From left, Cynthia Kazanjian, Anna Hakobyan, Ester Demirtshyan and Armineh Hovhannissian

City of Smile Banquet Is Great Success with Headliner Anna Hakobyan

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WALTHAM, Mass. – The greater Boston area Armenian community came together as one in support of the worthy cause of combatting childhood cancer in Armenia. Close to thirty organizations and churches came together along with many donors to make the April 5 banquet at the Westin Hotel in Waltham a successful effort at raising awareness of the problems of childhood cancer patients in Armenia and fundraising for the City of Smile Charitable Foundation. The fact that Anna Hakobyan, honorary chair of the City of Smile Foundation and wife of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, headlined the program in her first visit to Boston added a definite frisson of excitement to the atmosphere that Friday night.

With at least 456 registered guests, the Westin’s banquet hall was packed as Sheriff of Middlesex County Peter Koutoujian skillfully leavened the by nature often melancholy topics discussed with his customary humor as master of ceremonies. He informed the guests that cancer, the second leading cause of death in the entire world, does not discriminate by race, geography, or any other boundaries and has affected all of our lives directly or indirectly. Koutoujian pronounced that the night is about children, and the stark and upsetting challenges that they face in Armenia. He called upon all present to work together as Armenians to help beat cancer in Armenia.

Knarik Nerkararyan sang the Armenian and American national anthems and Fr. Vasken Kouzouian of Holy Trinity Armenian Church of Greater Boston gave the invocation. Ani Arakelians Avakian spoke eloquent words of welcome in Armenian.

The artistic element of the evening was provided by the Erebuni Dance School and Ensemble, whose members danced in colorful Armenian costumes under the supervision of their artistic director Arman Mnatsakanyan. They also performed to a song written specifically for the City of Smile Foundation at the start of the evening while Anna Hakboyan entered the hall. Levon Hovsepian performed the moving Elegy by Arno Babajanian and later accompanied Nerkararyan when she sang Georgi Minasyan’s Siro Hasak.

From left, Anna Hakobyan, Arakel Yacubian, Hovhannes Ghazaryan, Dr. Gevorg Tamamyan and Peter Koutoujian

Koutoujian introduced the cochairs of the City of Smile Boston Friends Committee Cynthia Kazanjian and Armine Hovhannissian as two ordinary women, not powerbrokers or celebrities, who nonetheless through their extraordinary strength and willpower managed to bring together our whole community in the struggle against cancer in Armenia and convinced Anna Hakobyan to visit Boston.

Event Cochair Cynthia Kazanjian

Kazanjian explained how she got involved in this issue when a 2016 visit to the Muratsan Clinic revealed children so sick they could not raise their heads off their beds. Kazanjian’s 10-year-old grandson Vaughn Krikorian was with her and afterwards out of shock he asked what they could do about this. This moved Kazanjian to act, starting with the Dana-Farber Jimmy Walk for two years. She personally went again to help the Muratsan Clinic as a volunteer in 2017 and found that the needs were indeed enormous.

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By coincidence, Fr. Mampre Kouzouian was visiting Armenia at that time and Kazanjian invited him to visit the clinic. A year later, on Fr. Mampre’s 60th anniversary of ordination in 2018, he offered to share half of the gifts with the clinic. It turned out to be $93,000 and Echmiadzin added some money to make it an even $100,000. Another major donor turned out to be Armenia Fund USA, which donated $65,000 in the fall of 2018. Its chairman Leon S. Ariyan was present in the audience at the banquet.

Anna Hakobyan at the banquet

Kazanjian stated that her hope was that Armenia could emulate the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital model so that children could be treated whether or not their families can afford it.

Vaughn and his younger brother, Cole, who also visited the clinic later, were present at the banquet. Cole spoke briefly to the audience and captivatingly asked it to support the City of Smile.

Event cochair Armine Hovhannissian

Armine Hovhannissian of New Paths, partners with Kazanjian in supporting City of Smile, reflected on her search for meaning and purpose in life. In addition to career and family, she found that extending her comfort zone to help others helps put into context personal petty problems. Touched by Cynthia’s story and more so by a visit to the clinic in 2017, she and others from New Path helped make the banquet and fundraising campaign for Muratsan a success. She concluded praising the community’s love and unity, coming together for a common purpose to give life to innocent children in Armenia.

