We are gathered here today under extraordinary circumstances. For the first time in our history, we are holding a General Assembly online.
We are thankful for the technology which has kept us in touch with one another in recent times.
We have all gone through the experience of the Coronavirus pandemic, which has not spared any country or community and has taken so many lives.
In the meanwhile, we do our best to continue celebrating life and praying that our lives will return to normal in the very near future.
However, life within the AGBU community has not stopped. We have continued our work of reaching out to people, developing new programs that meet the interest of our youth, and responding to world events, especially those which most impact our people.
My fellow Board members will elaborate on the financials details, as well as other reports of programs and activities from the two-year period, 2018-2019. As a highlight, I can share that they were years of great achievement, due to the effort and participation of each and every one of you. It was a period of international highs and unified successes, resulting in rapid development of our nation as a whole. It seemed at the time that the world was behind us as a people, and that we were finally seeing the progress we have deserved within the community of nations.
Unfortunately, after those years of great momentum and progress, 2020 was a painful one for all of us. While the global pandemic did not shake our spirit or our unwavering commitment to benevolent work, it seems almost as though the first half of the year was a mere foreshadowing of the challenges ahead. In August our Lebanese community faced the impact and consequences of a major explosion at the port of Beirut. It directly hit the Armenian areas of the city, where a substantial portion of our community resides.
However, in response, our community set a new high standard for civic engagement in Lebanon. Within hours our AGBU District Committee established a volunteer emergency infrastructure, supported by dedicated staff and bolstered by our impressive scouts. They immediately mobilized a philanthropic response, rebuilding people’s homes (already over around 400), putting food on their tables and literally and physically giving their own blood to sustain their fellow citizens. Their work was made possible by the unified efforts of all of you who supported them with swift and vast fundraising measures. It was truly an inspiration to see us work together, much like our founders had envisioned so long ago.
Soon after the catastrophe in Beirut, the Armenian nation faced one of its darkest moments in recent times: the war, which impacted all of us and left behind wounds that will take quite some time to heal. On September 27, a devastating attack by Azeri forces, backed by Turkish military assets and intelligence, resulted in the loss of a large portion of our historic lands in Artsakh. Most tragically, it caused the death of roughly 5,000 soldiers and more than 10,000 others suffered injuries. They are among the best of our youth, each one of them was a precious life that was forever altered.
In their memory, to give meaning to their sacrifice, we must unite all of our forces and all of our means to overcome the challenges we face ahead. The future of Armenia is at stake today. If we come together, bring our best to the table and use our personal strengths to serve each other, then with hope and faith, we will build a bright and successful future for the Armenian nation.
These are the times that define and redefine who we are. Our people have always been resilient. We will survive, as we have for thousands of years, through massacres and persecution, through every kind of upheaval and devastation. Through every challenge our nation remains alive, vibrant, and proud of its history. As William Saroyan put it, “No power has ever been able to destroy us.” We are the ones who determine – who ensure — the survival and strength of our people.
For more than a century, AGBU has been the cornerstone of our global community, committed to humanitarian aid but, above all, to safeguard our national development and integrity. When the fate of the nation is at stake as it is today, we act as a national organization, concerned with ensuring the safety and future of our homeland. That homeland is the foremost guarantee of our existence as a people, the basis for the perpetuation of our faith, our culture and our identity.
Throughout its history, AGBU has always taken bold action in pivotal moments of our national life far beyond its role of a philanthropic institution. From the days of our founder, Boghos Noubar Pasha, who headed the Armenian National delegation in the various negotiations with the then major European powers / in the early part of the 20th Century and which led to the Treaty of Sèvres of October 10, 1920, defending the rights of an independent Armenia at the international conference. He initiated, under the circumstances behind the Soviet iron curtain in Armenia, the establishment of a medical center in 1924 (under the worst time of Communism) and the creation of Nubarashen in 1931, a town presently with a population of more than 12,000 residents. In the mid-1930s, our President Calouste Gulbenkian, managed a relationship with Soviet leadership to maintain the AGBU office in Armenia to assist in the well-being of the population and safeguard the interests of Holy Etchmiadzin.
