ATP’s 20th Anniversary Boston Banquet Raises Money for a Greener Armenia

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Photo by Kerry Brett
Photo by Kerry Brett

 

By Aram Arkun

Mirror-Spectator Staff

BOSTON — The Armenia Tree Project (ATP) celebrated its 20th anniversary in Boston with an elaborate banquet in the John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse on November 8. Armenians flocked to the unusual venue, making it a success both financially and socially. The organization estimates that over 500 people were present, including almost 40 high school, college and graduate students sponsored by patrons. The event raised $450,000 toward a yearlong goal of $3 million.

The modern-looking courthouse building with beautiful views of the water was transformed by the Armenian presence that evening. The evening began with a cocktail reception which allowed guests to view 15 Armenian landscape paintings of Arthur Hovhannisyan, most fitting for an organization devoted to the environment, exhibited under the title “Land in Harmony.” A lecturer at the Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts, Hovhannisyan has participated in a number of international exhibitions. The exhibit, which first appeared as a preview at the Contemporary Art Gallery of the Armenian Museum of America on November 6-7, was curated by Zara Ouzounian-Halpin.

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After Fr. Dajad Davidian gave the opening prayer, attorney Ara Balikian took over as master of ceremonies.

Co-chair of the 20th Anniversary Committee Nina Festekjian spoke first and pointed out that despite Armenia’s multitude of other problems, environmental issues cannot be neglected. Armenians must work together to improve it, as “a green Armenia is a healthy Armenia.” Co-chair Nicole Babikian Hajjar concurred in her heartfelt talk. After praising Carolyn Mugar’s vision and mission for ATP, she concluded, “if I have one wish for ATP, it is that the organization keep its forward looking direction. I hope ATP will further enhance its reach, especially among our youth, riding on the wave of social media to touch the young with its message, to inspire them and involve them in its mission, because they are the true seeds of a better and a greener Armenia.”

To drive the point home, organizers then played a video titled A “Plant a Tree, Plant Hope,” by CivilNet. A live auction followed. Hovhannisyan’s 2010 oil painting, “Starry Night,” was the highlight of the auction. Nine other of his paintings were also sold separately to guests at fixed prices there and at the preview. The auction also included a Boston sports package with two premium seats to games of the New England Patriots, Boston Celtics, Boston Bruins, and Boston Red Sox. A week stay at the Marriott Armenia Hotel with special tours organized by ATP, and a gourmet dinner for 10 catered by the ATP Executive Committee and orchestrated by chef Seta Dakessian completed the auction. The auction netted $35,000.

Keynote speaker actor David Alpay, famous among Armenians for his role in Atom Egoyan’s “Ararat,” gave a moving personal talk. He referred to the negative connotations of trees for many Armenian families like his own which had lost members through hangings in the Armenian Genocide. Yet his travel to Armenia turned him into a witness for the importance of the work ATP was doing. He saw that trees are also symbols of strength, beauty and life. Alpay posited an analogy: “ATP helps prevent the erosion of soil. Isn’t it also in a way helping to fight the erosion of a nation?” He concluded: “It is nation-building in its most sacred form.”

The popular musician Lilit Pipoyan, visiting from Armenia, sang several songs in the first musical portion of the evening’s program, and reminisced about having to burn tree branches in the early 1990s. She thanked ATP supporters for bringing back those lost trees.

Attorney Anthony Barsamian then called up fellow ATP board members Nancy Kricorian and Julia Mirak, who congratulated ATP for its work over the past two decades. Barsamian praised the vision and work of Carolyn Mugar and her late husband, John O’Connor, who he said coined the phrases “Armenian by choice — ABC” and “the fun is in the fight.” He also introduced the ATP staff visiting from Los Angeles and Yerevan, as well as the Boston ones. He called on Armenia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zohrab Mnatsakanyan to present Mugar with the medal of the first degree of the Republic of Armenia.

The ambassador reminisced about the early 1990s when Armenians, in order to survive, were forced to cut down trees, and stressed the sustainability of ATP’s work from 1994. He said forcefully that Armenia was not a Disneyland — that it was a real country with real problems, and that ATP has been working to help solve these problems for two decades.

Mugar, in response to all the prior speakers, thanked the ATP staff and called for the audience to challenge itself and keep its hands dirty, so to speak. She said, “ATP has the capacity to be an even greater agent of change for Armenia’s future.”

ATP Managing Director Tom J. Garabedian gave the closing remarks, thanking all those who made the evening possible as well as the dedicated staff and supporters of ATP. The long but productive evening then winded down with the Armenian/jazz/blues fusion music of Black Sea Salsa Band, a 10-piece world-music group led by Dan Teager (Tergukasian).

 

 

 

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