The Armenian Relief Society Commemorates the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in New York City

March 17, 2015

“…as long as I am alive, Turkey will not join the European Union…”

Dr. Eleni Theocharous, Member of the European Parliament

Several events dedicated to the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, initiated by the ARS Central Executive Board, with the cooperation of the Regional Executive of ARS/Eastern USA, were held with great success from March 5-7, 2015 in New York City. The weekend kicked off on Thursday evening, March 5th, with the official opening of the exhibit entitled, “Stitching to Survive: Handwork of Armenian Women”, at United Nations Headquarters. This exhibit was organized jointly by the ARS Central Executive Board and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Armenia at the UN. The function was attended by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Armenia at the UN, the ARS Central Executive Board, members of ARS/Canada, ARS/Eastern and Western USA, and ARS/South America, as well as UN and NGO representatives, clergymen, and both Armenian and non-Armenian guests.

ARS Central Executive Board Chairperson, Vicky Marachelian, opened the proceedings, stressing the dedication and tenacity exhibited by Armenian women at all junctures of Armenian history to preserve the Armenian family and culture. As Mrs. Marachelian stated, “The exhibit demonstrates the contribution of Armenian women to culture and it pays tribute to the cultural expression of Armenian women. This miraculous feminine force, dedicated to humanitarian endeavors, did not emerge overnight. Emerging from the crucible of oppression, these future ARS members made the daunting journey from the old world to the new, from refugee to worker, from dependence to self-reliance.” Referring to the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, Mrs. Marachelian said, “As the year 2015 marks 20 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the ARS, as an ECOSOC accredited NGO, is addressing issues of women’s empowerment and gender equality. This exhibit intends to tell the story of women who empowered themselves to support their families.”

Following Mrs. Marachelian’s address, Armenia’s Permanent Representative at the UN, Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, noted the unique nature of this exhibition, as a symbol of the historic endurance of Armenian women who had survived the crucible of the Genocide. His Excellency continued by mentioning that, beyond survival, the Armenian woman had mastered enough resolve to rebuild a new life on foreign shores. He stated that the exhibit shares a story of people who, 100 years ago, experienced the most heinous and dehumanizing mass exterminations and deportations, which were defined as “crimes against humanity and civilization.” He concluded his remarks with words of high praise for the Armenian Relief Society’s persistent input in achieving the success of this function, indicative of the resolve and commitment of our people that made possible the admission and raising of the Armenian flag at the UN.

Following Ambassador Mnatsakanyan’s remarks, Mrs. Marachelian, who, along with her husband Harout Marachelian, were the primary contributors to the event, and the Ambassador cut the ribbon, officially opening the exhibit for the evening’s guests. It should be noted that this Armenian exhibit at the United Nations Headquarters is being held at a time when thousands of representatives from around the world are in New York City to take part in the sessions of the 59th Conference of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59). The exhibit demonstrates, for all those who visit, the Armenian woman’s everlasting will to survive and thrive after the genocidal attempt at annihilation of the Armenian nation.

The participation and performance of violinist Dianna Vasilyan enhanced the evening’s atmosphere, to the enjoyment and appreciation of all those present. The guests also enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres generously provided for the event by the Almayass Armenian Restaurant of New York City.

The beautiful items on display were provided by the Armenian Museum of America of Watertown, MA and ARS/Eastern USA. The ARS Central Executive Board expresses its deep gratitude to the management of the Armenian Museum of America for its kind cooperation, as well as to curator, Mrs. Susan Lind-Sinanian, for her active participation in setting up this exhibition of Armenian women’s handwork. The Board also extends sincere appreciation to all the contributors to the exhibit, particularly to the main sponsors of the event; Mrs. and Mrs. Harout and Vicky Marachelian, whose generous donation made the unqualified success of this historic endeavor possible, once again sending a message to the world, by way of the United Nations, of the continuous resiliency and creative talent of the Armenian woman.

