A scene from the Banquet
Legacy of Edward Avedisian honored as benefactor of
Khoren & Shooshanig Avedisian School of Yerevan, Armenia

by JOY SHIRAGIAN

PARAMUS, NJ – The Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), the missionary arm of the Armenian Evangelical Church, held its 104th annual meeting at the Cavalry Armenian Congregational Church (CACC) in San Francisco, CA from October 20-22.  A key highlight of the meeting was the banquet held on Saturday, October 21 at the San Francisco Airport Marriott in nearby Burlingame.

After meetings on Friday and Saturday for the AMAA-affiliated Armenian Evangelical World Council, the AMAA Board of Directors, and the AMAA membership, Saturday evening’s banquet provided an opportunity to commune together and celebrate Armenian Evangelical Education.  The motto chosen for the Banquet theme was “And I go to the source of the light…” from Daniel Varoujan’s poem “The Light”  (Ու ես կ՛երթամ դէպի աղբիւրը լոյսի).

The evening began with a cocktail hour where guests had a chance to mingle.  Once seated in the main ballroom, attendees were warmly welcomed by event co-chairs Vana Khanjian Vartanian and Roushig Kalebjian and greeted by Master of Ceremonies and local television news anchor, Gasia Mikaelian.  This was followed by the invocation, given by CACC pastor Rev. Calvin Sagherian, and an address by His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese.

After the guests enjoyed their dinner with Armenian wines from the Alexandrea Winery, they were serenaded by the beautiful, powerful voices of tenor Berj Karazian and soprano Armine Vardanyan, accompanied by the talented Ripsime Rshtuni.  Musical selections from

Armenian composers Khachaturyan and Spendiaryan were featured, followed by Babajanyan’s spirited Azg Parapandz that had the entire room clapping with gusto.

The performance was followed by a touching video tribute to the late Edward Avedisian, benefactor of the Khoren and Shoushanig Avedisian School in Yerevan.  Guests learned of Avedisian’s musical talents as a clarinetist and his lifelong commitment to education with a history of philanthropy that included support for the American University of Armenia, the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, the National Association of Armenian Studies, and his most significant, Boston University’s medical school.

Dr. Nazareth Darakjian, President of the AMAA, and Zaven Khanjian, Executive Director/CEO, then invited Avedisian’s wife, Pamela Wood Avedisian, to come forward.  They acknowledged her recent $1 million donation, praised her and her husband’s philanthropy, and presented her with a gift of appreciation. Her remarks to the assembled guests were particularly touching as she mentioned how thankful she was to have had the opportunity to share her life with her talented and generous husband.  Karazian and Vardanyan returned with another vocal performance after which Mr. Khanjian acknowledged additional donors including Mary Bedoian for her $1 million gift from the estate of her late brother Harry in support of Artsakh.

The program then turned to the long history of Armenian Evangelical leadership in empowering future generations through education.  AMAA Field Representative Harout Nercessian shared an engaging video that brought to life the many schools and funding programs established over the years that were born of a belief that “faith and education are inseparable”.  Guests learned of the many institutions with academic and after-school programs that are currently operated by the AMAA.

Mr. Khanjian then came forward and summoned Avedisian School Principal Melanya Geghamyan and husband Andranik Mardoyan to the stage.  He celebrated Geghamyan’s exceptional career as an educator and presented her with an ornately framed written definition of a school principal.  Her husband, often serving as photographer at events, was presented with a camera belt and a camera-shaped trophy.  The couple each shared remarks of heartfelt appreciation.

While much of the evening was dedicated to celebrating philanthropy directed to the AMAA and its mission, the audience was surprised by the announcement of a $60 thousand gift from the AMAA to San Francisco’s Mt. Davidson cross.  The immense cross, perched atop San Francisco’s highest peak, was purchased by the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California in 1997 as a memorial to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide.  Armenians visit the cross annually on Easter Sunday and to commemorate Armenian Martyrs Day.

Mr. Khanjian then stood before the room to deliver his own poignant remarks that resonated deeply with the crowd.  He thanked banquet committee co-chairs Vartanain and Kalebjian and Master of Ceremonies Mikaelian.  He thanked Rev. Calvin Sagherian and CACC members, led by Dr. Nora Balabanian, for their warm welcome as hosts of the weekend’s events.  He also thanked AMAA staff in Paramus, Glendale, Yerevan, and Artsakh for their diligence.  And he thanked the guests who travelled far and wide, bringing a “boundless spirit of love, care, and attention” in support of the AMAA’s mission.

His remarks went on to discuss the sobering conditions that the Armenian community faces today, from the heartbreaking loss of Artsakh, “the most piercing national tragedy faced by the nation since the genocide”, to the menacing existential threat of invasion in the motherland.  He went further to assert that recent events had laid bare the reality that Armenia’s destiny is in the hands of Armenians alone.

But his was not a message of despair.  In fact, Khanjian described his outlook as positive, drawing strength from a faith in God to fuel the work that lies ahead, the work of sustaining educational, spiritual, humanitarian, and youth programs world-wide, and the new challenge of caring for the displaced from Artsakh.  His final thoughts were softly defiant and rousing with words that left no doubt about the AMAA’s direction:

Despite all evil, AMAA steadfastly continues to spread the Word and reflect His love, goodness, and hope around. Our weapon is our faith, love, service, and the pen. We are good at building, educating, enlightening, and spreading the Word.

God has called on the AMAA to bear the yolk of our people and assume a humble role of service. This is our commitment, this is our promise, this is our culture, this is our mission, this is our faith, and this is our prayer.

To close the evening, Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian, AEWC Executive Director gave a closing prayer and benediction which was followed by the singing of Park Yev Badiv by all.

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