ARS Marks Centennial With Pilgrimage to Der Zor, Armenia and Karabakh


Winding down this year’s centenary celebrations, the ARS Central Executive Board concluded the yearlong festivities with a series of functions that began on Oct. 6 in Syria and continued, starting on the 12th of the same month, with events in Armenia and Artsakh, organized by the ARS Central Executive and the ARS entities of Syria, Armenia, and Artsakh.

Seminar in Aleppo, visit to Der Zor

More than150 ARS members, arriving in Syria from various countries, gathered in Aleppo’s Aram Manoukian Center in the evening of Oct. 6 to take part in ARS-Syria’s reception to get acquainted and be informed of coming events.

The next day, the ARS made a trip to where Armenians had gone through a resurgence finding the will to go on to survival and beyond after living unimaginable horrors. The best way to demonstrate that rebirth one more time was the pilgrimage to Der Zor, where they were received at the entrance of the Holy Martyrs Chapel by the primate, Archbishop Shahan Sarkisian. After Holy Mass, the primate addressed the faithful, welcoming them to Der Zor, and stressed the significant contributions of the ARS to survival efforts and the recovery process.

Vicky Marashlian, chairperson of the ARS, Inc., spoke to the members. The visit to Der Zor on the 100th anniversary of the ARS has a special meaning, she said, because this is where as a nation, after enduring the worst that can be imagined, Armenians discovered that humanity does not consist only of Turkish atrocities, but also of Arab hospitality and a hand of assistance.

Members then participated in the official ceremony of the lighting of the Eternal Flame, sponsored by the ARS, Inc. The flame lies in front of a sculpture that depicts an Armenian mother tracing the Armenian alphabet for her child in the sands of Der Zor. Following the ceremony, members viewed the exhibits of the museum then embarked on a trip to the Euphrates, where flowers were thrown into the rushing river in memory of the martyrs who perished in the waters.

Over the following two days, members participated in a series of functions organized by ARS-Syria and visited Armenian institutions in Aleppo and other sites, such as the Holy Forty Children Cathedral, the Zarehian Museum, the Karen Jeppe College, the Socio-Medical Center of ARS-Syria, the Badsbaran Shelter, the Aleppo Citadel, and the famous closed bazaar of the old city. They also took part in a seminar held in the hall of the Holy Virgin Church with the theme “How should the ARS be prepared to handle the challenges of the coming years?” The main speaker of the seminar was Dr. Hilda Bairamian of Lebanon’s St. Joseph and Sagesse Universities.

The ARS-Syria had also organized a banquet and a trip to Kesab, soon after which the members flew to Armenia.

During the ARS centenary celebrations in Syria, representatives of the ARS were received by Syria’s First Lady, Asma Asad. During this official yet intimate reception, many issues concerning the necessity of raising the level of woman’s role in society, their empowerment, issues of children’s moral, physical, and intellectual growth, improvements in the condition of those economically less fortunate, and the many charitable and social programs implemented by the ARS worldwide were discussed. Assad spoke highly of the role and contributions of the Armenian community of Syria, and of their attachment to Armenia through various organizations. She concluded by stating that she truly admires the concept of the Pan-Armenian Fund and would like to see a Syrian version of it, bringing worldwide Syrian communities together.

Arrival in Yerevan

On the evening of Oct. 11, the members flew to the Zvartnots Airport of Yerevan, where they were met by representatives of ARS-Armenia bearing flowers, with the accompaniment of music and dance. Over the following few days, ARS members and supporters from other regions also arrived to participate in the concluding 100th anniversary celebrations in the homeland.

Planting of trees at Dzidzernagapert

In the morning of Oct. 12, Diasporan ARS groups were joined by a large contingent of ARS-Armenia members, and together they arrived at Dzidzernagapert to honor the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide and to honor, once more, on the soil of their renascent homeland, the indomitable survival will of the Armenian people and the Armenian woman’s will to live and prevail.

