AGBU Concludes its 86th Worldwide Annual Assembly: AGBU Directors, Leaders From around the World Head to South America for Large Celebration

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The world’s largest non-profit Armenian organization, the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), concluded its 86th annual assembly here, with the participation of delegates from Germany, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, United States, Lebanon, France, Greece, Italy, United Kingdom, Russia, Syria, Switzerland, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.

As of 2009, the net asset of the AGBU has been assessed at $332,032,169. During that period, the AGBU has allocated $18,947,504 for educational, $8,905,988 for cultural, $2,113,586 for religious and $3,143,586 for humanitarian purposes. AGBU runs and supports programs in Armenia, such as the American University of Armenia, the St. Nersess Hospital, AGBU Children’s Centers, Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, the Ultrasound Center and the Vaskenian Theological Seminary of Holy Echmiadzin. In Karabagh, they contribute to the Karabagh Chamber Orchestra and the Karabagh Repopulation Project. In the diaspora, AGBU sponsors over 30 day and Saturday schools in North and South America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. More than 6,500 students are enrolled in these schools, where the curriculum includes instruction about their heritage and identity. Today, the AGBU Scholarship Program offers financial assistance to a broader range of Armenian students around the world such as AGBU Fellowships, Performing Arts Fellowships, Religious Studies Fellowships, International Scholarships and Heritage Scholar Grants, as well as the New York, Paris and Yerevan Summer Intern Programs. Along with its many cultural centers and day schools, the AGBU operates also Camp Nubar in the US, Colonie de Vacances in France, and other sites in Bulgaria and Syria where thousands of youth come together.

Since 1995, the AGBU Young Professionals have been a growing network of YP groups and supporters from around the world who promote Armenian identity and heritage for young Armenians between the ages of 22 to 40.

The 86th annual meetings program began on Wednesday, October 13, with a concert by violinist Sami Merdinian in the French Embassy of Argentina. The ambassador of France to Argentina, Jean-Pierre Asvazadourian, accepted the petition of the local AGBU chapter to host the delegates of the AGBU 86th Annual Assembly. (In 1984, when the AGBU 69th General Assembly was held in Buenos Aires, the US Embassy also hosted all the assembly delegates, headed by Life President Alex Manoogian.)

Cutting the anniversary cake, from left, Ruben Kechichian, Elsa Kechichian, Vera Setrakian, Eduardo Eurnekian, Anahid Karmirshalyan, Ambassador Vladimir Karmirshalyan and Berge Setrakian

The concert was attended by the AGBU President Berge Setrakian and his wife Vera; AGBU Central Board members, Ambassador of Armenia in Argentina Vladimir Karmirshalyan and his wife; the Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Church for Argentina and Chile, Archbishop Kissag Mouradian; businessman Eduardo Eurnekian; members of delegations and members of AGBU Buenos Aires. The concert was a true pleasure for the delegates, which ended with cocktail reception by Asvazadourian.

Afterwards, the delegates moved to the AGBU headquarters on Armenia Street, and at the Nazar and Artemis Nazarian Hall, the Young Professionals of AGBU Buenos Aires officially greeted all the founders and former chairmen of the local Youth League Organization on its 70th anniversary and the alumni of AGBU Marie Manoogian Educational Institute. The Educational Institute was founded in 1974 and starting in 1979 until now, it has graduated 605 young Armenians from its high school. They were the first students in the diaspora who began Friday night dinners with the help of their parents, to raise funds for their graduate travels to the motherland, Armenia. This tradition now has been adopted by hundreds of Armenian day schools all over the diaspora today.

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The next day, students at the Berdjuhi Emirian primary section of the Marie Manoogian Educational Institute, received the delegates and presented to them Argentine and Armenian traditional songs and dances. Delegates, presided over by Berge Setrakian and other members of the Board of Directors, toured the institution and visited the classrooms, where students were learning Armenian history and culture through AGBU Virtual College program, which was started two years ago by AGBU Central Board of Directors.

