AGBU Hye Geen’s Forum for Armenian Social and Cultural Studies (FACSS)
held a one-day conference on April 12, 2008 at California State
University of Los Angeles, in conjunction with the college’s School of
Social Work, College of Health and Human Services. The subject of the
conference was “The Status of Armenian Communities Living in the United States.”
Opening remarks were delivered by Talin Yacoubian of AGBU Hye Geen’s
Young Circle. She first expressed her gratitude to Dr. Karin A. Elliot
Brown of the university’s School of Social Work for her continued
cooperation. She also thanked three youth organizations, namely the
Armenian Social Work Caucus, the Cal. State Los Angeles Chapter of Alpha
Epsilon Omega Fraternity, as well as AGBU Generation Next, for their
The first speaker was Rev. Fr. Sarkis Petoyan of St. John Armenian
Church in San Francisco, who spoke about “The Faith, Church Membership
and Attendance Practices of the Armenian Baby Boom Generation.”
Next on the program was a panel presentation dealing with issues of
class conflict, social justice and oppression of vulnerable populations.
The panelists were introduced by Houri Keshishian, a member of Hye
Geen’s FACSS group.
The panelists presented their research on various fields, including Paul
Naccashian, owner and principal consultant with Collaborative Solutions
in Azusa, California, who spoke about “Conflict Mode Analysis of
Armenians in the United States: Similarities and Differences, a
Comparative Study”; Shakeh Baghdasarian, a graduate of the School of
Social Work at California State University of Los Angeles, broached the
subject of “Experiences of Armenian Homosexuals Living in the United
States”; and Dr. Martin J. Adamian, professor at California State
University of Los Angeles, spoke about “The Use of Law and Genocide: The
The panel presentations were followed by the introduction of the guest
speaker, Boghos Levon Zekiyan, by AGBU Hye Geen founder and chairman,
Sona Yacoubian. Zekiyan is an ordained “vartabed” of the Armenian
Catholic Mekhitarist Order and the founder of the Venice Ca’foscari
University’s summer intensive course in Armenian language and culture
under the aegis of his Padus Araxes Cultural Association. Yacoubian paid
tribute to the scholar theologian, a professor of Armenian Church
institutions at the Pontifical Oriental Institute of Rome, as well as a
member of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. Zekiyan spoke
about “Women’s Role in the Armenian Society as a Factor of Mutual
After the lunch break, Saro Ayvazian, of the Alpha Epsilon Omega
Fraternity at CSU-LA, spoke about his organization’s range of
activities. The presentation was followed by a second session dealing
with “The State of Armenian Youth in Los Angeles.” Ara Arzoumanian,
director of the prevention-based AGBU Generation Next Mentorship
Program, spoke expertly about his program in the Glendale-Pasadena
region; and Osheen Keshishian, publisher/editor of the English-language
The Armenian Observer weekly, faculty member of Glendale Community
College and guest lecturer at California State University, Northridge,
spoke about “The Reflection of the Genocide in the Works of Armenians
Who Write in English.”
The final feature of the conference program was a roundtable discussion
focusing on issues facing the Armenian-American youth of Southern
California. Moderated by Tamar Kevorkian, columnist for The Armenian
Reporter, the participants were Fr. Vazken Movsesian, a priest serving
various Californian churches for the past 25 years and Executive
Director of In His Shoes Ministries, a faith-based organization to rally
support and assistance for people in areas hit by genocide; Melina
Sardar, educational director of Ark Center in Glendale and case manager
at the AGBU Generation Next Mentorship Program; and Arlette
DerHovanessian, a behavioral psychologist, program director in the
Department of Early Education and Extended Learning Programs in the
Glendale Unified School District.
This thought-provoking conference concluded with the closing remarks of
Nayiri Nahabedian, chairperson of FACCS.
