Engaging with Armenian communities locally, while connecting them globally, our worldwide network of regional centers, districts, and chapters allows us to draw from diverse perspectives to optimize our impact. With our established presence in Armenia and Artsakh, we facilitate joint initiatives and transparent exchange. After more than a century, AGBU is still committed to cultivating new strategic alliances and developing partnerships with world-class institutions, forever looking to enhance our scope and expand our horizons. With our great capacity to transform futures, Armenians around the world look to AGBU as a wellspring of hope and a resource for finding purpose as global citizens.
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The Armenian General Benevolent Union was founded by visionary leaders and an inaugural board of experts and dignitaries, who laid the foundation for immediate impact and growth. Established in Cairo, Egypt on April 15, 1906, AGBU began its longstanding mission of service under the leadership of Boghos Nubar and Yervant Aghaton, who united to form a new model of an Armenian organization — one that was free of the tyranny of totalitarian regimes, and capable of promoting sustainable socio-economic and educational development for Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire.
Within its first two years AGBU formed a broad network of supportive donors from places as far as Addis Ababa, Rangoon, London and Calcutta. With this collective backing, AGBU was able to relieve earthquake victims in Van, Mush, Age and Baghesh, and send much-needed wheat and supplies to victims of famine in the Eastern Ottoman Provinces.
With insightfully drafted bylaws, AGBU operated freely throughout the Ottoman Empire, able to serve countless Armenians in need. AGBU founders agreed that the organization "would not engage in politics but would pursue strictly humanitarian goals." This declaration was necessary to build the network needed to work within the Ottoman Empire as authorities were suspicious of all political organizations. As such, the Ottoman government approved the by-laws on March 3, 1910, allowing the organization to serve Armenians in need. In fact, the foresight allowed AGBU to legally establish dozens of active chapters and projects throughout the Empire.
In its first decade, AGBU remained 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 essential in creating self-sustaining communities.
By 1915 however, only two schools remained, and few Armenian farmers survived in the towns and villages of Anatolia due to Ottoman persecution.
The magnitude of the Armenian Genocide atrocity meant a refugee crises that spanned multiple countries and continents. AGBU and its wide reaching chapters worked to ensure supplies made their way into the hands of tens of thousands of survivors, leveraging relationships with various governments. AGBU set up orphanages, schools, trade schools and more to help deported Armenians resettle their lives. One example where swift action was taken was Port Said at a camp for refugees from Musa Dagh.
In the fall of 1915, 1,260 children from Musa Dagh were living in Port Said tent camps. In addition to paying for shelters for all the families, AGBU provided funds for a school to open by October of that year. The Sisvan School fed, clothed and educated over 3,000 children by 1917, eventually also becoming a vocational school. This model of initiating humanitarian aid to meet immediate crisis followed by investment for the long-term care of the community is one that would repeat for over a century to come, and continues to be a trademark of AGBU's approach to relief.
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. For example, given the impressive reputation AGBU earned for its swift action during this time, British forces relied heavily on the organization to gather and assist refugees in Petra, Salt and Jerusalem, where together they were able to offer relief aid.
With the fate of Armenians hanging in the balance, AGBU leadership knew that rebuilding thriving post-war Armenian communities depended on reopening AGBU chapters where refugees now found themselves. By 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 chapters focused particularly on reintegrating abused women and children, sparing no effort to help them with shelter, education and support programs.
Among the many initiatives to save these women and children was the establishment of an AGBU Rescue Fund, which ignited the "One Armenian, One Gold" movement in 1919, saving thousands of Armenian orphans and women who were living with Kurdish and Bedouin tribes.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Allied Powers occupied the region of Cilicia and prioritized relieving 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. To support the growing Armenian population and their needs, AGBU gave financial support to the largest Armenian families prepared to leave Aleppo and reopened AGBU chapters in Cilicia.
Sadly, after two years Armenians were once again forced to flee Cilicia after the French ceded the region to the nascent Turkish Republic. Dismayed, AGBU leadership reacted quickly, once again evacuating Armenians and resettling them in Syria and Lebanon.
Knowing that investing in the education of refugee children would be critical for Armenian survival, AGBU returned to this 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.