Upon the invitation of the director of the Genocide Museum, the ARS Central Executive Board members, in an official ceremony, planted a fir tree in a special section reserved for state functionaries. A plaque bearing the ARS name was placed facing the tree.

At the entrance of the Dzidzernagapert complex, the wreaths of all the ARS entities marched behind the flags of Armenia and Artsakh Republics, followed by the flags of 24 home-countries, born by members of worldwide ARS entities. After the wreaths were deposited, a solemn religious service of prayers took place for the souls of the martyrs.

Immediately following the ceremony, ARS executives, chapters, individual members, and supporters initiated the tree-planting ceremony on the Dzidzernagapert hill, in their own names or in memory of departed loved ones. Thus, 263 trees were planted on a section of the hill that had recently been ravaged by fire.

Press conference

While the tree planting ceremony was taking place on Dzidzernagapert Hill, members of the ARS Executive Board, Mayda Melkonian and Graciela Kevorkian, were being interviewed by members of the Armenian news media at the “Ourpat” Club.

During the interview, answering the questions of the newsmen, the Central Executive members presented the history of the ARS, the pan-Armenian scope of its activities, and the centennial functions.

Reception by President Sarkisian

On Oct. 12, as part of the closing centennial activities, President Serzh Sarkisian organized a reception at the presidential palace for more than 200 ARS members. He congratulated the ARS members upon the centenary of their organization, then noted that the idea of founding a woman’s social, benevolent organization 100 years ago must have seemed very romantic and hard to achieve. “That which the ARS has accomplished from 1910 to this day in a variety of political and geographical situations can and must be considered an unqualified success,” he said.

The president then mingled with the guests, expressing his best wishes for productive decades of activity throughout the regions. The ARS Central Executive Board then presented Sarkisian with the first printed volume of the ARS Centennial Book. The ARS also presented a painting on silk as a gift to the presidential palace.

‘A Plate of Food’

On Oct. 13, the ARS revived its historic “Bnag Mu Geragur” (A Plate of Food) program by taking part in the preparation of food for 14 children’s shelters across Armenia and assuming the expenses of a special serving prepared for that day.

Each shelter or boarding school to receive “A Plate of Food” was sponsored by a specific diasporan ARS entity or chapter. Members of those chapters took part in the actual serving of the food, accompanied by members of the local ARS chapters of each particular city or town housing the shelter.

As part of this program, ARS members also visited a number of institutions: six in Yerevan, three in Gumri, one in Gavar (Sevan), two in Vanadzor, one in Biureghavan (Abovian), and one in Dilijan. The staff of these institutions, and the inmates who remain there due to social or health problems, welcomed the ARS members in a cheerful atmosphere, enhancing the happy mood of the centennial in the homeland.

On the evening of Oct. 13, in Yerevan’s “Moscow” movie theater, the ARS-Armenia-organized event took place at the entrance of the hall. There, the Armenian State Archives had set up a small exhibit of ARS historical documents. The event was attended by members of Armenia’s National Assembly, representatives of political parties, as well as ARF functionaries.

During the proceedings, ARF Bureau member Vahan Hovannesian addressed the audience, giving an overview of the hundred years of ARS activity, stating that the conditions of life have changed for the Armenian people, and a vast field is open now for Armenian women to upgrade their role in society.

In his turn, the director of the Armenian State Archives, Amatuni Virapyan, had words of praise for ARS activities during the changing regimes in Armenia and a variety of conditions in the Diaspora over eventful decades. He stated that based on an agreement reached between the State Archives and the ARS Central Executive Board, soon a collection of ARS documents in possession of the State Archives will be published in book form.

Rising to the podium, the secretary of the ARS Central Executive Board, Mayda Melkonian, did the honors of inaugurating the newly published ARS Centennial Volume, covering the 1910-2010 history of the ARS. Speaking of the extensive tasks of classification of the ARS Archives, started not long ago with modest steps, she stressed the importance of this work that deals with historical material going back to the 1890’s. After expressing gratitude to a veteran ARS member, Ashkhen Pilavjian, whose generous donation covered the publication expenses of the centennial volume, Melkonian praised the volume’s editor, Tatul Sonentz-Papazian, as well as all those who assisted in the gathering of material from ARS regions worldwide.