At the French Embassy, from left, Berge Setrakian, Vera Setrakian, Joseph Ougourlian, Ambassador Jean-Pierre Asvazadourian and Ruben Kechichian

On Friday, October 15, the official gala-dinner of the 86th General Assembly was held at the Hotel Four Seasons, during which Eduardo Eurnekian was honored. From airports to agriculture, from energy to banking, Eurnekian’s name is synonymous with global business. A native of Argentina, Eurnekian is a renowned entrepreneur who has more recently been working to develop Armenia by investing in different sectors and thus creating jobs for its citizens. Eurnekian was born in 1932 in Argentina to Armenian immigrants. He began his career in the textile industry and built one of the most important companies in that sector in the country. In the early 1980s, Eurnekian purchased the bankrupt Cablevision SA cable TV station and transformed it into the largest private cable TV company in Latin America, with more than a million subscribers. He later sold the company for $750 million. His media involvement included, among other things, an open-air TV chain, several radio stations and a financial newspaper. In 1988, he formed a consortium called Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, and he was awarded a 30- year concession to operate many of Argentina’s airports. He has since expanded his business to incorporate major airports in Uruguay, Ecuador, Italy, Armenia and Peru. In agribusiness, Eurnekian owns the largest expanse of artificially irrigated land in Argentina and a total of 400,000 acres of farmland. He recently formed a new company, Tierras de Marruecos, which will explore the development of Morocco. During the last decade, Eurnekian began taking an active interest in Armenia and its future. In 2001, he started the renovation of Zvartnots International Airport runway and platforms — which are already completed — and the construction of a new high-tech terminal (of which phases one and two have been completed, while phase three is to be inaugurated in the fall of 2011.) His company, Tierras Armenia, works to promote agribusiness in the nation, including a focus on fruit and vegetable production in Arevadasht, just 40 miles outside Yerevan. He also sponsors Fruitful Armenia, a nonprofit organization, which annually brings together various Armenian companies and organizations in an effort to promote agricultural growth, boost sustainable micro- usiness and train local workers. In 2006, Eurnekian acquired the third largest bank in Armenia, Converse Bank. He is in charge of the mail system in Armenia, HayPost, and the infrastructural renovation of its approximately 900 branches. In addition, he provides philanthropic help to the local Armenian communities and to the Holy See of Echmiadzin.

Berge Setrakian and Eduardo Eurnekian

A visionary businessman, Eurnekian has been named Business Man of the Year 1995 in Argentina, and in 1999 he received the Leonardo Award from the Italian government, which is given to the leading foreign businessman. In September 2001, he received the St. Gregory the Illuminator Order medal and the decoration of St. Mesrob Mashtots from President Berge Sargisian, the highest decoration of the country.

AGBU, which has always encouraged philanthropy and active involvement in Armenian community life, honored Eurnekian in appreciation of his commitment to bettering the lives of Armenians.

Setrakian made Eurnekian an honorary member of the Central Council of the AGBU, which received a standing ovation and lengthy applause. Eurnekian humbly announced that he is just doing his duty for his people in Argentina and in Armenia. The whole episode and the gala dinner was televised by the Local TV 5 and aired to the public through YouTube.

Gala dinner participants

On Saturday morning, the 86th Assembly took place at Sahagian hall, with the participation of more than 200 delegates and members. All speeches were simultaneously translated into English, Armenian, French and Spanish. After the Argentinean, Armenian and AGBU anthems, Setrakian opened the assembly with an encouraging speech, emphasizing AGBU’s educational, cultural and humanitarian work. A financial report of the last two years was presented to the delegates. After the reports submitted by advisers, delegates voted to elect Joseph Ougourlian of New York as new member of the Central Board of Directors, to replace Dr. Arshavir Gundjian, whose term as member expired, according to the AGBU by-laws provisions of reaching the age of 75.

Finally, Archbishop Mouradian surprised all the delegates by reading Catholicos Karekin II’s pontifical decree addressed to Bedros Piandarian, long time financial director of AGBU Central Board of Directors in New York, and a second decree addressed to Ruben Kechichian, chairman of AGBU Buenos Aires Chapter, and decorated them with the Nerses Shnorhali medals.

After the meeting, the delegates went to the land adjacent to Alex Manoogian Cultural Center and laid the foundation stone of the new General Antranik scouts’ center.

(Compiled by Kevork Marashlian, sources included the ADL newspaper Sardarabad of Buenos Aires, the AGBU website, contributions from Diana Der Garabedian, editor of Sardarabad and AGBU Buenos Aires Chapter.)

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