From February 7-9, hundreds of Armenians and friends—from as far as Japan and Uruguay, South Africa and Australia—gathered in Paris on the occasion of the 90th General Assembly of the AGBU. Over three days, a full agenda of diverse events took place at various landmark venues in the heart of the city, starting with a Welcome Reception at the Eiffel Tower. This set the stage for the rest of the weekend, over which the 113-year old organization would reflect on its many accomplishments in the previous two years, contemplate the future of the Armenian world against the sweeping global shifts wrought by new technologies and social trends, and recognize distinguished figures in the community who empower AGBU to touch the lives of over 500,000 Armenians every year and maintain a presence in nearly 97 countries.
The first of these acknowledgements took place on Friday evening at a Charles Aznavour Tribute Concert at La Salle Wagram. The life and legacy of this global entertainer, Armenian statesman at large, and longtime friend of AGBU, was celebrated with a powerful medley of the lyrical genius’ best-loved ballads, performed by his esteemed accompanying pianist Erik Berchot and collaborating jazz singer Joana Mendil. In line with AGBU’s long tradition of fostering rising Armenian talents, contemporary vocalists Narine Dovlatyan, Iveta Mukuchyan, Sona Rubenyan, Srbuhi Sargsyan and Gor Sujyan, under the direction of performer Hayk Petrosyan, captured the audience with their stylistic tributes. Interspersed throughout the program was documentary footage chronicling Aznavour’s illustrious career and worldwide impact on society.
Among the distinguished audience members was Aznavour’s son and co-founder of the Aznavour Foundation Nicolas Aznavour. “It was a great pleasure for us to honor my father’s memory with the AGBU family in Paris,” Aznavour remarked. “This concert marks the beginning of many collaborations between AGBU and the Aznavour Foundation. Charles Aznavour has brought so much joy and pride to our lives. It is our collective duty to keep alive his artistic and humanitarian legacy.”
The next day, during the formal session of the 90th General Assembly held at Les Jardins Saint Dominique, AGBU members unanimously elected four new board members: Haig Ariyan, Nadia Gortzounian, Vartkess Knadjian and Ari Libarikian. It was also a time for AGBU leadership to recognize valued individuals, whose life and work have positively impacted Armenians.
French politician Patrick Devedjian was presented with the Boghos Nubar Award, the highest honor AGBU bestows upon community members who elevate others and work tirelessly in service of society. Celebrated as a universal role model and global Armenian citizen for his advocacy, Devedjian was honored for how he has paved the way for a generation of Armenian leadership in public service. Among his many achievements, his unrelenting pursuit of justice in relation to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide led to the passage of a 2016 extension of the current French holocaust law, making the denial or trivialization of all events classed as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or slavery punishable crimes.
Esteemed community leaders and committees were also presented with high honors throughout the Assembly. Tamar Khabaian from Syria, Monica Nalbandian from Brazil, Maral Tchorbadjian from Australia and Herminé Duzian from France were all celebrated for their valiant efforts in serving and maintaining the spirit of AGBU. In addition, the AGBU Buenos Aires Chapter, the AGBU Young Professionals of Greater New York and the AGBU Young Professionals of Northern California were also recognized with awards, celebrating their innumerable contributions to community life among their constituents.
Later in the evening, participants gathered Le Pavillon Ledoyen, one of the most renowned restaurants in Paris, for the AGBU Gala. The affair was welcomed by Masters of Ceremony Central Board Member Ani Manoukian and London Trust Member Camilio Azzouz. Unbeknownst to all, the Gala paid tribute to two distinguished couples for their decades of active support of AGBU and the communities around them: Sarkis and Seta Demirdjian; and Vatche and Tamar Manoukian. Both were presented with tribute videos and special awards.
Building on the storied legacies of their parents, prominent founding figures in the AGBU communities of Lebanon and Syria, Sarkis and Seta Demirdjian have continued to expand their philanthropic mission, encouraging new generations to follow their lead. It was the Demirdjians along with their siblings who, after the Lebanese Civil War, committed to creating a community center that would welcome the broader Lebanese community, making AGBU the first Armenian organization to create such a powerful medium of solidarity in the country and a model of social enterprise. Beyond investing in education on multiple continents through the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School, the couple also supports the arts through their work with the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra and numerous music festivals. Committed to excellence, the Demirdjians were honored for their relentless efforts in bettering not just the Armenian world, but society at large.
