From left, Cindy Fitzgibbon, emcee, WCVB TV chief meteorologist; James Kalustian, president, Armenian Heritage Foundation; Stephen Kurkjian and Brian McGrory, editor, The Boston Globe (photo Leo Gozbekian)

Armenian Heritage Park 10th Anniversary Gala Honors Stephen Kurkjian, Celebrates Immigrant Contributions, Funds Park Maintenance

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BOSTON — One of the fanciest hotel banquet halls in Boston was filled to the brim with some 460 guests on September 21 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Armenian Heritage Park. The goal of the gala benefit at the InterContinental Hotel, titled “Celebrating Contributions of our Nation’s Immigrants,” was to further endow a legacy fund to care for and maintain the park – and it not only met but exceeded its targeted goal of $1 million. The evening honored three-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning Boston Globe journalist Stephen Kurkjian and recognized various organizations which serve immigrants and refugees in the Boston area.

Cindy Fitzgibbon, the chief meteorologist at WCVB-TV (Channel 5 Boston), served as the master of ceremonies, and in her opening remarks revealed that while she did not have an Armenian last name, she was half-Armenian on her mother’s side. She spoke of the immigrant stories which are retold in the park each spring in the abstract sculpture’s annual reconfiguration to create a new sculptural shape, while the labyrinth in the park is symbolic of life’s journey, with the message of hope and rebirth in the form of the single jet of water in the center.

Bruce Bagdasarian, partner, Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green and vice president, Armenian Heritage Foundation recognizing the organizations serving immigrants and refugees (photo Leo Gozbekian)

Bruce Bagdasarian, vice president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation, which is the sponsor of the park, and also a partner at Sheehan, Phinney, Bass and Green, explained that the park has many purposes, including to remember the Armenian Genocide and those who came before us, and to recognize Armenians as a “tribe” in Massachusetts. As part of the park’s broader connection to the immigrant experience, Bagdasarian then introduced five organizations doing exemplary work in this field, including the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, the International Institute of New England, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, RefugePoint and the Rian Immigration Center, and pointed out their leaders who were present. Each organization, he said, would receive a gift in support of their work. More information about their missions was presented in the program booklet for the evening, which also provided basic information about the park and its programs, Kurkjian, and a list of benefactors of the park.

James Kalustian, president of the Armenian Heritage Foundation, spoke next, and prefaced his remarks with a call for a quick, peaceful, and just resolution to the conflict that Azerbaijan had again revived through unprovoked attacks on Armenian soil. He asked that those present contact their government representatives to let them know of their concerns.

Kalustian thanked the gala committee chaired by Barbara Tellalian and the Friends of Armenian Heritage Park, the executive committee of the Armenian Heritage Foundation and various other contributors to the work of the park, as well as benefactors such as Peter Palandjian. Reflecting on the past 18 years of the park and prior preparations, Kalustian expressed pride in the generosity of the Armenian community and what it collectively achieved: “We did first of all what we said we would do. We gifted and endowed a beautiful and engaging park to the city and the commonwealth.”

Not stopping there, he continued: “We have done so much more than that. We have established a respectful but uplifting remembrance of the attempted genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, and all the horrific genocides that followed, and it is the first of its kind built on US federal government land…Armenian Heritage Park has become a gathering community for our community in greater Boston, Massachusetts and New England, but it has also become a beacon and example for other Armenian communities around the world.” It has become a focal point for celebration for many other communities, and a site of celebration for new citizens, he added.

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He then segued into the inspirational role Stephen Kurkjian, the main honoree of the evening, has played for countless Armenians and non-Armenians, and called on a special guest to give a toast in Kurkjian’s honor. Noubar Afeyan, entrepreneur and philanthropist, came up and spoke about Kurkjian’s reputation as a fierce  investigative reporter and his service as a goodwill ambassador for the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative for many years. He characterized Kurkjian as a true example of the “salt of the earth” and then toasted Kurkjian, and his parents too, in the Armenian way.

Noubar Afeyan, founder & CEO, Flagship Pioneering and 2019 Heritage Park honoree, offering the toast to Stephen Kurkjian, 2022 honoree, at Celebrating Contributions of our Nation’s Immigrants (photo Leo Gozbekian)

Boston Globe Editor McGrory

Pulitzer Prize winner Brian McGrory, editor of the Boston Globe since December 2012 and author of three bestselling thrillers and a memoir, prior to introducing Kurkjian, expressed gratitude for the Armenian Heritage Park as a place of beauty, reflection and joy. He said to the Armenian community: “I also want to express my appreciation for your guidance, for many of your advocates, over the ten years that I have been in the role that I hold now. We live in an odd moment of searing political divisions, in which the goal always seems to be to take someone else down and not to build up a cause. People too often feel better by making somebody else or some other group feel worse. But not you, not with your legacy, not with your history, not with the vital contributions of the Armenian-American people that you made, and the struggles that your forebearers have faced, particularly with the Armenian Genocide. I have heard from many of you in the most productive ways possible and it is deeply appreciated. Your cause in many ways has been a Globe cause and that is deeply appreciated.”

Avak Kahvejian, general partner, Flagship Pioneering; Board chair, International Institute of New England (photo Leo Gozbekian)

In a witty manner at times peppered with humor, he went on to speak about Kurkjian, asserting, “It is not hyperbolic to say that you chose the most beloved and respected journalist to come from the Globe newsroom in the last half-century.” He said that Kurkjian had become a mentor and friend to hundreds or even thousands of people.

