Archive for the ‘News’ Category


(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)



Birth of Hagop Vartovian
(August 18, 1830)


The foundation of Turkish theater is linked to a controversial name: Hagop Vartovian.


He was born as Hagop Gulluyan on August 18, 1830, in Constantinople. We know little about his first years, except that he went to school from 1846-1848. He debuted as an actor in May 1862, playing with the Oriental Theater in the last performance of their first season. He later moved to Smyrna, where he translated his last name into Armenian and turned it from Gulluyan into Vartovian (Turkish gülli/Armenian vartov “with rose(s)”). In 1862-1863 he acted and directed the Vaspurakan group, which played in Armenian, French, Turkish, and Greek. In 1867 he was back in Constantinople as director of the Asiatic Society group, and played Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s homonymous play, which marked the first time that the Bard entered the Western Armenian stage (after a performance in 1865 in the Mekhitarist school system without female characters). In 1869 the group was renamed Ottoman Theater, and it would cement Vartovian’s fame. In the same year, he premiered Vart and Shoushan, one of the plays of eighteen-year-old poet Bedros Tourian (1851-1872), who became one of his authors.


The great fire of Pera (nowadays Beyoglu) in May 1870 engulfed the entire district. Actress Azniv Hrachia, one of its witnesses, wrote in her memoirs: “The fire of Pera came suddenly; I cannot describe that terrible catastrophe, that horrible day as it was. I will just say that the entire neighborhood of Pera was in flames; the wealthy became poor, the mothers were left without children, and the children without mothers. There was not a single family with one or two members missing. Many families were found asphyxiated in the stone houses as a group. The fire did not only devour an infinite wealth, but also thousands of lives. Pera was in flames from fourteen sides, as if the fire was coming from the sky. Many people were burned in the streets.”


The fire destroyed all the theaters and decorations of Pera, as well as the dwellings of many actors and actresses. Only the group of Hagop Vartovian, which functioned in the neighborhood of Gedikpasha, was able to continue regular performances during the 1870-1871 season. In the same year, Vartovian ensured a ten-year permit from the Sultan, with the support of Prime Minister Ali Pasha, as the only theater allowed to present performances in Turkish. The group played in Scutari (Uskudar) in the summer, and it also had performances in Kadikoy and Pera. It had an eighty-people organization behind it, including actors, singers, and dancers, but also the auxiliary staff. The famous satirist Hagop Baronian wrote in a profile of Vartovian: “To say the truth, thanks to Vartovian’s tireless work our nation today has a theater. Once he organized the group, he hired translators and started to criticize the flaws of the nation with foreign plays, like that man who slaps a stranger and thinks to have stricken the son.”


The Ottoman Theater continued functioning until its dissolution in 1882. Vartovian had to sell everything to make a living and maintain his wife and three children. For a while, he was designated director of the court’s theater group. However, following the wishes of Sultan Abdul Hamid, he converted to Islam and adopted the name of Güllü Agop. He passed away on February 2, 1898, and was buried in the Yahya Efendi cemetery of Beshiktash

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Sardarabad and Arax Dancers Enact Armenia’s Rebirth

Wisconsin concert draws Armenians and non-Armenians

By David Luhrssen

(South Milwaukee, WI) On Oct. 8, Wisconsin was treated to a rare opportunity to witness Armenian dance traditions presented with contemporary flair. Over eighty five dancers from the Sardarabad Dance Ensemble of Hamazkayin Chicago and the Arax Dance Group of Hamazkayin Detroit took the stage at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center in a performance whose focus was the resilience of Armenia’s people and culture.

The dance concert began with a multi-media presentation incorporating visual projections depicting the Armenian Genocide and a recitation in English and Armenian of Siamanto’s poem “Strangled.” Immediately afterward, an ensemble of performers filled the stage with “Rebirth,” a dance work portraying the commitment to life after the carnage of genocide.

The repertoire in the fast-paced, two-hour program represented many historically Armenian districts, including Sasoon, Artashat, Shirak, Van, Javakhk and Zangezur. Several dances commemorated historical events such as the battles of Avarayr and Sardarabad along with recent struggles in Nagorno-Karabakh. Other dances depicted the grace and beauty of Armenian women and the vibrancy of contemporary Armenian life.

Not unlike such popular Irish shows as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, the Sardarabad Dance Ensemble packaged tradition in a multi-media production that told the story of a particular people and their civilization. The performers ranged in age from children through adults and balanced heel-kicking athleticism with interpretive grace.

