From left, outgoing Grand Commander Steven Kradjian, Master of Ceremonies Ara Balikian, Convocation Committee Chairman Nelson Stepanian, Ani Stepanian, Leo Manuelian

Knights and Daughters of Vartan Hold Convocation in Cambridge

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Knights and Daughters of Vartan held their 77th Grand Convocation August 8 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, hosted by Ararat Lodge and Arpie Otyag (lodge). There was a full program of events and festivities attended by member Knights and Daughters from around the country, culminating in the election of its 99th Grand Council.

The events began Wednesday morning with a bus tour of some of the Armenian cultural institutions in the Boston area, including the Armenian Cultural Foundation (ACF) in Arlington, the Armenian Museum of America (ALMA) in Watertown, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) in Belmont, and the Armenian Heritage Park in downtown Boston. The tour was led by former Commander Jack Medzorian and historian Aram Arkun. Talks were given by staff or leaders of each institution at each site, including Heritage Park architect Donald Tellalian, ACF Board of Trustees President Robert Mirak, ALMA Executive Director Berj Chekijian and Curator Gary Lind-Sinanian, and NAASR Director of Academic Affairs Marc Mamigonian and Library Curator Ani Babaian. A reception was held that evening in the Hyatt hosted by the Grand Commander and Grand Matron.

A display about some of the activities of the Knights, including programs in Armenia, was set up in the hotel, and paintings by various Armenian artists were available for sale.

On August 10, workshops were held in various rooms of the hotel. Speakers included Hirant Gulian on Turkish Armenian issues, and Dr. Nora Nercessian, speaking on Armenian orphans and the enormous Near East Relief orphanage of Gyumri. In addition, former Grand Matron Lisa Kradjian spoke on the role of fedayin women. In the evening, a dinner with Armenian music was held at Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge.

On August 11, meetings for the Grand Convocation took place. The Daughters of Vartan organized a luncheon with remarks from Grand Matron Sona Manuelian, a presentation by playwright Joyce Van Dyke, and Best Newsletter of the Year awards to Betty Orsi (Worcester chapter), Susan Nemet (San Francisco chapter) and Hasmik Daghlyan (Bayside NY chapter, with Sylvia Sanossian accepting on her behalf).

The day concluded with a banquet at the hotel with close to 350 guests. The Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston presented a special performance, and Sheriff Peter Koutoujian made some rousing remarks. More guests came after 9 pm to dance to the Armenian music of Elie Berberian, from Montreal, Canada. Proceeds from the dance will be allocated to support the construction of the new Hye Point Church in Haverhill, Mass.

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The Grand Convocation continued on August 12, and installed a newly elected set of Grand Councils for 2017-2018. It concluded with a banquet program that evening. Ara Balikian served as the master of ceremonies, and injected an element of humor by repeatedly mangling the pronunciation of various names, especially that of the newly elected Grand Commander Gary Zamanigian. The latter played along with Balikian, amusingly expressing his surprise and dismay.

Fr. Antranig Baljian delivered the opening invocation and Fr. Dajad Davidian delivered the closing prayer. Elie Berberian sang several Armenian songs to the great delight of the audience.

Convocation chairman Nelson Stepanian thanked his committee, after which Nazar Nazarian was announced as the Knights of Vartan Man of the Year (2017). Although he could not attend, he sent a statement appreciating the honor and thanking the Knights of Vartan. Nazarian called for working together to support the Armenian people, insuring our legacy and preserving the Armenian heritage.

Outgoing Grand Matron Sona Manuelian introduced the Daughters of Vartan Woman of the Year, Dr. Laura Korkoian. A television producer, she executive produces and directs the A&E hit series “Born This Way.” This documentary series depicting the lives of seven young adults born with Down Syndrome, including the actions and thoughts of their parents, won the 2016 Emmy Award for Best Unstructured Reality Show.

Korkoian spoke about her family’s deep commitment to the Knights and Daughters of Vartan, which made the award even more special to her. She spoke about her career, and how she switched from psychology to television. Her advice to others was similarly to take a risk when a door opens in front of you and go through it. After doing some popular shows, she was looking for a challenge, and was given the Down syndrome show to produce. She was able to show that “different is beautiful” and that adults with Down syndrome are no worse or better than the rest of us. She also learned from the show that living in the moment is important.

Outgoing Lieutenant Grand Commander Hunan Arshakian, chairman of the scholarship committee, recognized his fellow committee members and then announced the awards. He also gave a copy of the official DVD in a handmade case of the Knights of Vartan trip to Armenia last year to set up a new office.

Outgoing Grand Commander Steven Kradjian voiced his appreciation of Nelson Stepanian’s work in planning this convocation and awarded him a special recognition plaque. He then awarded Matron Anahid Mardiros with a plaque in recognition of her excellent work as co-chair of the convocation committee. Commander Tigran Sahakyan was given an award in absentia for planning and execution of the 2016 trip to Armenia. Knight Eric Demirdjian, webmaster for the Knights, was given an award in recognition of his work. He is living in Paris, France at present. Former Commander Sam Sassounian from Pasadena, California, was awarded a medal for helping connect the Knights with the Diaspora Ministry and the government of Armenia. This eventually led to the creation of an office in Yerevan for the Knights.

The first Grand Convocation ever in Armenia took place in September 19-20, 2016 in Yerevan. Kradjian summoned by name the 31 participants in this convocation, though not all were present that night, to come up, be photographed, and receive a commemorative award.

Outgoing Grand Matron Manuelian then voiced her thanks to those who worked with her in her post, and congratulated the newly elected. She introduced new Grand Matron Diana Tookmanian from California, who then called for all members to work together to serve the Daughters of Vartan.

Kradjian took the podium again and reminisced about his mentor Former Grand Commander Bob Barsam. During 17 years, Barsam became a dear friend as well as a mentor. Kradjian, after pointing out that the Knights of Vartan has always been concerned about the people living in the Republic of Armenia, declared that with its new Yerevan office, its presence with visibility can assure the people of Armenia that the Knights of Vartan is there, at home now. He proudly stated, “The leadership of the Knights of Vartan in Armenia will contribute to the improvement of our homeland.”

Kradjian expressed his pride in Knights who spent virtually their adult lives as members. He exclaimed, “It is the most important fellowship in my life outside of family,” and added, “The Knights and Daughters of Vartan is a special organization, unlike any other that I have seen in my adult life.”

He called to the podium the new grand commander. Zamanigian spoke with humor and delivered a clear message. He stated that the Knights of Vartan changed since its inception 101 years ago. Today it has numerous programs both in the US and Armenia, many of which he listed.  He said, “I believe we have hidden our virtuous service far too long.”

On the other hand, he continued, “We are now at the dawn of our second century, and the current Avak Tivan [Grand Council] feels the issue of membership must be addressed, because its appalling decline is a fact.” He said that the Knights would focus on recruiting qualified Armenian professionals, so “we will develop a five-year plan to reverse this trend.” The Knights, he added, did not want to become a foundation, as has happened to other Armenian organizations in the US.

In addition to Zamanigian, the newly elected members of the Grand Council are Lt. Grand Commander Howard Ateshian, Grand Recorder Deacon Richard Norsigian, Grand Chaplain Gary Javizian, Grand Treasurer Edward Bedikian, Grand Master of Ceremonies George Boyajian and Grand Sentinel Ray Boujoulian.

The newly elected members of the leadership of the Daughters of Vartan include, in addition to Tookmanian, Barbara Tchalikian, Barbara Khazoyan, Zovig Tashjian, Salpy Mankerian, Claudia Hardy and Taline Kedjidjian.

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