On Friday, March 6th, the symposium entitled “Rebuilding a Nation: The Armenian Woman’s Century of Resistance and Empowerment”, organized by the ARS/CEB Genocide Centennial Committee, took place in the Salvation Army Hall in the presence of a large audience. Participating in the conference were Dr. Eleni Theocharous, Member of European Parliament and leader of EU-Armenia Friendship Group; Dr. Isabelle Kaprielian-Churchill, Emerita Professor of Armenian Immigration History, Department of History, California State University, Fresno; Scout Tufankjian, photojournalist and author of There is Only the Earth: Images from the Armenia Diaspora Project; Dr. Marian Mesrobian MacCurdy, author of Sacred Justice: The Voices and Legacy of the Armenian Operation Nemesis; and Bared Maronian, Executive Producer, Armenoid Production Team.

On behalf of the ARS Central Executive Board, Mrs. Caroline Chamavonian opened the proceedings, inviting those present to stand and honor the memory of our martyrs with a moment of silence. Following this solemn beginning, Mrs. Chamavonian welcomed the participants and invited the master of ceremonies, Mrs. Pauline Getzoyan of the ARS Central Executive Board, to introduce the designated speakers of the symposium. Each speaker presented his or her views, in a variety of approaches, on the role of the Armenian woman during and after the Genocide, as a powerful force in the survival and revival of family and culture.

In her address, Dr. Theocharous focused on the theme of the empowerment of Armenian women, noting the ravages of the Armenian Genocide years and the role played by Armenian women during the Artsakh Liberation War. She expressed admiration for the laudable role played by the ARS in those difficult times, and stated that, being fully aware of the just cause of Armenian demands for recognition and reparations, she feels honored participating in the centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Theocharous concluded her remarks by solemnly stating, “As long as I am alive, Turkey will not join the European Union, unless it becomes a civilized country, unless it recognizes the Armenian Genocide, and unless it gets out its troops from Cyprus.”

Dr. Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill’s presentation was centered on the theme of Armenian handwork and its impact on the lives of those who survived the Armenian Genocide and used needlework as a means to support their families. She emphasized the importance of the role played by feminine creativity in the struggle for physical and spiritual survival of the devastated Armenian nation.

Scout Tufankjian, in her turn, displayed emblematic photographs depicting world-wide Armenian communities and synthesized the lifestyles of Diasporan Armenians. Bared Maronian reevaluated the role of the pre- and post-Genocide Armenian women by showing segments of his films, “Orphans of the Genocide” and “Women of 1915”. Dr. Mesrobian MacCurdy spoke of the traditional Armenian woman’s silent yet persistent toil, using her grandmother, Eliza Der Melkonian, one of the founders of ARS, as a prime and inspirational example.

A commemorative dinner and cultural program dedicated to the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, organized by the ARS/Eastern USA Regional Executive, under the auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern USA See of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Armenian Relief Society Central Executive Board, took place in New Jersey on Saturday, March 7th. In attendance were Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s Permanent Representative at the UN, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Vice-Prelate of the Eastern USA Prelacy, several members of the clergy, members of the ARS Central Executive Board, and a wide variety of guests, including members of ARS/Canada, ARS/Eastern and Western USA, ARS/South America and a large number of ARS supporters.

This year, once again, the Armenian Relief Society participated in the 59th Conference of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Within the context of the Armenian Genocide Centennial commemorative events, the ARS organized a workshop entitled “Women and Diaspora: From Past to Post-2015”, in cooperation with the UN Permanent Missions of Armenia and Cyprus, as well as several other NGOs. The workshop was opened by the Permanent Representative of Cyprus at the UN, Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou. Representing women living and working in the Diaspora, Nanore Barsoumian, Editor of the Armenian Weekly, moderated the discussions, inviting the participants to express their opinions and experiences.

On behalf of the ARS, member Nora Simonian expressed her views on the role of Diasporan women, describing the Armenian mother as the pillar of the family and as the link to the Homeland and Armenian culture. Other panelists included Dr. Jim MacPherson from the University of the Highlands and Islands; Semhar Araia, Executive Director of the Diasporan African Women’s Network; Sarah Gammage, Policy Adviser, UN Women; and Harriet Pavles George, former judge of the Housing part of the Civil Court of the City of New York. Concluding remarks were made by Ambassador Mnatsakanyan. (Details will be forthcoming.)

These four days of commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide in New York City, initiated by the ARS Central Executive Board, effectively demonstrated the indomitable resolve of the Armenian woman, along with the ARS mission and calling, as torchbearers of the empowerment of women and their role as guardians of Armenian identity, both in the Homeland and the Diaspora.

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