Join us for the 89th AGBU General Assembly in New York from October 27 to 30, 2016 and be part of a diverse program of events where AGBU leadership, members and friends will come together to develop roadmaps to enhance and strengthen the global Armenian community. .. [read more]
Established in 1906, this year marks the 110th anniversary of AGBU. With a presence in over 40 countries, now, more than ever, we come together in celebration of this milestone and reaffirm our longstanding motto: In Unity is Strength.
The Armenian General Benevolent Union is the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted to upholding the Armenian heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs. Through the vision of its leaders and the generous support of devoted donors and members over the years, AGBU has played a significant role in upholding Armenian traditions and values by adapting to the needs of the worldwide community and the demands of the times. Since 1906, AGBU has remained true to one overarching goal: to create a foundation for the prosperity of all Armenians.
TOUCHING THE LIVES OF OVER 500,000 PEOPLE WORLDWIDE
districts & chapters
April 15, 1906
Boghos Nubar Pasha and Yervant Aghaton joined forces to form a new type of humanitarian organization - one that was unhampered by the shackles of totalitarian regimes and capable of promoting sustainable development in the socio-economic and educational spheres in the Ottoman Empire.
With the inaugural meeting held on April 15, 1906, the Armenian General Benevolent Union began its longstanding mission of service to the Armenian community.
Since the very beginning, AGBU has been quick to respond to Armenians in need. In its first two years alone, not only did AGBU rush to relieve earthquake victims in Bitlis, it also sent much-needed wheat and supplies to victims of famine in the Eastern Provinces.
The founding board was motivated by donations from far corners of the world with support from places like Addis Ababa, Rangoon, London and Calcutta.
With Ottoman authorities suspicious of all political organizations, AGBU founders wisely drafted the organizations by-laws to state it would not engage in politics, but would pursue strictly humanitarian goals." This declaration was necessary to build the network needed to serve Armenians in devastated areas.
Their foresight paid off when on March 3, 1910, the Ottoman government approved its by-laws, allowing AGBU to legally start chapters and projects throughout the Empire.
In its first decade, AGBU stayed focused on improving the socio-economic standing of Armenians across the Empire, devoting its efforts first and foremost to promoting educational and agricultural development. In 1910 alone, AGBU subsidized some 30 schools and sent farmers the livestock, seeds and tools that were essential in creating self-sustaining communities.
Sadly, by 1915, only two schools remained and few Armenian farmers were left in the towns and villages of Anatolia.
With the turmoil of World War I, the AGBU leadership in Cairo faced great challenges as they could not send food, clothing or aid to Armenian refugees in Syria and Mesopotamia. Determined to deliver relief by any means possible, AGBU mobilized its transnational network of chapters to collect funds and distribute aid to the regions.
AGBU's 60 US chapters were particularly integral in receiving funds from Cairo and directing them via US consulates and humanitarian organizations to quickly and safely assist those in need.
In the aftermath of World War I, AGBU and the Allied forces worked together to tend to the needs of Armenian refugees across the Middle East. As the British advanced on the Palestinian front, they often came upon refugees living in squalor in unexpected places in the cemeteries of Petra, in the town of Salt, west of Amman and in the compound of the Saint James Monastery in Jerusalem.
Given the steadfast reputation of AGBU for acting fast in the wake of humanitarian crises, the British forces relied heavily on the organization to gather the refugees and take them to safety.
The end of the war brought a growing concern among the AGBU leadership about the plight of Armenian women and children living in Bedouin tribes. In 1918, AGBU funded a mission in Palestine and southern Syria led by Levon Yotneghperian to bring them back into the folds of the Armenian community. It was followed by another mission led by Rupen Herianaround Aleppo and Der Zor, resulting in the recovery of 533 women and children between June and August 1919.
With the fate of the nation in the balance, AGBU leadership knew that rebuilding thriving, post-war Armenian communities depended on reopening AGBU chapters where the refugees now found themselves. In 1919, AGBU chapters in Aleppo, Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Jerusalem were all up and running, ready to provide educational programs and medical attention as needed. The reestablished chapters paid special attention to reintegrating abused women and girls, sparing no effort to help them find a place in the Armenian community again.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Allied Powers occupied the region of Cilicia. One of their first orders of business was to ease the refugee crisis in the Near East by repatriating Armenian refugees to their hometowns.
The plan worked across the region. In 1919, for example, the Armenian refugee population in Aleppo shrunk from 15,000 to 7,000 in ten months. AGBU gave financial support to the largest Armenian families prepared to leave Aleppo and reopened AGBU chapters in Cilicia to tend to their needs once they returned.