The location of the performance was significant. South Milwaukee, an industrial suburb of Milwaukee, was a magnet for refugees fleeing the Turkish massacres of the 1890s and became one of the first Armenian communities in the U.S. The dance concert was sponsored by St. John the Baptist Armenian Church in the nearby suburb of Greenfield in celebration of Armenian Cultural Month. The event was publicized in the local media as part of the Milwaukee area Armenian community’s commitment to raising awareness.

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The Board of Directors of the United Armenian Fund announced that the non-profit organization ended its operations on November 30, 2015, following the recent passing away of its main benefactor, Mr. Kirk Kerkorian, preceded by the closing down of his Lincy Foundation.

After 26 years of providing humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh, the five major Armenian American religious and charitable organizations that formed the UAF have decided to concentrate their attention and resources on other projects that they sponsor and fund in Armenia and the Diaspora.

The leaders of UAF member organizations expressed their gratitude to Mr. Kerkorian for his generosity, who through his Lincy Foundation, contributed tens of millions of dollars over the past quarter century to fund the UAF’s operations, including the shipment of hundreds of millions of dollars of relief supplies to Armenia and Artsakh by air and sea.

The UAF was formed shortly after the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia to provide much needed humanitarian aid to the destitute survivors in the earthquake zone. But, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the blockade of Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan, the UAF decided to expand its mission to include the entire population of Armenia and Artsakh.

Over the years the UAF acquired, shipped and distributed all types of relief supplies, including medicines and medical equipment, agricultural equipment, seeds, computers, books, toys, winter clothing and shoes to hospitals, clinics, schools, orphanages, and hundreds of charitable organizations throughout Armenia and Artsakh.

The UAF Board of Directors thanked the many generous donors who contributed large quantities of vital goods and supplies to the UAF ever since 1989. The Board also commended the UAF staff—President Harut Sassounian and Administrative Assistant Nouritza Abujamra—for their dedicated service to the organization and the needs of the people in Armenia and Artsakah.

In the past 26 years, the UAF has delivered to Armenia and Artsakh a total of $720 million worth of relief supplies on board 159 airlifts and 2,260 sea containers.

The UAF is the collective effort of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Armenian Relief Society, Diocese of he Armenian Church of America, and the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Source: Eastern Prelacy’s Crossroads E-Newsletter

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“A Window to Another Part of Our History”

Turkish Armenians the topic at St. John’s Anniversary Dinner

By David Luhrssen


     (Milwaukee, WI) “What of the Armenians left behind?” Ani Boghikian-Kasparian asked. A lecturer at the University of Michigan—Dearborn, Boghikian-Kasparian was the keynote speaker at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church’s 74th anniversary dinner. Her topic at the Nov. 15 event, “The Oral Histories of Life in Eastern Turkey After the Genocide,” explored the situation of Armenian families and communities that continued to survive in the Turkish Republic.Kasparian

      Boghikian-Kasparian found parallels between the Armenians of post-Genocide Turkey and the Diaspora, noting that the degree of “Armenianness” in both cases is a matter of choice. Although living in their ancestral homeland, the traditional heartland of Armenia, Turkish Armenians have become a minority ethnic-religious group with many ways to assimilate or not, of blending in or disappearing altogether.

      Coming to her topic through her husband, who was born in Turkey in Sepastia (Sivas), Boghikian-Kasparian interviewed Armenians from that region as part of her research. “It was a window to another part of our history,” she said. As to how some Armenians survived the Genocide, she explained that some were hidden by friendly non-Armenian neighbors and a few were spared because they had special skills; many women were sold into marriage and forced to convert to Islam. Some descendants of those Turkish Armenians have returned to the Armenian Church and accepted baptism.

      In places where larger numbers of Armenians congregate, community rituals such as Vartavar continued to be celebrated. Generally, Turkish Armenians stepped softly, maintaining some level of “Armenianness” without calling attention to themselves. “Many small measures have been taken,” Boghikian-Kasparian said, relating that conditions have improved in recent years, including the establishmsent of Armenian cultural associations. Even the tricolor flag has occasionally been seen in Turkey.

      Boghikian-Kasparian’s talk capped a full program in observance of St. John’s anniversary, including a visit by the Vicar General of the Armenian Church’s Eastern Diocese, Very Rev. Simeon Odabashian; the singing of Der Getso by St. John’s pastor, Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian accompanied by organist Jan Kopatic; a musical interlude by parishioner Donald Rask; and a power point presentation by Nicole Kashian on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem earlier this year with a group of young Armenian Americans.