At the AGBU Araradian Orphanage in Jerusalem, 40 young men showcased their success and skills, leaving a particular historical impression. On a visit to Jerusalem in 1924, Haile Selassie—heir to the Ethiopian throne—heard the talents of the orphanage’s brass band and immediately invited them to enter his country’s service. Upon moving to Ethiopia, they formed the Imperial Brass Band and were the first to perform the country’s first national anthem, composed by Kevork Nalbandian, for Selassie’s coronation.
In the post-war period, the AGBU leadership saw that the future of the Near East would be decided in Europe and moved its headquarters from Cairo to Paris in 1921. AGBU President Boghos Nubar was asked to represent Armenians at international negotiations that would determine the fate of the nation. A few years later, the organization became incorporated 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.
Looking to establish permanent communities with where Armenians could pick up the pieces and build for the future, the Soviet Republic of Armenia appeared a favored option for investment of resources. According to an order passed in 1923 by officials in Soviet Armenia, AGBU became the only all-Armenian benevolent organization allowed to function there with the initial intention to build model farms and agricultural schools and to transfer orphans back to the homeland. Faced with a bleak economic situation and famine, AGBU initiated deliveries of medicine, food and clothing. Over the next 14 years, AGBU worked to provide for the common good: building infrastructure, contributing to rural development, and offering education and care to orphans.
Through AGBU's efforts to repatriate survivors of the Genocide, approximately 17,000 refugees return to Armenia from Europe and the Middle East. It was during this time that AGBU also played a vital role in organizing the transfer of the remains of Komitas to Armenia.
Identifying the critical need to invest in infrastructure and establish healthcare facilities to advance public health and improve quality of life, AGBU donors established funds to support these efforts. Within a short period of time, AGBU established the Tarouhi Hagopian Maternity Ward (including a school for midwives), the Marie Noubar Eye Clinic, and the Aved Sarkis Rabies Clinic in Yerevan.
AGBU also established its first office in Armenia during this time with an apartment building for professors of the University of Yerevan and other intellectuals called "Parekordzagan Doon" on Apovian Street. In a continued effort to improve the livelihood of the population AGBU also funded numerous educational projects.
Proving to the local officials in that AGBU was a valuable partner in humanitarian projects, such as the establishment of the Marie Noubar Eye Clinic, the Tarouhi Hagopian Maternity Ward and the Aved Sarkis Rabies Clinic, the Soviet authorities granted AGBU lands to build model farms and agricultural schools in Yeghvart and Dalma. Similar investments continued in various neighborhoods with the most ambitious project being the establishment of Nubarashen, an entirely new village outside of Yerevan conceived by Boghos Nubar and designed by Alexander Tasmanian to welcome new waves of immigration to Armenia. Construction of the homes and factories, the school, the hospital, and the theater of Nubarashen began in 1931. By 1936, AGBU had invested $417,000 in the project, but was forced to abandon progress a year later at the height of the Stalinist purges.
In the 1930s, AGBU prioritized nurturing stable and permanent communities throughout the diaspora to transition displaced Armenians out of a survival mode. The organization gave special attention to programs for children and young adults, taking charge of the Armenian Youth Association (AYA) in 1933, 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 relocate 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 guarantee security.
After the devastating loss of 20 million citizens 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 settling refugees in Armenia—single handedly raised over $1 million to help nearly 100,000 repatriates travel to and settle in Soviet Armenia. Betrayed by Soviet propaganda, the repatriates were met with food, housing and employment shortages that did not at all resemble the idyllic paradise they were promised.
For the first time after the Armenian Genocide, a generation of survivor children and grandchildren were now coming of age in the diaspora and AGBU was key in their wellbeing. From youth programs to social events and outings, communities were coming together and forming special interest groups. Some were aimed at preserving bonds and identity, others in fundraising for AGBU operational needs and projects. It was an era of "agoomp" cultural centers providing venues and opportunities for community development in countless cities around the world.
Since its founding, AGBU has worked with and supported the Armenian Apostolic Church which is viewed as a pillar of Armenian national identity, locally and globally. A watershed moment in this relationship came in 1960 when H.H. Vasken I Catholicos of All Armenians visited New York, where he first met AGBU President Alex Manoogian. The two forged even closer ties between AGBU and Etchmiadzin resulting in collaborations throughout the world. Among many successful projects, the relationship led to the AGBU-funded restoration of Armenian architectural monuments in Soviet Armenia, including the Sanahin and Haghbad Monasteries.
