BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
When the Hye Aid Lebanon Telethon ended Sunday at 8:30 p.m., $1,375,555 was already collected to assist the Armenian community of Lebanon, after a massive August 4 explosion in Beirut that caused devastation across the city and changed the lives forever. The Armenian community in Lebanon was not spared the wrath of the blast.
Sunday’s HyeAid Lebanon Telethon showcased the collective efforts of the Armenian community in Western United States as its Pan-Armenian Council, comprised of 24 organizations, staged the telethon to enhance its ongoing relief efforts aimed at assisting the Lebanese Armenian community.
HyeAid Lebanon effort was announced days after the explosion and immediately gained traction among the community, whose members and organizations generously contributed to the effort, all realizing the urgent imperative to assist our sisters and brothers in Lebanon. The organizers sought to bring this largely online effort to people’s living rooms with the aim providing the Western U.S. community a first-hand look at the devastating effects of the blast on the Lebanese Armenians and the unbearable loss they have endured since the shock of the blast changed their lives forever.
Under the motto of “One Nation. One Future,” the telethon kicked off at 5 p.m. (Pacific time) with a message from His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, who made an impassioned appeal and spoke directly to the Western U.S. community, at first thanking its members and organizations, but more broadly laying out the challenges facing the beleaguered community. Organizers announced that all contribution will be transferred to a unified body under the high auspices of Catholicos Aram I.
The program was simulcast on ARTN, USArmenia, Horizon and Pan Armenian television channels and was livestreamed on the Asbarez Newspaper, Horizon TV and HyeAid Facebook pages. At the close of the telethon, tens of thousands of people had watched, participated and, more important, came together to collectively assist the effort.
The program’s anchors, Vruir Tadevosian of Horizon, Armine Amiryan of USArmenia, Mher Baghdasaryan of Pan Armenian TV and Varditer Grigoryan of ARTN, walked the viewers through the narrative of the current crisis facing the Lebanese Armenian community, as well as the critically important role it has played—and continues to play—in our national reality. Joining the anchors in the studio for the live broadcast was Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region Armen Sahakyan.
What made the program unique were the on-the-spot reporting from Lebanon. The telethon organizers had assembled a local crew comprised of Lorig Saboundjian, Njteh Mgrdichian and Sevag Saghbazarian. Through their interviews with community leaders, hard-hitting segments featuring the post-explosion community efforts, as well as highly emotional and personal interviews with relatives of those who lost their lives to the blast brought the realities of the challenges facing the community to life. Shogair Mgrdritchian introduced those segments by leveraging her experiences in Lebanon, drew a true-to-life pictures for the viewers.
While the telethon was being broadcast, an army of volunteers was fielding calls and collecting donations from the hundreds of viewers who reached out to take part in this national effort. The volunteers processed donations ranging from $5 to thousands of dollars, as the enthusiasm of the community to help was measured in volume of callers, whose genuine concern for the fate of the Armenian community Lebanon was relayed through personal stories and anecdotes.
The program also featured appeals from representatives and leaders of the organizations* that make up the Pan-Armenian Council of the Western U.S., among them were Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian; the Primate of the Western Diocese, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian; Reverend Berdj Jambazian of the Armenian Evangelical Church of North America; and Bishop Mikayel Mouradian, the leader of the Armenian Catholic Eparchy.
Minutes before the close of the telethon, during a live interview via Zoom, Archbishop Mardirossian, the Western Prelate, announced a generous donation of $250,000 from an anonymous institution.
The amount of support and engagement with the telethon was overwhelming. Second before the telethon was about to end, community activist and benefactor Garo Eshgian, who is also the Chairman of the Western Prelacy Executive Council, entered the studio to make an impassioned plea to the viewing audience.
Eshgian recalled his youth and formative years spent in Lebanon as he grew up during the Lebanese Civil War, and recounted how Beirut cradled the Armenian community, which was—and continues to be—a critical part of the fabric of Lebanon. Overcome by emotion, Eshgian announced a donation of $150,000 on behalf of his family to the HyeAid Lebanon effort. Throughout the telethon, Eshgian’s wife, Sosse, was one of the hard-working volunteers who were answering the phones and processing donations.
Other long-time community benefactors also took part in the effort, among them Sarkis and Nune Sepejian who donated $100,000; Varant & Hoori Melkonian who contributed $30,000 and Fermanian Families of Super King Market who contribute $25,000. (HyeAid Lebanon organizers will publish a complete list of donations in the coming weeks).
The contributions did not stop when the broadcast had ended and volunteers continued to field calls well into the evening.
Even before the August 4 blast, the Lebanese Armenian community was reeling. It was hit hard with the financial crisis, which has paralyzed the country’s economy. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which also adversely impacted the community, forcing it to face more financial hardship. The blast has left many homeless, jobless and in search of basic necessities such as food, water and other every-day essentials.
The funds raised through the Hye Aid Lebanon effort will go directly to address these needs, and also to help the rebuilding efforts of Armenian churches, schools and critical institutions that were severely damaged by the blast. While the telethon is over, the fundraising efforts of HyeAid Lebanon are continuing. Join the “One Nation. One Future” effort and donate.
*Pan Armenian Council of Western United States of America member organizations
Armenian Assembly of America
Armenian Bar Association
Armenian Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg of North America
Armenian Democratic Liberal Party Western District
Armenian General Benevolent Union, Western District
Armenian Evangelical Union of North America
Armenian Missionary Association of America
Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region
Armenian Relief Society of Western USA
Armenian Revolutionary Federation of Western USA
Armenian Society of Los Angeles – Iranahay Miutyun
Armenian Youth Association of California – Irakahay Miutyun
Armenian Youth Federation of Western USA
Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society of the Western USA
Homenetmen Western USA
Iraqi Armenian Family Association of Los Angeles
Kessab Educational Association
Organization of Istanbul Armenians
Service Employees International Union – Armenian Caucus
Southern California Armenian Democrats
Tekeyan Cultural Association
Unified Young Armenians
Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America
Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America