By Jenny Kiljian
The Armenian Cultural Foundation–along with 250 of its loyal supporters–gathered on Saturday–November 13–at the Glendale Hilton for its 8th Annual Banquet–under the auspices of Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian of the Western Prelacy of the United States and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Western Region Central Committee.
After a lavish cocktail hour prior to the reception–the program began with Rima Garabedyan–who roused the patriotism of the audience with her powerful renditions of the national anthems of the United States and Armenia.
Welcoming remarks were delivered by master of ceremonies Saro Nazarian. He thanked those people who lovingly and wholeheartedly continue to support each year the activities and events of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the Western Region of the United States–noting that in the more than 100 years since its inception–the ARF has always enjoyed the support of the communities it has served. Nazarian specifically thanked ARF Bureau member–Deputy Speaker of Parliament in the Republic of Armenia Vahan Hovhannisian–ARF Bureau member Dr. Vicken Hovsepian–Troshag editor Nazareth Berberian–and ARF East Coast Central Committee representative Zohrab Tazian for their presence that evening.
Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian then led the audience in prayer–after which guests enjoyed their dinner while listening to the delightful strains of the Artashes Kartalyan Jazz quartet.
Following the dinner–Nazarian introduced a short film about the Armenian Revolutionary Federation that was produced by the Armenian Cultural Foundation. The film began with the slogan "Hayootyan Hed–Hayasdani Hamar," (With the people–for the homeland)–and was the perfect backdrop for the images of ARF volunteers who fought the Ottoman Empire to defend the Armenian people against extermination. Flags bearing the slogan "Freedom or Death," and the ARF emblem were proudly displayed by their battalions. The film emphasized the importance of the ARF in the political arena at the end of World War I–and how the party demonstrated its leadership in both the battlefield and the state rooms of Europe.
The film also highlighted the work of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANC)–the grassroots–political lobby of the ARF. The ANC is the oldest grassroots organization in the United States–and is founded on the principles of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia–started by Vahan Cardashian. The ANC displays the face of the community–and represents issues of importance to Armenian-Americans within the United States. The organizations three priorities are recognition of the Armenian genocide–education about the genocide within school system–and political lobbying through state and local government.
Mountainous Karabagh was also a key segment of the film. The ARF has been one of the staunchest supporters for the liberation of the Artsakh region; the bond that the party has established between the diaspora and Armenia is inextricable. The ARF has been able to turn the impossible into a possibility–and has succeeded in giving the people of Armenia and the diaspora hope in a future full of possibilities.
Following the film–Nazarian invited ARF Bureau member–Deputy Speaker of Parliament in the Republic of Armenia Vahan Hovhannisian–to deliver his keynote remarks. Hovhannisian expressed that it was a great honor and joy to be present that evening. He commended the audience–saying that talk of the social climate in Armenia–the poverty level–or whether soldiers in Karabagh are well–were not truly pertinent to discuss that evening–because those present continue to be involved in those matters daily–and know that the situation on all fronts is well.
Hovhannisian reminded the audience of the ARF motto "A free–independent–and united Armenia," noting that the continual change in the global political climate has often made it necessary to shift their respective priorities. In 1988–unity was the top priority–when the people of Karabagh began their struggle–with no diplomatic solution in sight.
1991–noted Hovhannisian–brought with it the need for the independence of Armenia. "What good was a united Armenia under a fascist regime?" posited the Bureau member–noting that from the mid-90s until present day–the top priority has been to free the Armenian people from unjust and inhumane leadership.
"The most dangerous thing for Armenia’s would be to become disillusioned with independence because of fundamental injustices committed against them," Hovhannisian said. "More people emigrate from Armenia because of injustice rather than poor social conditions. But–we’ve survived because we continue to fight against injustice."
The current year–according to Hovhannisian–also brought with it a new priority–the freedom of Armenia. In 1918–and 1991–Hovhannisian conceded that the Armenian people were unprepared to be given their independence. But–they accepted it and lived under a new social climate. "It’s easy to live as a slave and have no decisions to make. Though you may complain and express your dissatisfaction–you accept that you have no control and your fate is not up to you," expressed Hovhannisian. "You have no responsibility to decide your fate or the fate of your people. We must not become disillusioned because of the difficult decisions that come part and parcel with independence." Hovhannisian emphasized that the determining of one’s fate is a tremendous–often overwhelming responsibility. Though Armenia may not have been ready to be free–that freedom has been on the ARF platform since 1890 and that is the central reason–according to Hovhannisian–why the ARF stands behind the government.
"In the end–we won’t lose our freedom. But–our role is to make this freedom a reality. We can’t rest with little victories," urged Hovhannisian. "We’ve had a mediocre independence–freedom–and unity. But–I can’t live in a country of mediocrity. We need and deserve complete independence–freedom–and unity."
Chairman of the ARF Western Region Central Committee Hovig Saliba also addressed the audience that evening. "We are one people–and we have one homeland. We live in different regions–under different social conditions. But–we’re all Armenian with one homeland," said Saliba–echoing the opening of the film. "There are no issues of ‘the homeland’ and ‘the diaspora.’ Rather–there are Armenian issues that our futures are centered around."
Saliba touted the importance of the youth in promoting the platform of the ARF–and expressed that the Armenian culture and traditions need to be instilled from an early age in Armenian schools. He also mentioned that various sister organizations of the ARF each play a crucial role in shaping the community and the lives of the youth.
The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) imbues in young Armenia’s the importance of political involvement and radical thinking; the Armenian General Athletic Union (Homenetmen) provides an opportunity to display athletic prowess and mastery of scouting; Hamazkayin provides a forum to learn about culture and history; and the Armenian Relief Society demonstrates the importance of social work and volunteerism. Saliba also regarded the work of the ANC in getting the youth involved in genocide recognition–issues relating to the Republic of Armenia issues–Artsakh–and within California and federal politics.
According to Saliba–however–the salient issue is the recognition of the genocide. The 90th anniversary of the genocide is rapidly approaching–and without more concerted efforts–admonished Saliba–Armenia’s would soon be marking the first century since the Ottoman Empire tried to exterminate the Armenia’s. "The genocide must be recognized once and for all. Turkey must be forced to admit its past–and make reparations of Armenian land," he said. "Not I nor any Armenian can imagine Armenia without Ararat."
Saliba called on all organizations to work together–on a united front without political bias–because the genocide was committed against all Armenia’s regardless of political affiliation. "We also have a responsibility in Armenia. If we don’t sustain our homeland–the diaspora will not survive," said Saliba. "We must strengthen our homeland–so that we can persuade more and more people to return to Armenia."
The evening closed with Armenian Radio Ensemble of Traditional and Troubadour Music–under the direction of Tovmas Boghossian. The ensemble performed many traditional and troubadour songs–along with their unique renditions of Armenian Revolutionary anthems such as Verkerov Lee and Menk Angeghdz Zeenvor Enk.