As soon as the French took control of Cilicia in 1919, a large-scale repatriation campaign was organized to send Armenian refugees back to their hometowns. The return to Cilicia symbolized a return to normalcy for the refugees and AGBU worked to spread this sense of hope by creating the infrastructure essential for socio-economic growth.
Two years later, however, the period of optimism came to an end as Armenians were once again forced to flee Cilicia after the French ceded the region to the nascent Turkish Republic. The dismayed AGBU leadership reacted quickly, evacuating Armenians and resettling them in Syria and Lebanon.
In the post-war period, the AGBU leadership saw that the future of the Near East would be decided in Europe. In 1921, AGBU moved its headquarters from Cairo to Paris where AGBU President Boghos Nubar was representing Armenians at international negotiations that would determine the fate of the nation.
AGBU spent the 1920s further entrenching itself in European society. In 1924, the leadership took the major step of incorporating the organization under Swiss law, endowing it with the legal status needed to become a non-profit entity with the ability to serve the needs of the Armenian people.
Seeing the future success of the Armenian people in the education of refugee children, AGBU returned to its founding objective with renewed determination. Throughout the 1920s, AGBU opened and subsidized orphanages and schools across the Near East, providing children and young adults with both conventional education and vocational training shoemaking and woodworking, embroidery and needlework to help them become self-sufficient as adults.
Forty young men at the AGBU Araradian Orphanage in Jerusalem found a particular kind of success. On a visit to Jerusalem in 1924, Haile Selassie heir to the Ethiopian throne heard the talents of the orphanages brass band and immediately invited them to enter his countrys service. Upon moving to Ethiopia, the young men formed the Imperial Brass Band and became jewels of the Ethiopian Empire.
To help solve the humanitarian crisis in the Near East, AGBU set its sights on the fledgling Soviet Republic of Armenia with the hope of settling tens of thousands of refugees in the country. For example, AGBU envisioned creating model farms and agricultural schools in Armenia to irrigate uncultivated land and train teenage orphans to become independent farmers. In 1924, the Soviet authorities granted AGBU 25,000 acres of land in Yeghvart and Dalma. A few months later, 250 young men between 15 and 21 originally from Van and Erzurum arrived in Armenia and began work developing both their skills and their new country.
In the 1920s and 1930s, AGBU marshaled the bulk of its resources to construct villages and public works projects within Soviet Armenia. The most expansive and significant project was Nubarashen, an entirely new village outside of Yerevan conceived of by Boghos Nubar to welcome new waves of immigration to Armenia. Construction of the homes, school, hospital, theater and factories of Nubarashen began in 1931. By 1936, AGBU had invested $417,000 in the project, but was forced to abandon it a year later when, at the height of the Stalinist purges, the Soviet authorities broke all ties with the organization.
In the 1930s, AGBU made it a priority to help Armenians shift out of a refugee mentality by nurturing permanent community life in their new countries. The organization gave special attention to creating programs for children and young adults. With this goal in mind, AGBU took charge of the Armenian Youth Association (AYA) in 1933 as a way to promote national cohesion through cultural, sports, scouting and social activities. By 1938, AYA had 16 chapters that included 1,800 members who would proudly go on to lead Armenian communities worldwide later in life.
With the outbreak of hostilities between France and Germany and the Nazi occupation of Paris, AGBU made the decision to transfer its headquarters to New York. Aware that the United States would become one of the leading players on the international stage after World War II, AGBU leadership had the foresight to move to a country that could offer it the best guarantees of security and fruitful activities.
After losing 20 million people during World War II, the USSR needed to replenish its labor force and appealed to diasporan organizations like AGBU to encourage Armenians around the world to make their homes in Soviet Armenia through a repatriation, or nerkaght, campaign. AGBU committed to the idea of gathering refugees in Armenia singlehandedly raised over $1 million to help nearly 100,000 repatriates travel to and settle in Soviet Armenia. Sadly, the repatriates betrayed by Soviet propaganda were met with food, housing and employment shortages that did not at all resemble the idyllic paradise they were promised.
Since its founding, AGBU has worked with and supported the Armenian Apostolic Church both on a local and global scale. A watershed moment in this relationship came in 1960 when H.H. Vasken I Catholicos of All Armenians visited New York, at which time he first met AGBU President Alex Manoogian. The two pillars of the Armenian community forged even closer ties between AGBU and Etchmiadzin. Among many fruitful projects, the relationship led to the AGBU-funded restoration of Armenian architectural monuments in Soviet Armenia, including the Sanahin and Haghbad Monasteries.