AGBU Hye Geen’s Third Annual Conference Examines Status of Armenian Communities in the United States
AGBU Hye Geen’s Forum for Armenian Social and Cultural Studies (FACSS)
A tireless supporter of Armenian causes, Vartkess M. Balian passed away
on Monday, August 3, 2008, in Arlington, Virginia, at the age of 76
after a courageous battle with cancer. A former president of the
Armenian General Benevolent Union’s (AGBU) Central Committee of America,
he was a co-founder, along with his wife, Rita, of the highly successful
AGBU New York Summer Intern Program, which offers Armenian students from
around the world opportunities to gain professional work experience that
will aid them in their future careers. The New York Intern Program has
over 600 alumni.
AGBU President Berge Setrakian offered his condolences to the Balian
family and cited his invaluable contributions to AGBU: “Vartkess was
always a most ardent and loyal supporter of our Armenian heritage. He
was a devoted leader within the AGBU community, having served as a Board
member and as co-founder and co-chair of the President’s Club of AGBU’s
New York Intern Program.”
A Life Remembered
Vartkess Balian was an architect, home builder, developer, humanitarian
and art collector who was a giant in Washington, DC’s Armenian-American
community. He dedicated his life to public and community service and was
forever devoted to his Armenian heritage. Along with his wife, he
supported countless cultural and humanitarian efforts around the world,
particularly in Armenia and the United States.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, he studied architecture and civil engineering
at the American University of Beirut and, soon afterwards, opened an
architectural and engineering firm that designed many institutions and
residential buildings in Lebanon, including numerous Armenian schools.
Along with Yenovk Balikian, he designed the modernist AGBU Alex
Manoogian Center in downtown Beirut.
He left Beirut during the onset of that country’s civil war and settled
in Washington, DC in 1976. He was a founder and partner of the
Hyattsville-based Quad Group of America, a land development and
construction company that has built several thousand residences across
the region. In the 1990s, he became a partner in Haverford Homes, a
Hyattsville home development business founded by his oldest son.
Vartkess Balian was also active in many other Armenian-American
organizations. He was a trustee of the Washington-based Armenian
Assembly of America. He established an endowment fund with the Tekeyan
Cultural Association to sponsor an annual international media award for
Armenian journalists. He served as president of the Tekeyan central
board and as a trustee of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in
After the 1988 Armenian earthquake, the Balians initiated humanitarian
and cultural efforts to aid the people of Armenia. A school in Garbi,
Armenia, was named in their honor.
For the past 11 years, Vartkess Balian was a trustee of the Armenian
American Wellness Center in Yerevan, which has provided medical services
to underserved women in Armenia.
Vartkess Balian was also a patron of the arts and a noted collector of
modern Armenian art. His collection, which he lovingly built with his
wife, has been showcased in museums, galleries and U.S. embassies
throughout the world. In Washington, he was a benefactor of art museums,
orchestras, opera and other cultural institutions. He was also a member
of the Washington National Cathedral Association.
He and his wife have been honored by His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos
of All Armenians, for their efforts in promoting the international
Armenian Apostolic Church.
Vartkess Balian is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rita Balian; his
two sons, Sevag Balian of Chevy Chase and Raffi Balian of Arlington; two
sisters, Haikouhi Koudoussian of Rockville and Marie Balian of
Arlington; and four grandchildren.
Americans for Artsakh (AFA) recently completed its first of a series of
training courses for government employees in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh).
The AGBU-funded course, which was held at the NKR Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, was titled “Business English for NKR Diplomats” and took place
from July 20-30, 2008. Sarah Ludwig, AFA Executive Director and also a
language specialist at the International Center for Language Studies in
Washington, DC, conducted the course.
“I commend the AGBU for appreciating the paramount importance of
education and continued professional training. Artsakh remains excluded
from any such international projects, so, on behalf of my government, I
thank the AGBU for stepping up and sponsoring this pioneer training
course,” said Vardan Barseghian, NKR Representative to the United
States, who worked with both organizations on this project.