The chairperson of ARS-Armenia, Alvart Petrosyan, after a quick overview of the almost-two decades of ARS activity in Armenia, then inaugurated Lusik Aguletsi’s recently published and richly illustrated compendium of Armenian creative works, entitled “Vestiges of the Past.”

The evening ended with a well-performed artistic program.

Official Celebration in Yerevan Opera House

On Oct. 14, the concluding function of the centennial organized by the ARS Central Executive Board took place at Yerevan’s A. Spendiaryan Academy of Opera and Ballet Theater. Present at this event were the Legate of the Catholicos of Echmiadzin, Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisyan, Prime Minister of Armenia Dikran Sarkisian, Armenia’s First Lady Rita Sarkisian, ARF Bureau members, members of the National Assembly, representatives of political parties and humanitarian organizations, and a large attendance, among which were ARS members and supporters from all corners of Armenia.

The program started with a full house standing as the national flags of the 26 ARS home countries were marched in by Armenian boy scouts. After the playing of the Republic of Armenia and the ARS hymns, the flags were set at the center of the stage flanked by ARS logos.

During the official part of the program, the audience heard Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisyan convey the message of His Holiness the Catholicos of All Armenians, whose paternal greetings were relayed to all members of the ARS, active in 26 different countries carrying out the universal mission of dedicated Armenian women. Karekin II’s pontifical message went on praising the constructive ARS programs around the Diaspora, as well as in Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk, and encouraging the ARS membership worldwide to continue its endeavors to the benefit of all Armenians, everywhere.

The prime minister of Armenia, Dikran Sarkisian, evaluated the ARS as one of the unique and most important organizations in Armenian reality, whose projects realized in Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk are noteworthy by their clearness of purpose, superior efficiency, and exceptional transparency and accountability. In appreciation of the Society’s concern and care for all things Armenian, the prime minister concluded his remarks by saying, “For that care and concern shown for our national issues, today, we bring you our expressions of gratitude and thanks, wishing each one of you all the best and continuous success in all your patriotic endeavors.”

ARF Bureau member Hagop Der Khachadourian underlined the fact that the ARS–inside or outside the homeland –not only accomplished and continues to accomplish its humanitarian, socioeconomic, educational, and health services, but has taken part in our people’s liberation struggle as well. It has striven for the strengthening of democratic ideals within Armenian states, the building of a society of informed citizens, and the enhancement of Armenian women’s rights. He classified the ARS as the largest and most noteworthy women’s organization in Armenian life that, after decades of exile due to conditions beyond its control, has returned to Armenia over the last two decades and has already become a pan-Armenian organization with a special focus on Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk. He noted that the ARS mission is the melding of humanitarian work with national service. After evaluating the Society’s 100-year achievement, Der Khachadourian concluded by saying that for the ARF, the ARS is an organization on the first line of struggle for national resurgence and total liberation and emancipation, aware of today’s conditions and its role in them, remaining on the ramparts with its vast army of volunteers.

In her address, the chairperson of the ARS Central Executive Board, Vicky Marashlian, made the observation that the concluding centennial function was being held in Armenia, a fact that once again comes to prove that the history of the ARS is an integral part of our people’s history of the last hundred years. After noting that the ARS was born in the maelstrom of our people’s liberation struggle, and had assumed the role of caring mother for the exiled masses in diasporan conditions, she went on to conclude that at the present, as a repatriate, the Society is involved in the material and spiritual reconstruction of the homeland.

