The Changing Landscape of the Middle East

Building Bridges

Armenian American philanthropist Vahe Karapetian and AGBU work together to cultivate homeland-diaspora relations


The recently inaugurated AGBU Vahe Karapetian Center stands as an important symbol of unification between the Armenian homeland and the diaspora. The impressive 5,500-square-meter building located at 1 Zakaria Kanakertsi Street in Yerevan was donated by the Armenian American philanthropist and entrepreneur Vahe Karapetian to AGBU to serve as a residence hall that will foster closer ties between Armenia and diasporan youth from around the world. During the academic year, the center houses exchange students studying at the American University of Armenia. During the summer, it is home to 80 young adults participating in several international summer programs developed by AGBU, including Discover Armenia, the Yerevan Summer Internship Program (YSIP) and the Musical Armenia Program (MAP). The new center will also provide a venue for cultural and educational programs as well as international conferences.

In addition to its other roles, the AGBU Vahe Karapetian Center also provides a location for the Syrian Armenian Relief Coordination Center, a non-profit organization that occupies the first floor of the center. Run jointly by AGBU and the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, the coordination center has provided support in resolving medical, housing, financial, educational and logistical issues to 9,000 of the 16,000 Syrian Armenians living in Armenia since its founding in 2013. The coordination center is directed by Lena Halajian, who moved from Aleppo to Yerevan after the conflict began, and established the organization with a small group of Syrian Armenian volunteers. “Without the office space that AGBU provides, it would be very difficult to reach the Syrian Armenian families in need,” says Halajian.

In the past year, the Syrian Armenian Relief Coordination Center has implemented over 60 programs and worked with many international and local organizations, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Program, the United Nations Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief (UNICEF), Save the Children, Mission Armenia and the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). “The Syrian Armenian problem is a pan-Armenian problem. If 1,000 Armenian families unite to help one Syrian Armenian family, there would be no problem anymore.” Recently, the center launched a program called Adopt a Family to bridge donor families around the world to needy families, whom they donate to directly. “If we send donations for one year,” says Halajian, “we can help Syrian Armenians not only stand on their own feet and survive, but also contribute to building a new Armenia.” 

On September 24, 2015, more than 200 guests came to be part of the AGBU Vahe Karapetian Center’s inauguration, including President of the Republic of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan; Minister of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia Hranush Hakobyan; Mayor of Yerevan Taron Margaryan; AGBU President Berge Setrakian; Armenian American philanthropist Vahe Karapetian; AGBU Council of Trustees member Karnig Yacoubian; and AGBU Central Board members Sinan Sinanian, Vasken Yacoubian and Yervant Zorian.

Accompanied by Mr. Setrakian, Mr. Karapetian, Mr. Yacoubian and others, President Sargsyan toured the center, becoming acquainted with its mission, programs and facilities. During the ceremony, a blessing from His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, was delivered by Archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, Primate of the Diocese of Tavush.

“This center will serve to strengthen ties between the youth of Armenia and the diaspora. Our main purpose is to bring students from various communities of the diaspora to their homeland, show them what it is like to live in Armenia and ensure their future communication and friendship with their Armenia-based peers. To serve this purpose, we intend to hold various educational, cultural and networking initiatives inside the walls of this center,” said AGBU President Berge Setrakian.

For Vahe Karapetian, being able to donate the complex to AGBU allowed him to help fulfill a long-standing personal goal to help promote a sense of unity among Armenian communities around the world. “I have never been an AGBU member, but the organization has always been very close to my heart. For years, in the United States, whether on TV or elsewhere, I have always followed the activities carried out by AGBU, as an organization with a distinct policy and mechanism of national unity. I am familiar with the biography and activities of Boghos Nubar Pasha. We didn’t intend to build this into such a center. We worked very hard and I was very meticulous about this building. And then, when everything was ready, we just realized we didn’t want to use it, nor did we want to rent it or sell it. And I thought that I can only give it to AGBU: the organization that has always thought about the unity of our nation,” said Karapetian.

Vahe Karapetian, owner of AA Cater Truck Inc. in Los Angeles, is known for his innovative ideas in the manufacturing and vending industries. His company offers the latest design in catering trucks with advanced aerodynamic technology. Karapetian, a trained engineer, invented and designed the structural strength concept that consists of assembly of truck body components with an interlocking system for the Utility Uni-Van and cube bodies. Karapetian’s family moved to Armenia from Lebanon during the 1940s. After relocating to Baku, France and back to Lebanon, he finally settled in Los Angeles where he became a successful entrepreneur and prominent benefactor of several important community initiatives in the United States. Karapetian later assumed a leadership role in the All Armenia Fund, helping to develop several projects in Armenia, notably the Goris-Stepanakert Highway. In such a capacity, Karapetian became an active proponent of organizing the Armenian diaspora into a stronger, cohesive entity better able to maximize its potential. 

He is confident the new center in his name will help contribute to that goal by creating new opportunities to bring the youth of Armenia and the diaspora together to develop lasting friendships and bonds that will help define the future of the Armenian nation as they in turn embark on their own successful careers. It is a great source of pride, Karapetian noted, to contribute to the development of young Armenians from around the globe, adding that he hopes they will become inspired by the beauty of their homeland, visit again and ultimately contribute to its development in the future. 

While in the past Karapetian concentrated his benevolent initiatives in the diaspora, he is now focused on strengthening the relationship between the diaspora and the homeland to help ensure a more prosperous future for the Armenian nation. Speaking recently with 1TV.AM, Karapetian affirmed that “the homeland is more than just a territory. It is composed of the remnants of our ancestors. It is our roots and our backbone. And it is vital for diaspora.” 

In recognition of his generous donation to AGBU, Mr. Setrakian bestowed on Vahe Karapetian the title of AGBU Benefactor Member and presented him with an AGBU Gold Medal in appreciation of his benevolence. 

Originally published in the 2016-02-01​ issue of AGBU Magazine. Archived content may appear distorted on your screen. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.