For Immediate Release
Tel: (917) 428-1918
ANCA Eastern Region brings hundreds together at “United for Artsakh” in Boston
BOSTON—Somber emotions mixed with gratitude for community were evident as more than 300 Hai Tahd activists and community leaders gathered together at the ANCA Eastern Region’s 17th annual Awards Program – United for Artsakh – on Saturday, October 7, 2023 at the Royal Sonesta Boston Hotel. Kristina Ayanian, a finance industry professional who is the executive producer and host of Nasdaq Listings “Live from MarketSite” and Miss Universe Armenia 2022, presided over the evening which featured a silent auction, dinner and program that cast a spotlight on the recent loss of lives and land in Artsakh.
During the evening, the region honored several deserving individuals, including Representative Katherine Clark with the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award; longtime ANC of Eastern Massachusetts and ANC of Merrimack Valley activists Barkev Kaligian and Joseph Dagdigian with the ANCA Eastern Region Vahan Cardashian Award; beloved longstanding principal of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School Digin Houry Boyamian with the inaugural Excellence in Education Award; Michael Rubin, Ph.D. with the inaugural Advocacy Award; and ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Fellows Olivia Abajian, Vahagn Boudakian, Tsoline Gevorkian, Emma Lopez, Nver Saghatelyan and Ruby Topalian.
ANC of Eastern Massachusetts activist and “United for Artsakh” committee member Ani Zargarian began the evening with heartfelt and soulful renditions of the Artsakh, Armenian and American national anthems, followed by the invocation by Archpriest Fr. Antranig Baljian of St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church. Prior to her opening remarks, Ayanian invited all to stand for a moment of silence in solidarity with the victims of the latest attack on Artsakh – the 120,000 Armenians of Artsakh who were blockaded for more than nine months, forcibly removed from their homes and ethnically cleansed from their indigenous homeland.
A poignant highlight of the evening was a special visual presentation prepared by Narek Sahakian to honor the memory of the martyrs and the resilience of the people of Artsakh, set to Gomidas’ Andouni performed by renowned opera singer Isabel Bayrakdarian. As Bayrakdarian’s soaring soprano filled the room, attendees viewed images direct from Artsakh as well as the current relief efforts underway by the region and the Armenian Relief Society (ARS).
“Tonight, we gather as supporters of the Armenian National Committee of America [ANCA] Eastern Region,” Ayanian said, “but also as guardians of a legacy and as voices for those who were silenced.” She reminded those gathered that the Armenian struggle continues as “Azerbaijan and Turkey continue to commit genocide against the Armenian people” more than 100 years after the 1915 Genocide. “Artsakh is more than just geography; it is the very soul of our identity,” Ayanian continued. “It is a dark chapter in our history, one where the actions of Azerbaijan have not only robbed us of our land but have also committed acts that history cannot ignore – a genocide that stains the conscience of humanity.” While there are feelings of hopelessness, Ayanian stressed that remaining united in Hai Tahd – our common cause of a free, united and independent Armenia – is imperative. “We come together today, at the ANCA Eastern Region Awards Program under the theme ‘United for Artsakh.’ The strength we find in our unity is our most powerful weapon against the forces that seek to erase our identity,” Ayanian said.
ANCA Eastern Region Board chair Dr. Ara Chalian provided a regional update, including an overview of the work of the region’s 31 states and 34 local ANCs. Dr. Chalian highlighted the advocacy work the region’s activists, local committees and leaders have done toward ensuring the safety and security of Artsakh and its citizens, including securing friendship city resolutions with cities in Artsakh, calling for sanctions against Azerbaijan and its leaders and for enforcement of section 907 restrictions on military aid to Azerbaijan.
“The genocidal attacks, blockade and removal march of the Armenians of the Republic of Artsakh is a crime,” Dr. Chalian said. “Voices may not be heard in the lands of the Republic of Artsakh, but the actions and advocacy of the ANCA and its Eastern Region remain strong and committed for the rights of our people.”
On the heels of Chalian’s remarks, Steve Mesrobian, ANCA Eastern Region Board member and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern USA Central Committee member, recognized the next generation of activists – the ANCA Leo Sarkisian internship fellows from the eastern region who spent six weeks in Washington, D.C. this summer learning the ins and outs of Hai Tahd work.
“One of the critical measures of a successful organization is developing new leaders to ensure continued long-term viability. The ANCA has been embracing youth empowerment by investing in our Armenian youth for decades to build this next generation of Armenian American political activists and community leaders,” Mesrobian said.
In an effort to ensure annual funding for this critical program, the ANCA Eastern Region started the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program Endowment Fund in 2019. Donors commit to a $5,000 annual donation for three years. To date, philanthropists have committed $120,000 in pledges to the fund towards a goal of $450,000 for the youth activists and internships throughout the eastern region.
