UNIVERSAL CITY—On Friday, May 15, the Armenian Relief Society (ARS) of Western USA’s Gala was held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel with the attendance of ARS Central Executive Board Chairperson Vicky Marashlian, ARS Central Executive Board Representative Annie Kechichian, official guests, supporters, guests, and ARS members. All were gathered in support of an organization that has served its people for over 105 years.
Welcoming remarks were delivered by Silva Poladian, Gala Committee Chairperson and Master of Ceremonies for the evening. The national and ARS anthems were sung by soloist Raffi Kerbabian, accompanied by pianist Armen Aharonian.
His Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian led the invocation and expressed his congratulations. The Western Prelacy Prelate highly commended the service and dedication of ARS members, in particular those ARS volunteers who helped rescue orphans and survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
The Prelate recognized in particular the diligent service of the evening’s honoree, longtime ARS member Haigoush Kohler who “true to the oath she took long ago, has devoted herself to the sacred work of the ARS as a soldier of light and bearer of compassion,” beseeching the Lord to bless her and all the faithful members of the ARS who have responded to the call of national duty and given their all for the progress and prosperity of our fellow man. His Eminence also commended the benefactors, sponsors, and friends of the ARS for their continued support of the organization’s worthy cause.
During dinner, Arshag Khntirian played the flute and the Hamazkayin Nairy Dance Ensemble performed a traditional Armenian dance, entertaining guests.
Thereafter, the evening’s keynote speaker, Maria Titizian, the Managing Editor of CivilNet.TV in Yerevan was introduced to present the evening’s keynote address. Titizian had formerly held the positions of Director of the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation, Associate Editor of the Armenian Reporter, and Vice President of Socialist International.
Titizian remarked that the existence of the ARS a hundred years ago was a progressive undertaking and that the ARS has always been and will continue to remain as the stronghold of the Armenian people, whose volunteers have cared for orphans, students, communities, and the entire Armenian nation. She encouraged ARS members to become inspired by their past accomplishments in order to overcome present challenges. Titizian remarked that by increasing their strength, they are able to contribute to the advancement of the Armenian people.
Titizian captivated her audience as she described the generational struggles following the Armenian Genocide and several epic events that changed the course of our future: from the calls demanding “Our Lands” during the 50th anniversary in Armenia, the announcement by Pope Francis or the Kardashians’ visit to Armenia. Regarding the 160,000-person March for Justice in Los Angeles she said, “We watched in Yerevan in awe and we were inspired… We were able to release ourselves from perpetual victimhood and saw ourselves in a different light on a different playing field. We were able to stand together united, unbreakable, indestructible…”
Titizian explained how the relationship between the Diaspora and Armenia needs to develop with the understanding that “the role of the Diaspora is not about sending aid, but it is strengthening and developing the country’s institutions…” She also remarked that Armenia must reevaluate its role in providing aid to those communities in need, especially Syrian Armenians, who are facing insurmountable challenges under the threat of war. Commenting on the difficulties for the betterment of socio-economic conditions in Armenia, she added, “If we do not empower the Republic of Armenia, if we do not ensure justice exists on our lands, and in our hearts and in our minds, then we do not have the moral authority to demand it from anyone else.” She encouraged the audience to get involved by contributing with their expertise. She also asked to bring young people on tours and “show that Armenia is not just about the past, but it’s about the future.”
Her message was all encompassing to humanize the problems facing mankind and lead to resolve them, and she also told us of her resolve, while she had held her young grandson “to make Armenia a better place, to make it secure, and to have my miniscule part in its development and empowerment.”
ARS Regional Executive Co-Chairperson Rebecca Berberian presented remarks on behalf of the ARS Regional Executive. She focused on the important work being done in Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk and locally by the ARS Social Services, ARS Child, Youth, Family, Guidance Center, and ARS Schools. She particularly emphasized the continuous efforts, since 2012, to provide assistance to Syrian Armenians.
For the future, Berberian expressed hope that in the coming hundred years the ARS of Western USA will remain relevant to Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora. Thus, she found it crucial that the ARS increase its membership and achieve financial sustainability.
Considering the current and future challenges facing the organization, Berberian found it important to strengthen the collective passion towards the mission of serving our people. She stated, “I recently traveled to Istanbul to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. There I witnessed the perseverance and determination of the Istanbul Armenians who have been weathering the pressure of a century of oppression and discrimination. Yet, somehow not only have they been able to preserve a great deal of their heritage, operating Armenian schools, newspaper publications, bookstores and churches, but they continue to represent our people at the forefront of the Genocide recognition struggle, as well as the struggle to redress the injustice that has been committed against us all.”
In conclusion, Berberian reassured that the ARS will reestablish its commitment to serve its people today and in the upcoming hundred years.
Following her remarks, Berberian invited ARS Regional Executive Co-Chairperson Maral Matossian to introduce the evening’s honoree, ARS member Haigoush Keghinian-Kohler. Matossian portrayed Haigough Kohler as an important figure in the Armenian reality, through her devoted service to Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk and her support of critical ARS programs. She invited Kohler to the podium to receive her award.
Haigough Kohler expressed her gratitude for the honor bestowed upon her and she considered every Armenian’s responsibility to become helpful to their people. She promised that as long as she is able to, she will continue to be helpful to her homeland, Artsakh, and Javakhk.
As the official program concluded, Congressman Adam Schiff (CA-28th District), a longtime friend to Armenians presented a certificate and an American flag that has been flown over the White House, in commendation for the ARS’s humanitarian work. Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrel also presented a certificate.
Other than the officials who participated in the program, the guests also included Rev. Father Ardag Demirjian, ARF Central Committee representatives Vahe Bozoyan and Vache Thomassian, Asbarez Newspaper Editor Apo Boghigian, ANCA Western Region Chairperson Nora Hovsepian, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and representatives from the ANCA, Homenetmen, Hamazkayin, Syrian Armenian Relief Fund (SARF), United Armenia Fund, Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, YWCA, Glendale Memorial Hospital, and the Glendale Commission on the Status of Women.
Guests were entertained by Sebouh and his band. The ARS once again proved successfully that with the support of its people, it is able to achieve its mission.
The Armenian Relief Society of Western USA, established in 1984 and with regional headquarters in Glendale, has 26 chapters and more than 1,200 members in four western states. The ARS operates a Social Services Division and Child, Youth, and Family Guidance Center. and funds numerous youth programs.