BY PHILIP TAVLIAN
FRESNO — The Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) emerged from the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 to hold an outstanding global convocation in the Great Central Valley of California in 2021.
The AMAA held its 102nd Annual Meetings on October 21-24 on the Campus of Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church in Fresno. The missionary arm of the Armenian Evangelical Church worldwide, the AMAA gathering included meetings of the Armenian Evangelical World Council (AEWC) with delegates from the Armenian Evangelical Unions of North America, France, New East Republic of Armenia, and Eurasia as well as the Stephen Philibosian Foundation in attendance.
The assemblage opened on October 21 with a dinner meeting of the AEWC and continued with conclaves of the AEWC Board and AMAA Board of Directors on October 22. The Men’s Forum and Dorcas Women’s Guild of the host congregation prepared authentic San Joaquin Valley Cuisine for the delegates and guests throughout the weekend. Reverend Nerses Balabanian, Senior Pastor of the Host Congregation, offered warm greetings on behalf of the Church and larger community.
The 102nd Annual Membership Meeting took place in the Pilgrim Sanctuary on Saturday morning, October 23, and was streamed virtually via Zoom Video. At the conclusion of the business meeting, guests from around the globe participated in a bus tour of “Armenian Fresno,” with visits to the epic David of Sassoon sculpture by Varaz Samuelian, the Lawrence Condrajian Cone-designed Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, the William Saroyan Residence, the Masis Ararat Cemetery, the Soghomon Tehlirian Monument, and the Armenian Genocide Monument on the campus of California State University, Fresno. Tour organizer Joyce Kierejczyk, Varoujan Der Simonian of the Armenian Museum of Fresno, and Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian of the CSU Fresno Armenian Studies Program offered expert commentary throughout the tour.
The Saturday sessions culminated in the 102nd Annual Meeting Banquet dedicated to The Artsakh Republic. The Banquet took place in the Fellowship Hall of First Armenian Presbyterian Church, ten city blocks distant from Fresno’s Historic Armenian Town.
Guests arrived to find a hall decorated in the colors and embellishments of the Autumn Harvest. Banquet Co-sponsors and Co-Chairs John Abdulian, M.D. and LindaKay Bedrosian Abdulian welcomed the attendees to the sold-out event. Mrs. Abdulian, President of National Raisin Company and AMAA Board Member, served as Master of Ceremonies and thanked AMAA President Nazareth Darakjian, M.D. and Executive Director Zaven Khanjian for their servant leadership.
Tenor Misak Israelyan, a native of Vanadzor, offered stirring renditions of the anthems of the United States of America and Republic of Armenia. Reverend Gregory Vahack Haroutunian, Senior Pastor of FAPC, offered the prayer of invocation.
Guests screened a special video on the AMAA Camping Ministry in Artsakh, which began near Stepanakert in 1995 and moved to Sushi in the summer of 2003. The video depicted a quarter century of AMAA camping ministry in Artsakh, with more than 800 young people participating in each annual summer session. The video also saluted Carlotta and the late Ernest Bedrosian, Katherine and the late Krikor Bedrosian, Kenneth and Jane Bedrosian, and their extended family for faithful sponsorship of AMAA’s Camp Bedrosian in Sushi since 2003. The campsite was lost to the Azeri military in the 44-day war that ended November 10, 2020. Executive Director Khanjian nevertheless advised the banquet guests, “Bedrosian Camp is not a building, land, or soil—it is spirit. We will build a camp in Sushi one more time.” President Darakjian presented an oil portrait of Camp Bedrosian to the Bedrosian Family and Harout Nercessian, AMAA Armenia Representative, presented the family with albums of photographs from the 25-year camping ministry. Speaking for the extended family, AMAA Board Member Bryan Bedrosian offered moving remarks in the English and Armenian languages.
Guests dined on beef filet and chicken kebab and accompaniments, prepared by the Holy Trinity Men’s Society and served by the employees of National Raisin Company. Following the meal, Tenor Israelyan offered the venerable hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” in the English language and the Artsakh anthems, “Life and Battle” and “We Will Live,” in the Armenian language.
