The program of the ARS Centennial – celebrated on Wednesday, March 10, 2010 in New York City – included the granting of the ARS “Ararat” Award of Excellence to the Near East Foundation (formerly – Near East Relief) which was founded 95 years ago, in response to the unprecedented human tragedy that unfolded in the Near East following the Armenian Genocide. Indeed, it was, in large part, due to the enormous moral and financial input of the Near East Relief, that thousands of Armenian orphans and refugees were saved from certain annihilation in the aftermath of the first genocide of the 20-th century.
| The ARS “Ararat” Award of Excellence Trophy was designed by Mr. Hagop Janbazian of Toronto.
Mr. Janbazaian also prepares
and supplies the trophy
to the ARS at no charge,
|Near East Foundation Chairman,
Shant Mardirossian receives the
“Ararat” Award from ARS Central Executive Board Chairperson,
Mrs. Vicky Marashlian.
In 2003, seven years before its Centenary, the ARS initiated its “Ararat” Award of Excellence, whose first recipient was Atom Egoyan, the Canadian-Armenian filmmaker of world renown, whose film of the same name, “Ararat”, exposed to the whole world the horrendous traumatic scars that the Genocide had left on the mental and spiritual well being of the post-Genocide Armenian generations.
Four years later, in 2007, Vice-Speaker of Britain’s House of Lords, Lady Caroline Cox received the “Ararat” Award for loyal support and continuing assistance to the Armenians of the Nagorno Karabakh enclave during and after their long struggle for freedom from Azeri oppression. In 1993, the Baroness had published a book titled “Ethnic Cleansing in Progress: War in Nagorno Karabagh”, exposing the genocidal policies of the Azeri governments implemented against the Armenian population of Artsakh.
“As these three recipients of the ARS “Ararat” Award demonstrate, only exceptional personalities and organizations – whose benevolent and humanitarian stance transcends mere rhetoric by translating into concrete action in support of the Armenian people’s struggle for progress and a bright future – are considered worthy of this unique Award of Excellence. Based on this lofty level, the ARS has not made this an annual award, preferring to hold it for rewarding exceptional acts realized in times of crises, demanding a special kind of humanitarian commitment on the part of principled individuals or societies,”– declared Mrs. Vera Tavitian of the ARS Central Executive Board. “In this year of the 95-th Commemoration of the Genocide, the ARS wished to grant its “Ararat” Award to a deserving recipient, such as the Near East Relief, whose caring heart and charitable hand, extended at a critical time, helped the survival of 130,000 tragedy-struck Armenian children,”– concluded Mrs. Tavitian.
The Near East Relief was created in 1915 in response to an alarming cable from American Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau to the U.S. Secretary of State stating that the Turkish “destruction of the Armenian race is progressing rapidly”. In 1919 the committee was chartered by Congress and designated the primary channel for U.S. postwar aid to the Near East.
Today, its successor, The Near East Foundation, continues its humanitarian work in the Near East and in Armenia.
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Remarks presented by Mr. Shant Mardirossian, Near East Foundation Chairman, during the ARS Centennial Celebration on March 10, 2010 in New York, NY, after accepting the ARS “Ararat” Award:
To the Members and the Central Executive Board of the Armenian Relief Society, it is with a deep sense of honor and pride that I accept this award on behalf of the Near East Foundation. Nearly 95 years ago, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson and Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, a small group of prominent Americans met in the office of Cleveland H. Dodge at 99 John Street, not too far from here. They formed a committee to raise funds to help a people all the way on the other side of the world. Little did they know that they were about to embark on one of the greatest international humanitarian efforts launched in the history of the American people. This committee originally came to be known as the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, and later through an act of Congress was renamed the Near East Relief. Today it is simply known as the Near East Foundation and I am proud to serve as its Chairman. Joining me today is my fellow NEF Board member, Johnson Garrett. Johnsie is the great-great grandson of Cleveland H. Dodge who was the founder of the Near East Relief. Ever since it’s beginning, the Dodge family has been a leading supporter of NEF and has continually been represented in its executive ranks or on its Board. I should also mention that Dr. Vartan Gregorian, who is here with us today, has been a long-time member of our President’s Council.
With the initial goal of raising a modest $100,000 to save some of the Armenians and help them emigrate to the U.S., the Near East Relief raised an unprecedented $117 million in aid from 1915 to 1930. In today’s dollars that would be worth approximately $2.5 billion. In the words of James L. Barton, the first Chairman of the Near East Relief, “This is a narrative of American philanthropy. In all the stories of the Great War we doubt if there is one more tragic, more colorful, more heroic.” The Near East Relief went on to build scores of orphanages, vocational schools and food distributions centers, resulting in the care of a million Armenian, Greek and Syrian refugees and saving the lives of 132,000 orphans.
