Hasmig Paris Bagdoyan Hovnanian. Born January 1, 1929, in Jerusalem, Palestine, a British Protectorate territory in that year. Died November 20, 2016 in Vahakni, Yerevan, Armenia
VAHAKNI, Armenia—Hasmig Paris Bagdoyan was born while the first bells were ringing in the New Year 1929. The whole of Jerusalem was celebrating. To be sure, the entirety of her life continued in that vein: Celebration after celebration. She was the eldest daughter to renowned Educator and writer Setrak Bagdoyan and Siranush Gobalian Bagdoyan.
At 19, Paris Hasmig, a chic, vibrant young woman with extraordinary intellect moved from Jerusalem to Cyprus in 1948 with her family where she taught kindergarten until moving to New York City to earn her degree in sociology at Hunter College. In 1955, she met the love of her life, Vahakn S. Hovnanian, another foreign university student at an Armenian Students Association dance in Atlantic City. It was love at first sight. They married in 1957. Their 58 year union is one for the books: both a real life American Success Story, and a love story for the ages.
In 1959, Vahakn left his work as physicist at Philco and joined his brothers to form Hovnanian Brothers Builders. Success came with hard work including their dedication to giving back to their community with particular focus to the budding Armenian community in New Jersey. Vahak joined the St. Vartanantz Armenian Apostolic Church Board of Trustees, while Hasmig joined the Ladies Auxiliary. Soon the couple together would lead both support groups of the church to raise money earmarked to pay off the church’s mortgage in a few short years. In 1967, His Holiness Khoren I of the Great House of Cilicia bestowed Knighthood on Vahak, and Hasmig was named a Lady of the Kingdom of Cilicia respectively in recognition of their productive and innovative contributions to the St. Vartanants Church community. Later, when Vahak left the board to join the New York Armenian Prelacy’s Central Committee, Hasmig was unanimously voted in as Board Chairman. At a time when women were still regarded as the ‘little woman’, this little woman was running the here-to-fore male-only Board of Trustees.
Soon after, a new Prelate was elected for the America’s Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Cambridge educated Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian. Hasmig seized the opportunity and formed the Prelacy’s Ladies Guild with her close friends. She served as its dynamic chairwoman from 1972 through 1976 when Archbishop Karekin Sarkissian left New York to become Catholicos for the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon. Under her leadership, the Ladies Guild brought in a fresh approach to elegant and glamorous fundraising events and world class commemorations for the Armenian Community. Combining her efforts with her husband’s own in the Central Committee, she was always working to re-unite the diaspora Armenian church communities in the United States. The Ladies Guild Annual Mother’s Day Luncheon in NYC was inaugurated under Hasmig Hovnanian’s direction, The Festival of Lights Ball on the eve of Lent at New York’s newly opened Tavern on the Green in Central Park was also a brainchild of Hasmig’s ingenuity. With Vahak on the Central Committee and Hasmig chairing the Ladies Guild, the Prelacy was alive with dynamic activity: for the 60th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, New York and New Jersey politicians signed proclamations recognizing the Armenian Genocide and with a Celebration of Survival on the 60th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In 1976 Hasmig chaired the Constantinople Armenian Relief Society (CARS) Debutante Cotillion at the Pierre Hotel. That same year, against all odds, she and her husband, with likeminded friends, founded and launched the Armenian School of New Jersey, the first independent Armenian day school in America, in the basement of the St. Vartanantz Church in Ridgefield, NJ.
Hasmig created the “Friends” committee to help raise funds for the school. Again, with her creative panache, the school’s annual events were trendsetting landmarks for the Armenian community’s event calendars. Among the most memorable were the The King Tut Casino Night party at the Otto Kahn Mansion in New York City (it coincided with the King Tut exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) the Annual Bal à Versailles in New York’s BRAND NEW Helmsley Palace Hotel’s Versailles Room in 1980, Aivazovsky in America art exhibtion and charity auction that took place in the Hovnanian School’s auditorium, and the 1600th Birthday Party for the Armenian Alphabet that was featured in the New York Times in 2005.
The Armenian community, under the influence of Hasmig Hovnanian, mastered its pride of heritage, and was inspired to seek to be the best and FIRST in many, if not all, its endeavors. But her contribution to the school went beyond her fundraising ingenuity and philanthropy. Both Hasmig and Vahakn were involved with the school with all hands and feet on deck. They gave their time, their energy, their expertise, and their love to ensure that the school would be successful. It took teamwork, and they, as a team, were a formidable force. Their dedication encouraged countless others to get involved.
