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Armenian National Institute Releases New Exhibit on YMCA & American Relief in Armenia

Left Image: Gertrude Pearson; Right Image: John Elder (left) with Tredwell Smith in Yerevan

ANI Releases Another Major Exhibit on the YMCA & American Relief in Armenia A Century Ago

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Armenian National Institute (ANI) launched a new 24-panel digital exhibit displaying the role of the YMCA and American relief work during the first republic of Armenia (1918-1920). The exhibit focuses on John Elder and James O. Arroll who arrived in Yerevan, Armenia in January 1918 to open a YMCA center. As with digital exhibits previously released by ANI, American Relief in the First Republic of Armenia 1918-1920, subtitled “John Elder and James Arroll in Yerevan, Gyumri, Sevan & Etchmiadzin,” is freely downloadable from the ANI website.

Neither Elder nor Arroll had anticipated being stranded as the only Americans left in the country’s capital city with all communication to the outside world cut off when the frontline faltered. World War I was still raging at the time and Allied forces were in retreat on the Caucasian front. The November 11, 1918 Armistice that ended the global conflict was many months away, crucial months during which the very existence of the Armenian people hung in the balance.

By the time they left Yerevan in August 1919, John Elder and James O. Arroll had become responsible for the entire operation set up by U.S.-based charities that had earlier sent emergency aid and volunteer workers to Armenia. As John Elder wrote on January 16, 1919: “One year in Yerevan and what a year it has been. Had anyone told me a year ago that in addition to running a YMCA, I would be in charge of factories employing 7,500 people, orphanages with 350 children and a 120 bed hospital, I would have thought them crazy.”

ANI Chairman Van Z. Krikorian said: “The stellar example of American humanitarianism by Elder and Arroll continues to be emulated to this day. They were pathfinding pioneers who traveled all the way to Armenia during a very difficult time. All the relief workers who went to Armenia after the 1988 earthquake, and the Peace Corps volunteers who continue every year to extend their helping hand are following John Elder’s and James O. Arroll’s superb example. Armenians and Americans alike are proud to share this chapter of remarkable service to those in need.”

The exhibit reconstructs the story of the near superhuman efforts undertaken by John Elder and James O. Arroll to rescue Armenians from the many perils they faced during the 1918-1920 independent Republic of Armenia. The exhibit relies upon John Elder’s own words from his published journal, along with original records that he personally saved from the time of his service, and the photographs that he made and captioned.

Elder and Arroll arrived as two enthusiastic young men dedicated to the purpose of sustaining morale among soldiers enduring long campaigns and treacherous conditions as the Great War kept grinding on, year after year, without end. They departed as two celebrated heroes who stood by the Armenian people at the fateful hour. John Elder wrote on May 26, 1918, as Ottoman Turkish forces advanced to the outskirts of Yerevan: “You never can tell what may happen. Just as the end seems at hand the pendulum swings the other way…After a two-day battle at Sardarabad, the Turks have been completely routed.” With the decisive battle won, two days later, on May 28, 1918, Armenia declared independence.

The only Americans in Yerevan at the time, Elder and Arroll witnessed momentous events and the unfolding of a heart-wrenching humanitarian disaster as the ravages of war were revealed once the fighting stopped. A year elapsed before a new crew of relief workers reached Armenia to lighten the burden they shouldered. In the meantime, their efforts and accomplishments had become legend among admiring Armenians and fellow Americans at home.

The YMCA digital exhibit is the fifth such exhibit developed by ANI based on American documentation of the Armenian Genocide. It follows upon other educational material developed for the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, including the four large exhibits displaying hundreds of historic photographs.

These exhibits include:

The exhibit displays 95 images, 64 from John Elder’s photo collection, 8 contemporaneous records and documents, and 4 maps. With 32 quotations from Elder’s journal authenticating the photographs, along with introductory and explanatory text, the exhibit opens a window into life during the first year of the newly independent Armenian republic in 1918. The exhibit includes the entire set of photographs Elder attributed to his time in Armenia.

Children in the government orphanage

Several American relief workers are also mentioned in the exhibit, including Reverend Ernest Yarrow, Gertrude Pearson, F. Tredwell Smith, and Mabel Farrington. Mary Kifer, whose life was cut short after leaving the Caucasus, improbably found romance while conducting relief work in Armenia. Her story parallels “A Farewell to Arms” before Ernest Hemingway wrote his WWI era tragedy.