Dr. Gevorg Tamamyan

Dr. Gevorg Tamamyan, hematologist and pediatric oncologist at the Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Armenia (created by a merger of two institutions this February) and Associate Professor at the Department of Oncology at Yerevan State Medical University, next gave a presentation about the work at Muratsan and the City of Smile Foundation, illustrated with projected images. Instead of relating a sad story, he spoke about success in saving a child who had a tumor in a challenging part of the brain case through a novel therapy. He pointed out that drugs are necessary to cure the children who can be saved and this requires financial support. To save more lives, or more smiles, as in the City of Smile, is saving a world.

Members of the Erebuni Dance Ensemble with the wife of the prime minister

Fr. Vasken Kouzouian presented a video from his father, Fr. Mampre, who was in Florida and unable to be present in person. Fr. Mampre, he said, was changed by his visit to Muratsan Clinic in Yerevan, meeting the selfless doctors and nurses there led by Dr. Tamamyan. Afterwards, he worked to collect funds to put the hospital on a more solid footing.

Fr. Mampre in his video message said that he met the patients and their mothers and fathers at the Muratsan Clinic, and prayed for them all. After leaving the clinic, he said he wept like a little boy. Fr. Mampre called on the audience to reach out to achieve the goal of Anna Hakobyan’s visit, to help the innocent and beautiful young children of Armenia suffering from cancer.

Ester Demirtshyan, executive director of the City of Smile Foundation, then thanked all those present and all donors to the foundation. She recognized the importance of Fr. Mampre’s contribution and gave him (via Fr. Vasken) as a present a drawing from the talented Arkady, an 11-year-old beneficiary of the foundation. Diagnosed last December, he passed bravely through difficult times and is doing better, though there is more to come. Demirtshyan said that it should be understood that not only Arkady but every single child who comes to the foundation is talented and important.

From left, Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan, Rep. David Muradian and Anna Hakobyan

Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan of Armenia had come from Washington with Hakobyan. He spoke about how the revolution in Armenia turned its image globally into a champion of democratic transformation and nonviolent change. Now, as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had declared in the Armenian parliament, Nersesyan proclaimed that it is time for an economic revolution. But Nersesyan quickly returned to the theme of the evening, the inspiration of children who battle cancer. He stated that they are our heroes but they also need our support and help. He called for unity in this, just as unity was necessary in the revolution in Armenia.

Then Anna Hakobyan came to the podium to great applause and spoke concisely in English. She remarked that she came from afar to Boston to ask for support for helping children with cancer in Armenia. She thanked the co-chairs for organizing the event, as well as all the supporters of City of Smile.

Hakobyan pointed out that though in less developed countries cancer is a death sentence, it is no longer an incurable disease for the majority of children. Finances are the main obstacle. She assured that every cent donated for this cause will go to serve it. She declared, “I dream to establish … a hospital in Armenia equipped with all necessary drugs and techniques so no parent takes their child to Europe, Russia, or the United States. … My dream is that our children stay at home in Armenia and receive treatment in close proximity of their houses, either in Yerevan or in the marz’s [provinces]… My dream is also to create such a hospital for our adults.”

Peter Koutoujian speaks

Arpi Krikorian came from California to present her specially-prepared work of art, full of symbolism and depicting Hakobyan as a “peaceful warrior.” Krikorian emotionally exclaimed: “I feel Mrs. Hakobyan is the voice of the voiceless.”

Anna Hakobyan, third from left, with Ester Demirtshyan, Executive Director of City of Smile Foundation, accepts a gift from Michael Aram, right at the gala banquet

Michael Aram, the award-winning Armenian-American artist and metalware designer, presented Hakobyan as representative of the City of Smile Foundation with a special silver tray from his Butterfly Collection depicting the City of Smile logo.

The motto of the evening was “change someone’s life,” and the banquet certainly was a successful means towards doing this. Nearly $150,000 was raised (the exact amount is still being calculated), including a special gift of $35,000 from the Armenia Fund USA, again by means of Leon Ariyan. When added to Armenia Fund’s prior 2018 donations, it has given a total of $100,000 to fight cancer in Armenia.

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