In 1984, the board of trustees voted unanimously to change the name to the Hovnanian Armenian School in their honor. Two years later, in 1986, on the occasion of the Hovnanian School’s Tenth Anniversary, His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II of the Great House of Cilicia in Antelias Lebanon, named Vahak and Hasmig Prince and Princess of the Armenian Church. Just recently the Hovnanian School celebrated its 40th Anniversary, honoring the dedication and memory of both Mr. and Mrs. Vahakn Hovnanian. Many of its alumni include 3 generations of Hovnanian School graduates who boast degrees from top universities in America. The school has been recognized as a BLUE RIBBON school in the Midlantic States, and remains the only truly independent Armenian fully accredited private day school in America.
Beyond her unwavering 35 years of dedication to the school, Hasmig also was a founding board member of the New York Academy of Art in New York City. She served as a board member for the Drumthwacket Foundation in the 1990’s under Governor Christie Todd Whitman and on the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. In the Fall of 1996, Hasmig was instrumental in making sure the Commission endorsed curricula which could be used in the study of genocide (which was part of the mandate), including the Great Irish Famine, the Armenian Genocide, the Cambodian and Native American Genocide, along with the Ukrainian atrocity by the Russians.
As a couple, Vahak and Hasmig were an organization unto their own. Whatever they put their minds to, they were able to accomplish and achieve their goals together. In September 1991, Armenia became an independent Republic. They witnessed Independent Armenia’s birth, and a new chapter of their lives was born. Soon they were organizing and sponsoring exchange programs between Armenia’s Komitas Conservatory and New York City’s venerated Juillard School, organizing a group of supporters for the National Philharmonic to purchase musical instruments and keep them performing, an effort that was later sponsored by the AGBU. They also created a sister school program with the Hovnanian School and the Anania Shirakatsi Jemaran in Armenia. They established a board of trustees for the Jemaran, and during the 1990s and were that school’s major benefactors.
In 1995, at Hasmig’s insistence, the Hovnanians underwrote Armenia’s first participation in the Venice Biennale and initiated fundraising for the First Padiglione Armeno (Armenian Pavilion) there. An International Ball was held in Venice on the opening night where over 250 Armenians from around the world gathered to support Armenia’s entry into the international arts scene, and in support of Ca’ Zenobbio, the Murad Raffaelian Palazzo on the Grand Canal. Quietly, through the Hasmig and Vahakn S. Hovnanian Foundation, they supported 100’s of young artists from Armenia and other countries around the world pursuing prominent careers in the fine and performing arts during Armenia’s earliest and most needy years. In May 2000, Hasmig and Vahak Hovnanian founded the Sayat Nova Awards. Created to stimulate the songwriters and composers and musical traditions of Armenia, the Sayat Nova Awards gave financial support to many Armenian musicians young and old alike. In May 2002, The Vahakni Awards were added to inspire and support other artists in the performing, literary, film and fine arts. In 2007 Armenia TV took over production of the show.
In November 2004, Paris Hasmig and Vahak Hovnanian were honored by the The Gross Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Ramapo College with its Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Leadership Award. In 2008, at the Prelacy’s Annual Mother’s Day Luncheon in New York City, Prelate Archbishop Oshagan bestowed the title of Queen Zabel of the Kingdom of Cilicia on Hasmig Hovnanian for her years of dedication to the Armenian community. In 2011, Hasmig Paris was awarded the Fridtjof Nansen award for her unbound commitment to Armenian communities around the world.
Throughout her life, Paris Hasmig Hovnanian was renowned for her warmth, her wit, her authenticity, and her love of her Armenian heritage. She took great pride in her place of birth: Jerusalem. Her enormously giving nature and her “magic touch” were enjoyed by all those that knew her. She had an unwavering faith in God, and knew that He would always answer her prayers, in kind. Whenever a special event was planned, she was always asked to say her prayers for good weather. Whenever there was something cooking in the kitchen, there was a standing joke that she had to dip her finger in it. She had that special touch which made everything delectable, delicious, and delightful. She was that ever exuberant ingredient to all social gatherings that made them memorable, full of joy, and ultimately successful. Above all, she was a fantastic wife, mother, and grandmother, and daughter, sister, and aunt,– and a great friend to those who knew and loved her. Her secret recipe comprised a healthy dose of love, patience, a sense of humor, and ever more love, love, love. In her death, she is reunited with her husband of 58 years, Vahakn Stephan Hovnanian, who passed in August, 2015. She is survived by her son Shant, daughter and son-in law Nina Hovnanian and Artur Aleksanian, and her 5 grandchildren Vahak, Gayane, Katya, Paris, and Charents; her sister and brother in law Teny and Dr. William Loos and family who reside in California, and the large, blessed, and ever-growing Hovnanian Family.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the Hovnanian School or Teach for Armenia.
Hovnanian School, Inc. :
817 River Road New Milford, NJ 07646
Wiring instructions: Bank of America 904 River Road New Milford, New Jersey 07646
Swift Code # BOFAUS3N
Teach for Armenia:
Transfers in USD: 1570022002750101, transfers in AMD: 1570022002750100)