Her Excellency, Lilit Makunts, newly-appointed Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the United States marked her first visit to California at the Banquet and warmly saluted the AMAA for offering humanitarian aid, inspiring the Armenian people to hope for a better life and future, and for emphasizing the education of youth. She concluded her remarks by saying, “After the 44-day Artsakh war, we have only one place to go—forward!” The Honorable Armen Baibourtian, Ph.D., Consul General of the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles, expressed delight at being present for the Banquet and described Fresno as “the place where our Armenian roots are in the Western United States.” Consul General Baibourtian was accompanied by the Honorable Berj Apkarian, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia in Fresno since 2014.
The Banquet Committee introduced the keynote speaker with an AMAA video entitled, “A Success Story Against All Odds.” Artak Beglaryan, State Minister of the Artsakh Republic, lost his vision in a landmine incident in 1995. A onetime camper at the AMAA Camp in Stepanakert, Beglaryan went on to study at Yerevan State University, University College London, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He served as Human Rights Ombudsman of Artsakh for two years and was appointed State Minister on June 1, 2021.
He opened his banquet remarks by saying, “It’s symbolic to be in Fresno because it is the symbol of survival and revival after the Genocide of 1915. The example of Fresno will be quite encouraging to us.” Beglaryan examined the future of Artsakh following the 44-day war and cited long term and short term challenges. The long term challenges include: (1) security, (2) demography; (3) economic development; (4) government reforms; and (5) education. Beglaryan said the short term challenges include: (1) housing; (2) social and labor productivity; (3) physical and psychological rehabilitation of the populace; (4) infrastructure; and (5) institutional capacity. To address these challenges, Minister Beglaryan called for self-analysis at all levels, unity, strategic thinking, patience, persistence, and an attitude of service. He concluded his address by saying, “Jesus sacrificed His life to give us a chance; the Artsakh soldiers sacrificed their lives for the same goal. We should so live our lives that their lives were not given in vain.”
Executive Director Khanjian presented Minister Beglaryan and his advisor, David Hagopian, with a variety of gifts, including a framed motto, “Perseverance—Never Give Up!” Khanjian thanked the Host and Banquet Committees and the Armenian Community of Fresno for their warm hospitality. He concluded with the words of Jesus of Nazareth: “’Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.’ [March 16: 15] AMAA’s march goes on!” Reverend Albert Paytyan, President of the Union of Evangelical Churches in Armenia offered the benediction and Reverend Nerses Balabanian led the singing of the Doxology (Park yev Badeev).
The 102nd Annual Meetings concluded with a service of worship on Sunday, October 24 at Pilgrim Church. Reverend Doctor Vahan H. Tootikian conducted the Installation Service of new AMAA Board Members and Reverend L. Nishan Bakalian offered the Memorial Prayer. Reverend Doctor Haroutune Selimian of Syria delivered the worship message in Armenian and Reverend Doctor Ronald Tovmassian of Southern California delivered the worship message in English.
The 102nd Annual Meeting Host Committee included Reverend Nerses Balabanian, Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church of Fresno; Reverend Kevin Kasper, Associate Pastor of Pilgrim Church; and Edward and Roseann Saliba, Co-Chairs.
The Annual Meeting Banquet Committee included Dr. John and LindaKay Bedrosian Abdulian, Co-Chairs; Executive Director Khanjian; Katherine Bedrosian; Jane Bedrosian Asmar;; Louisa Janbazian; Christine Kutlu; Magda Poulos; Nancy Rivera; Missy Karabian Statler; and Marie Viducich.
he AMAA was founded in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1918 and was incorporated as a non-profit charitable organization in New York State in 1920. The purpose of the ministry is to serve the physical and spiritual needs of people at home and oversees. To fulfill this worldwide mission, AMAA maintains a range of educational, evangelistic, relief, social service, Church, and child care ministries in 24 countries around the globe.