Other American personalities in the region appearing in the exhibit include F. Willoughby Smith, U.S. Consul in Tiflis, who supported the efforts of the relief workers; Robert McDowell, who was at the front when the Turkish forces broke through and invaded Alexandropol/Gyumri; Dr. John H.T. Main, president of Grinnell College in Iowa, who witnessed the horrific conditions in Armenia firsthand on behalf of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East; missionary Grace Knapp; and John Mott, longtime president of the American YMCA, who, with the encouragement of his friend President Woodrow Wilson, dispatched young Americans wherever they could lend civilian support behind the front to men in combat.

John Elder was particularly happy to welcome two Pennsylvania natives like himself, Pittsburgh businessman Howard Heinz, and president of the American Bar Association Walter George Smith, who traveled to Armenia on behalf of the American Relief Administration. Both were members of prominent families. Smith was married to Elizabeth Drexel, whose uncle, banker and philanthropist Anthony Drexel, founded Drexel University in Philadelphia. Smith became the most vocal American Catholic advocate of the Armenian people at the time.

“The Armenian National Institute thanks the Elder family for supporting the research undertaken to develop the exhibit, and for permitting our organization to continue to honor the memory of such a committed humanitarian,” stated ANI Director Dr. Rouben Adalian. “At the height of the conflict in the Caucasus when other relief workers chose to evacuate, John Elder refused to leave fearing that tens of thousands more Armenians would die of starvation if the relief programs were discontinued. He is credited in providing relief for 15,000 Armenian orphans. Such selfless heroism must be recognized.”

Adalian added: “I also want to thank Dr. Christina Maranci, Professor of Armenian Art and Architecture at Tufts University for lending her expertise. Dr. Andrew Anderson of the University of Calgary graciously extended permission to reproduce the very high quality map depicting the situation in the Caucasus in 1918. I thank as well the staff at the YMCA Archives for retrieving critical information about the protagonists of this exhibit.”

Dr. Adalian continued: “The YMCA exhibit should be viewed as a continuation of the historical reconstruction provided in a previously issued ANI exhibit and titled, The First Refuge and the Last Defense: The Armenian Church, Etchmiadzin, and the Armenian Genocide. That exhibit documented the extent of the spillover consequences in Eastern Armenia, then part of the Russian Empire, and of the atrocities committed in Western Armenia in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. The YMCA exhibit is a compelling reminder that the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide continued to unfold over the course of many years and spread across Eastern Armenia as well with every advancing step of the Turkish armies. The evidence gathered by John Elder demonstrates that Russian Armenia was not spared the genocide perpetrated by the Young Turk regime. He wrote on January 16, 1919: ‘Among the refugees it has been a holocaust.'”

The exhibit concludes with U.S. President Herbert Hoover’s tribute to the remarkable role of the YMCA pair who risked going to Armenia in the thick of World War I. The exhibit marking the centennial of the founding of the Armenian republic also extends appreciation to the Peace Corps volunteers today who are following in Elder’s and Arroll’s footsteps under the leadership of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Richard M. Mills, Jr. who happened to be the State Department’s first Armenia desk officer when Armenia regained independence in 1991.

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Armenian Assembly of America Hosts Armenian Genocide Symposium in South Florida

AAA FL AG Symp Group

On Saturday, March 14, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) hosted an Armenian Genocide symposium entitled “A Century of Genocide: The 1915 Armenian Genocide and Its Lasting Impact,” during the Assembly’s Annual Members Weekend in South Florida. Over 80 Assembly members, friends, and guests attended the educational presentations and lively question and answer session.

The symposium featured Dr. Rouben Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute (ANI) in Washington, DC, Dr. Rosanna Gatens, Director of the Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education (CHHRE) at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton, Florida, and Hannibal Travis, Professor of Law at Florida International University (FIU) College of Law in Miami, Florida. The panel was moderated by Assembly Trustee and South Florida community leader Marta Batmasian.

Armenian Assembly of America Board of Trustees President Carolyn Mugar provided welcoming remarks and introduced Marta Batmasian. Batmasian introduced the panel to the audience and recognized members of the audience who have been researching and teaching about the Armenian Genocide in South Florida.

Batmasian introduced Dr. Adalian who presented the topic of “The Armenian Genocide as a Prototype of 20th Century Mass Killings,” detailing the primitive yet effective template of mass killing that was developed by the Ottoman Turkish government. He showed images from the digital exhibit “The First Deportation: The German Railway, the American Hospital, and the Armenian Genocide,” which took the audience back in time to a pivotal location of the deportations. Adalian brought to life the experiences and activities of Dr. Wilfred D. Post who administered the American hospital in Konya, a major station along the Berlin-Baghdad rail line which became the site of a large deportation camp. In defiance of the Ottoman ban on photography of deportees, Dr. Post captured what may have been some of the earliest pictures of deported Armenians.