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Genocide Icon Consecrated at St. John

By David Luhrssen


(Greenfield, Wis.) The faces staring from the painting look familiar. They could be family members. They represent the victims of the Armenian Genocide, and this is no ordinary painting. The multitude of faces crowd the center of the Icon of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. The original hangs at Etchmidzin, consecrated by Catholicos Karekin II this April to commemorate the centenary of the Genocide and the canonization of those victims who died for their faith. Replicas on canvas, distributed to Armenian parishes across the world, were consecrated in November in conjunction with All Saints Day.

Consecration of the Holy Martyrs' Icon

Consecration of the Holy Martyrs’ Icon

At St. John the Baptist Armenian Church, the icon was consecrated after Sunday Badarak by Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian in a ceremony usually conducted by bishops. His Holiness Karekin II granted special permission to parish priests to consecrate the icons, facilitating their introduction into Armenian churches worldwide. The ceremony involved washing the icon with water and wine and anointing it with holy muron. The entire congregation participated in the rite by reciting litanies. 

Painted by Tigran Barkhanajyan, the Genocide Icon depicts the entire community of the Martyrs—men and women, the elderly and the children, lay and clerical, musicians and mothers—gathered in mute witness to one of the 20 century’s great crimes. They stand on a field of broken khachkars, representing the sacrilege of the Ottoman campaign to destroy the Armenian people and their civilization. A woman holds a dove, a hopeful symbol of peace; a girl holds a pomegranate, suggesting that the seeds of life will continue to flourish in the face of murder. As with all icons, the purpose of the painting is not to realistically document an event; this is not photojournalism, but an attempt to show the larger spiritual meaning of the events of 1915. 


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“The Dream Must be Continued”

Richard Hovanissian on Genocide and Denial

at Marquette Law School

By David Luhrssen


(Milwaukee, Wis.) Prof. Richard Hovanissian opened his Oct. 18, 2015, talk at Marquette University Law School by reflecting on this year’s centennial observation of the Armenian Genocide. The UCLA professor emeritus commented on the amount of good press and academic conferences the Armenian cause received in 2015, Pope Francis’ proclamation, and the unity shown by the Armenian community. But the events of a century ago and their ongoing implications, rather than the commemoration, were the primary subject of his talk. The event, sponsored by the Wisconsin Armenian Genocide Centenary Committee, drew an overflow audience.


Speaking extemporaneously from a deep well of emotion as he articulated the horror of the Genocide, Hovanissian recounted memories of growing up in California as the child of survivors. When he began his academic career he had no thought of becoming one of America’s foremost authorities on the Genocide and focused instead on Armenia’s First Republic. “I backed into this field because my father was called a liar,” Hovanissian said, referring to his work of refuting Genocide deniers. He denounced the Turkish Coalition of America, funded by a Turkish-American industrialist, for “expending millions of dollars to silence the Armenian case. It may be discouraging but one doesn’t stop. The dream must be continued.”


Hovanissian asked the question: “What have we learned after 100 years?” He began his answer by citing “utter admiration” for the resilience shown by the survivors. “After seeing such cruelty, how could they ever sing and dance and joke again? But most did recover and recreated an existence—a new space.”


The initial strategy of the Kemalists, not to deny as much as prevent discussion, crumbled after 1965 when Armenians from around the world from Yerevan to New York, took to the streets in protest on the 50th anniversary of the Genocide. He added that the trial of Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann “opened the door. The Holocaust is now not just part of Jewish history but part of human history. The Armenian Genocide should be remembered as the prototype for the mass killings of the 20th century. It set the model.”

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School

Prof. Richard Hovanissian speaks at Marquette University Law School


Hovanissian suggested ideology and technology as the causes of such mass killings. In the case of the Genocide, the ideology was the extreme nationalism of Turkism and the technology was the telegraph, which allowed Talaat Pasha to wire instructions to subordinates across the Ottoman Empire and to expect detailed reports in return. The outbreak of World War I gave the Turkish regime its opportunity. Without the cover of war, Hovanissian suggested, the Genocide might never have occurred.


He added that in every story he has collected of Genocide survivors, “there was a good Turk, or a good Muslim, who sheltered Armenian victims.”


Although the war against the memory of the Genocide continues to be waged by the present Turkish government and its lobbyists, Hovanissian sees reason for optimism. “There is a crack in the wall,” he said. “Young Turkish intellectuals are challenging the official narrative and using the ‘G’ word, which even the President of the United States is afraid to use.”

