BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
GLENDALE–Bringing with him a message of hope and a call to build a prosperous Armenia–President Robert Kocharian stepped off the plane at Van Nuys airport and kicked off a historic weekend for the Southland Armenian community which was highlighted by a banquet marking the 100th humanitarian airlift of the United Armenian Fund Saturday evening at the Century Plaza Hotel and a seventh anniversary celebration of the independence of the Republic of Armenia.
What made the weekend historic was that for the first time all political and religious leaders of the Armenian nation were under one roof and working for the common good of the Armenian people.
Joining the president at the banquet were First Lady Bella Kocharian–His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s–His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia–Philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian and president of the American Red Cross Elizabeth Dole–who was escorted into the banquet hall by comedian Jay Leno. The banquet became a pan community event through a live broadcast of the festivities by Horizon television which reached some 350,000 Armenia’s.
In his address to the banquet–Kocharian expressed his appreciation for UAF’s humanitarian efforts and the Armenian-American community.
"Armenia has been very fortunate for the assistance it has received from the United States. In our times of need–the US has always been ready to help and lend a hand," Kocharian stated.
"Today–we continue to look for your support in order to enhance our young democracy," the president remarked.
One of the moving momen’s of the weekend came when Kocharian granted benefactor Kerkorian honorary citizenship of Armenia and presented him with an honorary passport. The president praised Kerkorian’s efforts and contributions toward the advancement and enhancement of the Armenian nation.
"For Armenia and the many democratic challenges it faces–and to President Kocharian–you have my personal support through the Lincy Foundation," said Kerkorian during his brief address.
The banquet was gracefully led by Master of Ceremonies Alex Yemenidjian–UAF chairman–as well as president and Chief Operation Officer of MGM. Both Karekin I and Aram I addressed the banquet as did Elizabeth Dole–Kerkorian and UAF Executive Director Harut Sassounian who provided a detailed report of the fund’s activities. Comedian Jay Leno had the house laughing to a stand up comic routine–at the end of which he praised his long-time Armenian neighbor who had enlightened him about Armenian history and culture. Video messages were sent by former Sen. Bob Dole and singer/entertainer Charles Aznavour. A special tribute to the UAF was produced by singer Paul Anka.
Before taking the podium–Kocharian was presented a gold minted memorabilia coin by banquet chairlady Savey Tufenkian.
The event raised close to $1 million with more than 1,800 people in attendance.
Kocharian arrived in Los Angeles Saturday afternoon–landing at Van Nuys airport on Kerkorian’s private Skylar Transportation airlines at approximately 2 p.m. from New York–where a day earlier he had addressed the United Nations General Assmebly .
Joining the president–the first lady and the Karekin I were Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian–presidential assistant Armen Gevorkian–presidential press secretary Gassia Abkarian–Armenia’s Ambassador to the US Rouben Shugarian and Armenia’s representative to the United Nations Movses Apelyan.
Thousands of community members also took part in a celebration of the 7th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Armenia at the Universal Amphitheater Sunday–during which Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian briefed the community on the domestic and foreign polices of Armenia’s new administration.
The event was sponsored by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–the Armenian Democratic League and the Social-Democratic Hunchakian party–and was organized through efforts of numerous organizations in the community.
Professor Richard Hovannisian presented a historic perspective of the Republic of Armenia–and through a comparison between the 1918 Armenian Independence and the 1991 independence of the Republic of Armenia–he emphasized the importance of strengthening the Armenian state.
He also praised the president on his efforts to bring about national unity and challenged him to fulfill his campaign responsibilities–pledging–of course–the support of the Diaspora in that task.
The Diaspora was a recurring theme throughout the weekend.
The president–during his numerous public appearances praised the Diaspora for its strength–dubbing it one of the most important resources of Armenia.
In his speech at the independence day celebration–Kocharian outlined the obstacles and problems facing the Armenian people–and highlighted the role of the Diaspora in overcoming those problems.
Most importantly–Kocharian characterized the Diaspora-homeland relations as a two-way street–saying that the two entities must complement each other in order to achieve fruition of national ideals.
The president also pledged a complete reconstruction of the earthquake zone by 2001.
Foreign Minister Oskanian discussed some of the diplomatic activities of the Armenian delegation at the United Nations and stressed that statemen’s by current opposition forces characterizing Armenia as isolated were untrue and far from reality.
Also speaking at the celebration was Consul General Armen Melkonian–who welcomed the community and elected officials present at the event. Parsegh Kartalian was the Master of Ceremonies who led the program through a flag ceremony by the Homenetemen–Homenmen and AGBU scouts. The Sipan choir–under the direction of Henrik Anassian.
An equally important and impressive event took place Friday at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. John and Astghig Bedrossian of Tarzana–who hosted a banquet honoring His Holiness Aram I–Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia.
The reception–organized by the Western Prelacy–raised $300,000 during a fundraiser. Donations of $100,000 each were announced by the hosts and long-time benefactors Mr. & Mrs. Richard and Tina Carolan. John Bedrossian–Prelate Bishop Moushegh Mardirossian and Aram I addressed the gathering.
Sunday began with a solemn religious Mass at St. Peter Armenian church in Van Nuys.
The Mass was officiated by Catholicos Aram I Prelate Mardirossian and Primate Arch. Vatche Hovsepian–with a Sunday sermon delivered by His Holiness Karekin I–Catholicos of All Armenia’s.
Later that afternoon–President Kocharian met with leaders of the California Armenia community during a luncheon at the Brandview Collection in Glendale.
Following this event–the president met with Armenian press representatives during a press conference in an adjacent hall at the Brandview Collection.