April 15, 2023 was an evening to remember for the Patapoutian family, as 600 guests assembled at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel to formally congratulate the first Nobel Prize winner of Armenian descent Ardem Sarkis Patapoutian, PhD. The pioneering scientist was recognized for his breakthrough research in the field of sensory biology, deemed by the international scientific community as a gamechanger in treating conditions related to touch, pain, blood pressure, and other clinical applications.
The AGBU Central Board, in conjunction with the AGBU Western Region, also paid tribute to Dr. Patapoutian’s parents Sarkis Patapoutian, an accountant and prolific writer, poet and translator under the pen name Sarkis Vahakn, and Haigouhi Adjemian Patapoutian, an educator and former principal of the AGBU Demirdjian Elementary School of Lebanon, where the couple’s three children received a quality elementary education. AGBU President Berge Setrakian presented them with the organization’s President’s Award in appreciation of their lifelong dedicated service and contributions to AGBU and the Armenian Nation in the fields of literature and education.
Fittingly, the Gala took place on the same day as the 117th anniversary of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU). Throughout the evening, various speakers acknowledged the century-old AGBU mission pursued by chapters and offices across the globe, including the Western region of the United States, encompassing California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.
Among the many distinguished well wishers present were California State Senator Anthony Portantino representing the 23rd district, Laura Friedman, the California State Assembly Member from the 44th district, California Assemblyman from the 34th district Adrin Nazarian and his wife Diana, and President of the Los Angeles City Council Paul Krekorian and his wife Tamar. Other congratulatory messages were sent in absentia, with official citations from Los Angeles County Supervisor (Fifth District) Kathryn Barger and U.S. Congressman Adam B. Schiff.
Nazeli Hambartsumyan, the consular at the Consulate for the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles and Armenian Ambassador and Former Consul General of Armenia in Los Angeles Dr. Armen Baibourtian and his wife Yvette also joined the celebration. Other representatives from Cal Tech, AGBU Asbeds, YPs, Interns, Scouts and other AGBU program participants, past and present, were also in attendance.
The Main Events
His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, officiated the invocation. Co-Masters of Ceremony Tamar Sinanian Naaman and Ara J. Balikian, Esq. guided the audience through the different segments of the evening’s program, which began with the AGBU Los Angeles Choir’s rendition of the American and Armenian national anthems, as well as AGBU’s anthem, and culminated with live entertainment performed by Lebanese-Armenian Guy Manoukian and his ensemble. The internationally acclaimed musician, composer and master of fusion music blended oriental melodies with contemporary arrangements for a truly unique experience.
Before the dinner break, Dr. Patapoutian was taken by surprise when asked to come up to the stage to accept the St.Sahag-St. Mesrob Medal of Honor and Pontifical Encyclical from His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, presented by Archbishop Derderian. In another off-guarded moment, he was presented with a surprise gift from the Gala Committee—a likeness rendered by the uniquely talented Syrian-Armenian caricaturist and animator Vrej Kassouny.
During the after-dinner segment, Dr. Yervant Zorian had the honor of introducing Dr. Patapoutian and his distinguished achievements. Congratulatory remarks by AGBU President Berge Setrakian followed, in which he commended Dr. Patapoutian for exemplifying a citizen of the world who remains a proud Armenian.
“As the good news spread across the globe, Armenians everywhere stood a little taller and a lot prouder. And our delight came with a sense of relief that something good was happening in the Armenian World during an otherwise very tragic period in our history. Against the backdrop of disease, disaster, and a deadly war, Dr. Patapoutian’s triumph reminded us that there is certainly enough Armenian brainpower in this world to help solve the many complex challenges we face as a people. This is why it is so important that Dr. Patapoutian is one of those global citizens who is also a proud Armenian.”
The guest of honor then delivered his remarks, thanking the AGBU Western Region community and the Gala Committee, co-chaired by Nora Janoyan Balikian and Aline Patatian, for hosting the event. He talked about how AGBU was a huge part of the joy he felt growing up in Lebanon, recounting how he and his siblings attended AGBU schools and he spent almost every afternoon at the AGBU clubs. “AGBU allowed us to stay healthy and, most importantly, gave me an amazing education and set me on the path to become a scientist. So, here I stand as a very proud alumnus of AGBU.”
Dr. Patapoutian also imparted some of his professional wisdom and personal perspective on success. “My most important message I have today is for parents to give the best education for the youth, but also, please give them room to breathe—to explore, to fail, yes, fail. And ultimately, find their own calling.”
He went on to say, “The satisfaction I get from my work is more than enough for me. I call this the internal gratification. But on top of that, I’m fortunate enough to have received the ultimate external validation, the Nobel Prize. This has of course changed my life in many ways. As I like to joke, now I get awards for getting an award. But what has really touched me the most is receiving letters from Armenian elementary school kids from all over.”
Support for AGBU Global Relief Fund
The evening’s proceeds were allocated to the AGBU Global Relief Fund, which was championed by AGBU Board Member Yervant Demirjian during his remarks. A short video presentation demonstrated how, in the last decade alone, AGBU managed to intervene with humanitarian relief solutions for over 250,000 Armenians caught up in crises—from the conflict in Syria and Covid-19 pandemic to the Beirut Blast, the Second Artsakh War, and, most recently, the blockade of Artsakh, the major earthquake in Syria, and the chronic financial hardships facing Lebanese Armenians.
AGBU Council of Trustees Chairman Vatche Manoukian and his wife Tamar Manoukian donated $1 million to the Fund. In addition to Lead Benefactor Yervant Demirjian, AGBU Benefactors Jack Munushian Charitable Trust and Sinan and Angele Sinanian were cited for their outstanding generosity, along with many donors worldwide who contributed at the visionary, patron or sponsor level, making it possible to raise over $1.6 million through this single event.
For more information about the AGBU Global Relief Fund, go to agbu.org/global-relief.