Consisting of some of the brightest people from business, government, academia and religious institutions from all denominations, the leadership of the Near East Relief used all the means at its disposal to mobilize thousands of ordinary citizens through newly developed techniques using print media, advertisement and film. I am still impressed with the massive logistics effort that was undertaken by a non-governmental organization. Nearly one thousand men and women served overseas during 1915 to 1930. Thousands more volunteered in all throughout the country. Let us also not forget that 30 Missionaries and Near East Relief workers, twelve of which were women, gave the greatest sacrifice of all with their lives, succumbing to disease, bandits and tragic accidents.
What is the most striking part of this relief effort is what came after the initial administration of food, shelter and clothing. Over the next 15 years the Near East Relief trained, educated and nurtured 10’s of thousands of parentless children to adulthood. Not only providing them with the skills they needed to survive on their own, but making sure that they preserved their language, customs, culture and faith – thereby allowing them to build a new Armenia, if not on their ancestral land, then at least in their hearts. I am convinced that without the Near East Relief this may not have been the case for many of us in this room today.
During the years after the Armenian relief efforts, the Near East Foundation’s approach to sustainable development became the model for the Marshal Plan, Truman’s Point-4 Program, the Peace Corps, USAID and the United Nations Development Program. We have operated in dozens of countries throughout the Middle East and Africa and in as far away places as Korea. Today, we work in Egypt, Jordon, the West Bank, Morocco, Mali, Sudan, and most recently we returned back to Armenia last year. In partnership with Armenia Fund USA and our local partners, NEF has developed a comprehensive approach to micro-economic development in rural Armenian villages. To date, we have completed business development workshops in eight villages in the Gehargunik and Tavush provinces. Our programs are also assisting local entrepreneurs gain access to micro-credit and we are about to launch a pilot project with GTZ, the German aid agency, to develop a micro-franchise of branded Internet clubs in 20 villages around Lake Sevan that will be owned and operated by women.
Like the Near East Foundation, you too have preserved a long history of humanitarian work, which has now transcended three and four generations. Over the past several years I have immersed myself into the history of the Near East Relief archives – these valuable materials, consisting of photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia have now been moved to the care of the Rockefeller Archive Center for generations to study. During my research I was amazed by the contributions of the women of the Near East Relief. Those like Maria Jacobsen of the Bird’s Nest, the Doctor, Mabel Elliott, Elizabeth Künzler, who along with her husband Jacob Künzler who rescued thousands of orphans from Urfa, the village of my grandfathers. Through the stories of these women and many more like them, I learned about the women on the other side — those who lost so much during the darkest days of the Genocide. They witnessed and experienced unspeakable trauma and horror — Loss of their husbands, families and children. Many were abducted and forcibly converted. Others were sold as slaves and many more had their honor stolen from them. Yet these women barely spoke of these horrors. Instead they went on to marry, rebuild their families and become our mothers, our grandmother, our teachers, our caregivers and most importantly the thread that kept us together as Armenians. This traditions—known as “Bardaganoutiun” was passed from one generation to the next. Nowhere else is this more evident than through the women of the Armenian Relief Society.
I was in Armenia last month visiting our projects. I remember the first time I went, I was very anxious. For most of us, the first visit is an emotional one, especially the first time you see Mt. Ararat. This was my fourth trip. By now the novelty had worn off, it had become second nature. Still – whenever you visit Armenia, your trip is not complete until you see Mt. Ararat. My trip was very short – only three days and filled with meetings and field trips. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep. The weather was overcast and there was a haze sitting over Mt. Ararat, which sent her into hiding during my stay. I was disappointed that I did not get to see her. On my last day, my friends Zareh and Alina picked me up to drive me to the airport. Finally the haze had broken — and there she was – her summit was glistening from the morning sunlight reflecting off her snow capped peaks. I said to Zareh, “Finally she came out to greet me as I am about to leave”. Zareh turned to me and said, “You know Shant, all the mountains in Armenia are referred to in the feminine gender”. “Isn’t that something”, I said. – I had unknowingly been referring to Ararat as “Her”. Now it made sense – I realized why this was the case. Mt. Ararat, along with the rest of the mountains of Armenia have been the foundation of our nation. They surround Armenia from all sides like a mother cradling her child. They are strong, yet gentle. They are proud, yet modest. And during the stormiest day when you cannot see her, rest assured that she is still there. As we drove past Ararat – I snapped a few pictures. You can almost hear the voices of a thousand generations of Armenian grandmothers and mothers saying “Asdvadz hedet, deghas”. My visit was now complete.
I want to congratulate the Armenian Relief Society on the celebration of its Centennial and thank you for remembering the work of the Near East Relief and all those who sacrificed to help save a nation. Our work continues.