AGBU Celebrates Centennial Birthday
in Alexandria & Cairo

Hundreds from 17 Countries
Attend Week-long Festivities in Egypt
  • Image Gallery

  • Between April 12 and 18, 2006, AGBU Egypt hosted the kick-off celebrations for AGBU's highly anticipated year-long centennial commemoration that began in Cairo and will conclude in April 2007 in Yerevan, Armenia. For this landmark in the history of the thriving organization, leaders and supporters gathered in the city of its founding to assess the past achievements and explore the future challenges that remain fundamental to securing a dynamic role for AGBU in years to come.

  • Armenians in Egyptian History

    The six-day event began with a cocktail reception at the Armenian Embassy in Cairo, hosted by Ambassador Roupen Garabedian. Local Chapter Chair, Onnig Belekdanian, welcomed guests to the historic AGBU Chaker building located in the heart of Cairo's embassy row. This property was made available for the use of the Armenian Embassy by AGBU.

    In the official message of Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, read by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Fatma El Zahraa Etman, Gheit acknowledged the significant role that Armenians played in the history of Egypt and emphasized the value of Armenian-Egyptian diplomatic relations.

    In a message addressed to AGBU President, Berge Setrakian, on the occasion of the centennial, the Foreign Minister of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian, highlighted the important position of AGBU in Armenian communities around the world and the significance of Egypt as its birthplace.

  • Egyptian Tour

    The following morning, the Egyptian Armenian hosts treated the AGBU guests to the sights and sounds of the ancient land. The Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sakara step pyramid were among the landmarks visited by the seven tour buses of AGBU participants from five continents. The day concluded with an elegant nighttime Egyptian dinner cruise down the Nile on the Nile Maxim complete with traditional Middle Eastern entertainment and festivities.

  • Armenian Language Conference

    A conference on Armenian language education dominated the Centennial program on Friday, April 13. Entitled "Armenian Education and Armenian Language Teaching," the panel of academic experts from four continents presented informed perspectives on the future of Armenian education while evaluating the current state of Armenian schools, particularly those administered by AGBU. The speakers also addressed the organization's role in diasporan education.

    Moderated by AGBU District Committee of Egypt Chairman, Berdj Terzian, the panel invited academics and educators to speak on critical topics. Educator and Secretary of the District Committee of Egypt, Gassia Djeghalian, addressed the question: "Is the Armenian Language Necessary for the Survival of the Armenian Identity?" Editor of AGBU's Egyptian publication, Deghegadou, Araxi Devletian, spoke for Jirair Tanielian, who was unable to attend, on "The Present Status of the Western Armenian Language in the Diaspora." Educator and former AGBU school principal, Dr. Nadya Sarafian, evaluated the current state of instruction by examining the "Level of Armenian Language Teaching in Schools." Principal of AGBU Manoogian Demirdjian School, Hagop Hagopian, proposed new directions in his presentation, "Suggestions for the Improvement or Planning of the Armenian Language Teaching and Armenian Education Programs." Ashot A. Melkonian, Director of the Institute of History of the National Academy of Science of the Republic of Armenia, offered a look at the history of the diaspora and AGBU in his discussion entitled, "The Armenian Language as a Means of Survival: Historical Perspective and Profiting from Existing Possibilities."

    All the papers presented at the panel were available at the conference in a bilingual (Armenian and English) publication.

  • Gassia Djeghalian overviewed communities that have worked to maintain their linguistic identity, including the Celtic of the British Isles, the Maori of New Zealand, and the First Nations of Canada. She suggested that the Armenian language needed a revival like those experienced by other groups that had long been disconnected from their linguistic heritage. Araxi Devletian spoke extensively about the media's role in retaining language and used her knowledge as a diasporan editor to encourage greater efforts to energize a vibrant Armenian media culture.

  • Nadya Sarafian spoke about her practical experience as longtime principal of the AGBU Manoogian School in Michigan, USA, its transition to a charter school, and its continuing success at increasing enrollment among Armenians and non-Armenians alike. She also cited the school's success at Armenian language instruction to non-Armenian students. In addition, Sarafian spoke about AGBU's prominent role in saving the Armenian nation from destruction during the perilous years of the Armenian Genocide, and addressed the new challenges of maintaining language instruction in the diaspora.

  • Hagop Hagopian outlined current priorities of Armenian schools and the future obstacles facing diasporan institutions, namely, competition from free public schools and access to Armenian language resources.

  • Ashot Melkonian delved into the history of the diaspora and the Armenian community's successes and failures at retaining its linguistic and cultural identity. He focused on Western Armenian as an endangered dialect that was almost wiped out as a result of the 1915 Genocide. He reminded the audience about AGBU's own roots in the vibrant pre-1915 intellectual culture that sought to bridge the cultural and dialectical differences among its various members and to create a universal Armenian identity.

  • Digitalizing Armenian Education

    AGBU Silicon Valley Chairman and 2005 IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Industrial Pioneer Award Recipient, Yervant Zorian, concluded the daylong Armenian Language Conference by presenting an innovative online educational program to teach Armenian language, history and culture mainly to non-Armenian-speaking youths and adults alike.

