February 12, 2019

President Setrakian’s Remarks Delivered at the 90th General Assembly

It is a privilege to be here with you again to address you as president of our esteemed organization. Thank you for joining us on this important occasion. 

The connection to France for Armenians goes back centuries in our history, and for AGBU, Paris is home in many ways. We all know the legacy of our founder Boghos Nubar and his affinity for this city, which inspired some of the most pioneering ideas for the times. It is here that he took a stand with the Armenian National Delegation. It is here where he brought our organization after the most tragic era of devastation. And it is here, in this great city, where he is laid to rest. Today, it is here that we assemble for the 90th time as a unified organization. I would imagine he and his co-founders are admiring our continued dedication to the Armenian nation all these years later.

I would like to take a moment to thank AGBU France for welcoming those of us who have traveled from great distances to reaffirm, once again, that the AGBU is as vibrant and relevant today as it was 113 years ago.

Vibrant and relevant. These are keywords that we have come to use as descriptors or measures of our success as an organization. We can also use these traits to assess the conditions of the people we serve, the quality of the donors and partners we attract, and the effectiveness of the leaders we entrust to keep our communities engaged, inspired and united.

As a people and as an organization, we are vibrant with positive energy and determination. We possess both the inner strength and the outer confidence to engage with the world at large as a valued and respected player. And as for relevance, we have proven with our activities over the last century, reinforced by our actions in our most recent years, that our organization remains relevant ­contributing to our local communities, the Armenian nation and to society at large.

In other words, we have demonstrated both integrity of purpose and intention, and agility and versatility in our ideas and actions.

But we must never remain idle. We must remain relevant and serve as champions of Armenian interests. We should be in a constant state of evolution. We must ask ourselves at all times: Are we speaking to the timely concerns of every generation? Are we addressing global issues? And most of all, can we amplify our voice as a united people, giving credence to the concept of being “a small republic that is a global nation”?

These questions are ones that not only be asked about the state of AGBU but the state of all Armenian affairs, locally, regionally and nationally.

Since we last convened in 2016, the world has changed more rapidly, challenging us as an organization to respond to unforeseen events as leaders and problem solvers, creators and innovators.

Armenians led the way with the most positive headlines about the peaceful Velvet Revolution which we witnessed last spring. Led by our new prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, it was a moment that showed the entire world the resilience of the Armenian people.

In the meanwhile, the countries in which many of us live are witnessing their own political changes. From the UK to the US, France, South America and areas in the Middle East, the tide is shifting. For many of us, our daily lives are riddled with a level of uncertainty. We are individually balancing questions about our own personal and political beliefs. As much as we show concern for our ancestral homeland, we are equally involved with the nations where we reside.

This is one of the effects of globalization. With each generation, and each year in fact, we in the diaspora are embracing our local cultures. The Armenian identity is undergoing a natural evolution. With some, the third, or fourth generation raised outside of the homeland are beyond integration in local traditions and are drifting away from their Armenian heritage. 

At the same time, we have an emergence of new diasporas in Europe like in Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Ukraine. In fact, we are seeing this trend now in Asia as well: as far as South Korea, where the new diaspora is also encouraging a rediscovery of our roots in places like Myanmar and Bangladesh. And given all of this, I am only speaking of a portion of Armenians. We have lost many who identify as Armenian through the last century and it is imperative to work to find them and reconnect them with their heritage.

We’ve been called upon to navigate uncharted waters that require flexibility, ingenuity, vision and above all, unity.

Finding a solution is no simple task. But one part of the answer is clear. We, here in this room, are in a position to provide. We must provide opportunity. We must provide a forum for growth. And we must provide means to engage all Armenians across the globe and speak to the interests of the new generation.

I would like to take pause here to define who we speak of when we say Armenians. For AGBU, Armenians are any individuals or groups who believe in the values of the Armenian people based on our historic heritage. It is not a measure of blood. You cannot be “half- Armenian.” You are Armenian if you feel Armenian and are proud to associate yourself with the values we hold dear.