At the end of her address, the ARS chairperson stated that she wishes to make two additions to her speech: First, she thanked the donors who had given $25,000 or more to the ARS Centennial Fund. She read the names of the donors: Der Hovhannesian and Hindoyan families (Western USA), Diana Hadjetian (Canada), Varsenig Sarkisian (Canada), and Silva Sdamboulian (Italy). Each one of these donors received a bouquet of flowers and a memento. She also mentioned ARS members Ashkhen Pilavjian (Western USA) and Azniv Sabounjian (Western USA), Mr. and Mrs. Sdepan and Tamar Der Bedrossian (Lebanon), Mr. and Mrs. Jirayr and Meline Jizmajian (Eastern USA), and Jacky and Seta Guevrekian (Egypt), who were not present at the function.

After thanking the donors, the Central Executive Board chairman, speaking on behalf of present and past ARS Boards and the general membership, spoke words of gratitude to Tatul Sonentz-Papazian for his decades of devoted service to the nation, including the Armenian Relief Society, in whose offices he has and continues to serve for around two decades. On this occasion, he was honored by the Central Executive Board with a statuette symbolizing Armenian women serving in the ranks of the ARS.

After the official orations, a film was shown about ARS activities, followed by the artistic program, with the participation of Kevork Hajian, the “Narekatsi” ensemble, and Leyla Saribekyan. Then two of the ARS Student Program scholarship recipients addressed the audience on behalf of all beneficiaries, expressing their gratitude to the extended family of the ARS for the consideration demonstrated to them on the aftermath of the earthquake and the Artsakh liberation war.

Opening of ARS grove and fountain

In spite of the rainy weather, on Oct. 15, at noon, the Yerevan Municipality held the official opening of the ARS garden and fountain on a plot at the entrance of the Komitas Pantheon. On the occasion of the Society’s centennial, 100 fir trees were planted there with a fountain and bench set at the center.

Attending this ceremony organized by the ARS-Armenia Regional Board, the mayor of Yerevan Gagik Beglaryan, ARF Bureau member Levon Mkrtchyan, ARF-Armenia Supreme Council member Simon Simonyan, ARS Central Executive Board chairperson Vicky Marashlian, and ARS-Armenia Regional Board chairperson Alvard Petrosyan spoke on this occasion. Present at this event were also a large number of local and diasporan ARS members and many state and city officials.

In the evening of the same day, a gala celebration was organized by the ARS-Armenia Regional Board, with the participation of First Lady Rita Sarkisian, the spouse of the prime minister, Anush Sarkisian, representatives of sister organizations, and a large group of ARS members and supporters.

Reception at ministry, awarding of state medal

On the evening of Sat., Oct. 16, invited by the Ministry of Diaspora, a reception took place, organized for the ARS centenary. More than 200 ARS members attended this reception, along with Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan, Hrant Markarian, the chairman of the ARF Bureau, and Bureau members Vahan Hovannesian and Hagop Der Khachadurian.

At the start of the festivities, the Hakobyan spoke, praising the ARS activities in both the Diaspora and the homeland, stating that the secret of its longevity is in its good works. Then she invited Marashlian to accept the ministry’s gold medal, granted by the government of the Republic of Armenia to the ARS for its 100 years’ meritorious service.

In her turn, the ARS chairperson, after thanking the minister, restated the ARS’s resolve to serve the entire Armenian nation in an entire Armenian homeland.

ARF Bureau chairman Hrant Markarian focused on the fraternal roots of the ARF and the ARS, and the fact that the ARS had shouldered its many responsibilities, always honoring that truth. He went on, speaking of the necessity to march with the times and the new horizons of activity ahead of the Society.

The speeches were followed by a rich program of artistic entertainment, provided by popular artists and a youthful dance group, who created an enthusiastic festive mood in the audience. The evening ended with refreshments supplied by the ministry.

At the close of this narrative of the concluding events marking the ARS centennial, we should note that the news media of Armenia, particularly the TV stations, covered all of the ARS centennial functions extensively. Accessible in the Diaspora through satellite relay, Yerkir Media, in its broadcasts, gave ample time and special attention to the celebrations.

