Over 200 AGBU delegates from 25 countries gathered on October 8, 2022 at the AGBU Armenia Headquarters for the organization’s 92nd General Assembly. The two-hour proceeding was the culmination of a five-day program, highlights of which included a private meeting with Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II at Holy Etchmiadzin, a group visit to the Yerablur Military Pantheon and an all-day conference organized by the recently launched Applied Policy Research Institute (APRI Armenia). Workshops, strategy sessions, and cultural excursions were also organized around the formal GA session, creating opportunities for AGBU delegates, members, and friends to interact in person after a long hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Given that Armenia is in the middle of critical regional developments with significant implications for its national viability, the decision to hold the biennial General Assembly in Armenia proved to be an opportune moment to physically demonstrate to the homeland and its citizens that AGBU stands in solidarity with them, as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over their daily lives. Recognizing the sensitive issues at stake and the divisive climate both internally and externally, AGBU leadership repeatedly called for unity and resilience as key to a sustainable independent Armenia.
Highlights of 92nd General Assembly
250 delegates and guests assembled in-person for the formal presentations of the AGBU Central Board. The audience represented a broad swath of countries from Argentina, Australia and Brazil to Thailand, Qatar and Iraq and many more locations across AGBU’s five-continent global network. This was in addition to hundreds of members and friends connected virtually, including those from Uzbekistan and Sweden. Among the honorable guest speakers were His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians and President of Armenia Vahagn Khachaturyan. The High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs Zareh Sinanyan was also in attendance along with other distinguished guests both local and international.
AGBU President Berge Setrakian delivered an emphatic speech about the urgency of the moment, acknowledging the serious and existential threats to Armenia’s sovereignty that hang in the balance. "This is an uphill battle that requires us to use every lever, advantage, skill set, and area of expertise to protect our right to exist as a free and independent nation. That means putting aside our differences and uniting our efforts for maximum impact. We do not have the luxury of partisanship or vindictiveness. Rather we must pool our resources. And paramount to all that is developing a healthy and reciprocal relationship between homeland and Diaspora," stated Setrakian, who earlier this year marked his 20th year as president of the organization. However, he was also quick to add: “As sure as I am standing here today, I am convinced that we can overcome this doomsday mentality by reminding ourselves of who we are. That our story of survival is unbroken through millennia,” he proclaimed to a spontaneous eruption of applause.
In the spirit of unity and solidarity with the nation, His Holiness Karekin II offered a prayer to the attendees and addressed the delegates, stressing the close relationship between AGBU and the Armenian Apostolic Church since AGBU's founding and the joint initiatives the two institutions have carried out together.
Armenian President Kachaturyan took to the podium and noted, "I assure you that it's essential for us that you didn't postpone the General Assembly in these critical times and came here. Your presence is critical for us, and by saying “us”, I mean particularly the Armenian citizens and even more the Armenian government."
Representatives of different AGBU constituent groups, such as Georgi Ambarzumjan, co-founding chair of the newest AGBU Chapter in Germany, AGBU YP Zurich Co-Chair Elizabeth Istanbouli, as well as Natalie Gabrelian, the new director of AGBU Chapters and Central Board Administration, expressed statements of commitment reinforcing a readiness to mobilize and act for the benefit of the global Armenian nation.
The biennial General Assembly meeting formalized financial, auditing, and activities reports for the years 2020-2021, all of which reflected a substantial surge in donations, volunteers and new program launches related to the trifecta of crises that befell Armenians during these two turbulent years. Many of the bold initiatives taken by AGBU in those years exemplified the Diaspora’s faith in the people of Armenia and capacity to coordinate and support the massive relief work that fell on the shoulders of AGBU local offices during the height of the global pandemic, the devastating Beirut Blast of 2020 and the 2020 Artsakh War.
2022 AGBU Honorees
As part of the proceedings of each General Assembly, certain groups are recognized for their outstanding achievements. This time, the Central Board chose to confer the AGBU Outstanding Service Awards to AGBU Montreal and AGBU Uruguay Chapters for their innovative and meticulous application of programming that has evolved their community and expanded their work locally.
During these presentations, AGBU Young Professionals groups from Yerevan and Madrid also received the Outstanding Service Awards for their admirable efforts to mobilize the younger generation during times of crisis, particularly the 44-day Artsakh War. The global YP network, co-led by YP Yerevan, raised 84,000 USD in a month for humanitarian relief and YP Madrid reached out to mainstream journalists to counter false information in the media, in addition to launching a media training program to help local Armenian journalists build trust with the international media through unbiased war reporting. The program concluded its second cohort this past summer.
Staff members were also cited for their many years of outstanding performance, receiving Presidential Awards, including AGBU Armenia's Finance Director Lena Baghdasaryan, who was lauded for her two decades of dedicated service to the organization. In an emotional tribute, Sasoun Baghdasaryan, the AGBU Program Manager for Artsakh, was singled out for his unwavering dedication to the people of Artsakh, especially during the 44-day war and its aftermath.
The final honoree was AGBU Managing Director Anita Anserian, who received high praise and deep gratitude from AGBU President Berge Setrakian for her 35 years of leadership at the AGBU Central Office. President Setrakian endearingly predicted that although she was officially ending her tenure as an officer of the organization, she would continue as a volunteer leader for many years to come, adding: “Her legacy will belong to all communities. That’s how far and wide Anita has touched the Armenian world.” The heartwarming tribute was received with extended applause and a standing ovation by the audience, affirming the universal admiration for Anita Anserian across the global AGBU family and the Armenian world writ large.
