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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 Genocide Documentary ‘Intent to Destroy’ to Premier at Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival


The Grigorian Family Trust and the Florida Armenian Genocide Commemoration, Inc. will host the Florida premier of the Armenian Genocide documentary ‘Intent to Destroy’ at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF) on Wednesday, November 15, at 6:00pm at Savor Cinema.

According to Deadline, “Abramorama and Gathr Films have acquired North American theatrical rights to the Joe Berlinger documentary ‘Intent to Destroy,’ a film-within-a film that centers on the Armenian genocide of 1915 and was a critical favorite at this year’s Tribeca and Hot Docs film festivals. Abramorama will release the film theatrically on Nov. 10 in New York and Los Angeles followed by select cities nationwide. Gathr Films will then expand the release with one-night-only event screenings through its crowd-sourced theatrical distribution platform Theatrical On Demand.”

According to IndieWire, “The Armenian Genocide claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1917, but the truth about the horrors was suppressed because of America’s diplomatic relationship with Turkey. Even as recently as 2016, when filmmaker Terry George set out to make a narrative feature about the tragedy, the Oscar Isaac-starring ‘The Promise,’ he fielded threats from the Turkish government. Academy Award-nominated director Joe Berlinger was on set to capture the challenges — both artistic and political — in making a movie about the Genocide. In the first trailer for this unflinching documentary, ‘Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction,’ Berlinger weaves interviews with filmmakers and historians into his fascinating behind the scenes footage.”

WATCH THE TRAILER: “Intent to Destroy: Death, Denial, and Depiction”

The highly anticipated documentary ‘Intent to Destroy’ includes behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the film ‘The Promise,’ as well as exclusive interviews with filmmakers, historians, actors, and genocide survivors. The documentary also features new music written and produced by award-winning Armenian American musician Serj Tankian of the rock band ‘System of a Down.’

The Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival premier reception includes live Armenian music by Dick Barsamian on Oud, as well as food and refreshments.

Tickets to the FLIFF premier are $12 and can be purchased online by clicking below.

Boca Raton Walkathon to Raise Public Awareness of Armenian Genocide

Event to raise funds for genocide education in Florida

BOCA RATON, FL – An upcoming walkathon in Boca Raton will mark the 99th commemoration of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, whereby 1.5 million Armenians were systematically exterminated by the Ottoman Turkish Empire during World War I. Event proceeds will go towards genocide awareness, community outreach and advocacy for more comprehensive genocide education in Florida public schools.

The Walk Against Genocide, a two-mile walk which will take place Saturday, April 12 at Mizner Park, is organized by the Armenian Genocide Commemoration (AGC) Inc., a nonprofit organization comprised of representatives from various Armenian American organizations and churches in South Florida.  The mission of the AGC is to educate the public about the first genocide of the 20th century — and that genocide continues to occur in modern times, all over the world.  In the past few weeks, Armenians have watched history repeat itself as foreign Islamic extremists sacked the predominantly Christian Armenian town of Kessab, Syria, displacing thousands of peaceful Armenians.

Arsine Kaloustian-Rosenthal, AGC’s Public Relations Director, explained: “The Armenian American community usually finds itself commemorating the genocide within its own confines.  However, with the 100th anniversary one year away, there seems to be a stirring in Armenian communities all over the world.  By planning highly visible events such as this walkathon, we are throwing open the door to all who wish to learn more about us, our culture, and the genocide that took our ancestors from us.  As the saying goes, ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’  We must raise our voices together to condemn not only the Armenian Genocide but also the Holocaust, the Assyrian, Greek, Ukrainian, Cambodian, Rwandan and Darfur genocides, among others.”

Today, the Armenian Genocide remains the second-most studied genocide event, after the better-known Jewish Holocaust of World War II.  In fact, when Adolf Hitler was asked how the world would respond to his “Final Solution” plan — the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe — he replied, without compunction: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, has yet to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, despite repeated calls from historians and world leaders. Over 20 countries and 40 U.S. States officially recognize the Armenian Genocide committed by Turkey, including the State of Florida.

David Silvers, Candidate for Florida House District 89, will be speaking at the event and has stated “It is important to acknowledge both the suffering and the resilience of our fellow world citizens.  Recognition of Turkey’s atrocities toward the Armenian people in 1915 is a necessary step in that process.  An injury to one is an injury to us all.”

A traditional Armenian performance by renowned musicians Joe Zeytoonian and Myriam Eli will take place following the walk, and food and refreshments will be provided. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m., while the walk starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Mizner Park Amphitheater, located at 590 Plaza Real in Boca Raton.

Registration for the Walk Against Genocide is $19.15, including a T-shirt and a bottle of water. Children under eight years old may participate for free.  To learn more, sponsor a walker, make a donation or sign up for the event, please visit  http://www.walkagainstgenocide.com.

AGC Inc is non-profit organization whose purpose is to observe the Armenian Genocide, as well as bring awareness to the public on all genocides.  The committee was incorporated in February 2014 and is comprised of representatives from the following South Florida organizations:  St. David Armenian Church, St. Mary Armenian Church, Armenian Assembly of America, Armenian National Committee of America, Armenian Relief Society, Florida Armenians, Homenetmen, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and Knights of Vartan.

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Armenian Walk A Thon Flyer 2014