Vatche and Tamar Manoukian were also thanked for their continued generosity empowering Armenians and other meaningful communities throughout the world. Citing merely a handful of the couple’s vast beneficiaries, the Manoukians were among the first to invest in Armenia bringing outside companies to the nation, they have also been consistent donors of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and AGBU through various projects including the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian High School and the Performing Arts Center in their name in California. Through their work with other global non-profit organizations like UNICEF and the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Manoukians’ generosity toward the most marginalized communities has given back to countless in need while also elevating the Armenian image on a global scale. His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales characterized their impact on his Dumfries House project, expressing his congratulations by saying: “I hope that you know how much you are appreciated for all that you have done in the United Kingdom. I would’ve called you a national treasure, but with your scope and breadth of work, it would be more accurate to describe you as an international treasure.”
The weekend was one of tributes and gratitude, but it served equally as a venue for looking forward and establishing building blocks for the coming years. One of the highlights of the three-day program was the all-day Conference at Station F—the world’s largest start up campus. It was a fitting space for the extraordinary panel of visionaries and experts, assembled to spark timely and important conversations moderated by Stèphane Petrossian of AGBU France. The main thesis of the morning session was the dawn of the fast approaching Quantum Age. Keynote speaker Robert Vassoyan, Senior Executive Vice President of Atos S.E., asserted that governments, corporations, organizations and communities must prepare for the coming wave of far-reaching change, both to seize opportunities presented by science and technology and to manage the challenges posed by dark forces in cyberspace. Vassoyan closed his insightful presentation focusing on Armenia’s future and the tremendous opportunity for developing start-ups and cultivating diverse, young talent. Characterizing the country as an “eState,” he emphasized the importance of putting citizens at the center of this new way of looking at nationhood.
In moderating the first panel on Entrepreneurship, Central Board member and President of AGBU Armenia Vasken Yacoubian stressed that the entrepreneurial spirit is core to Armenia’s ability to succeed. Panelists included Tatul Ajamyan, Founder of Wakie and IT startups, Aline Kamakian, Entrepreneur and Founder of Mayrig restaurants, and Vahe Keushguerian, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Impact Hub Armenia. Each provided deep insight on the issues surrounding starting a business in Armenia and the importance of promoting cultural tolerance between Diaspora and Armenia, as well as integrating female entrepreneurs into the start-up economy.
The afternoon session picked up on the topic of women, focusing squarely on trending women’s issues, both in the global context and specifically relating to Armenia. AGBU Central Board Member Arda Haratunian moderated the discussions by high profile female leaders in various fields: Astrid Panosyan, Entrepreneur and Politician (LREM); Emma Arakelyan, Author and NYU Professor; Valerie Toranian, Director of La Revue des Deux Mondes and former editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in France; and Isabelle Capron, Vice President of Icicle Shanghai Fashion Group.
Picking up on the many threads of ideas and concepts that emerged throughout the panels, President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian took to the podium to describe his vision of Armenia in light of the rapid succession of smaller evolutions that continue to transform the landscape of “Start Up Armenia” in ways previously unimagined. He noted that, at the end of the day, these quantum leaps of technological wonders must be mastered to remain consistent with our national morals and values.
The conference concluded with presentations on AGBU initiatives and partnerships. AGBU Armenia Executive Director Talar Kazanjian on what the organization is doing to spur entrepreneurism among women in Armenia. She was followed by entrepreneur and founder of Hyetech Europe Armen Verdian and Digital Transformation Lead at Brenntag Haik Khanamiryan, who spoke about AGBU Europe’s Goriz Leadership program, designed to help young leaders collectively represent the Armenian identity as global citizens.
In addition to the all-day conference, other opportunities for dialogue and idea exchange were organized for AGBU network representatives and Young Professional attendees. These adjunct events included a workshop for the AGBU regional leadership with Central Board members and two forums for Young Professionals to exchange ideas.
As the GA weekend concluded, participants prepared to leave Paris with a broader understanding of just how much the Armenian world is empowered by, and in turn, inspires the rest of the world. “After four full days of thoughtful reflection, stimulating conversations, celebrations and recognition of so many exemplary individuals in our midst,” President Setrakian said, “there is no doubt that AGBU is ready to take the next big leap into the future as a united force for good— across our communities, throughout Armenia, and in the world.”
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The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) is the world’s largest non-profit
organization devoted to upholding the Armenian heritage through educational,
cultural and humanitarian programs. Each year, AGBU is committed to making
a difference in the lives of 500,000 people across Armenia, Artsakh and the
Armenian diaspora. Since 1906, AGBU has remained true to one overarching
goal: to create a foundation for the prosperity of all Armenians.
To learn more visit www.agbu.org.