From left, Edmond Azadian, Senator Robert Menendez, Hilda Hartounian, Saro Hartounian

Senator Menendez Lambastes Erdogan and Azerbaijan at Tekeyan NJ 75th Anniversary Gala


PARAMUS, N. J. — The 75th anniversary of the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) was celebrated with an elegant gala organized by the New York Chapter on October 15 at the Terrace at Biagio’s. A highlight of the evening was the opportunity to honor Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for all he has accomplished on behalf of Armenians and human rights in general.

Nearly 200 guests, including a significant number of youth, came not only from New Jersey but from as far afield as California and Canada, in support of the TCA mission. A gala committee headed by Hilda Hartounian, chair of the TCA Greater New York Chapter as well as member of the Central Board of the TCA of the United States and Canada, put together the program, which included in addition to talks and a silent auction, entertainment by Tigran Asatryan and Ensemble, an eight-man Armenian band from Los Angeles, and by DJ Barko (Barkev Sanossian).

Senator Bob Menendez, at right, and Edmond Azadian


The evening began with the playing of the American and Armenian national anthems and an invocation from Very Rev. Simeon Odabashian, vicar of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

Diran Jebejian kept the program moving smoothly and effectively as the master of ceremonies. A past member of the TCA Greater New York executive committee and performer in the TCA Mher Megerdchian Theatrical Group, he is co-host for the Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey and member of St. Nersess Seminary’s board of directors. Chief of Emergency Medical Services for the Borough of Fort Lee, NJ, Jebejian also owns an event photography business.

He called Hartounian to the podium after pointing out that she and her family have been involved in TCA for decades. Jebejian said that she is a firm supporter of other Armenian organizations as well, because she believes in one culture, one identity and one nationality, all working for the same cause.

Senator Bob Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez

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Hartounian welcomed guests and thanked her organizing committee before speaking about the legacy of the poet, teacher and community leader Vahan Tekeyan that the TCA perpetuates. She enumerated some of the achievements of TCA over the last 75 years in promoting and supporting Armenian culture in its manifold spheres and looked forward to the continuation of its work for future generations.

A brief video clip of Menendez was screened showing the dramatic conclusion in December 2019 of his struggle over many years to get the US Congress to pass a bill to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The audience burst into applause several times during this moving clip.

New Jersey entrepreneur and philanthropist Saro Hartounian, then took the podium to provide a biographical introduction to Menendez. He and his brother, Nareg, co-founded in 2003 the Naregatsi Art Institute, which works to preserve Armenian art and values. He first attested to his own admiration of the TCA throughout his life, with its mission of promotion and revival of Armenian culture. This culture binds us, shields us, protects us and helps us survive as an ethnic minority, he said, especially in the case of adversity.

The love of ethnic culture and the protection of the rights of minorities are two values that are also very dear to Menendez, he continued. He said that he was fortunate to be able to get to know the senator personally and called him “mer pesan” (our son-in-law) to great applause, referring to the fact that Menendez’s wife, Nadine, present in the audience, is an Armenian American.

He extolled Menendez as “infused with this undying passion for the protection and defense of democracy and human rights,” declaring “Bob Menendez never took the path of least resistance. He always swam against it — he defied gravity.”

After sketching his career of public service and legislation, Saro Hartounian declared, “This year is the 30th anniversary of his being in the US Congress,” and “his actions and the laws he enacted brought economic and social justice and opportunity to the disadvantaged.” He also returned to the topic of Menendez’s commitment to justice for the Armenian Genocide, exclaiming: “He righted a wrong, he righted a thousand wrongs.”

TCA Appreciation and Recognition Award

TCA Central Board President Edmond Azadian stated that viewing the video of the senator’s speech on the Armenian Genocide bill brought tears to everyone’s eyes. He presented to Menendez the TCA Appreciation and Recognition Award, a sculpture of the Forget-Me-Not flower by Michael Aram symbolic of faith, renewal and undying love. As the name suggests, the flowers are traditional tokens of memory, and are associated in Armenian culture with the symbol of remembering those we have lost in the past. Azadian said this gift is “symbolizing the profound gratitude of all Armenians around the world who had a family member murdered during the Genocide.”

Azadian then warned that genocidal forces are still on Armenia’s borders today. He thanked Menendez for his efforts to halt the waiver of Article 907 of the Freedom Support Act, so that the US would stop sending military aid to Azerbaijan. This and his other initiatives hopefully will lead ultimately to the removal of the genocidal threat. Azadian expressed the eternal gratitude of Armenians, in the name of both the living and the dead, to Senator Menendez for all that he has done and is doing.

