YEREVAN–Members and supporters of the Armenian Relief Society recently concluded a two week celebration of the ARS Armenia region’s 15th anniversary of operation within the Homeland and joined their compatriots to commemorate the coinciding 15th anniversary of the Republic of Armenia. Commemorative tours, celebrations, and visitations and a day long conference dominated the Sept. 15-27 celebration. Activities were based in Yerevan and included visits to Artsakh and Javakhk. Months in the planning, the tour and anniversary celebration were held under the auspices of the ARS, Inc. international Central Executive Board. ARS members and friends attended from the United States, Canada, France, Argentina, Australia, Italy, Germany, Lebanon, Syria, England, Cyprus, Greece, Javakhk, Artsakh, and Armenia. At the same time, the nine members ARS Central Executive Board held a Board meeting, focusing particularly on its programs within Armenia, Artsakh, and Javakhk. The ARS CEB and ARS members and supporters were also present at the Sept. 18-20 Third Armenia-Diaspora Conference sponsored by the Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs where CEB Chairwoman Hasmig Derderian presented the ARS’s message to the hundreds of attending representatives and observers. The ARS Armenia 15th anniversary commemorative activities were organized by the ARS Armenia Regional Executive Board. A description of the highlights of the two week ARS celebration follows. Tour of Armenia’s Historical Sites and Special Events Members of the ARS 15th anniversary celebration tour were treated to visits around Armenia, giving the first time visitor a superb overall view of the country and keeping the repeat visitor interested and awed. The tour was organized by Menua Tours of Yerevan. The tour began on Sept. 15 with a visit to Yerablur, Soseh Mairik’s tomb, Yerebuni, and a driving tour of Yerevan. On Sept. 17, tourists visited Etchmiadzin cathedral and monastery in the morning and Sardarabad and its museum in the afternoon. The day concluded at the Sundukian Theater with the performance of "Yes mi Tzar em Tzirani," by former ARS CEB member and ARS Armenian Regional Executive Chairperson Alvard Petrosyan. Garni’s 2nd century pagan temple and Geghard’s ancient monastery were on the agenda for Sept. 18, along with visits to three schools sponsored by the ARS for children with developmental disabilities. On Sept. 20, the ARS tour group visited Ashtarak, Mughni, Saghmosavanq, and Amberd, marveling at the ancient architecture. From Sept. 24-27, tourists were able to visit Artsakh, taking in the ancient historical sites and visiting ARS sponsored ‘Soseh’ kindergartens in the various villages throughout the country. The Artsakh trip was followed by a two day visit to Javakhq, where the ARS group was able to see the fruits of the Society’s labors in bringing educational, medical, and social stability to Javakhq’s population in the form of a clinic, offices, and educational facilities. ARS members were also present for a ribbon cutting ceremony held on Sept. 25 upon the opening of a long-awaited youth center in Javakhq. Ribbon Cutting Ceremony Unveils New CAT Scan Machine at ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center On September 16, the ARS group visited the ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center, as well as the ARS Nigol Aghbalian School, both in Gyumri. ARS CEB members recessed their meeting to visit the former earthquake-stricken area with the group. The ARS Nigol Aghbalian School was the first stop, where tour buses were waved in by students holding bright red, blue and orange papers in the spirit of the coming Sept. 21 15th anniversary Independence Day celebrations. School Principal Khanum Babigian greeted the visitors and directed students in singing and recitations for the crowd. ARS, Inc. CEB member Shakeh Basmajian offered greetings from the CEB and praised the schoolteachers and the 300 students for their dedication to learning and educational improvement. The next stop was the nearby ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center, where the group toured the maternity ward which opened in April 2005. The state of the art facility has now overseen the births of nearly 1,500 babies, including one premature week old child in an incubator who was born at 1 kilo and needed to gain a normal weight of 2.5 kilos before going home. A highlight of the visit was a red ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil a new CAT scan machine and newly renovated clinic space dedicated to scanning and mammography. The CAT scan machine was donated by the