A Toast to the President of Armenia

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What would you do if you received an invitation to toast the president of Armenia during his recent visit to Boston?

Serge Sarkisian (Photo: Photolure)

You’d probably do what I did—fall off your chair!

Yet, that’s precisely what happened during a casual moment one recent evening. I was engaged in a movie when the telephone rang. The call came from a member of the committee welcoming President Serge Sarkisian to Boston.

There were many reasons for his visit, including the 25th anniversary of Armenian independence. I had no plans to attend a VIP dinner tendered in his honor at St. James Church in Watertown until…

“Would it be possible for you to come and give the presidential toast?”

“Why me?”

“Well, reflecting on your 50 years as a writer for the ethnic press and activist, why not? Can you think of anyone else more qualified?” the caller interjected.

I didn’t have an answer. At first, I balked at the idea, thinking there would be a hefty donation involved. Not the case here.

My wife and I would be on a guest list of 65 that included ambassadors, archbishops, business magnates—the upper crust of the Armenian community. Not exactly my type of company. Given the choice, I prefer a seat with the common folks at such affairs, not dignitaries.

But I accepted the offer, if for no other reason than it was one of those treasured moments you can talk about with your family and friends. Not that we would be up front and personal.

I was given five minutes and decided to deliver the toast in both languages. The English version would be rather straightforward. Some reflection upon the 100th anniversary of the genocide. Armenia’s 70 years of servitude behind the Iron Curtain. And, of course, the silver anniversary of our country’s liberation.

Try wrapping all that into 2.5 minutes and you’ve got yourself a challenge. Next came the Armenian. I had two options: Express my thoughts phonetically in English or write my remarks in Armenian script. I chose the latter.

As someone who’s taught Armenian School in my church for 45 years, this should be a piece of cake, I assumed. Only it wasn’t, not when you’re looking for the precise words to tell the president something he may not have heard before during countless gatherings over his administration.

And then it happened, an inner spiritual force that erupted and began jotting down the words. I opted to compare our communities throughout the world to seeds growing inside a forest.

A seedling falls on fertile ground and in its place grows a tree. Before long, there are two trees and ultimately woodlands. In some ways, you can compare that to our communities throughout the diaspora: First one Armenian, then another, and before long a colony and then a community.

“In a sense, we’re all seedlings,” I told the president. “We hold the power of fertility in our hands.”

I didn’t give it a second thought until one of his aides approached me at the end for a personal greeting. I had been in the president’s company a couple times but not exclusively.

The president wants to see me? Maybe he’ll take me to task over my comments. Perhaps he didn’t like my comparison of Armenians to trees.

On the contrary, he thought it was a perfect analogy, being a lover of ecology and the work being done with the Armenia Tree Project inside his country. We chatted a bit during a stagnant moment and then he was hustled to a line, ready to greet 600 guests upstairs in the church hall.

But not before a photograph—upon his request! By this time, the cameramen had adjourned and there was no one around to honor the president’s request, until someone stepped forward with a cell phone.

And there was our photographer to capture what turned out to be a “sacred” moment indeed. It turned out to be Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. His Eminence took our photo together.

And finally, the dinner itself. Something you might be served in the Waldorf Astoria, thanks to Belmont caterer Seta Dakessian of Seta’s Café in Belmont at the stove, and pastry chef Jennifer Madden arranging miniature versions of Armenian pastries.

The menu called for a rack of lamb with fresh vegetables. Seta also made soft rolls sprinkled with sesame seeds, a specialty of her late father who ran a bakery in Worcester for 25 years.

The entire dinner, including red wine imported from Armenia, ran precisely 42 minutes, thanks to 2 waiters per table.

In the end, it was an evening forever etched in time.
Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: A Toast to the President of Armenia