AAA FL Symposium C1

Next, Batmasian introduced Dr. Gatens who discussed “The Impact of the Armenian Genocide on Holocaust Education.” She discussed how the CHHRE at FAU had been working for years to advance Armenian Genocide education on campus and throughout Palm Beach County. Gatens drew parallels between the Jewish and Armenian experiences and highlighted challenges faced in educating the general public about the crime of genocide.

Professor Hannibal Travis gave the final presentation on “The Armenian Genocide as a Political Act and International Crime.” He discussed the illegality of the crime of genocide under international law, including cases where the charge of genocide was applied retroactively. Travis gave an in depth account of crimes against humanity that have been heard in international courts and discussed avenues for Armenian efforts in this context.

Following the presentations, Batmasian opened the floor for questions. Several were asked of the panel leading to a lively and wide-ranging discussion. Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny gave closing remarks and announced the launch of an online petition calling on President Barack Obama to affirm the Armenian Genocide in his upcoming statement commemorating the 100th anniversary. After the symposium, guests were invited up to view a brand new exhibit entitled “Iconic Images of the Armenian Genocide,” that was on full display during and after the discussion.

“We were pleased to bring this expert panel together for the South Florida community,” stated Bryan Ardouny. “The Assembly is grateful to Dr. Adalian, Dr. Gatens, Professor Travis, and Mrs. Batmasian for their insight and compelling presentations,” Ardouny said.

Additional photographs from the Assembly’s Armenian Genocide Symposium in South Florida are available on the Assembly’s Facebook page here.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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Photo Caption 1: (L-R) Dr. Rouben Adalian, Marta Batmasian, Hannibal Travis, Dr. Rosanna Gatens.

Photo Caption 2: Program speakers at the Assembly’s Armenian Genocide Symposium in South Florida.

(Photographs by Bedo Der-Bedrosian on behalf of the Armenian Assembly of America)

Dick Barsamian Band to Perform at Armenian Assembly Dinner in Florida

Assembly Dinner and Dance Will Take Place in Boca Raton March 14, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) is pleased to announce that Dick Barsamian, Leon Janikian, Mike Gregian, and John Arzigian will perform live Armenian music at this year’s dinner and dance, capping off the Assembly’s annual members weekend in Boca Raton, Florida.

“We’re excited to feature live, traditional, and contemporary Armenian music for our members and friends as we gather for dinner and dancing on the last evening of the Assembly Annual Members weekend,” stated Assembly Fellow Trustee Michael Haratunian.

FL March Flyer-final

The Assembly’s annual members weekend will kick-off with a complimentary welcome reception on Friday, March 13 at 7:00 PM with select hors d’oeuvres and open bar. Author Irene Vosbikian will present her new book BEDROS at the welcome reception and sign copies that will be available for purchase with all proceeds benefiting the Assembly. On Saturday, March 14, guests are invited to a complimentary continental breakfast at 9:00 AM, with the annual trustees and members meeting starting at 10:00 AM. Lunch will be served between 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM for $35.00. The Assembly’s Armenian Genocide Symposium featuring Dr. Rouben Adalian, Dr. Rosanna Gatens, and Hannibal Travis, will take place from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM. The symposium is free and open to the public and online registration is available here. On Saturday night, guests are invited to a cocktail reception at 6:00 PM, followed by a dinner and dance with live music at 7:00 PM. Tickets to the Saturday cocktail reception and dinner dance are available for $100 per person.

In addition, sponsorship opportunities for the Assembly’s Annual Members Meeting are still available at the Gold ($2,500), Silver ($1,250), and Bronze ($750) levels. Bronze sponsors will receive access to the welcome reception, breakfast, symposium and two tickets to the Saturday dinner dance. Silver sponsors will receive access to all events for two people. Gold sponsors will receive access to all events for four people.

All events of the Assembly’s annual members weekend will be held at the Marriott Hotel at Boca Town Center, 5150 Town Center Circle, Boca Raton, FL 33486. Guests that are traveling from out of town should call (561) 392-4600 to reserve a room at the Armenian Assembly’s reduced rate of $169.00 per night. To register for the annual members weekend please contact Assembly South Florida Regional Council Chair Carol Norigian at southflaaa@gmail.com.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.