French S.O.S. and arranged by Dr. Samson O.Z. Ararat of France. The machine is the only CAT scan machine outside of Yerevan and will serve the entire northern region of Armenia, reaching into Javakhq. There are only six such machines in Yerevan, a 120 kilometer drive from Gyumri. "This gift will increase the flow of patients and the quality of care in the region," said ARS Clinic Executive Director Dr. Sevag Avagian. The donation will allow the ARS clinic to expand its medical services and reach more patients in a cost effective manner. ARS CEB Chairperson Hasmig Derderian and Dr. Ararat shared in the ribbon cutting duties and happily shook hands to commemorate a new step in ARS-provided health care in Gumri and beyond. The CAT scan machine joins another new addition to the ARS clinic’s services: an ambulance. Complete with the ARS’s logo, the new ambulance provides a unique and much needed service to the inhabitants of the former earthquake region in an area which is second in population only to Yerevan. The day ended with a mandatory meeting between the ARS CEB and executive board representatives from 15 ARS regions, where information and ideas were exchanged in a spirit of cooperation. A question and answer period followed between the CEB and the regional and chapter representatives. The evening concluded with a reception for members hosted by the ARS Armenia Regional Executive. ARS at the Third Armenia-Diaspora Conference The ARS CEB and ARS members from various entities attended the opening ceremonies of the Republic of Armenia Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Third Armenia-Diaspora Conference. The conference was attended by hundreds of delegates and observers from around the world and held at the Karen Demirchian Sports Concert Center, Yerevan. Prominent political parties and non profit organizations were invited to sit at the round table and offer remarks in the spirit of the conference topic at hand which focused on revitalizing Armenia’s rural areas in the coming years to begin a spread of prosperity and stability outside of central Yerevan. In her well received remarks, ARS CEB Chairwoman Hasmig Derderian emphasized the ARS’s plan to contribute to rural revitalization by replicating its premiere Artsakh Sosseh Kindergarten program and bringing it to Armenia. Derderian also noted that ARS entities and members will contribute to the organized Armenia rural revitalization effort through its participation in community projects around the world. Visit to ARS Armenia’s New Dilijan Camp The ARS group stopped to enjoy Lake Sevan and her ancient monasteries on the way to see the ARS Armenia’s new camp in Dilijan. Dilijan is known for its restful atmosphere and crystal clean air. ARS Armenia is planning for the camp to be used by ARS, youth, and other groups in the coming months as renovations on the camp’s two buildings are completed. The two buildings include sleeping rooms, a cafeteria, kitchen, and meeting rooms. The project was financed by the Greece’s Hellenic Aid Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Reconstruction of the sanatorium building was finance by the Greek non-governmental organization, Development Cooperation & Solidarity. The ARS group also visited the 10th century St. Gregory the Illuminator Church in Dilijan, which is still active. Father Sasun Zunrughian invited the group to partake in the traditional offering of bread dipped in salt and proceeded to conduct a short religious ceremony in the St. Astvatzatzin Church. Dilijan Mayor Armen Santrossian also welcomed the ARS group and described some of the many highpoints of Dilijan. The day concluded with a lavish lunch offered by the ARS Dilijan Chapter, whose Chairperson, Esma Zargarian, welcomed guests to break bread with her chapter’s members. "The ARS in the Service of Armenia’s and Armenia" To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the ARS’s official presence in Armenia, the ARS CEB organized a daylong conference, "The ARS in the Service of Armenia’s and Armenia." The event was held on Sept. 22 at the Hotel Marriott Armenia, Yerevan. The conference opened with remarks by ARS Armenia Regional Executive Chairwoman Alvard Petrosyan, who is a former ARS CEB member and a member of the Armenian National Assembly. Petrosyan welcomed prominent guests who attended the conference and invited ARS CEB Chairwoman Hasmig Derderian to give the conference address. Welcoming remarks were offered by Vice Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly, Vahan Hovanessan and UN Children’s Fund Director, Rights of the Child, Children of Special Needs Program Nayira