In completing the course, participating members of the Ministry gained
valuable skills in various aspects of working with foreign counterparts,
including giving presentations, conducting meetings, and social
Irina Beglaryan, Head of the Department of Multilateral Cooperation at
the Ministry, commented, “The course will be very useful for our future
dealings with foreigners. It will improve our ability to interact with
the international community on many different levels. We hope that AFA
will offer similar courses in other areas, as well.”
AFA plans on conducting training courses for NKR government employees to
include disciplines such as international public law, diplomacy, public
administration, economics, and management. In addition, it also
envisages developing a wide range of educational programs at the school
and university levels in order to provide students with knowledge of
global, rapidly developing subjects to which they would not otherwise
These types of programs will prove to be a crucial part of
Nagorno-Karabakh’s path towards greater development.
Americans for Artsakh is a non-profit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization
established to preserve freedom, strengthen democracy, foster economic
development, protect the cultural identity and promote the heritage of
the people of Artsakh. The founding Board of Directors includes: Zaven
Khanjian, President; Dr. Hratch Abrahamian, Vice President; Savey
Tufenkian, Treasurer; Rita Balian, Secretary; and Edward Chobanian.
On September 12, 2008, German Armenians and their supporters from across
Europe will attend an AGBU-HAIK Gala concert and dinner at the Hanau
Schloss Philippsruhe castle near Frankfurt, Germany. Organizers expect
200 people to attend the launch event that will formally mark the
expansion of the world’s largest Armenian non-profit organization into
the most populous country in the European Union and the continuing
partnership of AGBU and HAIK.
For the last two years, AGBU and HAIK have been fostering a mutually
beneficial relationship that began in April 2006 during the first AGBU
Project Exchange & Development Seminar (PEDS) in Brussels, Belgium.
Since then, HAIK, which represents a network of students, scholars, and
young professionals across Germany with representatives at 17
universities, has participated in a number of AGBU conventions and
meetings, including the European Convention in Brussels earlier this
The AGBU-HAIK Frankfurt, Germany office officially opened its doors on
April 1, 2008 with two part-time employees. Located in the heart of
Germany, the AGBU-HAIK office represents the first major German
initiative for AGBU in the last 20 years. On April 12, HAIK board
members, under the guidance of the organization’s co-presidents Karen
Navoyan and Pailak Mzikian, held their first meeting at the office.
Continuing to Grow in Germany
While the establishment of an office in Frankfurt represented AGBU’s
first expansion into Germany, AGBU launched its second initiative with
the establishment of its first Young Professional group in the city of
Cologne. The inaugural YP Cologne event on May 31 was attended by over
200 individuals, including special guest AGBU Europe President Alexis
Govciyan explains the goal of AGBU’s German partnership: “AGBU extends
its successful activities to Germany, where the presence of global
Armenian organizations seems necessary in a country with a growing
Armenian community and the central role of Germany on the political and
social level in the European Union.”
HAIK Co-President Karen Navoyan is also excited by the new
organizational energy in Germany: “We see the opening of the AGBU-HAIK
Office in Frankfurt, in the heart of Germany, as a historical event
bringing new perspectives to the life of the Armenian community in
Germany, as well as to German-Armenian friendship.”
Established in 2003 in Mannheim, Germany, the German-Armenian Students
Association, known as HAIK, is a network of German students, scholars,
and young professionals of Armenian descent. The goals of HAIK are to
strengthen and unify the country’s Armenian community; promote bilateral
communication between Germans and Armenians; and preserve the Armenian
identity for future generations. The organization is geared to the needs
of college- and young professional-aged individuals of Armenian descent
and is administered exclusively by people from those target groups.
On July 6, 2008, the graduation ceremony of AGBU Tarouhy-Hovagimian took
place in the AGBU Demirdjian Center near Beirut, Lebanon with the
largest-ever number of graduates, 56, who passed the Baccalaureate II
exams in General Science, Socioeconomics and Life Sciences, as well as the Arts.