In the 1960s, interest in higher education surged in the Armenian community. AGBU, which had been helping deserving students of modest means since the 1920s, also saw a sharp rise in the number of AGBU endowments designated for scholarships. In 1964 alone, around one hundred students benefitted from the AGBU scholarship program, which has expanded each year that followed.
The Armenians of the Middle East were not immune to the regional turmoil of the 20th century. Responding to the political instability and violence, AGBU came to their aid with relief programs. During the Lebanese Civil War, in particular, AGBU made a long-standing commitment to relieve the strain of conflict by continuing to run dispensaries, supporting AGBU and non-AGBU schools and turning the Alex Manoogian Cultural and Athletic Center into a safe haven for war victims.
Youth programs form one of the central cores of the mission of AGBU. Understanding the powerful impact of summer camps in community building, AGBU opened its first camp, Camp Nubar, in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York. Since 1963, generations of children have developed new skills, made lifelong friends and deepened their connection to their Armenian heritage at dozens of AGBU-operated camps around the world.
In 1987, the AGBU New York Summer Internship Program (NYSIP) was founded to empower young Armenians through remarkable professional opportunities at the start of their careers. Over the years, the internship program has taken place in Los Angeles and Moscow and currently operates in New York, Yerevan, London and Paris. With over 800 alumni, the family of programs has created the basis for the development of a cadre of successful Armenian professionals all around the world.
After a devastating earthquake struck Soviet Armenia in December 1988, AGBU took immediate action. Under the leadership of AGBU President Louise Manoogian Simone, the organization oversaw critical emergency relief efforts that saved tens of thousands of lives. Within three days of the disaster, AGBU began distributing clothing, food, medicine and other provisions to Armenia, facilitating medical treatments in the United States and sending specialists from abroad to treat the wounded. By the end of 1991, AGBU had raised over $10 million to bring relief to earthquake victims.
After the independence of Armenia in 1991, the scope of AGBUs operations in Armenia, spearheaded by President Louise Manoogian Simone, expanded dramatically with an eye to modernizing the country socially and economically. Projects devoted to sustaining an active cultural life represented a significant part of the organizations efforts. Subsidies to theater groups, artists, the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Karabakh Chamber Orchestra all helped to create a sense of normalcy after a long period of instability.
In 1995, AGBU harnessed the power of youthful enthusiasm to foster change with the creation of the first Young Professionals (YP) group in Los Angeles. In the years that have followed, more than 25 YP groups have been established across the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, uniting young Armenians worldwide to serve the greater good through cultural events, fundraising efforts and social advocacy projects for Armenia and the diaspora.
After the independence of Armenia, the wide-ranging commitment of AGBU to the country's modernization focused much of its efforts on medicine and technology. One of its major achievements was the establishment of the AGBU Ultrasound Center in Yerevan in 1996, in partnership with the Jefferson Ultrasound Research and Education Institute in Philadelphia. The center introduced state-of-the-art ultrasound technology to Armenia, has trained more than 500 doctors and has distributed dozens of ultrasound machines to local hospitals in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Javakh.
Since the ceasefire in 1994, AGBU has been steadfast in providing vital support to help rebuild the war-torn Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2004, AGBU launched the Karabakh Repopulation Project to bring hope and development to areas that bore the greatest brunt of the conflict. The project saw the construction of 22 homes, a new medical center and a school and kindergarten in the village of Norashen to encourage young families to settle in the region. All together these revitalization efforts primed the region for growth and prosperity.
Under the leadership of AGBU president Berge Setrakian, AGBU programs expanded and brought diasporan youth to Armenia in greater number. In hopes of acquainting young Armenians with the cultural heritage of their homeland, AGBU established the Discover Armenia Program (2003), the Yerevan Summer Internship Program (2007) and the Musical Armenia Program (2012) along with AGBU school field trips to Armenia from Beirut to Buenos Aires. These programs have played a major role in creating a sense of cohesion among the Armenian people and contributed to a feeling of unity.
Over its 110 years, AGBU has been a beacon for Armenians in Armenia and throughout the diaspora, touching the lives of over 500,000 people each year. Today, it includes 74 districts, chapters and partner groups; 28 Young Professionals groups; and 24 day and Saturday schools; along with dozens of camps, scout groups and athletics programs. In its history, AGBU has remained true to the vision of its founders by investing in the moral and intellectual development of the Armenian people and focusing on sustainable growth in all communitiesa vision it will continue to uphold well into the future.
Click here to
download your commemorative history book