Avetisyan. Armenian National Assembly member and Chairman on the Standing Committee on Foreign Relations Armen Rustamian spoke on "The World at Large and the ARS as a Pan-Armenian Organization." Vehanoush Margaryan, Director of the ARS, Inc. Yerevan Central Office and Sponsor a Child program and ARS Inc.’s Coordinator of Special Programs in Armenia, Anna Mnatsakanyan, presented "ARS Achievements in Armenia." Director of ARS Inc. Health Programs in Armenia, Dr. Sevag Avagyan, discussed "ARS Health Programs." The presentations were followed by lunch and a panel discussion on "ARS Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow." ARS CEB secretary Mayda Melkonian introduced the panel topic and the importance of having a realistic and open discussion on the issue. ARS CEB member Tamar Der Bedrossian introduced the panelists and moderated the subsequent discussion. Former ARS CEB Chairwoman Vanouhi Issadjanian spoke on "The ARS Yesterday;" Nanor Hreshdakian of the ARS Syria region spoke on "The ARS Today;" and Lilit Hovhanisyan of the ARS Armenia region and Nyree Derderian of the ARS Western USA region spoke on "The ARS Tomorrow." Issadjanian described the ARS’s role in the history of Armenia and the Armenian people from its establishment in 1910. "It’s impossible to understand the present or future without knowing the past," she noted. Hreshdakian added, "There are organizations that have existed for a short time and organ-izations that are founded and thrive in the community that last." Reflecting on the Third Armenia-Diaspora Conference held earlier in the week, Hreshdakian observed, "The ARS is an excellent example of an organization that works together in the Diaspora and in the Homeland." Hovhanisyan focused on the important ARS work that young people are fueling in Armenia today, including issues focused on the human trafficking of women and children. Derderian introduced bold ideas for shaking up the ARS, including one set of uniform bylaws throughout the ARS’s and consideration of an elected, but paid, chief executive officer, similar to an organizational structure used by some nonprofit organizations in the West. The panel discussion was lively, as was the question and answer discussion which followed. Conference attendees discussed interaction among the generations, the process of implementing new ideas to attract new members, and the roadblocks members sometimes encounter when they propose bold, but untested methods to the Society. The conference was inspired by the testimonials of young ARS leaders in Armenia. The conference ended with the presentation of gifts from the ARS CEB to the four panelists. 15th Anniversary Events Hosted by ARS Armenia The ARS Armenia Regional Executive hosted a 15th anniversary gala dinner on Sept. 22 and 15th anniversary concert on Sept. 23. The events were attended by political dignitaries and guests. The gala dinner was held at Bellagio Restaurant and was an evening filled with food, music, and dancing. A raffle was held to benefit the ARS Armenia and the night concluded with the singing of patriotic songs. The concert was held at Sundukian Theater and was hosted by ARS Armenia Regional Executive Chairwoman Alvard Petrosyan. Present were Armenia’s First Lady, Dr. Bella Kocharian and Baroness Caroline Cox. Congratulatory remarks were offered by ARF Bureau Chairman, Hrant Markarian, Armenian National Assembly President, Tigran Torosian, Armenia Fund Executive Director, Naira Melkoumian, ARS Artsakh Chapter Chairperson, Nelly Choulian, ARS Javakhk Chapter Chairwoman, Garineh Tatevosian, and ARS CEB Chairperson, Hasmig Derderian. A powerful film was shown of the ARS Armenia’s tumultuous first15 years, documenting the Society’s active role in providing aid to the 1988 earthquake victims, giving medical care to those who were wound-ed or fell in the battle for Artsakh, donating resources for the building of medical and educational facilities, and supporting social and educational programs for the betterment of Armenia’s men, women and children. A musical program followed, combining the joy of the ARS Armenia’s 15th anniversary with the joy of the Republic of Armenia’s same 15-year milestone. Singer Shushan Petrosian and Aved Parseghyan introduced the entertainers who included Petrosyan herself, as well as Mikayel Boghosyan, Armen Movsisyan, Layla Saribekyan, Hasmig Karapetian, David Amalyan, and Aida Sarksyan and dance group "Agoonk." It was an emotional and inspiring night of remembrance for the ARS’s past contributions to the Republic’s first years and a night of hope for all that the ARS plans to bring for Armenia’s future.