As an investigative journalist, Kurkjian got public officials indicted, convicted and imprisoned, chased down stolen masterpieces in the world of art, and cajoled a confession from a pedophilic priest. All this, he said, “suggests that he is a tough as nails journalist who walks a very rigid line through what is right and what is wrong. And all of that is true. But there is a lot more to Steve than that, as all of us who worked with him at the Globe well know. He is the quickest guy in the newsroom with that cackle of a laugh, even if he is rarely as funny as he thinks he is.”

Kurkjian exulted in taking down powerful people who did wrong things, but McGrory said, “He wasn’t driven just by the story. He was driven by a sense of fairness and justice, the likes of which I have never seen in our business before. Steve exudes fairness and exudes justice, to the point that even the people who he has written about and held to account, tend to like him in a really strange way.”

His great talent combined with fervor served the Armenian community well along with the rest of American society. McGrory said: “This sophisticated sense of fairness and justice is never more important than in Steve’s passionate and clear-eyed advocacy for Armenians. He is a deeply respected voice in the ears of so many Globe reporters and editors. He wants everyone to see history for exactly what it is and to acknowledge that a genocide is genocide. He wants to make sure that a great country, and her people who came to the United States, get proper credit for the massive contributions that you have made to Boston and beyond.”

McGrory concluded his introduction with even more words of praise, underscoring that “You have chosen a really, really great honoree.”

Kurkjian at the Podium

Kurkjian took the podium and in turn extolled McGrory’s crucial role in holding up the Globe’s standard of excellence. He gratefully recognized other Globe reporters in the audience, including the founder of the Globe Spotlight Team, Tim Leland. Janet O’Neill, the wife of Kurkjian’s late great friend the reporter and editor Gerry O’Neill, and editors Walter Robinson, Patty Wen, Ben Bradlee Jr. and Mark Morrow were mentioned, along with Tom Farragher, who was not present that night.

Stephen Kurkjian, 2022 honoree during the toast (photo Leo Gozbekian)

Kurkjian recalled that he always told journalism classes over the years, there might be the Second Amendment to the US Constitution saying that you can rule by the barrel of a gun, but the First Amendment which comes before that says that despite the Second Amendment, you can rule by the institutions of democracy. “Having that Constitutional power behind us,” Kurkjian exclaimed, “energizes you, makes you feel that you are really working for the people – and from the first day that I came into the Globe, I felt that.”

His Armenian background did not go unrecognized at his job. When he answered the phone at the Globe in the multiethnic and tribal Boston of the 1960s and stated his name, he reminisced that after callers understood he was an Armenian, this invariably led them to recall various good deeds done by Armenians. “Hearing those voices over the phone,” Kurkjian said, “telling me about what their experiences had been with Armenians, gave me the sense that we are doing okay, we are making our way in this world.”

From left, Marion Semonian, Bill Eppich, Wendy Semonian Eppich, Leon Semonian, Noël Atamian (photo Leo Gozbekian)

As part of an Armenian family, Kurkjian also inherited a connection with the park. His four Kasparian uncles, all genocide survivors, operated the most popular grocery store at Codman Square in Dorchester, he related. Some Saturdays he would accompany them on their early morning drives to the Fanueil Hall meat markets and Haymarket, where they would get fresh fruits and vegetables. Here he said he saw how one of his uncles who did not speak much English still was able to make himself understood, and in turn was honored and respected. The lesson remained with him, he said, that, “you may not have money, you may not have the largest number of people, but you still can make your way in this world.” For this reason, Kurkjian realized, it felt right for him when he was asked to be the headliner for the park event this year.

The Kasparians circa 1945, on the front steps of a home in Codman Square, Dorchester, welcoming youngest brother Dr Karl Kasparian, home from the war (soon to begin his career as surgeon at Mt Auburn Hospital). Stephen Kurkjian is in short pants in front row (photo courtesy Stephen Kurkjian)

His father and his contemporaries came to the US escaping the Armenian Genocide, and benefited from all that this country offered to blossom and flourish due to the protection and the economic opportunity that American provided. “It was an immense, immense gift that we got from this country, which I will never, ever forget,” he said. The  children of that first generation, like Kurkjian’s late cousin Chuck Bilizekian and his wife Doreen, were able to contribute materially to what Kurkjian likes to calls “our Champs d’Elysee,” the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The park in this sense is an expression of gratitude from the Armenians.

From left, Christine Garabedian, James Batmasian, Marta Batmasian (photo Leo Gozbekian)

This is an extraordinary story, he pointed out, which is happening again with new groups of immigrants.

Kurkjian thanked the Boston Globe and Comcast for making possible a video which was screened earlier during the evening about the park. He said: “It is presenting what I hope to be the ultimate goal for us: having Boston, at the center of the town, embrace us and our purposes – not just to remember the genocide of the Armenians, which cost us so dearly, but also the second purpose, which is … to find a place in the center of town where all immigrant groups can be welcome.”

He thanked the audience for coming to the benefit, and concluded, “The cycle of life is happening here in Boston, and the park is embracing it. …You are making sure that the Armenian experience will never be forgotten in this city.”

Armenian Heritage Park on the Greenway, Boston (photo Peter Vanderwarker)

Fitzgibbon then closed the formal portion of the evening, cheerily calling out, “Someday soon, let’s meet at the park!”

The event was a success in many ways. Aside from the enthusiastic cheering for those honored, Kalustian announced that with the recent fundraising, the Heritage Park Foundation had raised a total of approximately $3 million for the park’s legacy fund, to date. For more information, or to donate, visit armenianheritagepark.org.

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