Understanding the importance of investing in the next generation, the 1960s heralded a surge in youth program investment by AGBU. While AGBU had supported students with educational scholarships for decades, first generation survivors prioritized establishing endowments to ensure for deserving students pursuing higher education for decades to come. In 1964 alone, around 100 students benefited from AGBU scholarship program.
At the same time, AGBU leadership recognized the powerful impact of summer camps in community building, and opened its first overnight program, Camp Nubar, in Upstate New York in 1963. Since then, generations of children have developed new skills, formed lifelong friendships and deepened their connection to their Armenian heritage at dozens of AGBU-operated camps around the world.
The Armenians of the Middle East were not immune to the regional turmoil of the 20th century and AGBU spared no effort responding with relief programs. In particular, during the Lebanese Civil War, AGBU made a long-standing commitment to the greater Armenian and Lebanese community by continuing to run its medical dispensaries, supporting AGBU and non-AGBU schools, and turning the Alex Manoogian Cultural and Athletic Center into a safe haven for war victims.
Building on a longstanding tradition of providing for the next generation, AGBU focused its attention on providing opportunity for college students to enhance their career potential. The AGBU New York Summer Internship Program was launched in 1987 to empower young Armenians from across the globe through remarkable professional opportunities at the start of their careers. The success of the flagship program in New York inspired the launch of sister programs in Los Angeles (1989), Paris (2003), Yerevan (2007), Moscow (2010), London (2015), Buenos Aires (2017) and most recently Boston (2019). It has evolved into a true international success. Now known as the Global Leadership Program, it 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 with a massive international relief effort. AGBU leadership oversaw critical emergency 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. AGBU also established a 10,000-ton cold food storage plant in Gyumri to ensure preservation of supplies.
Among the many humanitarian and construction projects that AGBU carried out in Gyumri after the devastating earthquake was renovation of St. Hakob Church (2002) and the establishment of the Gyumri Art Academy (1997). It houses the Film and Theater State Institute and the Gyumri branches of the Yerevan State Komitas Conservatory and the Yerevan Academy of Fine Arts. AGBU also rebuild Gyumri School #3 for children with disabilities and the Lord Byron School.
After the independence of Armenia in 1991, the scope of AGBU’s operations in Armenia expanded dramatically with an eye to modernizing the country socially and economically. Having already established an office in Yerevan a year prior, the initial goal was to provide the nation with resources needed in its early independence. Under the leadership of AGBU President Louise Manoogian Simon, among the many major achievements was the founding of the American University of Armenia in 1991, the first U.S.-accredited institution in the former Soviet Union. Projects devoted to cultivating an active cultural life also represented a significant part of the organization’s efforts. Subsidies to individual artists, theater groups, and music ensembles, notably the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, all helped to create a sense of normalcy in the midst of instability and political turmoil in the young republic.
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 followed, a myriad of YP groups have been established across the Americas, Australia, 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.
Much like earlier efforts, AGBU focused on healthcare initiatives to ensure the safety and care of the Armenian people. In the days after the 1988 earthquake and the years that followed, AGBU provided medical equipment and continuous aid and chapters around the world mobilized efforts to bring patients to international hospitals to receive rehabilitative and reconstructive surgeries.
Always looking for long-term investments, AGBU not only focused on emergency relief but helped fund the establishment of critical facilities starting with Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Centers at Erebuni Hospital and the Mikayelian Hospital in Yerevan in 1992 and 1993. A few years later AGBU founded the Ultrasound Center at Yerevan State Medical University in 1996 bringing state-of-the-art technology to Armenia and training hundreds of doctors. AGBU also helped establish the St. Nerses Hospital in 2001 with the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin which is now known as Izmirlian Hospital.
AGBU continues to provide medical equipment and assistance across Armenia and Artsakh. Read more about our medical support.