This is why our General Assembly has just adopted an amendment to our bylaws including anyone who believes in the values of our organization as a welcome member. And now, we must find ways to reach all of these Armenians.

AGBU has already proven that we are working in the right direction. We are harnessing the revolution in information technology and globalization for the benefit of our organization and in service of the Armenian people.

For example, with our Armenian Virtual College, we have reengaged those isolated from an Armenian community and now serve learners in 97 countries, including areas in New Zealand and Japan. We have also reached mass audiences, including highly respected institutions of higher education with our AGBU Webtalks series. We have mastered social media to the point that we could generate instant support behind urgent causes like Syrian Armenian Relief and Emergency aid to Artsakh.

Through our efforts we have maintained our standing as trustworthy leaders, always prepared to execute and elevate projects. Our reputation and open-minded approach has allowed us to develop strategically aligned partnerships with world class institutions and incomparable organizations like the United Nations, the EU, USAID, the Smithsonian and most recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Our chapters and offices have also taken important steps to collaborate with regional NGOs and cultural institutions, once again building bridges between cultures and elevating the Armenian voice into the mainstream conversations.

Now more than ever, our educational and cultural activities are critically indispensable to our people and to AGBU. Our leadership in local chapters play a vital role in implementing both traditional and innovative programs to engage their communities. They have shown exemplary commitment over these years and I implore them to continue thinking of creative ways to engage youth, inspire audiences and unite behind causes in their wider communities as a group. They should continue to present platforms that spark dialogues, attract newcomers, commit to teaching language, history and heritage, leverage technology and find innovative ways to teach and impart identity.

We also stand behind our most essential institution: our national church and the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, as well as all of our clergy. Armenians have long been a diasporan people with a clear, common thread: our faith.  The Armenian church has kept our identity intact for over 1700 years and we will stand by it in our determination to preserve and perpetuate our heritage and Christian values. We are committed to ensuring the education of new clergy with the development of higher education programs and scholarships. Our clergy must be armed with knowledge and the ability to work with the people, and we must be ready to assist them on their path.

Of course, AGBU will always focus on the needs of Armenia and Artsakh. As the heart and soul of our great global nation, this is where social and economic development takes priority, and in that realm, we have much work to do. We remain dedicated to working with the new government to find ways to grow and sustain an engaged society that cares about the country and believes in its promise to be a viable place to live, work and raise a family.

AGBU Armenia made significant breakthroughs in playing a leading role in the social and economic development of Armenia in the past few years. Our physical presence has more than doubled in the nation allowing us to be both part of discussion and part of the solution for many areas of interest.

Of course we continue to support institutions of higher education like the American University of Armenia and the Université Française d’Arménie through grants and scholarships. The students we have invested in for the past two decades are now the drivers behind many sectors in the nation. We value our partnerships with TUMO and with the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, which focus on the next generation of leaders with their innovative and inspiring centers for after school learning. And we continue to care for those pensioners, who have given so much to our nation, as they come to our Senior Dining Centers (Soup Kitchens) each week.

The potential of the people in Armenia is boundless and we vow to continue to build on our programming and partnerships in this same vein.

Going forward, we will work to support the government and institutions of Armenia with tangible, practical and sustainable activities that can achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This will include the diaspora, which, by all accounts, the new government has come to appreciate as a vital player in the success equation. It is not just about our financial resources but also our expertise in business, industry and civil society. We need to work collaboratively with the citizens of Armenia, in a spirit of respect.

I am proud to say that while we carry an incredible burden of responsibility with all that we do, AGBU continues to rise up to serve all people. We all know there is still much to be done and our resilience, determination and skill will propel us to continue on our mission of service.

We could not have achieved what we have over the last century and we cannot meet the future challenges unless we have the support of our members, friends, partner organizations and above all, our benefactors and donors whose support are essential. We are grateful for your faith in our leadership and your united efforts.

Looking forward to an even brighter future. We remain at the service of our nation, as well as our societies at large.

Thank you.

To read the speech in Armenian, click here.

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