April 15, 2023

AGBU President Berge Setrakian’s Message Delivered at Gala Honoring Dr. Ardem Patapoutian

Professor Patapoutian has opened a new frontier as a pioneering American scientist, which also makes him a modern-day Armenian hero.

Dear Dr. Patapoutian, Mr. and Mrs. Sarkis and Haigouhi Patapoutian, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Mr. and Mrs. Vatche Manoukian, Chairman of the Council of Trustees, Honorable public officials and clergy, and all those who have joined us this evening to celebrate “excellence.”

Tonight, Armenian pride is on full display to bask in the light of the first Armenian to win a most prestigious civilian award in the world—our guest of honor, 2021 Nobel Prize Laureate Ardem Patapoutian.

And I am sure that his parents, Sarkis Patapoutian and one of our revered AGBU school principals Haigouhi Adjemian Patapoutian of Beirut are among the proudest parents in the world.

When the names of the Nobel Prize winners for Physiology or Medicine for 2021 were announced, Ardem Patapoutian became an overnight celebrity for his groundbreaking discoveries that unlocked the secrets of human sensation. Professor Patapoutian has opened a new frontier as a pioneering American scientist, which also makes him a modern-day Armenian hero.

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, Ardem’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.

For those of us who lament the inevitable assimilation of the Diasporan Armenian at the expense of the Armenian identity, Ardem, an alumnus of the AGBU Demirdjian and Hovagimian schools in Beirut, proves that both identities can comfortably coexist. They are not mutually exclusive but in fact, one enhances the other. Dr. Patapoutian exemplifies what anyone who has overcome adversity will tell you: it's not where you start out in life but it's how you finish. And he’s only getting started it seems!

So, what is Armenian Pride? In my view, it is comprehending how truly astounding and miraculous it is that we are still here as an ancient people. It's appreciating how, despite all the historical persecutions and persistent threats to our survival, we are still here. We still create. Break barriers. Set examples. Change the world.

In the big picture, the more Armenians who contribute to human progress, the more our reputation as a small but extraordinarily gifted and hardworking people will only grow in visibility, respect, and influence. It is up to all of us to see that every Armenian young person is given opportunities to succeed in life regardless of their present adversities. This goal has been fundamental to the AGBU mission since its founding exactly 117 years ago today.

Who will be the next Ardem Patapoutian? The Syrian-Armenian boy left homeless by a massive earthquake? Or a little girl in Artsakh left fatherless due to a brutal war? One of you in this room who has grown with your own personal challenges?

We don’t know who the next Ardem Patapoutian will be. But we do know that in every generation, there is a budding Armenian genius, artist, inventor, entrepreneur, or thought leader in the making. A brilliant mind who, with the right tools and opportunities, has the capacity to put her or his mark of genius on the future of humanity, and the Armenian Nation.

Right now, there are many Armenians in regions thriving while others are undergoing great reversals of fortune. Some are fighting for their right to exist. That is why AGBU is committed to leveling the playing field for all Armenian youth. Our attitude is that we cannot lose our young people to poverty, trauma or despair. Which is why we are so grateful that Dr. Patapoutian agreed to highlight our AGBU Global Relief efforts through this event.

Our goal must be that every Armenian youth has the means to pursue their gifts to the fullest. This is why our programmatic goals around the world include a diversity of deliverables – from AGBU Children’s Centers and our partnership TUMO centers in Armenia and Artsakh, to the Armenian Virtual College (AVC), our schools, camps, scouts and innovative programing throughout the diaspora, we provide for the budding brains and spirit of the next generation. And through the critical Global Relief Fund we prepare for crisis to sustain those in harm’s way and provide long-term solutions that get families and communities back on their feet as quickly as possible.

Dear Ardem, thank you for your generosity in allowing us the bragging rights to honor you as one of our own. We congratulate you and wish you continued success in your efforts to uplift humanity. You have achieved so much in a relatively short time. And you have much more to give to the world as a pioneering American, a sophisticated citizen of the world, and a forever-proud Armenian.

You are living proof that you don’t have to cut off your ethnic roots to branch out into the world.

Thank you.