Towards the Future: AGBU’s General Assembly sums up past and maps future activities for Homeland and Diaspora

This week the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) has been holding its 87th General Assembly in Yerevan, with some 300 delegates attending the events held under the motto “Towards the Future”.

The AGBU General Assembly has discussed the Union’s activities worldwide in the past two years as well as its contribution to the progress of Armenia and issues related to helping Armenians in Syria as a more immediate concern given the worsening situation in this Middle Eastern country with a traditional ethnic Armenian community.

The delegates of the Assembly also summed up the programs that have been realized in Armenia and achievements made during these years as well as drafted future programs to promote the development of Armenia and its Diaspora.

AGBU President Berge Setrakian said it wasn’t “by accident” that the General Assembly was convening in Armenia, the Homeland that, he said, makes meaningful the existence of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora and keeps it together. While the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, said Setrakian, is the “Spirit’s Birthplace” for the entire nation.

“The challenges – and opportunities – facing our people are many. Delegates will become more closely acquainted with our programs and the shared responsibility our worldwide membership carries in sustaining our vital mission in support of Armenia and Karabakh,” said Setrakian ahead of the meeting.

At the beginning of the week AGBU members visited Nagorno-Karabakh where they also met with NKR President Bako Sahakyan. AGBU is launching a new educational center in Karabakh capital Stepanakert that will also include a special courses department of the American University of Armenia and a Tumo center for creative technologies.

Albert and Frida Sargsian, from Lebanon, say they returned from their trip to Karabakh with “unforgettable impressions”.

“After each trip we feel a great change. Walking in Stepanakert is now no different from walking along Champs-Élysées,” says Frida Sargsian.

One of the key events of the General Assembly was the visit of members to the construction site for a new AGBU building just off central Republic Square in Yerevan. At the site the AGBU delegates were joined by the Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, and Mayor of Yerevan Taron Margaryan.

The new building is being erected in the place of an historic 1906 building that was considered as one of the best architectural designs of Yerevan of that time. Once that building that was demolished in 2000 housed the City Duma. In the Soviet times it, too, served as an administrative building for municipal authorities.

The new AGBU office will occupy an area of 1,300 square meters and will be a five-storey modern edifice with all amenities. Despite its modern looks, it will preserve elements befitting an old downtown environment.

“The building which is to rise in the central part of Yerevan is a symbol and expression of our full devotion to our homeland,” said AGBU Central Board member Vasken Yacoubian. “The building will symbolize a center for strengthening Armenia-Diaspora relations.”

AGBU President Setrakian thinks that with this building all Diaspora Armenians arriving in Armenia will have their home here.

Writer and editor-in-chief of the AGBU Khosnag official newspaper in Lebanon Hambik Martirosian says that changes in Armenia become more and more evident to him every time he visits his homeland.

“And the new AGBU building is right in the heart of Yerevan, which means that AGBU will make the best of its activities for the benefit of the people of Armenia,” he says.

AGBU has extended its gratitude to AGBU Council of Trustees member Nazar Nazarian and his wife Artemis Nazarian, with whose donation the building is being constructed.

The week’s Yerevan events for AGBU members continued at the Armenian Virtual College (AVC), which is celebrating its third anniversary.

The AVC is the first Armenian higher school that enables students living in different parts of the world to learn the Armenian language, history and culture online. Students from more than six dozen countries of the world currently study at AVC.

AGBU Armenian Virtual College President Yervant Zorian says that 95 percent of young Diaspora Armenians today have no opportunity to attend Armenian schools and the virtual college is a good opportunity for them to get an Armenian education.

Ruben Keshishian, the chairman of the AGBU Buenos Aires branch, which has a history of 100 years, says that it was thanks to this virtual school that he has been able to offset the lack of Armenian teachers in the community.

“We link our young people to Armenian education in more modern forms, which is one of the most important goals,” he says.

AGBU’s 87th General Assembly was scheduled to be held at the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Matenadaran at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin on October 20, but before the meeting Union members attended the official ceremony for the opening of the new building of the Matenadaran (a manuscripts depository).

About 80,000 pieces of literature on Armenian studies and theology until now kept at the Kevorkian Theological Seminary or the Patriarchate and Treasury House libraries as well as 3,000 manuscripts from now on will be kept at the newly opened Matenadaran. London-based Armenian benefactor Vatche Manoukian does not disclose how much money has been donated for the construction of the building, instead he attaches importance to the responsibility that each should have towards his or her Homeland.

Since Armenia became independent, AGBU and its benefactors have made donations and annual targeted allocations to support the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia’s education, health and cultural institutions, organizations and establishments.

“We have carried out our large-scale humanitarian, health, church-building, educational, cultural and youth projects in the Homeland,” says Keshishian. “We will try to contribute to the development of tourism in Armenia. We want our branches in the Diaspora to become some sort of representation of Armenia’s tourism and be able to bring foreigners to Armenia. Tourism is a smokeless factory and it needs to be developed.”

As a result of AGBU’s work, around 2,000 jobs have been created in Armenia. During its more than 100 years of activity, AGBU has provided more than $1 billion for the needs of the Armenian people. Of that amount, about $130 million has been provided for programs in Armenia.

As part of the events AGBU delegates attended the ceremony of opening a library at the American University of Armenia, the Dorians band’s open-air concert that was open to the public and was held near the state-of-the-art TUMO Center and the opening of an alley of benefactors in Yerevan’s Ring-Shaped Park.

On Friday, AGBU delegates were scheduled to visit the National Assembly and in the evening attend a Gala Concert at the Karen Demirchyan Sport and Concert Complex in Yerevan.

This is the third time AGBU has held its General Assembly in Armenia. The 79th (1994) and 83rd (2004) General Assemblies took place in Armenia, as did the jubilee events in 2007 celebrating the organization’s 100th anniversary.

Established in 1906, AGBU ( is the world’s largest non-profit Armenian organization with headquarters in New York City. AGBU affiliates operate in about 80 cities in 22 countries, with an annual international budget of $36 million.