In a final surprise moment of emotional gratitude, AGBU Council of Trustees Member Sam Simonian thanked President Setrakian for his vision and impact during his 20 years of presidency, reflecting on the role he played in AGBU’s history during his tenure as president in addition to his 25 years of service as a member of AGBU Central Board.
For access to the official AGBU Biennial Report for 2020-2021, please visit https://agbu.org/financials
Promoting Open Dialogues
One of the priorities of the General Assembly is to create spaces for open dialogues between various stakeholders to address internal and external issues. To this end, various workshops, dialogues, and discussions were part of the week’s agenda. AGBU Central Board members engaged with AGBU representatives from South and North America, Europe and the Middle East to discuss the vision of AGBU for the future and how to adjust strategies to meet the evolving needs of the global Armenian nation.
By extension, Young Professionals held a YP Executive Committee meeting to discuss the vision of the global network, strategic priorities of the coming two years, as well as the challenges of the time with their possible solutions.
An Audience with Supreme Patriarch at Veharan Pontifical Residence
A centerpiece of these dialogues was the private session with His Holiness Karekin II at the Reception Hall of the Pontifical Residence in Etchmiadzin. Moderated by Central Board Member Sarkis Jebejian, it was a rare opportunity for the community to discuss the spiritual care of the nation and raise questions about the relationship between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Diocese abroad, as well as the many humanitarian initiatives the Church carries out under the joint guardianship of the Mother See and AGBU, particularly noting the Senior Dining Centers and three Children's Centers. His Holiness also discussed the Church's role in preserving Artsakh's religious heritage during the Artsakh War of 2020.
While on the premises, the group was given a guided tour of the Mother See and, with His Holiness presiding, offered a prayer for the peace of the souls of AGBU’s fifth president Alex Manoogian, his wife Marie Manoogian, and daughter Louise Manoogian Simone, as well as the blessed memory of other late AGBU benefactors.
APRI Armenia Fall Meeting
Earlier this year, AGBU launched the Applied Policy Research Institute of Armenia (APRI Armenia), as an independent, nonpartisan think tank and policy accelerator focused on advancing regional stability and sustainable prosperity in Armenia. The APRI Armenia Fall Meeting held last week offered AGBU delegates, invited guests and media a full day of panel discussions of critical importance for transforming Armenia's policy culture. This comprehensive conference hosted diverse panelists from the Armenian and Artsakh governments, the United Nations in Armenia, experts and analysts of other independent think tanks, various local and international universities, and NGOs with related missions.
The conference touched upon such critical topics as how to cultivate new mindsets in leadership and policy making; how decision-makers in Armenia can navigate the uncertain times; what specific role the Diaspora can play in unlocking the full socio-economic potential of Armenia; the prospects for developing solar energy and green infrastructure in the country; and pathways to overcome the severe challenges that emerged in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh War. The conference also addressed the volatile and rapidly changing security environment in the South Caucasus, the need for rethinking foreign policy objectives and the long-term risks Armenia faces due to the unresolved conflicts. This full-day meeting was the second large-scale set of discussions since the founding of APRI Armenia with future forums scheduled for 2023.
YP Connect Event
With global Young Professionals making up at least half of the attendees who traveled to Yerevan, the week was an opportunity to unite in many formats. YP Yerevan hosted an international forum of panelists and guests for their YP Connect event. With 120 YPs in attendance to highlight the power of networking, panelists included emerging leaders from Armenia’s and the Diaspora’s private and public sector. The panelists included AGBU Central Board Member Camilio Azzouz, Deputy Mayor of Paris and Acting Director of AGBU Europe Anouch Toranian, Deputy Minister of Economy Armen Arzumanyan, Deputy Governor of the RA Central Bank Hovhannes Khachatryan, and Co-Founder and CEO of SoloLearn Yeva Hyusyan. The meaningful discussion touched upon divergent topics from economic diplomacy to how and why we need to create a valid network among Armenian and non-Armenian circles to bring about change.
By the end of this year, YP groups around the world will organize professional networking events in local cities under the YP Connect umbrella to build, reinforce, and maintain relationships of trust with fellow Armenian professionals.
Cultural and Spiritual Events
Throughout the week delegates participated in a number of meaningful and mindful events and visits. From a private tour of the Matenadaran and a viewing of the works of artist Jean Boghossian to a Solidarity Concert at Arno Babajanyan Concert Hall, featuring the Hover State Chamber Choir and the Vahagn Hayrapetyan Jazz Trio, Armenian culture was honored through the arts. In addition, a Sunday Badarak Service at Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral included a special Hokehankist prayer (a Requiem Mass) for AGBU benefactors and members who lost their lives during the difficult past two years.
In a poignant day including the visit to the Mother See Holy Etchmiadzin, delegates paid respects to the memory of Armenia’s fallen heroes at Yerablur Military Pantheon in Yerevan. Taking time, as a united delegation, to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice was deeply impactful for those in attendance. By the end of the day, the group visited the construction site of the AGBU Children's Center in the Yerevan district of Malatya, where young students performed with passion and energy. Those in attendance could not help but be moved, and recommit themselves to this young generation.
AGBU Armenia President Vasken Yacoubian noted, “Today, Armenia is again facing serious and existential threats and AGBU again is ready and committed to assume its national duties to face these challenges. But we need unity amongst ourselves and solidarity from our friends. We can express solidarity by being here, by doing here, by coming to Armenia, by activating our network in the Diaspora and engaging our resources and talents in meaningful ways, and, finally, by bridging them with those we have in the homeland. I am deeply touched that you are here today and more than ever believe that In Unity is Strength.”