Interview with Bedros C. Bandazian Chairman of the ACAA Armenian Heritage Cruise

By Boghos Kupelian

–Whose brainchild was the Heritage Cruise?

While on the Central Committee (CC) of the ARF [Armenian Revolutionary Federation] in 1996–it was decided that the Organization needed at least one national event. Other Organizations had their national event like the AYF Olympics–Homenetmen Games–AGBU had their National Conventions–and other Armenian Organizations had their national event. It was proposed that the CC initiate an Armenian Cruise. Thus in 1997 the first Cruise started but it was mostly confined to and identified with the ARF and its affiliated organizations. The first two Cruises had respectable numbers (300 to 400) but being cloistered in its appeal–the third Cruise in 1999 had less than 300 people attend–actually it was 275 guests.

When the original Cruise committee then decided to resign–the chairman of the CC–Vasken Aivazian asked me to become involved. Seeing that the current course would not offer a continuing success–I accepted only on the condition that the Cruise concept becomes an all encompassing project. The CC agreed and we began marketing the Cruise for everyone. The Cruise activities and atmosphere was to be without political content and open to all organizations and institutions. We expanded the Cruise Committee to affiliated members and non-affiliated members. The Cruise Committee members were named and the Cruise attendance numbers took off. To this date–the ARF Central Committee has endorsed this concept and been most encouraging in our approach. Without this strong support–the ACAA [Armenian Cultural Association of America] Cruise Committee would have been able to succeed or have the ability to continue.

In 2001–we had almost 800 guests and have averaged between 1200 to 1600 Armenia’s attending from all over the world. We have Cruise Ambassadors representatives [from all over the world]. Since we are so spread out–all activities and communication are by internet and meetings with all members present are very rare. With the help of the Hairenik Association we are now working to have video conference meetings and utilize all modern amenities for marketing and communication. The ACAA Armenian Heritage Cruise website–www.armenianheritagecruise.com had over 17,000 hits in the last 12 months. People now even register for cabins through the internet and they even register for the Tavlou and Belote Tournamen’s and the 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament through the internet.

The Armenian Heritage Cruise is run just as a business. Its full activities maintain good marketing–surveys–financial projects–management skills and other business acumen just as any other well run operation. If it can work for any other American business or corporation; why not an Armenian institution activity? The proof is the moral and financial success of this Cruise.

The name "Armenian Heritage Cruise" is a registered trademark with the Library of Congress and is protected. There have been instances where other Armenia’s have tried to infringe upon our trademark and we had to seek legal recourse to thwart this intrusion. The ACAA is very protective of its image and will be very active in seeking court redress against any infringement.

–Next year it is the 10th anniversary of the Cruise–what the organizers are planning as a celebration?

We are just in the planning stages for our 10th Anniversary. The Committee will be visiting a new ship for the 10th Anniversary Cruise next week and we hope to make it more special. We are always open to suggestions and ideas and welcome input from everyone. My personal email is Bandaz@aol.com and we invite your opinions and suggestions.

–What is the purpose of having an Armenian Heritage Cruise?

If you noticed–our motto is "to foster better relationships for the Armenian People." Though the full administration is under the auspices of the Armenian Cultural Association of America–Inc. and its organizational affiliates–our parent organization has decided that this Armenian Cruise should be a conduit for better understanding and camaraderie for all Armenia’s. Unfortunately; as Armenia’s–we become isolated within our special sphere of influences which may be Church affiliation–organizational affiliation–or other special groups. We are not in the habit of speaking to each other and understanding other’s views. This Cruise offers a unique opportunity for Armenia’s of all persuasions to come together–see each other–break bread with each other–and have dialogue with each other for 7 full days as Armenia’s.

People who would never in their life speak or break bread with someone from the other side–are given this special opportunity to be introduced to new relationships. It is very hard to dislike someone once you have had mutual involvement. It’s easy to dislike someone if one does not know their face or has never broken bread together. Thankfully–our Cruise concept is breaking new ground and offers a venue for better understanding. The walls of mistrust which have been imbedded within our people with ideas of the past must be crumbled if we are to survive into the next millennium. Our youth will not continue the patterns of the past and we will lose them if our patterns of operation are not changed. We are no longer an immigrant community in most of the US. It’s very important that we open dialogue among all Armenia’s.

Very few nationalities have been given a second chance to create a new Republic and Nation; losing this opportunity will play into the very hands of our enemies. If the Armenian Heritage Cruise can help to advance our Armenian nation into this new era–then our organization deems its effort a success.

–The Heritage Cruise is a nonprofit venture. Where are the proceeds directed?

The Armenian Cultural Association of America–Inc. is a 5013 non-profit corporation. It cannot be a part of political activity and thus attempts to encourage Armenian cultural activities. Our primary goal is to encourage the furthering of the Armenian language and much of our resources are given to Armenian language newspapers and publications such as the Hairenik Armenian Newspaper which is the oldest Armenian language newspaper in America–and perhaps the world. The ACAA provides gran’s to Cultural and Research endeavors and has presented gran’s to the establishment of the Hairenik Internet Radio (hairenikradio.com)–the Armenian Cosmic Ray Institute–the Diocesan Legate Office in DC–the Embassy of the Armenian Republic–the Armenian United Nations Office–the Office of the Prelacy–and many other institutions and organizations.

–Do you have any message to the loyal patrons of the Heritage Cruise?

The ACAA is truly humbled by the overwhelming support which the Armenian people all over the world have given to our Armenian Heritage Cruise and the Armenian Heritage Tours to Armenia. We never envisioned that the reception and acceptance of the Armenian people would reach this level. Perhaps we have satisfied a thirst which was desired. Will it continue? Who knows? But we can promise to offer–to the best of our abilities to keep this event interesting and continuing as long as the people desire.

What is very important to recognize–is the fantastic contribution of the many–many Cruise Committee members and friends who devote almost 12 months out of the year to this project. It is a continuing effort. This Armenian Heritage Cruise Committee is a prime example of what can be accomplished by Armenia’s once they decide to work together. The camaraderie of the Committee extends to our guests and the atmosphere is truly unique once Armenia’s board the ship. At first sight of the Armenian tri-color flying on the mast of the ship–the tone is set and Armenia’s begin coming together. Their pride is contagious.

If this atmosphere is transcended to our people once they leave the ship and they continue this camaraderie once they return home to reenter into their local Armenian community–it will be a tribute to our efforts. To see this atmosphere is most satisfying considering that our people almost disappeared from the face of this earth 90 years ago. Recognizing that new endeavors and attitudes must be instituted in this New Age of the Armenian People is our prime concern and drives all of our efforts.

To all our Armenian friends and supporters–the ACAA extends its appreciation. May the Armenian spirit exhibited on the Cruise live forever in our hearts. We thank the Armenian people for their wonderful support. See you on the ship.

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