Dr. Lilit Garibyan (photo: David Medzorian)

Arpie Otyag Celebrates Anniversary with Lecturer Dr. Lilit Garibyan and Ghapama

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By Lucy Joulfayan-Yeghyayan

WATERTOWN — The Knights of Vartan Ararat Otyag Number 1 of Boston and the Daughters of Vartan (DOV) Arpie Otyag Number 9 of Boston held their monthly meeting on November 12. A few highlights marked the pre-meeting traditional dinner which was held at Charles Mosesian Cultural and Youth Center – Keljik Hall of St. James Armenian Apostolic Church.

Dr. Knarik Arkun, Dirouhi of Arpie Otyag Number 9, welcomed the audience and presented the program after the official opening by the Ararat Otyag Number 1 Sbarabed Argishti Chaparian,  and a prayer by Fr. Stephan Baljian.

From left, Cathy Minassian, Lucy Joulfayan-Yeghyayan, Armine Manoukian, Anahid Mardiros, Knarik Arkun, Liana Zakaryan, Sona Antonyan, Jean Martinian, Arminé Manukyan, Nora Aroyan, Carine Avakian, Helen Kalantari, Vera Peterson, Anahit Kibarian, Vartus Varadian and Sossy Yogurtian (photo: David Medzorian)

Arpie Otyag members prepared and served the Thanksgiving dinner from scratch. However, one addition to the traditional Thanksgiving menu was meant to introduce a complementary Armenian element to the traditional American meal. “Ghapama,” or stuffed pumpkin, is one of our oldest traditional, national dishes and a pride of the Armenian cuisine. Historically, it has been celebrated as a centerpiece during the Armenian New Year, weddings and other holiday occasions. Our folk culture has included it in its popular art forms. We have songs and dances about ghapama, and it is present in drawings and literature.

For centuries, every part of our ethnic cuisine in the ancestral homeland and beyond has maintained ghapama as one of its delicacies. The fame of this dish traveled with the diaspora communities to their new villages, towns and cities. Many believed that ghapama is the trademark of their village or town because they had discovered new spices and vegetable types in their new hometowns which they added to the original ingredients of the dish, thus creating the several versions/recipes that we enjoy in our times. Traditionally, regardless of the recipe/filling, whether in the homeland or the diaspora, our ancestors baked ghapama in the Armenian “tonir” or oven. For its recipe, click here.

Including ghapama on the combined Thanksgiving and the DOV anniversary dinner menu is symbolic. It was meant to help revive interest in our ethnic, cultural cuisine and traditions. Understanding the challenges in preserving the Armenian cultural heritage and eventually, ensuring its continuation in the diaspora, the DOV Arpie Otyag Number 9 will likely include more activities that would help revive and preserve several of the forgotten, and endangered elements in the Armenian cultural heritage, in the future. Preserving our identity in our constantly developing lifestyles is an ever-growing challenge. Our ethnic or ethnographic elements need more attention in order to survive the threats of extinction.

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Guest speaker Dr. Lilit Garibyan’s presentation was the highlight of the evening. Arkun declared that Garibyan is a good role model for Armenians. She is a successful professional who simultaneously manages to perpetuate her Armenian heritage through her young family. She also gives back to her community and to Armenia.

Garibyan is a board-certified dermatologist and a fellow in American Academy of Dermatology with her PhD and MD from Harvard University. She is currently an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Garibyan is also a physician-scientist at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at MGH working in Dr. Rox Anderson’s laboratory.

Her research focuses on innovative biomedical translational discoveries aimed at identifying novel treatments for dermatologic diseases and beyond. At MGH, she is leading efforts to establish a problem-based innovation model led by clinicians interested in solving clinical problems through the MAGIC WAND Initiative. She is the co-founder of the Magic Wand Initiative at MGH, and the co-chair of the Virtual Magic Wand program. She is also the chair of Education Committee and Director of Innovation and External Affair at AID (Advancing Innovation in Dermatology), which is a nonprofit organization focused on creating and promoting innovation in dermatology. Her discoveries and inventions have led to several MGH patent applications, new funding from Department of Defense and a new startup company. She has also been actively involved in teaching and mentoring Harvard medical students, residents and fellows.

Garibyan immigrated to the United States from Yerevan when she was 12 years old. It was always her dream to one day go back and give back to her homeland by helping the people of Armenia. In 2013, she took on the responsibility of leading the way to create a medical laser clinic in Yerevan for adult and pediatric patients. Disfiguring vascular anomalies and scars are public health issues in Armenia, and patients have no access to effective medical laser therapy. The mission of her work was to establish sustainable, medical laser clinics in Armenia for effective treatment of scars and vascular anomalies. Her team also wanted to train and educate Armenian physicians to become proficient in medical and laser management of these conditions, to allow this mission to be sustainable.

Since inception, her team has taken three laser devices to Yerevan which are not housed in local hospitals where patients are receiving treatments. Hundreds of patients in Armenia have benefited from the laser treatments they have received for their life altering skin diseases. Garibyan is currently in the process of creating a nonprofit organization to allow her to raise money from donors for this project.

One of the notable guests was the distinguished former Dirouhi Jean Martinian who was invited to cut the anniversary cake, followed by a group photo which concluded  the happy occasions’ commemoration. Joining the dinner were new Asbeds and Sbarabeds from Arakadz Otyag 35 of North Andover, MA and Arax Otyag 11 from Rhode Island.

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