80th Anniversary Of Holy Ascension Armenian Church Commemorated

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By Hagop Vartivarian

TRUMBULL, Conn. — On Sunday, May 15, Holy Ascension Armenian Church celebrated the 80th anniversary of its foundation, in the presence of mostly third- and fourth-generation Armenians. This event is an important one in the annals of our history, because the Armenians who came from the old country mainly after the 1915 Armenian Genocide were able to purchase a church building for $6,000 in the beginning of the last century, after establishing themselves in the area and securing their own survival in this country. And equally importantly, for eight decades they have been able to keep the church in spite of all the economic difficulties and demographic changes.

Nearby industrial city of Bridgeport served as a center for many Armenian workers new to this country. It was here that Alex Manoogian first came to work, when he arrived from Izmir. In the beginning, the city had a small Armenian Club, where the Armenians from Kharpert, Sepastia, Dikranagerd, Gesaria, Adana, Bolis, etc., gathered to be with one another, encourage and support one another and play backgammon and cards. It was here that Manoogian offered to teach these mostly Turkish-speaking Armenians the Armenian language, so they too can read, write and speak.

Very soon thereafter, Baikar newspaper reached the community members and two Ramgavar Party members, Hrach Yervant and Antranig Antreassian, with their frequent visits brought new excitement to the Bridgeport- Armenian community. The brothers Hagop and Berj Khachadoorian also played a great role in keeping the community’s Armenian character and spirit.

The consecration of the church was done by then Primate Archbishop Ghevont Tourian on Sunday, June 14, 1931, after which and only two years later the archbishop was brutally murdered in Holy Cross Armenian Church in New York.

It has not been easy to keep and maintain the church in this small community. With great sacrifices the parishioners kept the doors of this church open and also had their pastors. Today, that priest is Fr. Untzag Nalbandian, originally from Beirut, who studied at the Melkonian Educational Institute in Cyprus. He and his brother, Fr. Zenob Nalbandian, serve in the Eastern Diocese of the United States.

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The day’s celebrant was Fr. Martiros Hakobyan, who has come from the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin and who recently was assigned to be assistant pastor.

The church was full during the service, after which all came downstairs, where lunch was served, followed by a program. After the welcoming words of Dr. Robert Badrigian, Parish Council chairman, and Linda McGann, 80th Anniversary Events Committee coordinator, Avetik Topchyan played two pieces from Sayat Nova and Komitas Vartabed on the kemanche. Deacon Thomas Dabakian, who was the master of ceremonies, invited Fr. Untzag Nalbandian, who has been the pastor there for 28 years, to make his remarks. He briefly reflected on the history of the church.

The community had invited Garen Nazarian, the ambassador of Armenia to the United Nations, who in his speech presented the challenges of Armenia. He was able to connect the audience to the victories of Armenia and Artsakh. Edward Gulbenkian, one of our American-Armenian benefactors conducted the question-and-answer portion of the program, when an unexpected number of questions were posed to the ambassador.

Hagop Vartivarian, the chairman of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of Greater New York, also spoke and stressed the importance of keeping alive the Armenian language and culture, especially in America and in the small communities of the Eastern Diocese.

Panos Titizian, who also was present from Los Angeles, similarly underscored the concern. On this occasion, George Krikorian, 100, was honored and given a rug made in Armenia with the picture of the Mother Cathedral of Holy Echmiadzin. Krikorian, who is the last surviving witness of the church’s consecration, received the gift from Nazarian.

Incidentally, this small community has donated about $300,000 to Armenia during the past 28 years.

The 80th anniversary celebrations will culminate with a visit by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate to the community, on October 23.

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