With the homeland now a young thriving country, AGBU developed programs to bring Diaspora youth to Armenia in an effort to strengthen identity, build bridges and encourage sustainable growth of the nation. Under the leadership of AGBU President Berge Setrakian, AGBU established the Discover Armenia Program (2003), the Global Leadership Program in Yerevan (2007), Arménie Terre de Vie (2011), and the Musical Armenia Program (2012), along with AGBU school and scouting field trips to Armenia from diaspora hubs like Beirut, Buenos Aires, and everywhere in between. These programs have played a major role in creating a sense of cohesion among the Armenian people and contributed to an overarching sense of unity.
Having provided vital support to rebuilding the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) since the ceasefire in 1994, a decade later AGBU launched a more long-term investment in the region. In 2004, under the leadership of President Berge Setrakian, AGBU led an international effort to bring hope and development to areas that bore the greatest brunt of the conflict. The initiative saw the construction of 22 homes, a new medical center and a school and kindergarten in the villages of Norashen, Pareshen and Jrakn (Hadrut region) to improve the livelihood of the native Armenians who remained. Stepanakert School #7 was also opened in 2006 to hundred of students. Five years later, AGBU partnered with Fruitful Armenia Fund for the Our Educational Program (One laptop per child) working to elevate education in the region. The revitalization efforts primed the region for growth and prosperity.
Through funding by the AGBU, the Artsakh Chamber Orchestra (KCO) was established in 2004; today, it flourishes and continues to invigorate the local community with a love of classical music and cultural excellence.
With the launch of the Armenian Virtual College (AVC), the world’s first online Armenian school in 2009, AGBU ushered in an era of reimagining access to Armenian culture, language and history through technology. Soon thereafter, interactive apps and e-books tailored for language learning and cultural development provided unprecedented engagement with Armenian studies. Seeking to facilitate increasing engagement with a wider range of topics, AGBU WebTalks was created. A rich repository of reliable research, the online video series centers thought leaders and dynamic thinkers from around the world as they share their expertise.
In 2019, AGBU once again revolutionized access by piloting AGBU ATLAS, a unique electronic learning resource center, curating a platform for promoting the Armenian heritage to Armenians and non-Armenians around the world. With a virtual presence in more than 100 countries worldwide, AGBU continues to redefine global communities by providing educational resources to those interested in Armenian studies.
Relying on the longstanding network of supporters, AGBU launched the Humanitarian Relief Fund for Syrian Armenians in 2012 as the reality of the Syrian Civil War set in. During the height of the crisis, AGBU raised $5 million through grass-roots campaigns throughout its global network, generating nearly 170,000 food baskets, providing emergency medical services to over 15,000 victims, and funding approximately 1,000 surgical procedures for wounded civilians. As Syrian Armenians sought asylum, AGBU supported relocation of refugees in Canada and Lebanon and formed significant programs for repatriation to Armenia including long-term assistance projects in healthcare, education and social services.
To encourage the human capital potential of Armenia and Artsakh, AGBU launched diverse socioeconomic programs aimed at empowering local Armenians to strengthen the country from within. Mentorship programs like AGBU Women Entrepreneurs (W.E.) Program, a free leadership and entrepreneurship course aimed at mobilizing women, and agricultural programs, like AGBU Fields of Hope and AGBU Olive Tree Orchards, supporting local farmers through the Fund for Artsakh, have defined the work AGBU has done to empower all Armenians to participate in civic life.
This effort expanded to include AGBU Women Coders (2020) and has added diaspora connection programs like AGBU ANI Language Coaching and AGBU Business Mentors (2021). AGBU also reaffirmed its position as a key partner for international organizations working with the European Union, USAID and others to bring socioeconomic development projects to the people of Armenia.
In a year paralyzed by pandemic, an explosion in Lebanon and the traumatic 44-day war in Artsakh, AGBU was as mobile as ever with volunteers in all locations serving their communities locally and providing critical aid to those in need globally. AGBU raised over millions through the AGBU Global Relief Fund for the various emergencies during the course of the year and focused efforts on traditional emergency relief areas of issues of food insecurity, medical care and education, while also broadening the scope of humanitarian aid to include mental health assistance and social services. A year where activities were all virtual, AGBU communities connected in new ways and forged new bonds reaffirming the importance of the network which was founded back in 1906.