Historical Castle of Aleppo - a place of unprecedented festival

With the biennial General Assembly of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) held in Aleppo, Syria, the week of September 30-October 7 has been proudly registered in the chronology of the Union. Members of the AGBU Central Board headed by AGBU President Berge Setrakian, representatives of chapters and affiliated bodies, members and friends from Middle East, Europe, United States of America, and Armenia had arrived in Aleppo to discuss the activities of the past two years and plan the new programs under the light of new challenges. The thoroughly and delicately prepared program of the 85th General Assembly of AGBU started on October 1 and 2 with visits to Der Zor and Palmyra. A requiem ceremony took place at the chapel in Der Zor in memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide and the deceased AGBU members, after which the group visited the Der Zor museum. A welcome reception took place in AGBU Calouste Gulbenkian Hall on October 2. Friday, October 3, 2008, was a memorable day in the history of Aleppo-Armenians. An unprecedented cultural festival organized by the AGBU and the AYA Syria Chapter in the historical castle of one of the oldest cities of the world – Aleppo – under the sponsorship of Syrian Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Dr. Diala al-Hajj Aref. More than 4,000 Aleppo-Armenians were present at the festival. The fireworks that followed the festival beautifully decorated the Aleppo sky.


On Saturday, October 4, the first meeting of the AGBU 85th General Assembly took place at Sheraton Hotel under the sponsorship of AGBU Central Board and presided over by Mr. Berge Setrakian. Diaspora Minister of the Republic of Armenia Mrs. Hranush Hagopian was also present at the meeting. The meeting entitled “New Century, New Vision”, which was the first one during the second century of the Union’s existence, was symbolic with its size and location – historical Aleppo, which symbolized that the Armenians that survived a Genocide are still viable. The meeting once again enhanced the new orientations and programs that the Union has developed in the past two years to meet the new imperatives, draw a special attention to the policy of strengthening the Diaspora-Armenia relations. In his opening speech AGBU President Berge Setrakian said, “The 85th General Assembly that has gathered us in the historic city of Aleppo, is an opportunity to speak about the gratifying activities of our Union. At the same time, it is also an occasion to acknowledge our leading and responsible role as the biggest pan-Armenian organization at this turning point both for our Union and the whole nation”. Speaking about the future programs of the Union Mr. Setrakian said, “We must realistically accept the fact that the new generation does not live in the past anymore, is surrounded by the the current social and cultural realities and therefore is in danger to lose its national identity and become isolated from traditional activities, especially in remote communities. We have clarified our standing in this respect and have taken the first steps always having as basis the realities of Armenia and the vital importance of being in constant communication with the homeland.” The 2006-2007 financial and Auditing Committee’s reports of the Union were presented correspondingly by AGBU Central Board members Ruben Keshishian and Vasken Yacoubian. The 85th General Assembly re-elected Mr. Berge Setrakian as the AGBU President and Aris Atamian, Joseph Basralian, Nazareth Festekjian, Vahe Gabrache, Arda N. Haratunian, Sarkis Jebejian, Levon Nazarian and Sam Simonian as AGBU Central Board members. It was also offered to elect Mr. Yervant Zorian, Silicon Valley chapter Chairman, as a new member of the AGBU Central Board and his candidacy was accepted unanimously. AGBU 85th General Assembly was also a suitable occasion to honor those members of the Union that have brought their contribution to the strengthening of Armenia-Diaspora relations and the activities of the Union. AGBU President Berge Setrakian personally handed the awards to Hranush Hagopian, Minister of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian, former Foreign Minister of the Republic of Armenia (absent), Samvel Shukurian, Armenian language specialist and Head of the AGBU Virtual College team of Armenia, Romen Kozmoyan, one of the former top officials of Soviet Armenia's Committee for Cultural Relations with Armenians Abroad and Head of the “Momjian” Foundation, Levon Sargsyan, former Ambassador of RA to Syria, and Gueguel Khatchadourian, Chairman of the AGBU Milan Chapter. Expressing their gratitude for the awards, those honored highly praised the patriotic activities of AGBU. Deputy Chairman of the AGBU Damascus Chapter Berge Parsumian read the decisions of the Hosting Body, which have been ratified by the Assembly. The Assembly was closed by President Berge Setrakian’s speech, who thanked the AGBU Syria Chapter and presented the main directions of the AGBU activities of the next two years. Despite the economic turmoil, the balance of the Union unveils a healthy picture. A detailed biennial report for 2006-2007 was presented at the General Assembly, which displayed the financial developments of the Union. The meeting was followed by a dinner in the same hotel. In the evening of the same day the Gala-Ball organized on the occasion of the 85th General Assembly of the AGBU took place in that same hotel. On Sunday, October 5, the guests visited the AGBU Najarian-Gulbenkian Secondary School, where they were greeted and welcomed by the students and the teachers of the school. A beautiful concert was presented by the students in the Gulbenkian hall, after which Director Avedis Baggalian and AGBU President Berge Setrakian made speeches. After the concert the guests walked to the Calouste Gulbenkian Center, where they got acquainted with the Union’s offices and halls. They also watched the exhibition of paintings of the students of the AYA Saryan Academy. In the afternoon dinner was served to the guests at the “Dvin” cafeteria of the center. On Monday, October 6, President of the Syrian Republic Dr. Bashar Al-Asad received the AGBU delegation headed by President Berge Setrakian in the “Al Shaab” presidential residency. The 1,5-hour meeting was a good opportunity to thank Mr. Bashar Al-Asad for the kind and caring attitude towards the Syrian-Armenians, as well as to talk about regional political and economic developments. The GA participants also visited Saitnaya and Maalula Churches, as well as the Al-Umaui mosque in Damascus. The 85th General Assembly of Armenian General Benevolent Union raised new enthusiasm among the members of the Union’s world-spread chapters who had arrived in Aleppo, who returned to their countries with lots of memories and impressions to continue serving the goals of this pan-Armenian organization.

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