    "We need to encourage students to learn," Zorian said when demonstrating the attractive bilingual multimedia website.

    The audience was captivated by the colorful demonstration that included learning puzzles, crosswords, memory flash cards, and short lessons, each emphasizing one aspect of a growing curriculum. AGBU President, Berge Setrakian, stressed that this project was to be officially launched on the occasion of the centennial.

  • Celebrating Cultural Heritage

    The weekend's festivities highlighted the vast and varied cultural heritage of Armenians in Egypt. On Saturday, April 15, guests visited the world-renowned Egyptian Museum for a tour of the most remarkable repository of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the world. In the afternoon, AGBU Egypt District organized a unique book exhibition of 60 publications in Armenian, Arabic, and English, printed in Egypt and made possible through AGBU Cairo's Satenig Chaker Fund.

    District Chairman Berdj Terzian addressed the attendees about the importance of Armenian books in the cultural continuity of the local and global communities.

    One of the highlights of the week was the official Gala Night at the Marriott Hotel, which attracted over 400 guests and featured famous pop vocalist Nune Yessayan from Armenia for her first performance in Egypt.

    At a ceremony to mark the official April 15th birthday of the organization during the Gala, Berdj Terzian, in his capacity as Chair of the Diocesan Executive Committee, welcomed AGBU delegates and guests. Terzian was joined by Roupen Garabedian, Armenian Ambassador to Egypt, Berge Setrakian, AGBU President, Onnig Belekdanian, Chairman of AGBU Cairo, Antranig Mesrobian, Chairman of the Cairo Diocesan Council, and Levon Katzaghian, Chairman of the Alexandrian Diocesan Council, for the ceremonial cake cutting.

    The following day, AGBU guests visited the city's St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church for Easter service followed by the traditional Easter blessing of the salt, water and bread by Bishop Ashod Mnatzaganian, Primate of Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and South Africa. The event was attended by AGBU Board Members and guests, and took place at the Egyptian Diocese adjacent to the church.

  • Cultural Gala

    In the evening, a special cultural program was organized at Cairo's Gomhoreya Theater. Speeches by AGBU President Berge Setrakian and AGBU Egypt Chairman Berdj Terzian preceded the performance. Then, AGBU Chapter Chairmen or their representatives from around the world were invited to the stage to receive commemorative plaques marking the centennial celebration.

    Viennese Soprano Hasmik Papian and renowned Paris-based pianist Vardan Mamikonian performed a selection of arias and compositions by Verdi, Puccini, Catalani, and Chopin. The second half of the program was devoted to Armenian musical pieces by Komitas, Arno Babadjanian, and Armen Tigranian.

    For her debut Egyptian performance, Papian received thunderous applause from the large audience of Armenians from around the world. The performers ended the evening with a rousing rendition of the popular song "Cilicia."

  • Day Trip to Alexandria

    With the conclusion of the Cairean leg of celebrations, AGBU guests ventured to the coastal city of Alexandria to visit the the old Armenian community that continues to call Egypt's second-largest city home. Following a trip to the local Armenian Apostolic church, Saints Peter and Paul, the guests visited the elegant Nubar family memorials located on the grounds of the church and diocesan building complex, and were welcomed by Chairman Levon Katzaghian and his fellow Diocesan Council members.

    After paying respects to the AGBU founder and his family, the guests visited the new Alexandria Library, which has become a leading repository of learning in the Arab world and a modern facility for researchers and scholars. Director of Library Foreign Relations, Taher Khalifa, and Chief Librarian, Dr. Sohair Wastawy, welcomed AGBU guests and spoke about the importance of Armenia and Armenians in the history of the city and the Armenian love of the written word. As a ceremonial gesture, President Setrakian donated a vast array of books on Armenian topics on behalf of AGBU to the library to demonstrate AGBU's continuing commitment to education around the world.

    After taking in the magnificent views of the Mediterranean during a lunchtime break in Alexandria, the guests toured the manicured gardens of the Montazah Palace, a local landmark.

    In the evening, AGBU Alexandria organized a dinner reception for the visiting guests and local community in the AGBU Alexandria Center and HMEM Nubar Sports Club. Guests toured the historic facility and were treated to local musical talent and speeches by Alexandria representatives, including Dr. Garo Ansourian, member of the Alexandria Chapter.

  • At the conclusion of the week's activities, Mr. Berdj Terzian, Chairman of AGBU Egypt said, "I and my fellow Committee Members of both AGBU District Committee of Egypt and Cairo Chapter are proud that the Centennial Celebrations of AGBU kicked off in Cairo, where it was founded 100 years ago by ten prominent Egyptian Armenians. It is a great feeling that the organization created by our ancestors was able to assist the Armenian people both in Armenia and the Diaspora during the most difficult moments of our history and is still contributing to the welfare of our nation and homeland. We have done our best to make the Cairo Celebrations as near as possible to perfection, in order to match a century of great achievements of AGBU, and hope we have succeeded."

    AGBU is the largest Armenian non-profit organization in the world and reaches 400,000 Armenians annually in 35 countries through its educational, humanitarian and cultural projects. For more information about AGBU and its centennial celebrations, please visit www.agbu.org.
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