The Eastern Diocese’s annual Awards Banquet went forward in a family-like setting of mutual admiration, affection, and encouragement, on the evening of Friday, May 4 at the Renaissance Westchester Hotel in West Harrison, NY.
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian presided over the banquet, which was hosted by the St. Gregory the Enlightener Church of White Plains. In the course of the evening, several distinguished individuals were applauded for their support of the Armenian Church and community.
The banquet was the culmination of the 116th Assembly of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern), and was thematically linked to the 50th anniversary celebration of St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral.
It was a night that acknowledged history—and made some history, as well, as it marked the first public event for the new Primate-elect of the Eastern Diocese, the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan.
Maria Stepanian, who chaired the host parish committee, gave a gracious welcome in which she recalled her upbringing in the church, and expressed her personal gratitude to Archbishop Barsamian as he departed from the role of Primate after having served for 28 years.
Diocesan Assembly chair Diran Jebejian toasted the “amazing moment the Armenian Church finds itself in tonight,” referencing both the new era of leadership for the Diocese, and the stunning events transpiring concurrently in the Republic of Armenia.
Host parish pastor Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan paid tribute to Archbishop Barsamian as an inspiration to him as a priest, and extolled Fr. Findikyan and former St. Gregory pastor Fr. Karekin Kasparian as teachers and mentors who had shaped his ministry.
He thanked Maria Stepanian, the parish assembly committee, and the legion of parish volunteers for making the week a success.
Hope, Truth, Gratitude
AGBU President Berge Setrakian offered heartfelt remarks extolling the role of the church in Armenian history, and affirming the need to support the young Republic of Armenia and its institutions.
Diocesan Council chair James Kalustian introduced the evening’s honorees, beginning with Mr. and Mrs. Nazar and Artemis Nazarian—recipients of a special award, the “St. Vartan Cathedral Golden Anniversary Medal,” in honor of the cathedral’s milestone. Nazar Nazarian is one of the last survivors of the original 35 godfathers of the cathedral consecration in 1968.
Mr. Kalustian called the Nazarians “a couple who are already greatly honored—and greatly beloved—by this community, and by Armenian communities across the globe.”
“In awarding them this Golden Anniversary Medal,” he said, “we also honor that golden generation that endured the Genocide, survived to live another day, built the great institutions of the reborn Armenian heritage—and remain in our hearts as a light of hope and inspiration for the future.”
The crowd rose in applause for the couple, as Artemis Nazarian graciously thanked the well-wishers and the Eastern Diocese for their warm congratulations.
The 2018 “Friend of the Armenians” recipient—Dr. Stephen Smith of the USC Shoah Foundation—was introduced by Melanie Dadourian, who has been working with Dr. Smith on the foundation’s Armenian Genocide resources.
In accepting the award, Dr. Smith gave a charmingly animated talk in which he honored the memory of his personal hero, Armin T. Wegner, the early human rights pioneer and documenter of the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Smith remembered Wegner as figure who had risked all to stand up for the truth; and he thanked the Armenian community for their friendship in their mutual stance to uphold truth.
Receiving this year’s “Armenian Church Member of the Year” award was Toros Mangassarian of the White Plains parish. In introducing him, Mr. Kalustian called him “an Old World Armenian gentleman; a patriot and a true Christian; a devoted son of Armenia, and of its greatest institution: our church.”
He continued: “Toros is a man loved by his family; admired by his peers; respected by the people who work for him. He’s a man of gracious hospitality and humility; a friend to people in their time of need—and, in all things, animated by a deep faith in his heart: all qualities that have exemplified the Armenian spirit at its best.”
Accepting the award, Mr. Mangassarian expressed his deep pride in the Armenian heritage and church. Reflecting upon a life of achievement and dedicated service, he offered “my sincere hope that the torch will be passed to the future.”
In a tribute to the bonds of family—in his own life, and as a force that has kept the Armenian people vital and contributed to their survival against great odds—he said: “The power of a loving family can never be overcome.”
The Brightest of Futures
An official visitor from the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Archbishop Nathan Hovhannisian, representing His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, read a special message from the Catholicos and offered his own words of personal warmth towards Archbishop Barsamian, Fr. Findikyan, and all the people present.
To conclude the program, Archbishop Khajag Barsamian remarked on the beautiful atmosphere of the evening, and congratulated each of the honorees in turn.
He called Dr. Stephen Smith “a true friend of our community, who has stood with us in commemorating the deepest wound of our history, the Armenian Genocide.”
He thanked Toros Mangassarian for being “a pillar of the Westchester community,” and also “a dear friend, whose continuing friendship has been extremely meaningful to me.”
And regarding the Gold Medal recipients, he said: “Nazar and Artemis Nazarian are quite simply the patriarch and matriarch of the Armenian Church community. Their generosity has graced every institution, supported talent and achievement among our people, and benefitted the progress of Armenia. I value this moment to show them, once again, our admiration and love.”
He offered gracious thanks to Fr. Hovsepyan, Maria Stepanian, and the entire St. Gregory the Enlightener parish, and expressed profound confidence in the forward movement of Armenia and the Armenian world. Recalling the Diocesan Assembly theme, “Under One Roof,” Archbishop Barsamian asserted that an Armenian Church united in spirit and aspiration could look forward to the brightest of futures.
During the banquet, Alvard Mayilyan sang the national anthems of the U.S. and Armenia, and the Shushi Armenian Dance Ensemble performed a spectacular dance number in their exquisite native Armenian costumes.
The Diocesan Assembly Committee of St. Gregory the Enlightener Church was led by Fr. Mesrob Hovsepyan and Maria Stepanian as committee chair. The central committee consisted of Ann Guiragosian Daw, Lisa Kouzoujian, Zaven Tachdjian, and Mary Tatarian, and included dozens of volunteers from the local community.