Students at Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School

Armenian Cultural Center of Forest Hills Dissolves: Its Legacy Survives Through HMADS

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By Arto Khrimian

FOREST HILLS, N.Y. – New York City has become an important cultural center for Diaspora Armenians for more than 50 years thanks to its vibrant Armenian community with cultural organizations and private elementary and language schools. The Armenian Cultural Center of Forest Hills had been a notable participant among other organizations in their efforts to enrich our cultural and social life.

The Armenian Cultural Center of Forest Hills (ACCFH) — a non-political, non-religious, and non-profit organization — was founded in 1971 to foster Armenian culture in the Greater New York community, through such activities as lectures, literary events, educational classes, theatrical presentations, student talent shows, and social functions.

The founders were Dr. Sureyya (Suren) Naci Arkun, Ania Gross, Angel Hovagimian, Kevork Kahveciyan, George Mouradian, Vartkes Ovanesian, Hagop Puskul, Arshag Sahakian, Levon Tatevossian, and Aram Vartanian.

The presidents of the Executive Committee in chronological order were Arshag Sahakian, Levon Tatevossian, Hrant Saruhan, Frank Kabarajian, Josephine Bebirian, and Sirpuhi Mark.

In addition to the above, the following individuals on the Executive Committee of the ACCFH at different terms had made substantial contribution to elevate the organization to its heights: Seda Terzian, Baruyr Tezel, Onnik Nevruzian, Alis Kahveciyan, Silva Celiksu [Terjanian], Toros Celiksu, Hilda Biosyan [Sheshetian], Ayda Kabarajian, Walter Bebirian, Zabel Khrimian, and Arto Khrimian.

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During its active years, the ACCFH organized both culturally and socially meaningful events such as theatrical productions in Armenian based on the works of Hagop Baronyan and Yervant Odyan; scholarly book presentations — the one by Sona Tingir was memorable in its scope; concerts of classical Armenian and European music, among which soprano Ruthann Turekian Drewitz’s was the most riveting; English language classes for new immigrants taught skillfully by Josephine Bebirian were also an introduction to American culture; and talent shows of poetry recitation, playing musical instruments, singing and dancing by the students of the Armenian schools in our Greater New York area enlivened the cultural life of our community.

The Paregentan, a dinner-dance masquerade party, had been a celebrated annual event for the ACCFH for many years. In addition to the Armenian music and dance, the “Quadrille Dance” conducted by Baruyr Tezel was considered the trademark of the ACCFH Paregentan event.

The ACCFH also collaborated with its sister institutions in organizing literary, musical, celebratory, commemorative events. Among the many renowned figures who were either honored or participated in those events, the following names stand out: Archbishop. Shnork Kalustyan, Archbishop Karekin II Kazanciyan, Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, Archbishop Sahan Sivaciyan, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, Archbishop Pargev Martirosyan, Prof. Abraham Terian, Zahrad, Rober Haddejian, Zareh Khrakhouni, Vahakn Dadrian, Yves Ternon, Israel Charny, Peter Balakian, Aris Sevag, Berc Araz, Sahan Arzruni, Vartan and Silva Gomigyan, Agop Hacikyan, Gabriel Basmajian, Nourhan Ouzunian, Hrant Dink, Rakel Dink, Herand Markarian, Hagop Vartivarian, Osheen Keshishian, Carla Garapedian, Ara Kalaydjian and Zakariya Mildanoglu.

Those collaborative events were mostly organized under the auspices of Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian and facilitated by the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center of the Diocese of the Armenian Church through its directors Rev. Fr. Krikor Maksoudian, Aram Arkun, and Rachel Goshgarian. The collaborating organizations generally consisted of the Armenian Cultural Center of Forest Hills, Constantinople Armenian Relief Society (CARS), Esayan-Getronagan Alumni of New York, Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Center of New York, Hye Doun – Armenian American Support and Educational Center, Tekeyan Cultural Association of NY and NJ, and Tibrevank Alumni of New York.

