ARS Archives Reveal Century of ARS, Armenian Community History

WATERTOWN, Mass.–Papers, periodicals, and photos placed in storage boxes long ago have been opened and brought into the light as the ARS, Inc. undertakes the massive task of organizing, coding, and computerizing its precious archival materials for preservation and easy access.

The impetus for the creation of this important archive is the ARS, Inc.’s approaching centennial anniversary in 2010 and the writing and publication of a comprehensive book about the ARS, Inc.’s first 100 years.

At the project’s helm is ARS Publications Director Tatul Sonentz-Papazian, who sits daily among boxes of ARS documen’s and works to bring order to the ARS’s first 100 years. These documen’s and other resources will form the basis of the ARS centennial anniversary book and shine a brighter light on the ARS’s contributions to Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.

One might wonder why it matters to organize old, yellowing printed material and what documen’s written 20, 50, or 100 years ago could teach inhabitants of the fast-paced, technologically advancing 21st century.

Sonentz-Papazian has a ready response to that question.

“Like any great organization – any great international organization – number one, your leadership has to know how certain problems have been handled at certain times, so that they don’t keep reinventing the wheel. So, it is for internal reasons.

“The second important reason is that you have to leave to a heritage, a history, because the organization is so closely involved in the communities of both the mother country and the Diaspora,” Sonentz-Papazian added. “So we owe it to historians to leave organized material to study certain issues and our perspectives on those issues.”

Sonentz-Papazian pointed in particular to the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia and the self-determination struggle of Artsakh’s Armenian population as examples of the inextricable tie between the ARS’s work and the history of Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.

“It’s critical for us to give our point of view and our records will make the whole picture of that era more real and three dimensional,” Sonentz-Papazian added. “It is the basis of continuity, without which you keep reinventing the wheel. There is nothing to build on without reliable archives.”

As Sonentz-Papazian has sifted through the old photos, reports, publications, and correspondence of the ARS and its entities all over the world, he has gained an evolving picture of the ARS and how its nearly 100-year-long humanitarian work has impacted and changed the Armenian people.

That archival organization and research has been essential to Sonentz-Papazian’s drafting of the ARS’s centennial story, which Sonentz-Papazian promises will not be a dry recitation of the ARS’s work from 1910 to 2010. Rather, the book will present a cohesive synthesis and analysis of the ARS’s work before, during and after the Armenian Genocide, the establishment of the first Republic of Armenia, the formation of the Armenian Diaspora, and the re-establishment of the second Republic of Armenia.

“This archival work has both diffused and sharpened my perspective on the ARS’s role in Armenian life,” Sonentz-Papazian said, using the ARS’s formation as an example of new lessons he has learned from the archival material.

“Because of a lack of a dependable archival structure, we have formed an opinion of the ARS that has been passed down without being checked, without the proof,” he noted. “And when you go into the details and see how much more complex the formation of this organization has been, it wasn’t very simple. It wasn’t just one thread through time. It was the weaving and the coming together of various organizations finally forming this huge international structure that we have today in so many countries around the world.

Now that current and recent ARS Inc. documen’s have been scanned into the ARS headquarters’ computer system, the ARS archive will track that system, with historical documen’s scanned for ready access. The archive will serve as a living repository to keep safe documentation of the ARS’s humanitarian work and its members’ contributions to Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora.

In addition to the documen’s located at the ARS’s headquarters, an ARS collection is housed at Yerevan’s Armenian National Archive. Copies of the National Archive’s documen’s will be accessed as needed and placed in the ARS’s Watertown paper and computerized archives.

As Sonentz-Papazian continues to organize the ARS’s archive and examine its contents, he learns surprising facts and wonders what new information the next box of material will hold.

“So far, the most surprising thing I’ve found was that there was an Armenian Red Cross in China,” he said. “That was surprising, although it’s just one document and there’s no documentation beyond that. I suppose you can find Armenia’s everywhere.

“It is the history of the Diaspora and Armenia basically,” Sonentz-Papazian observed of the lessons he is drawing from his ARS archival research. “You get a better grasp of what the Diaspora is all about and you get a better grasp of what Armenia is all about. And it is something that is changing constantly, like all living things. It’s not just growing; it’s changing at the same time.”

The ARS, Inc. has established the ARS Centennial Endowment Fund to secure the ARS’s future for its second 100 years. To make a tax-deductible donation to the ARS Centennial Endowment Fund, send your check payable to ARS, Inc., 80 Bigelow Avenue, Watertown, MA 02472 and note “Centennial Endowment Fund” on the memo line.

ARS entities around the world have already begun to raise funds for the ARS Centennial Endowment Fund. Contact your local ARS entity for more information on how you can make a donation to the Fund, or contact the ARS International office at (617) 926-5892, email: execdirector@ars1910.org.

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