Mesrobian recognized the six ANCA Eastern Region Leo Sarkisian summer interns: Abajian, a freshman at the University of Maryland studying government and politics with a concentration in international relations; Boudakian, a Brooklyn College CUNY student majoring in political science with a minor in psychology; Gevorkian, a junior at the University of Vermont studying psychology and sociology; Lopez, who recently graduated from the University of Massachusett Amherst with a degree in political science; Saghatelyan, a Johns Hopkins University student majoring in international studies and economics; and Topalian, a sophomore at Trinity College Dublin pursuing a dual degree program through Columbia University in political science, Middle Eastern and European languages and cultures.
During dinner, attendees were serenaded with a musical interlude of songs by Gomidas, arranged by S. Aslamazian and performed by New England Conservatory musicians Danilo Thurber, violin; Enoch Li, violin; Sidney Lee, viola; and Camden Archambeau, cello. Selections included Groong (The Crane), Karoun a (It is Spring), Yerginkn Ambela (Cloudy Sky) and Vagharshabadi Bar (Dance of Vagharshabad).
Other dignitaries in attendance included Pastor Ghazar Bedrossian with Holy Cross Catholic Church in Belmont; Massachusetts State Representatives John Lawn and Steve Owens; ARF Eastern USA Central Committee members Maral Abrahamian and George Aghjayan; ARF Central Committee Executive Director Maral Choloyan; and ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
Ayanian began the awards portion of the evening by introducing the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award, the highest honor bestowed upon individuals in recognition of their resilience, courage and determination in pursuit of freedom and justice for the Armenian Cause. Representative Clark was selected as this year’s recipient for her steadfast support of the Armenian Cause and her dedication to her Armenian American constituents since taking office.
Massachusetts State Senator William Brownsberger introduced Representative Clark, who sent a video message, as she was unable to attend due to a previous conflict. Her staffer Wade Blackman accepted the award on her behalf. In her video message, Representative Clark expressed her appreciation for the recognition and said that it is her privilege to stand with the region “in the fight for the Armenian Cause.” “The story of the Armenian diaspora is one of unceasing strides towards truth and justice – a march that continues today…We’re going to keep sharing the stories of the Armenian people, especially in the face of such unjust unprovoked violence,” she stated, referring to the recent attacks on Artsakh by Azerbaijan.
The region also honored longtime ANC of Eastern Massachusetts activist Kaligian and ANC of Merrimack Valley activist Dagdigian with the Vahan Cardashian Award, an award given annually to an activist who demonstrates longstanding leadership and success on behalf of the Armenian Cause. The award is named in honor of the late Vahan Cardashian, who led the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA), the precursor to the ANCA.
Kaligian’s son Dikran presented his father with the Cardashian Award after sharing Barkev’s lifelong dedication to Armenian truth and justice for the Armenian Genocide, never wavering or backing down in the face of denialists. Barkev sang in the St. Stephen’s Church choir for decades, but “his greatest passion was reserved for promoting Hai Tahd and fighting against Turkish governmental denial and Azeri aggression against Artsakh,” Dikran said. This activism became an integral part of the family’s household, a legacy that continues to this day with Barkev’s 11 grandchildren.
Kaligian accepted the award with humility, focusing attention on others who have served the community. “We have to make sure we have people like that,” he said. “Always work with better people.”
Dagdigian was presented with his Cardashian Award by his nephew Dimitri Petrosian. Petrosian honored his uncle’s life work and dedication to the Armenian Cause and community in which he said he “left an indelible legacy.” He spoke about his contributions to the Armenian nation saying that his “philanthropic endeavors” are “inspiring” as he works tirelessly to fundraise to provide “a lifeline for students from small towns and villages” in Armenia “to enable them to pursue higher education affordably in Yerevan. Petrosian called his uncle “a true beacon of hope and change in our Armenian community.”
Dagdigian accepted the award, saying, “This is indeed a great honor,” and expressing that many candidates were deserving of the award. “Nothing we achieved would have been possible without the support of many Armenians who trusted us, sometimes not even knowing what the details of the projects were. But they trusted that we knew what we were doing and it was good for Armenians,” Dagdigian said. He expressed sincere appreciation to the ARS for awarding him a scholarship in 1964 to learn Armenian at the Nshan Palandjian Djemaran in Beirut, and because of that, he is able to converse and carry out projects in Armenia.
Dagdigian then shared the story of Vahan, a fruit vendor he met on the side of the road in Artsakh who urged Dagdigian to thank the people in America for all the help given to the people of Artsakh. “Hopefully this fulfills part of that promise,” Dagdigian said. He went on to say that Vahan had fought in every battle up until the first Artsakh War but had not been well and his current status is unknown. “As has recently become abundantly clear, Vahan’s and our struggle are not over. In fact, they’re intensifying. So, we need to keep on our track and do even better than we’ve done. The legacy we leave our children, grandchildren and their children should be a safe and independent Armenia,” Dagdigian concluded.
