Armenian Charity Goes Universal

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

People who have suffered adversity are more prone to be sensitive towards other people’s suffering. Armenians, a people with a chain of calamities running throughout their history, had to be on the forefront of rendering help to others.

We complain that our pain has not been recognized universally and we make comparisons with Jews, whose Holocaust is never doubted. But we forget one aspect which makes a difference: wherever Jews emigrate, especially Europe and the US, they give generously to care for their own people, but they also go beyond their ethnic boundaries to do good for others. Especially, in the US, they participate in civic activities, contribute and support the arts and are on the boards of hospitals, universities, organizations and other entities that have no relation to their specific ethnic concerns. Those actions merit more visibility but that visibility is backed by a lot of donations and activism outside their specific subset.

Armenians, by contrast, hardly contribute to their own people’s issues much less to other causes and yet they expect to get the same recognition that the Jews get.

If we consider the annual Thanksgiving Day telethon of the Armenia Fund as a barometer of charitable giving, we have to be ashamed in front of the world. Not only is our collective generosity miserable but for every donor there are detractors who insult the givers as dopes, and the organization as a fraud. Armenia is on the verge of collapse. The country is still at war though there is a ceasefire on paper. Very few people stop to suggest that the war should be won first, with a united effort, before settling internal squabbles.

But there is good news. After 100 years of misery and introversion, fortunately some people have started to see the light, to do unto others, whatever we expect others to do for us. To move the spirit of charity to the next level and to give a universal scope to it.

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In this respect, two phenomenal groups come to mind, that of the Hrant Dink Foundation and the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.

The Hrant Dink Foundation, founded in the wake of the assassination of Agos newspaper founder Hrant Dink in 2007, recently received the Chirac Prize for conflict Prevention. The prize ceremony was attended by French President Emmanuel Macron. The mission of the Chirac Foundation is to “support efforts for the prevention of conflict, dialogue between cultures and increasing the quality of access to health services.”

While we were wailing and crying for a full century for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, the visionary late journalist Hrant Dink rose to the occasion by proselytizing that before expecting the Armenian Genocide to be recognized by Turkey, we have to first restore sanity there so that human rights in general are respected, which would eventually extend to cover the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Dink stood up for the rights of the Kurds and other minorities who were being treated inhumanely as the Armenians were a century ago. Dink’s message received traction in the enlightened segments of Turkish society who wanted to shake off the false history of the Turkish republic. That is why Hrant paid dearly for the principles he cherished.

In accepting the Chirac Prize, Rakel Dink, Hrant’s widow and the president of the foundation, stated that the intention to establish the foundation was “to continue Hrant’s efforts with this institution and try to fill the huge emptiness created in our lives, with his struggle for human rights, women and men committed to fighting on a daily basis, out in the field, so that tensions do not escalate into serious conflicts.”

Therefore, it is no surprise that recipients of the Hrant Dink Prize are not necessarily Armenians. Its scope crosses ethnic boundaries to reach out to humanity in general, to help people suffering around the globe the same manner of suffering Armenians have experienced and throughout their history. The current year’s recipients were Eren Keskin from Turkey and Ai Weiwei from China.

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is another entity which addresses the universal pain afflicting humanity. The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is the brainchild of philanthropists Vartan Gregorian, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan. Many other prominent people have joined the board during the first three years of its existence. Aurora gives out prizes in the name of the Armenian people every year to those who provide help in the most difficult and direst situations, doing the most possible with the barest resources. The most recent winner was Dr. Tom Catena, the only doctor in Sudan’s war-ravaged Nuba Mountains. According to the organization’s website, Catena was selected from more than 550 nominations submitted from 66 countries. As the organizers suggest, once Armenians were on the receiving end of such aid; now, they are in a position to turn around and extend a hand to those in difficult circumstances. That in the process those peoples hear about the Armenians and the Armenian Genocide is a plus.

The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was based on the concept of gratitude. Armenians were beneficiaries of many charities, chief among them the Near East Relief, which helped many Armenian refugees in the US. Ruben Vardanyan defined the role of his initiative in the following manner: “They [the participants] saw our willingness to shape our experience and use it for changing the world around us. I think that we are able to look to the future without forgetting the past. And if in the past Armenians have experienced horrors of expulsion, war and genocide. They have also recently had the experience of welcoming refugees into their country.”

In addition, this month, Aurora held its first-ever meeting regarding the state of refugees around the world, outside Armenia, in Berlin, as a symbolic gesture in honor of German openness to taking in more than one million refugees while other European countries have shut their borders.

It is staggering to find out that globally currently there are 65 million people uprooted from their homelands and scattered around the world. It is even more astonishing that 700 million people would also abandon their homelands if the opportunity arose. This figure also includes many citizens of Armenia.

Humanitarians cannot get to the root causes of humanitarian tragedies, but at least they can help alleviate the suffering of those in mass exoduses.

Politicians and politics are responsible for manmade catastrophes, be they in Iraq, Syria, Libya or Yemen, once prosperous countries before they were invaded and destroyed. And yet, no one stopped Omar Bashir from committing genocide in Sudan, nor control the army in Myanmar from enforcing the forced expulsion of the Rohingyas Muslim minority to Bangladesh.

These two initiatives started by Armenians are the result of thinking outside the box. In today’s globalized world, we cannot cry over our pain within our ethnic confines alone. If we wish others to be exposed to our tragedy and join forces against all evil, we need to amplify our pain to a universal level and view it with the pain suffered by a greater cross-section of humanity.

This is the message and the vision that these two initiatives offer to the Armenians and the world.

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