Thanks Giving Brunch Committee, Lorky Libaridian, Vartus Varadian, Tsoleen Sarian, Executive Director, Nicole Babikian event chair and Armine Manukyan missing: Talin Badrikian (Winslow Martin photo)

Project Save Hosts Afternoon of Thanks for Donors and Supporters

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By Alin K. Gregorian

Mirror-Spectator Staff

WALTHAM, Mass. — Project Save Armenian Photograph Archives turned the tables on its supporters on November 19; instead of asking them, as any small non-profit does regularly, for their support, staff and a committee hosted a brunch at the Westin Hotel to thank all donors and volunteers.

From left, Connie Koutoujian, Anita Shishmanian and Adrienne Amirian (Winslow Martin photo)

 

As guests were heading into the main hall for lunch and speeches, the hotel lost power as a result of a howling storm. The mood was not dampened however; in fact, because of the lack of microphones, a certain less formal spirit took over.

The afternoon provided the opportunity to see the transition of leadership from founder and former executive director Ruth Thomasian to Tsoleen Sarian as well as the announcement of the organization’s new ventures.

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“The objective of today is to say thank you. In appreciation to Ruth Thomasian our founder, to you our supporters and friends, to our photo donors, staff, and volunteers. I will also share with you what is ahead for Project SAVE, and how you are a part of our future,” said Sarian.

Sarian spoke about the new collaborations Project Save has embarked upon with Houshamadyan (houshamadyan.org), a project which seeks to recreate a picture of life in the Ottoman Armenian towns and villages.

“It is a vibrant and dynamic organization and is growing and expanding,” Sarian said.

Next, she said, Project Save is collaborating with Digital Commonwealth, which provides access to materials through a consortium of libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies from across Massachusetts. It has shared 220 banquet and panorama photos with Digital Commonwealth.

“This collaboration brings awareness to our work beyond the Armenian community, as the photos can be explored across a variety of websites,” she said.

She also announced that Project SAVE has signed an agreement with the USC Shoah Foundation (https://sfi.usc.edu/) to work together to develop educational resources centered around the use of Project SAVE. “By expanding their IWitness program to include Armenian photographs from Project SAVE, this collaboration will afford teachers and students the opportunity to gain insight to a more complete story of the Armenian people, pre-genocide to post-genocide,” she said.

Legacy of Ruth Thomasian

 

Sarian invited Dorothy Keverian to speak, adding that she and her husband, Jack, have been longtime sponsors. Keverian, beaming with delight, asked for a standing ovation for Thomasian, who in keeping with the light mood, ran from the back of the room to the front, waving a napkin.

“You are incredible, giving of yourself for 42 years,” Keverian said. She also pointed out to an enlarged picture on display of the late speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, George Keverian, her husband’s brother, on horseback as a child, one of the many the family has donated to Project Save.

“He said ‘work with Ruth Thomasian. I just gave her photos of yesteryear,’” said Keverian, quoting her brother-in-law.

“The photographs allow us to see the Genocide and the happiness before the Genocide and life today,” Keverian added. “My children have found this valuable, particularly with the calendar.”

Every year, Project Save publishes a calendar with a specific theme. This year’s theme is “Our Armenian Journey,” focusing on immigrants and refugees in recent times.

“Jack and I have found this to be our favorite philanthropy and George had something to do with that,” Keverian said. “It keeps the photographic heritage of the Armenian community worldwide and [makes available] visual resources to researchers.”

Then she concluded, “The new executive director [Sarian] has done a fabulous job,” before adding in jest, “The only reason Ruth picked her was that she was Aintabsi.”

Next, the program turned to Thomasian in earnest. Said Sarian, “Someone recently described Ruth and her work as ‘an admirable project started and managed by one determined woman to preserve and disseminate historically significant photo record of Armenian life both before and after the genocide and both in historic Armenian land and in the diaspora.’

“Ruth has taught me to be aware of keeping an egalitarian balance: of gender, location, decade, and also class —  not just the successful business owners and highly educated, but also to focus on the regular people. She is tenacious to ensure that people recognize and value the professional work of Project Save. Thank you for giving me the freedom to lead Project Save, as I proceed with humility and great respect,” she noted.

Sarian thanked all those who have donated photographs to the Project Save archives. “Our 45,000 photos are collected on kitchen tables and living rooms, from over 1,200 individuals and families. Photos from before the Genocide, photos from missionaries during the genocide and photos of Armenian life through the Diaspora. The individuals captured in the photos, their names, and stories are documented. We are able to teach their stories, give their testimony, and share their information to the greater world.”

She also thanked longtime archivist Suzanne Adams as well as volunteers Joseph Chau, Marc Fogel, Edward Kazanjian, Jirair Libaridian, Daiga Lorena, Laurence Mini, Elizabeth Wood, John Kebadjian, Marlin Keshishian, Sophie Tolajian and Ed Der Kazarian.

She stressed that she wanted to make the archives available to the greater Armenian community as well as the greater global community. She asked for the “shoebox of photos and albums that you have in your family. We want them.”

Thomasian, now the CEO of Project Save, wasted little time in speaking about the organization she had founded 42 years ago.

“I’ve always loved history. I recently found an analogy for what history is,” she explained, “a rearview mirror.”

“We have to see what came behind us. That is why history is so important,” she said. “The mirror helps guide you on a safe path from one’s life road for the future generations.”

In the past, she said, talking about history in the Armenian community was not something that everyone was comfortable doing. In fact, she recalled that her grandfather discouraged speaking at dinner, saying “this is an eating table, not a talking table.”

As for her stepping down as executive director, she said it was time. “I am not going to live forever,” leading to the concept of change. The one change that has come to Project Save is the digital age. She praised Sarian and archivist Suzanne Adams for digitizing the photos.

All those speaking about Project Save stressed that the organization does not simply take the photos but speaks to the donors at length in order to have the most precise information about what the photos have captured. The donor interviews are taped and archived.

Thomasian joked about her new role, “I collect photos very well. Now, I collect money.”

More seriously, she added, “My heart is so warm with love for Tsoleen.”

The keynote speaker was Dr. Hayk Demoyan, the former longtime director of the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute in Yerevan, Armenia, who is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.

Demoyan praised the organization for doing “a wonderful and exceptional job.” He first became aware of them when he started looking for photos from the era of the Armenian Genocide. He eventually used many photos from the organization in Yerevan at the Genocide Museum for the centennial event.

He then spoke about the more obscure history of Armenians in the US, noting that he is researching Martin the Armenian, the first ethnic Armenian to settle in the US, in his case Virginia.

“Just keep collecting photos,” he suggested, “as a historian and as a customer.”

The program was sponsored by Nicole Babikian Hajjar and Dr. Jean-Jacques Hajjar and Adrienne Tashjian. Serving on the event committee were Nicole Babikian Hajjar, including, Vartus Varadian, Taline Badrikian, Armine Manukian and Lorky Libaridian

Said Hajjar at the end of the program, “I am heartened to see the amount of support and enthusiasm for this organization, especially as it is at a turning point as it shifts gear. It is extremely promising in the very good hands of Tsoleen Sarian.”

To purchase a calendar or to find out more about the organization, visit www.projectsave.org

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