On February 27, 2021, and for first time in its more than a century-old history, the biennial AGBU General Assembly broke tradition by taking its proceedings entirely online. Given the lingering presence of Covid-19, now in its second year and still persisting in hotspots across the globe, the AGBU Central Board agreed to harness the power of virtual technology to unite its worldwide membership remotely.
Thanks to the expertise of the organization’s AGBU Armenian Virtual College (AVC), hundreds of participants from 32 countries were able to connect through Zoom with the benefit of simultaneous translation from English to Armenian, French and Spanish.
“Ever since the Coronavirus outbreak last year, AGBU has proven itself an agile and inventive force online. Since then, we learned that we not only could continue our mission but also extend our reach to ever larger segments of the communities we serve,” said Central Board Member and Secretary Sarkis Jebejian, who served as the meeting’s Master of Ceremonies.
Following the welcome remarks, His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, conveyed his blessing wishing the Assembly a successful meeting and emphasized the important role of the AGBU in the life of the Armenian Nation.
As usual, the official agenda included a report of the consolidated financials for the period 2018 and 2019 by AGBU Central Board Treasurer Nazareth Festekjian and an activities report for the same cycle by Central Board member and Assistant Secretary Arda Haratunian. A report highlighting AGBU’s work in education, in particular the immense contributions of AVC to Armenian education over the past ten years since its inception, was presented by Central Board member Lena Sarkissian. A brief question and answer session followed addressing issues raised by the membership in advance of the meeting.
There were also salutes to three AGBU groups, for which AGBU President Berge Setrakian took pride in recognizing for their extraordinary sacrifices of time and expertise during critical moments in 2020. This included District Committee and its Chairman Gerard Tufenkjian, and entire AGBU Lebanon community who redefined the meaning of civic engagement in Lebanon after the explosion at the Port in Beirut last August. In addition, Setrakian thanked AGBU scouts across the globe for their hard work and community service throughout an incredibly challenging time locally and globally. “We are lucky to have them wear the badge of AGBU and represent us so well,” Setrakian, a former AGBU scout leader himself, remarked. Finally, the AGBU Young Professionals were singled out for their display of leadership when the pandemic hit, proactively finding ways to keep connected, as well as provide forums for important exchanges on timely topics.
In his official biennial address, Setrakian acknowledged straightaway that the impressive gains and achievements by AGBU in the 2018-2019 cycle were soon overshadowed by the crises that ensued in 2020. He acknowledged how these calamities necessitated a major shift in priorities to intensive humanitarian relief, an area for which AGBU has long burnished an impressive and trusted reputation.
Setrakian took this time to remind participants of the numerous historical turning points in Armenian history that catapulted AGBU into greater involvement in developing the modern Armenian state, starting with the foundational work of AGBU visionary founder Boghos Noubar in educating impoverished and oppressed Armenian communities in Hamidian Turkey at the turn of the 20th century as well as the repatriation of Armenians to the newly established soviet Armenia. He referenced key decisions made by his predecessors such as Alex Manoogian’s call to support the establishment of Holy Etchmiadzin as the seat of the Armenian Church and Louise Simone’s efforts to establish the American University of Armenia (AUA) shortly after Armenia won its independence in 1991.
Cognizant of the immediate concerns of those in attendance, Setrakian outlined what he envisions for AGBU and for Armenia going forward. “AGBU’s leadership, out of serious concern for the dangers facing our nation, has called on all Armenian people to unite and bring their expertise, their engagement and their formidable will to build the future in the aftermath of the events of the past year,” he stated.
He concluded his remarks with an optimistic but tempered vision of the years ahead. “We are confident of the important role that AGBU can fulfill in the mission of strengthening the core of our nation which is global, with its homeland and its Diaspora. This will require the participation of each and every one of you, as only together can we achieve the national prosperity and stability we profoundly wish to see.”
*The full text of President Setrakian’s speech as well as the resolutions adopted by the General Assembly may be found at www.agbu.org.
The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) is the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted to upholding the Armenian heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs. Each year, AGBU is committed to making a difference in the lives of 500,000 people across Armenia, Artsakh and the Armenian diaspora. Since 1906, AGBU has remained true to one overarching goal: to create a foundation for the prosperity of all Armenians. To learn more visit http://www.agbu.org.