Our President Arshak Karagyozian, under whose leadership. AGBU financed the repatriation of Armenians from the western diaspora in 1946 – 1947 in the aftermath of the Second World War at the peak of the Cold War, secured the establishment of statehood status among the Soviet Republics, which state became today’s independent Armenia. Each one of those moments demanded visionary leadership from our predecessors. Because of their actions, we can say that AGBU has played an unparalleled role in the history and the survival of our Nation.
In the same token, in the aftermath of the split within the Armenian Church, in 1956 President Alex Manoogian stood by Holy Etchmiadzin with the belief that a national church must and can survive and prosper only in its homeland. And you all remember the courageous intervention of President Louise Simone during the 1988 Spitak earthquake and the first Karabakh war, lending her hand to the nation. She went beyond the call of duty and led the establishment of the American University of Armenia, educating generations of leaders and becoming one of the nation’s most respected institutions.
All of this brings us to recognize the urgent needs of today. AGBU’s leadership, out of serious concern for the dangers facing our nation, has recently called on all Armenian people to unite and bring their expertise, their engagement and their formidable will to build the future in the aftermath of the events of the past year.
We have called for an independent team of capable experts from Armenia and from the Diaspora — to come together to form a government and shape our policies for the future. Armenia’s Parliament, as well as the past and present leaders, should put their partisan interests aside and unite behind such new leadership first to restore the trust and confidence of our people themselves, then that of the international community, so that they can reverse the negative impact that this war created, to the detriment of Armenia and all Armenians. They must adopt and implement a sound, coordinated set of policies starting with the development of diplomacy skills to shape the long-term survival and role of Armenia within the context and the realities of the new geo-political environment. They should further focus on the implementation of objective socio-economic programs, short and long term, which could sustain the infrastructure of the country and its population.
All of us, together, must form a moral and practical leadership that can unite the country and bring us back to prosperity. We need a new mature and experienced generation, educated and well-trained in their fields, open to the world, ready to serve and step up and lead our nation into the future. As AGBU, we must do what we can to bring these experts and empower and encourage them to work together, not compete in parallel.
We remain faithful to the Armenian Church, which now and in centuries past has served as our main bastion of faith, culture and survival. We call upon all Armenians to support our national Church, as an institution which holds our precious spiritual lineage and shines a light on who we are within the community of nations. While being presently challenged by the authorities, maintaining the teachings of our Church’s history within the curriculum of our public school system in Armenia is a must, as this is in large part the past two thousand year history of our nation.
We remain optimistic about our future. We are confident of the important role that AGBU can fulfill in the mission of strengthening the core of our nation which is global, with its homeland and its Diaspora. This will require the participation of each and every one of you, as only together can we achieve the national prosperity and stability we profoundly wish to see.
On this occasion of the meeting of the AGBU’s General Assembly, I also call upon all of our Chapters and members to work more closely with the Central Board and the various regional Committees. Bring your best ideas and best efforts to create a new wave of innovative programs. Don’t wait for the initiatives to come from the top. Explore new initiatives together. We may not agree on every decision or outcome. But we all make our decisions in good faith, aiming to serve the good of our people. We should give our community leaders and members the benefit of the doubt, look upon each other with sympathy and appreciation, and always remember that our unity is our strength.
We are proud that AGBU has remained faithful to its history of service and holds a high level of respect and trust across our communities worldwide. This was a trust earned over a century of programs and support, adapting to the needs of our people. Today is no different. We will step up, we will innovate and we will create a future of which we can all be proud.
We can work hand in hand to heal the Armenian nation.
Again, I thank you all for your continuous support and commitment to our great organization. You make AGBU the respected institution that it is today.
Leaving you with the hope that we will see you all soon personally.