By Christopher Atamian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
NEW YORK — How did Armenians survive as a culture over the centuries despite almost constant warfare and persecution? One answer lies in being able to organize and show solidarity through various charities and organizations created to help further Armenian culture and raise funds for everything from Armenian schools, to building religious structures and helping Armenia financially in times of urgent need. One of the oldest such organizations still in existence, the Knights of Vartan was founded in 1916 after the Armenian Genocide in order to help revive and further Armenian culture in the diaspora. The organization and its various lodges around the country have been instrumental in countless educational, civic and religious projects in the past, including the construction of St. Vartan’s Cathedral in New York City, the home of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
To some, the concept of lodges and all-male organizations may perhaps seem old-fashioned but the organization is in fact thriving with more than a thousand members across the United States. In conjunction with its sister organization, the Daughters of Vartan, the Knights of Vartan are as active as ever. The New York Mamigonian chapter, led by Commander Tigran Sahakyan, currently has over 50 members and is a vibrant example of how Armenian institutions can thrive when run honestly and with passion. Among other projects, he has most notably co-chairs the Times Square Armenian Genocide Commemoration Committee which has become an important annual tradition in the Armenian community. Outside of the organization’s purview, he has also established the Brooklyn Armenian Sunday School, the St. Gregory Parish Mission of Brooklyn and its Sunday School, as well as the Armenians basketball team and the Aronian Chess Team. I spoke to Tigran recently in order to learn more about his background and the activities of his Knights of Vartan chapter.
Sahakyan arrived in New York from Armenia in 2000 and demonstrating the work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit that Armenians are known for, quickly established himself as an expert in the title insurance and closing business. He most recently founded Big Apple Title (real estate) Agency, which thanks to his expertise has quickly established itself as a leader in the field in the tri-State area. Sahakyan joined the Knights of Vartan in 2008 after helping out for a few years at the annual Times Square Genocide Commemoration: “I realized then there are many Armenians that do good for the Armenian Cause specifically and Armenian causes in general without necessarily asking for any special recognition. This appealed to me greatly.” Under his leadership, the Knights of Vartan has been able to appeal to a new, younger generation of Armenians by emphasizing the organization’s uniqueness: “It’s all about service to the community and the Church. As a member you learn real leadership skills. You develop a strong sense of belonging and integrity.”
Sahakyan encourages all young Armenians to join the Knights. “This is a difficult period now with COVID-19 and self-isolation, but all young Armenians should consider participating when things return to normal,” says Sahakyan: To join prospective members need to be nominated by two sponsors: “If someone participates in one of our projects , they will make those contacts.” Sahakyan adds “so it may seem secretive from the outside but it ‘s really open to anyone who is interested and wants to make the effort to become a member.”