After the conclusion of the ARS’s centenary celebrations in Armenia, and following a day of rest on Oct. 16, three groups, consisting of more than 150 ARS members, headed for Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) on Oct. 17. The first group went directly to Stepanakert, while the other two joined them in the capital city after visiting various locations of historic interest throughout the republic.

Reception at Martakert

The official ARS group, arriving in Stepanakert in the afternoon and soon after joined by local ARS members, headed for Martakert in a chartered bus, with official police escort.

At the entrance of the city, the ARS delegation was met with the traditional Armenian salt and bread. The welcoming committee included the director of the Martakert staff, Sergey Ohanyan, with other functionaries, who escorted the ARS delegation to the monument of the fallen soldiers of World War II, and from there to the Artsakh Liberation War Martyrs’ Memorial. After paying their respects, the members visited the Martyrs’ Museum next door to the memorial. The delegation then moved to Martakert City Hall, where they met with members of the city government. During this official meeting, the local leadership presented a list of various needs of the city, while representatives of several ARS regional executives briefed them on the present activities of the Society.

At the close of the meeting, the Martakert schoolchildren presented a short performance, seeing off the ARS members in very good spirits. On the way to Stepanakert, the delegation briefly visited the Tigranakert Museum, erected recently on the site of the excavations of the ancient city of the same name.

Honoring martyrs of Artsakh Liberation

In the morning of Oct. 18, the delegation gathered at the memorial for the casualties of World War II, adjacent to the Stepanakert “Yeghpayrakan” Cemetery. The minister of education, Vladik Khachatryan, joined the group in honoring the martyrs as well as the memory of the first president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Supreme Council, Arthur Mkrtchyan. Wreaths were placed at the foot of the monuments on behalf of the ARS Central and Regional Executives, while everyone else placed a violet beside the wreaths.

A group of ARS members then proceeded to the Ashot Ghoulyan Memorial, where the same ceremony was repeated for the exceptional freedom fighter who played a major role in the liberation of Shushi.

Both ceremonies were attended by the widows of Arthur Mkrtchyan and Ashot Ghoulyan, Nelly and Gohar, both members of the ARS in Artsakh.

Reception with President Sahakian

Around noontime the same day, an ARS delegation composed of the ARS Central Executive, a representative from each ARS Region present at the Centennial celebrations in Artsakh, accompanied by the representative of the region’s ARF Central Committee, Davit Ishkhanian, met with President Bako Sahakian.

Expressing high praise for the activities of the ARS in Artsakh, the president, focusing on the future, called upon the ARS representatives to concentrate the Society’s efforts on steps leading to the overall development and growth of Artsakh—in both human and organizational areas—instead of merely promoting assistance-based programs. He invited all present to have their children with them on their next visit to Artsakh. Furthermore, he expressed his wish that the ARS send Diasporan youngsters to summer camps in Artsakh, since it is through these extended visits that the ties of Armenian youth to the soil of Artsakh will be strengthened over the coming decades.

The president also spoke of the problem of water distribution in Artsakh, essential in any society’s development. After noting that the state had already prepared a study on the renovation and expansion of the distribution network of potable water in Artsakh, he invited the ARS to play a role in this project, stating that this year’s All-Armenian Fund Telethon will channel its collected sums to this purpose.

The president listened intently as the ARS delegation informed him that the Society is already planning developmental programs and, to that purpose, is studying the possibilities of cooperation with a variety of international agencies. At the close of the meeting, the president assured the delegation that he would see them all at the celebration planned later that evening.

Meeting with president of Artsakh National Assembly
A second group of ARS members met with Ashot Ghoulyan, the president of the Artsakh National Assembly, who, after expressing his appreciation for ARS activities in Artsakh, focused on the issue of developing programs that enhance awareness of national identity in university students. He also spoke of the difficult living standards in the villages and the necessity of supplying potable water to the population. He expressed hope that work along those lines will continue with the cooperation of the ARS.

