Hayastan All-Armenian Fund Telethon Raises $15.8 Million


By Alin Gregorian
Mirror-Spectator Staff

LOS ANGELES — The Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s 12th annual Telethon, broadcast live from Los Angeles on November 26, raised $15.8 million.
Telethon 2009’s theme was “Our Shushi,” reflecting the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s strategic objective of helping rebuild the historic Armenian city, in Artsakh. The telethon was equally dedicated to the fund’s ongoing Rural Development Program, which revitalizes scores of towns and villages throughout Armenia and Artsakh, with particular emphasis on border communities.

Telethon 2009 featured many performances, as well as short films on Shushi and the Rural Development Program, and appearances by a legion of special guests, including Ara Vardanyan, executive director of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund; Ara Harutunian, prime minister of Nagorno Karabagh; Archbishop Pargev Mardirossian, primate of the Diocese of Artsakh; David Babayan, press secretary of the president of Nagorno Karabagh; Robert Avetisyan, the republic’s permanent representative to the United States, and several Armenian-American community leaders and benefactors.

The donations will finance a slew of infrastructure and community-development projects in Shushi. Plans include the construction or renovation of roads, schools, water networks, residential complexes, and various cultural and community institutions. Funds raised in the course of 2009 will also continue to benefit the Rural Development Program, with initiatives ranging from new gas and water pipelines to new or restored schools and farming-assistance programs.

“This telethon is yet another testament to the unity of the Armenian people,” said Vardanyan in his address during the event. “Today, as with previous telethons, we announce the results of fundraising activities organized by various Hayastan All-Armenian Fund affiliates throughout the year. The raised funds will help us address issues of national importance.”

“I would like to express my gratitude to all of our benefactors,” Vardanyan continued. “Without your invaluable support, the fund’s work will simply be impossible. It is your trust that enables us to move forward, rebuild our homeland stone by stone, and help shape a better future for our children.”

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Telethon 2009 was preceded by two major fundraising events, in Europe and Russia. At the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s Fundraising Gala, held on October 25 in Moscow, Russian-Armenian entrepreneurs contributed close to $5.3 million. And during November 19-22, the fund’s Pan-European Phoneathon rallied Armenians across the continent, as an army of volunteers, working in five French cities, made telephone appeals to thousands of compatriots. With more than 12,400 supporters making pledges or donations, the phoneathon raised $1.8 million — reflecting a 10-percent increase over the 2008 total.

Overall, an unprecedented number of Armenians from across the globe participated in the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s fundraising events in 2009.
Of special note has been the exponential growth of the fund’s support bases in Armenia and Artsakh. By the launch of Telethon 2009, more than 20,000 Armenia residents had contributed to the fund. Of these supporters, 13,000 made donations at their local post offices, thanks to a convenient contribution process made possible by a recent partnership between the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund and HayPost. Thousands of other Armenia residents made donations through text massaging, an extremely simple and convenient contribution mechanism introduced by longtime fund supporter VivaCell-MTS for its mobile-service subscribers.
Armenia Fund USA Executive Director Raffi Festekjian, also sounded positive. He attributed the lower figures to the Russian community, which had raised a tremendous amount last year. This year, he said, they raised a quarter of what they had done in their inaugural year. “And obviously the economic conditions are not conducive. Overall, considering the number of participants across the board has increased. It means the future is better.”

He also praised the telethon’s presenation, saying it was becoming more professional each year in terms of delivery and content. The East Coast, he said, still remains difficult territory for this region, since it is “more difficult to find a common channel across the board.”

Phoneathons similar to the ones in France have started taking place in the East Coast, he said. A week before the telethon, he said, about 100 volunteers in Boston gathered to call for donations. Similar efforts also took place in New York and Detroit.

“My goal is to expand the constituency more, to get more of the $200 to $500 donations, to engage the community. Historically, the East Coast has more relied on very large donors, which have slowly moved away especially in these difficult times,” he said.

He added, “As donors over time get used to the organization, you can see their donations increasing. We talk a lot about our motherland. This is land we’ve had thousands of year. [But] we can never be free unless we’re free of poverty, free of despair and have the ability to dream of the future. We want to make sure that we give these folks in Shushi and Armenia to have the Armenian dream of hard work and perseverance pay off eventually. We want to help them create jobs and self-sustain themselves.”

The chairman of fund’s French Affiliate Bedros Terzian, said of the phoneathan conducted there, “The commitment made by around 12,400 families is the best demonstration of dedication for the homeland. This is the result of every single person’s free choice rather than their obligation.”

Although the phoneathon was mainly by the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s French affiliate, it is in fact a genuinely pan-European effort uniting Armenian communities across the continent, given the full participation of the fund’s German, and Switzerland affiliates. Accordingly, the phoneathon’s volunteer corps includes many Armenians from Germany and Switzerland.

Orange France Telecom, the major sponsor of the phoneathon, has been providing significant infrastructure and technical support to this principal fundraising event for years.

Robert Avetisyan, the representative of Nagorno Karabagh in the US, said on Tuesday that he was thrilled with the results of the telethon and its goal this year.
“All Armenians round the world, and those in Karabagh, know the significance of Shushi. It is very sad that from the very moment of liberation in 1992, not much has been done to restore it,” he said. “We feel that it is time to join our effort in order to restore the citadel of Armenian culture and identity. We appreciate the Himnadram’s involvement in the process.”

Avetisyan noted that it was the suggestion of the Karabagh government to focus on Shushi, and that work is already underway to relocate some government offices from Stepanakert to Shushi, in order to help revitalize the city. The funding for the moves come from the Karabagh budget, he stressed. The end date for that project is 2010, he said.

“It was our initiative [the Karabagh government] to address the Himnadram board of directors to allocate all to funds to the restoration of Shushi and we are very satisfied that it did happen and that the money will allow for the restoration,” he said.

Avetisyan stressed that the Karabagh government allocates a great deal of its budget to the restoration of villages, roads and other necessities. “We think that even a belated initiative to direct the efforts of the whole Armenian nation to restore one of the main cities of Karabagh can serve as an answer to the question [of Karabagh’s future.] This effort helps us be more confident in our future and reinforces the idea that only Karabaghtsis are the masters of our destiny.”

Avetisyan said he was delighted with the number of people who participated this year. “We thought the amount of course is important, but also important is to see how many Armenians in the world support Armenia and Karabagh. The most important and the best thing in all this is that we saw a significant increase in the number of donors.”

The biggest dollar amount was raised in Russia, followed closely by the European Union.

Irina Lazarian, the executive director of Armenia Fund USA, said that last year’s figure of $35 million was an aberration, one which was helped along by several individual donors sponsoring specific projects.

“I consider we did very well, considering the whole situation” of the economy, she said. She added that she could not say whether or not the debate about the protocols with Turkey affected the pledges, but she did note that “Shushi has a special appeal” to Armenians.

She added, “Shushi is important [also] because it’s the first part of Karabagh, off Lachin corridor, when you enter Karabagh along the Goris-Stepanakert highway. It has to be strong and prosperous.”

The main corporate sponsor of Telethon 2009 was VivaCell-MTS. Other sponsors included ACBA Credit Agricole Bank, Ameria Bank, Ardshininvestbank, and HayPost.

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