Other notable honorees included the first-ever recipients of the ANCA Eastern Region Excellence in Education Award, longtime principal of St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School Digin Boyamian, and Advocacy Award recipient Dr. Rubin, a former Pentagon official and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Boyamian was presented with her award by one of her former students, Tsoler Avedissian, who also served as an integral member of the Awards Program committee and silent auction committee. Avedisian, like so many of Boyamian’s students, was eager to share how the former principal, Digin Houry as she is affectionately known, had molded her life.
“In the heart of Armenian culture and heritage in our community, there exists a beacon of knowledge, inspiration, and devotion… A lifelong champion of Armenian education, she stood as a guiding light at the St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School for countless years – shaping the minds and hearts of the next generation of Armenians. Throughout her remarkable journey, she has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to nurturing young minds and preserving the rich traditions of the Armenian heritage,” Avedissian said. “Her legacy, a true luminary in our community, holds a special place in my heart, my childhood principal and educator. As a guiding presence in my formative years, she instilled in me those important markers of education, community and heritage and set a remarkable example of how dedication to one’s roots can shape a brighter future,” Avedissian continued.
Boyamian then took the podium and shared the impetus for her journey into education, saying that her father was a Genocide survivor and educator. “He believed the only way for the Armenian people to avoid total annihilation was to keep our language and culture alive through education. My father fulfilled his calling by dedicating 40 years of his life to educating generations of Armenians in Lebanon. I have tried to follow in his footsteps here in the United States, by continuing his mission to provide an excellent Armenian education at St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School in Watertown. This mission becomes increasingly critical and urgent given the ongoing threats to our nation,” Boyamian said.
“At this point in our history, I strongly believe that our diasporan communities should give special attention to the education of our youth. We need to prepare them to be exemplary citizens and teach them the skills that are critical to their academic, personal and professional success. We also need to nurture their sense of Armenian identity, ensure that they are knowledgeable about their history, and encourage them to share their talents and skills for the benefit and advancement of their communities and of our homeland,” concluded Boyamian as she thanked the ANCA Eastern Region and the Boston community for this honor.
“United for Artsakh” Awards Program chair Dr. Ara Nazarian presented the final award of the evening, the inaugural ANCA Eastern Region Advocacy Award to Dr. Rubin.
“Dr. Rubin has used his voice to call attention to the atrocities committed by Azerbaijan against the Armenians of Artsakh and advocated for them in publications such as the National Interest and the Washington Examiner. His writings often highlight the importance of understanding the deeper roots and historical dynamics of approaching Artsakh. In one of his articles, he notes, ‘to only see the conflict through the lens of recent geopolitics is to miss the centuries of history, identity and cultural connections that underpin the region.’ Such perspectives underscore his commitment to engaging in thoughtful discourse, delving deep into the subject matter, and ensuring that discussions are not solely influenced by contemporary biases or oversimplified views, but instead reflect the historical truth,” said Nazarian.
Upon taking the stage to accept the award, Rubin spoke about the work of the ANCA and its activists in raising awareness of the genocide in Artsakh. He also spoke about the American response to the genocidal actions of Azerbaijan, commenting on how it sets a precedent for current and future genocides.
“We need to have a policy. Again, this is a problem among Democrats and among Republicans. It’s bipartisan. We should never fall into a trap where we bully democracies simply because it is easier than seeking concessions from dictators. That unfortunately has been the case ever since Armenia had its democratic moment. And it’s essential that we support Armenia as a democracy rather than personalized policy,” Rubin stated. “Nothing is etched in stone. The United States and even Yerevan can believe that they can make compromises on behalf of the people of Artsakh. But it’s not either Yerevan or Washington’s business to suggest that certain people don’t have the right to self-determination… The spotlight over the last couple weeks was unfortunate in terms of why people were paying attention. But it’s even more dangerous now because genocide happens in the darkness. It doesn’t happen when you’re shining the light. And that’s why I want to thank the ANCA for everything they’re doing to shine a light so that genocide cannot happen without consequence,” Rubin concluded.
As the evening came to an end, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian offered the closing prayer. Ayanian then invited ANCA National Chairman Raffi Hamparian to the stage to conclude the evening’s program. Hamparian’s powerful remarks brought attendees to attention as he left them with a call to action during this very difficult time in the Armenian nation’s history.
“In these dark and forbidding times – times that twist your stomach and torture your soul, times that make you question all that you believe in – it is fitting that we honor individuals who represent rays of light in the darkness… Communities are built on the strong – seemingly indestructible – backs of men and women like Barkev Kaligian, Houry Boyamian and Joseph Dagdigian. These are members of our volunteer army – our ‘gamavor panag’ – who seek nothing more and nothing less than a strong and vibrant Diaspora in service to the cause of freedom and liberty for the Armenian nation… In this time of crisis, we must summon new strength to rebuild, to restore and to renew. Rebuild our own faith that Artsakh – against all odds – will be free again,” Hamparian concluded.
For more information about this year’s programs or to donate, please visit givergy.us/ancaer.