Meeting with prime minister

A third group of visiting ARS members met with the Prime Minister Ara Haroutyunyan. The premier spoke highly of ARS assistance both during and after the liberation war, during the days of reconstruction. He then focused on the present developmental needs of Artsakh in the areas of education, health, economy, and social concerns. He gave detailed information about each one of these issues, asking the ARS to provide its input in the implementation of long-range programs. Answering a question, the premier stated that the demographic picture of the country is improving, as emigration decreases and the number of new immigrants and births increase steadily.

Official celebration at the Stepanakert Youth Palace

On the evening of Oct. 18, at the entrance of the Youth Palace, the ARS Central Executive Board welcomed President Sahakian and the First Lady of Artsakh, who had arrived in the company of the prime minister, the president of the National Assembly, and several other ministers and officials, to take part in the ARS centennial celebrations.

The “Mrakatz” State Chamber Choir, singing the national and the ARS anthems, opened the event, organized by the ARS/Artsakh. Official addresses were made by the Primate of the Artsakh See Bishop Barkev Martyrosyan’s Legate, Father Emmanuel Vardanyan; ARS chairperson Vicky Marashlian; the chairperson of the ARS/Artsakh-at-large Chapter, Bella Haroutyunyan; the representative of the ARF/Artsakh Central Committee, Davit Ishkhanyan; and President Bako Sahakyan who, before his speech, decorated the ARS Central Executive Board with the Medal of “Vachakan Barepasht” and the ARS/Artsakh Executive Body with the “Yerakhtagitutiun” Medal.

The artistic program consisted of performances by the following: The Artsakh State Song and Dance Ensemble, the Children’s Creative Center, the “Arpi” State Youth ensemble, popular artists Paruyr Nercisyan, Alexander Avagyan, and Tadevik Aslanyan, as well as the ARS “Soseh” Kindergarten pupils. A film was presented covering ARS activities including congratulatory messages from various regions on the occasion of the centennial.

As affecting and stirring was the joint dance by the ARS “Soseh” Kindergartens’ past and present pupils. And the following words uttered by Father Emmanuel Vardanian were more than stirring in their positive tone of optimism: “If 30 years ago someone had said that the ARS centennial was to be celebrated in the Free and Independent Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, no one would have believed it. But the miracle has happened, and we must never waver in our faith, that soon, we may gather like this in the Erzerum offices of the Armenian Relief Society…”

Concluding celebration and banquet

Following the function at the Stepanakert Youth Palace, the majority of the participants—official guests, ARS members and supporters from a dozen countries as well as Armenia and Artsakh—gathered at a nearby restaurant to take part in the last of the centennial celebrations. More than 250 people in a happy mood of song and revelry enjoyed the professional as well as aspiring youngsters’ and ARS “Soseh” Kindergarten children’s talented routines of song and dance.

The cutting of the centennial cake, with the participation of members of both the Central and Regional ARS Executives, took place in a highly exultant atmosphere. Many participants made substantial donations during the banquet.

After the completion of this string of centennial celebrations, Marashlian stated: “The last 10 days, which started at Der Zor and concluded in Artsakh, may have seemed arduous to many, with its busy schedule. But for the ARS members, it was an all-inclusive tour in the pages of our history and a renewal of our will and readiness to work. We started at Der Zor, where only 95 years ago there was an attempt to put an end to our people’s existence, and proceeded to reach a Free and Independent Armenia, which in spite of all hardships, today stands as a self-supporting state and the homeland of all Armenians. Then we went on to Artsakh, the guiding light of Armenian victories and the first stage of a United Armenia. At all our stops, we celebrated not only the ARS’s but also Armenian women’s centennial achievements and the input into the struggle that carried our people from the status of genocide victim to the eminence of a victorious sovereign nation.”

The vice-chairperson of the ARS Central Executive Board, Maro Froundjian, added: “On behalf of the ARS Central Executive Board, I want to thank the ARS entities of Syria, Armenia, and Artsakh, without whose total participation our celebrations would have never achieved this exceptional success. And now that the festivities are over, it is time to go back to work to deal with the challenges facing our Society, and our people.”

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