Principal Jirair Tanielian called this year’s graduating seniors “Ara
Topjian Graduates,” in memory of the school’s founding principal, who
served the institution for forty years. After reflecting on Topjian’s
contribution to Tarouhy-Hovagimian, Tanielian gave statistical data that
demonstrated the high level of achievement of the school’s students.
AGBU Lebanon Chairman Avedis Demirdjian and AGBU Lebanon Board Member
Garbis Markarian joined Principal Tanielian in handing out the diplomas.
Those pupils having achieved high results were given gifts, generally
consisting of valuable publications and monetary allocations, by Fr.
Antranig Granian and Lebanese State Minister Jean Oghasapian.
The address in Armenian was given by Talar Der Vartanian who stressed
the importance of firmly holding on to the Armenian language and the
culture it generates. The address in Arabic was given by Sezan
Kirishjian, who expressed gratitude, on behalf of her classmates, for
the education they received and the rich lives of Lebanese Armenians.
This year’s program included the recitation of an original poem by Tamar
Sarkis, which was selected by Lebanon’s Department of Education’s poetry
contest judges as one of the top 10 poems out of submissions from over
600 Lebanese schools. This was an exceptional achievement, given the
fact that Tarouhy-Hovagimian was the only Armenian school represented.
Tamar’s recitation earned hearty applause from the audience.
The farewell address to the graduates was delivered by Very Rev. Fr.
Antranig Granian. He spoke in a simple and heartfelt manner, exhorting
them not to forget their national origin and obligations as Armenians.
He counseled the students not to be afraid of being different from
others, to love mankind, to love God and love their fellow compatriots.
A large number of student awards were handed out in various categories,
including “model student,” and for various subjects, including Armenian
language, Armenian history, science, English, and Arabic. Top students
in both the junior and senior high schools were also recognized for
The program concluded with words of thanks from the administration
delivered by Avedis Chakmakian.
On July 24, 2008, the AGBU Camp Antranig, which will cater to Armenian scouts from around the world, officially opened in the forests near Lermontovo village, between the cities of Vanadzor and Dilijian, in the Lori region of Armenia. Executive Director of the Armenian Youth Association (AYA) of Lebanon Kevork Santourian is the director of the new scout camp.
The opening ceremony, which was widely covered by the Armenian media, was attended by a number of dignitaries, including Lori Governor Aram Kocharian; Bishop Sepuh Chuldjian, Primate of the Gugark Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Bishop Ararat Galtakchian, Grand Sexton of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin; Simon Ter-Simonian, President of the Republic of Armenia’s Humanitarian Aid Committee; Ashot Kirakossian, Director of the Armenian Social Investment Fund; Ashot Ghazarian, AGBU Armenian Representation Director; Hovig Yeordekian, AGBU Armenian Representation Deputy Director; and other Lori region officials.
The event began with a procession of scouts and was followed by Santourian’s welcome speech. After declaring the opening of the first scout camp in Armenia as a historic occasion, he thanked all those who contributed to the success of the camp. Bishop Chuldjian also took part in the opening and conducted a blessing ceremony for the facility. Bishop Galtakchian passed on the blessing of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians.
Lori governor Aram Kocharian and AGBU representative Ashot Ghazarian also welcomed the scouts and talked about the symbolism of the camp, which seeks to unite scouts of Armenian heritage around the world through camping. In addition to the educational activities organized in the camp, the facility will also organize trips to historic landmarks throughout Armenia for visiting scouts.
During his visit to Armenia in the fall of 2007, Berge Setrakian, President of Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), laid the foundations for the first scout camp in Armenia, among other national programs of AGBU. For that purpose, AGBU purchased private land in the village of Lermontovo in the northern Lori region of Armenia, which is renowned for its natural beauty. The planning, preparation and construction was able to be completed in a very short period of time.
Three hundred scouts are expected to attend the two sessions, which run from July 22-August 5, and August 8-22, 2008. This year’s visiting scouts hail from cities across the region, including Aleppo, Baghdad, Damascus, Kamishli, Tehran and various Lebanese locales (Antelias, Beirut, Zahlé).