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SOAR-Wisconsin Field Trip to Armenia
April 19-29, 2015


Our Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) Wisconsin chapter delegation included the two chapter co-presidents (Dr. Chuck and Mary Kay Hajinian), the vice president (Harry Aghjian), and the treasurer (Leon A. Saryan).   SOAR is a charitable organization recognized by the US government under applicable law. The purpose of our visit was to visit an orphanage to which our chapter has provided assistance and to evaluate the economic, historical and social makeup of the people to better understand the orphan situation in Armenia.


On our first day we met with the SOAR representative in Armenia, Siranoush Hovannesian.  She escorted us to the Mari Izmirlian orphanage in northeast Yerevan, which we first visited in 2013 and which our chapter has supported financially in the past.  This facility cares for children who are handicapped, disabled, or otherwise have special needs.   The number of children being cared for has climbed to 110 from 90 two years ago.  Staff salaries and basic essentials are covered by the government’s Ministry for Social Services, but very little money is allotted to capital needs and facility upgrades.

SOAR-Wisconsin vice president Harry Aghjian and his wife Casey at Lake Sevan, Armenia

SOAR-Wisconsin vice president Harry Aghjian and his wife Casey at Lake Sevan, Armenia


We were able to observe several improvements from our visit two years earlier, made possible in large part by donations from our SOAR chapter and other diaspora organizations.   Sinks now had faucets, toilets had seats, and damaged walls were painted.  Fire-damaged areas were repaired.  Medical and kitchen refrigerators donated by our chapter two years earlier have been installed.  Also, many children have been provided with new beds, mattresses, and closets for their clothing.  We noted that bronze plaques have been mounted acknowledging the Wisconsin and Chicago chapters of SOAR for their donations.


We met with the orphanage staff and found them deeply appreciative and committed to the care of these children. This is a government sponsored home where workers are not highly compensated.  To do this work of caring, cooking, cleaning up these kids requires a special heart.  This staff seems to have that.


We were also able to assess additional needs:  another forty new beds and mattresses, kitchen equipment (commercial blenders, a commercial bread slicer, food processors, large pots and pans etc.) are needed.  Another large commercial refrigerator is also needed (estimated at $5000) as well as some additional new washing machines and clothes dryers.


During our meeting with Siranoush, we delivered 14 large bottles of multi-vitamins for orphan children donated and carried to Armenia by the SOAR-WI chapter.  We also gave her over 5000 custom-prepared prayer cards in English and Armenian. These prayer cards were designed by Wisconsin SOAR members and Father Yeghia Hairabedian of Glendale, California thru Renewal in Christ Ministries. The cards have a picture of Christ with children and an encouraging spiritual prayer for the children to recite.  Some cards were also given to a pastor to take to Jordan and Syria for refugees and orphans.


We also delivered over $2000 worth of dental supplies to support the establishment of dental clinics in Armenia’s orphanages.  Partially at our initiative, the Mari Izmirilian Orphanage has a new two-operatory dental clinic operated by a Polish dentist who comes to Armenia twice a year to care for all the children at that orphanage.  Siranoush was instructed to distribute the dental supplies as she saw fit.


We also met with several Armenian institutional directors to discuss synergy with SOAR, including Vahram Kazhoyan (  Vahram wears multiple “hats” for the government and helps oversee NGO’s.  He is the hospitality spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry and works as a Goodwill Ambassador.  He was instrumental in working with businessman James Tufenkian in setting up a shelter for battered women in Yerevan.  We also met James Tufenkian and stayed at his hotel.

Casey Aghjian with SOAR sponsored orphans

Casey Aghjian with SOAR sponsored orphans

While in Yerevan, we also met with an NGO for Syrian-Armenian refugees. This “New Aleppo” group are relocating families and orphans. These numbers are as high as 16,000 people.  We met with families whose ancestors operated ran orphanages during the Genocide. Dr. Hajinian was interviewed on Armenian H3 television, a Danish newspaper and the New York Times published my comments.  Others in our group were also interviewed.


During the visit the Wisconsin SOAR officers were able to observe the general status of living conditions that make orphanage institutions essential for the social fabric of the country.


We returned with a new list of needs for the Mari Izmirlian Orphanage and introduced many to the work of SOAR.


Document prepared by Dr. Chuck Hajinian, President, SOAR-Wisconsin, and Dr. L. A. Saryan, Treasurer, SOAR-Wisconsin.

June 1, 2015

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