ANCA-WR’s ‘America We Thank You’ Inspires Armenian Students to Pay it Forward

GLENDALE—The Armenian National Committee of America Western-Region (ANCA-WR) initiative “America We Thank You” (AWTY) launched an educational tour throughout Armenian schools in California on Dec. 2, the 91st anniversary of the Near East Relief’s (NER) first “Golden Rule Sunday” dinner wherein Americans were encouraged to eat a simple meal—namely staple menus served in orphanages—and graciously donated the money they saved to the relief efforts through which over 132,000 Armenian Genocide orphans were rescued and rehabilitated.

Most recently, on Dec. 8 and Jan. 21 respectively, 4th through 6th graders at Merdinian Armenian Evangelical School and 9th through 12th graders at AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School joined the over 1,000 Armenian students who have since not only learned about the legacy of NER, the United States’ first congressionally sanctioned non-governmental organization that mobilized all facets of the American citizenry to respond to pleas for help from Armenians half a world away, but are now among the students who have also honored the tradition of the “Golden Rule Dinner” by substituting their regular lunches with an orphan meal served throughout the 1920s. Moreover, they too penned messages of thanks and gratitude to the White House in recognition of the United States’ continuous support of NER throughout its 15 year operation from 1915-1930 and thus urged President Barack Obama to stay true to his promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide.

“With every school we visit, we are inspired with the level of engagement and enthusiasm from the students as they learn about the unprecedented efforts of the Near East Relief and are assured that they will serve as ambassadors to educate Armenians and non-Armenians alike throughout their communities and beyond,” remarked AWTY co-chair Vanna Kitsinian, Esq.

Students at AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manoukian High School pledged to not only spread awareness of NER’s instrumental role in rescuing the Armenian people as it suffered the perils of Genocide, they participated in the “Golden Rule Sunday” campaign as it was fashioned from 1923-1930 and were inspired to pay it forward. They pooled together their lunch money, totaling over $400, and will be donating it to Izmirlyan Child Care Center in Yerevan, Armenia during their annual school trip to Armenia in July. “I was overcome by how enthusiastically and immediately the students offered their lunch money to be able to provide support for the care and well-being of their brothers and sisters in Armenia,” expressed AWTY committee member Missak Kelechian. “The students in turn solidified my resolve and dedication to the invaluable efforts being spearheaded by the ‘America We Thank You’ campaign,” added Kelechian. Kelechian presented the history of NER to both Merdinian and Manoukian students.

Of AWTY’s many upcoming projects and events is its collaboration with NER successor, Near East Foundation (NEF) to curate a traveling Exhibit which documents and showcases the legacy of the NER on the eve of its own Centennial. The Exhibit is comprised of high-quality scans of official correspondence, biographies of missionaries and relief workers who lived, volunteered and worked in the trenches, and archival photographs, some of which have only recently been accessed and offer new insight to the depth and breadth of NER’s impact and legacy. AWTY’s launch of the Exhibit will be held at the Los Angeles City Public Library in March 2015.

Additionally, AWTY is partnering with four-time regional Emmy Award-winner editor and producer Bared Maronian for the creation of a documentary film to serve as an educational tool given the current omission of NER’s rich history and legacy in the American educational curriculum. The film, which highlights interviews from historians, researchers, public figures and descendants of Armenian orphans rescued by NER efforts will accompany the Exhibit, which will travel for display at numerous public libraries, university and college campuses, churches and community centers throughout America. Maronian’s 2012 documentary “Orphans of the Genocide” has been broadcast on PBS stations nationwide reaching more than 12 million viewers.

In the coming weeks AWTY, in cooperation with local ANCA chapters as well as Glendale Public Library, will host community presentations and educational lectures on NER and the history of the “Orphan Rug” woven by Armenian orphans under the care of NER’s Ghazir orphange in Lebanon. The Rug was gifted to then President Calvin Coolidge in 1925 as a token of appreciation for America’s steadfast support and unprecedented humanitarian assistance. The first of these presentations will be held on January 30th at Ferrahian High School’s Avedissian Hall at 7:30pm. On Sunday February 15, residents of Orange County will have an opportunity to learn more about the legacy of NER and the AWTY campaign at 2:00pm at the Armenian Community Center at Ghazarian Hall. Finally, on February 26 at 7:30pm the public is invited to attend AWTY committee member Missak Kelechian’s illustrated lecture on the history of the “Orphan Rug” and its most recent public display in November 2014 at the White House Visitors’ Center’s exhibition “Thank you to the United States: Three Gifts to Presidents in Gratitude for American Generosity Abroad.”

Since its inception less than a year ago, AWTY has successfully facilitated both the California State Senate and State Assembly legislatures’ adoption of measures honoring the legacy of the Near East Relief. The California State Senate unanimously approved the measure. “As the largest and leading Armenian-American advocacy organization in the Western United States, the ANCA-WR could not be more proud with the successful strides of our ‘America We Thank You’ initiative to ensure that the current generation of Americans is well aware of its humanitarian legacy and the pivotal role the US Congress and White House occupied to advance Near East Relief’s efforts at the time of the Armenian Genocide,” noted ANCA-WR chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. “No other humanitarian relief effort in American history has received 15 years of uninterrupted governmental endorsement and support nor has it sustained the level of generosity, giving and volunteerism from the American people as has the Near East Relief. It is imperative that this historical reality be given its due recognition,” added Hovsepian.

The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

Photo: Merdinian students leading their schoolmates in the ‘Golden Rule Prayer’ written over 90 years ago to bless the ‘Orphan Meal’ they shared.