The ACCFH was one of the pioneers among its sister organizations in philanthropy. The ACCFH donated $2000 to the St. Sarkis Armenian Church for its reconstruction at Douglaston after the fire in 1985; $2000 to the Earthquake Relief for Armenia through the Armenian Diocese in 1988; $2000 to the Emergency Fund – Food for Armenia through the Armenian Diocese in 1992; $500 to the Gandzasar Theological Center in Artsakh in 1995; $2000 to the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul for earthquake relief in 1999; frequently rented the Kalustyan Hall of the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs for its events to provide income to the Church; made donations to the Holy Martyrs Day School, Holy Martyrs Armenian Language School, St. Illuminator’s Armenian School, and St. Sarkis Armenian Saturday School.

The ACCFH remained dormant in recent years after contributing to the vibrant cultural and social life of the community in Queens for more than 40 years. The main reasons for this decline were the migration and the loss of its members and friends.

In compliance with the by-laws of the ACCFH, the Board of Trustees was formed to dissolve the organization in May 2018. The members of the ACCFH Board of Trustees included Dn. Frank Kabarajian (chairman), Arto Khrimian, Toros Celiksu, Hilda Biosyan-Sheshetian, and Zabel Khrimian; in addition, Silva Celiksu Terjanian, Walter P. Bebirian, and Medeia Mark (representing Sirpuhi Mark) as advisors.

The Trustees adhered to the guidelines stipulated in its by-laws for the dissolution of the ACCFH. After careful and exhaustive consideration of appropriate distribution options of its total funds, the Trustees recommended and the members approved the following decision:

The Trustees and members decided to make individual donations to the ACCFH to increase the total of the funds to above $10,000, so that it would be transferred as a lump-sum to the Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School for the establishment of an ACCFH Endowment Fund.

The rationale for the choice of the school was that the children or grandchildren of some of the ACCFH members had been the students of the Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School throughout the existence of the organization, it would be appropriate to choose the said school to donate the total funds.

In the judgment of the ACCFH Trustees and the participating members, this is an important event for our community as well as for the HMADS family to feel proud. First, our community through the ACCFH is invigorating our new generation to uphold our language and culture. Second, the HMADS has been chosen as an exemplary Armenian School deserving the honor of receiving this symbolic inheritance of our cultural heritage to impart to its students….

The Trustees of the ACCFH and the Board of the HMADS reached an agreement reflecting their shared purpose, and the first paragraph of their joint statement reads: The Armenian Cultural Center of Forest Hills (ACCFH) and the Holy Martyrs Armenian Day School (HMADS) jointly confirm that, as its final dissolution according to its by-laws, the ACCFH will transfer its total funds of about $10,000 to the HMADS for the purpose of establishing the ACCFH Endowment Fund, the interests or dividends of which to be distributed annually to a deserving 5th-Grade student — in addition, to one 4th-grade and one 3rd–grade students at the discretion of the Principal and the Board if the generated income is sufficient—as the Armenian Cultural Center of Forest Hills — Excellence in Armenian Award.”

The signatories of the agreement comprise Frank Kabarajian and Arto Khrimian from ACCFH; Bruce Ashbahian, Hovannes Malikyan, and Seta Tavitian-Megherian from HMADS. Arek Nisanyan, a member of the HMADS Board, acted as a liaison throughout the process. The transaction was finalized when Frank Kabarajian and Arto Khrimian signed the agreement and presented the ACCFH check to Seta Tavitian-Megherian (school principal) and Mina Hovsepian (treasurer) of the HMADS — thus the ACCFH dissolved — on  September 28, 2018.

From left, Dn. Frank Kabarajian, Principal Seta Tavitian-Megherian and Arto Khrimian

This endowment fund will perpetually honor the memory and the principles of the Armenian Cultural Center of Forest Hills’s founders and members, while inspiring our new generation of students to uphold our culture and language through the only and the exemplary Armenian elementary school in New York.

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