenian woodwind instrument that is a stepping-stone to learning more advanced Armenian instruments such as the Duduk or Zurna. These professional Shivs were handmade in Armenia by Master “MKS.” Each instrument is professional grade and has been specially crafted with a two-piece design to ensure accurate tuning.
“Happiness through musical education was the motive and I couldn’t have felt that more by seeing how happy all the children were in the auditorium,” Alan Minoyan said. “Super inspiring to see the music of Return to Asbury Kef weekend leading to more music. A kef broke out at the assembly today!” stated David Norian.
WATCH THE VIDEO:
The aim of the Return to Asbury Kef Weekend is to continue the tradition of Armenian music and culture in a city that has been an iconic historical gathering place for Armenian Americans dating back to the 1940s. For about three decades, Asbury Park was an annual summer gathering spot for Armenian American families from New England, Mid-Atlantic, and Mid-West communities, but faded in the late 1970s. It wasn’t until 2012 that Armenians made their return official.
“This day took lots of planning and determination. I’m not surprised, but I am definitely grateful. Thank you Steve Vosbikian, Taniel Koushakjian, Arsine Kaloustian, David Norian, Alan Minoyan, and everyone else who made sure we would bring the gift of music to our children,” Hovnanian School Principal Shakeh Tashjian wrote in a Facebook post following the ceremony. Founded in 1976, the Hovnanian School is a private, non-profit, multi-lingual Early Learning Center through Eighth Grade day school in New Milford, New Jersey.