Seated (from left): Garbis Tabourian, Senator Bob Menendez, Nadine Menendez, Elvina Avetisyan, Edmond Azadian; standing (from left): Sabine Arslanian, Rosalyn Minassian, Hilda Hartounian, Saro Hartounian, Van Krikorian, Mihran Minassian, Robert Avetisyan

Senator Menendez’s Speech

As expected, Menendez delivered a moving speech, starting off with the words “pari yerego” (good evening) in Armenian and acknowledging the close friendship he and his wife Nadine had with Hilda and Saro Hartounian. He noted that his 92-year-old father-in-law came from Long Island for this evening’s event, along with the presence of his and Nadine’s daughter Sabine, and declared, “The award is especially gratifying because the cause of the Armenian people has been a cause that has been close to my heart for some time, and obviously it became even more passionate, when my father-in-law Garbis Tabourian and my wife talked about the many family members they had lost during the Genocide, the riveting stories as to how they perished and what happened to them.”

He recognized the efforts of the Tekeyan Cultural Association over the last three-quarters of a century to keep Armenian culture flourishing through its support of newspapers and schools and all other means, including of course efforts towards recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

He noted that “even as American leaders and allies stayed silent on this issue, I did not,” and declared that he was proud to have blocked nominees in his position at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to government positions for refusing to call the genocide what it is. He added that he continued to introduce or cosponsor resolutions in Congress for recognition ever since he came to the Congress in 1993 and continuously since he came to the Senate in 2006, stating, “we could not stand idly by as Turkey continued to cover up this crime.” He said that what was not shown in the video screened that evening was that was the sixth time that he had come to the floor to ask for unanimous consent. The reason he did it? “This is about upholding our fundamental moral values. This is about standing up for principles of justice and truth, no matter who is in office,” he exclaimed.

He said that if President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey criticized him personally as an enemy of Turkey, “Well, if standing up to human rights abuses makes me an enemy of Erdogan, if calling Turkey out for arming Azerbaijan and enabling the massacre of innocent Armenian civilians makes me an enemy of Erdogan, if demanding that the United States recognize the truth of history makes me an enemy of Erdogan, so be it! I wear it as a badge of honor.”

TCA Gala Committee and Central Board members cutting the cake

Menendez did not only speak about the past. He cited the recent Azerbaijani war uprooting 100,000 Armenians from their homes in Nagorno Karabakh and the “disgusting, cold-blooded war crime” captured on video of Azerbaijani forces killing unarmed Armenian soldiers as the reasons why he now calls upon the Biden Administration to halt any and all assistance to Azerbaijan. For the same reasons, he said he introduced a bipartisan resolution “condemning Azerbaijani forces’ illegal and unprovoked assault on Armenian territory” and wrote to the US secretary of state demanding that he revoke the waiver of Section 907 allowing Azerbaijan to continue to receive American military aid.

He said he told his staff “to push USAID for more humanitarian assistance to help the victims of Baku’s barbaric violence — both in Armenia and in Nagorno Karabakh. And it’s why I urged the Biden Administration to put sanctions on officials in the Aliyev regime and hold accountable those who have committed war crimes.”

He ended by calling on everyone “to keep fighting for human dignity, no matter where it is under attack. Let us all keep fighting to speak the truth, even if dictators prefer silence. We must hold accountable those committing genocide today, even if it takes a lifetime.” This struggle will succeed, he said, concluding: “And if we back up our values with actions, and have the courage to stand up for our principles, I believe we will triumph over tyranny.”

TCA gala committee: from left, Varty Apanosian, Lilit Kalajian, Barkev Kalayjian, Serli Tasci, Shoghig Medzadourian, Sylvia Buzantian, Tamar Degirmenci, Vartan Illanjian, Hilda Hartounian, Tsoler Panossian, Nanor Hartounian, Talia Jebejian, Serge Panossian, Katia Buchakjian

Aside from the dignitaries who participated in the program, representatives of organizations and institutions were present, including Permanent Representative of the Republic of Artsakh to the US Robert Avetisyan, Executive Director of the Armenian Assembly of America Bryan Ardouny and Assembly Co-Chair Van Z. Krikorian, Executive Director of the Armenian Missionary Association of America Zaven Khanjian, Armenian Democratic Liberal Party Eugene Papazian Montreal Chapter Chairman Ara Balian, Armenian American Health Professionals Organization President Dr. Lawrence Najarian, and Armenian General Benevolent Union Central Board member Nazareth Festekjian. TCA leaders included TCA Central Board member Mihran Minassian, California TCA Beshgeturian Committee Chair Ara Babayan, Detroit chapter Chair Diana Alexanian, Montreal chapter executive Ara Balian, TCA West Coast Executive Secretary Mayda Kuredjian and TCA Executive Director Aram Arkun based in Boston.

The gala organizing committee included Varty Apanosian, Taleen Babayan, Talia Jebejian Bouldoukian, Sylvia Buzantian, Katia Buchakjian, Tamar Degirmenci, Hilda Hartounian (chair), Nanor Hartounian, Vartan Ilanjian, Lilit Kalajian, Barkev Kalayjian, Nanor Kradjian, Shoghig Medzadourian, Serge Panossian, Tsoler Panossian, Anahis Semerdjian and Serli Tasci.

A 75th anniversary booklet designed by Vartan Ilanjian includes in addition to the program, photographs and information about TCA.

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