Ara Vardanyan: “The best way of preserving the Armenian identity is to participate in nation-building”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Hayastan All-Armenian Fund. On this occasion, Hayern Aysor’s correspondent sat down for an interview with Executive Director of Hayastan All-Armenian Fund Ara Vardanyan, who talked about the Fund’s past activities, achievements and future actions.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Vardanyan, when was the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund established? What is the mission of the Fund?

Ara Vardanyan: The Hayastan All-Armenian Fund was established on March 3, 1992 by the decree of the President of the Republic of Armenia as a unique institution called for consolidating all Armenians in Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora and their supporters who are willing to gear their efforts towards the sustainable development of the two newly established Armenian republics. At the time, the Diaspora was ready to provide assistance to Armenia and Artsakh. Armenian communities would organize various fundraisers, but there was no body that could dispose of the funds the right way.

Alongside the complications of the establishment of market relations, it was also necessary to solve numerous issues that were facing the country as a result of the 1988 devastating earthquake, the blockade and the Artsakh war.

Hayern Aysor: Please tell us about the 25-year history of the Fund.

Ara Vardanyan: The Fund has made very serious achievements over the years. We consider the number of donators our greatest achievement. We have 700,000 donators, who have helped the Fund change the lives of nearly 500,000 citizens of Armenia and Artsakh for the better. The past 25 years of the Fund is characterized by the versatile and consecutive projects of vital importance for our homeland.

Alongside the construction of roads, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, water pipelines and gas pipelines, the Fund has provided assistance to numerous socially vulnerable groups (families of freedom fighters and students of socially disadvantaged families). Thanks to the donations of all Armenians around the world, hundreds of thousands of our compatriots have homes, water, gas, heating and the conditions for the good life. Throughout the past 25 years, we have managed to carry out major projects. The Fund was trusted with the solution to problems with the enhancement of infrastructures in Armenia and Artsakh. The Goris-Stepanakert and the North-South highways were built one after another. We are already finishing construction of the Vardenis-Martakert Highway, which links Armenia to Artsakh and proves its invaluable role after the Four-Day Artsakh War in April 2016 since people were traveling from Armenia to Martakert via that highway.

The highway ensured a road network between the cities and villages of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and highly contributed to the economic development in the country. Alongside road construction, the Fund also undertook target community development projects through the construction and reconstruction of schools, clinics, hospitals, water supply and gas supply systems, electric communication lines, cultural institutions and more.

In the disaster zone, the Fund undertook the construction of homes, providing shelters to those who became homeless following the 1988 earthquake in Gyumri, Vanadzor, Stepanavan and Spitak.

Basically, the Fund has managed to become recognized by all Armenians around the world since its projects have always been current and anticipated. The Fund continues to stay true to its mission, gearing the combined efforts of all Armenians towards the reconstruction and strengthening of our country.

Hayern Aysor: Let’s talk about the activities in figures.

Ara Vardanyan: Very well. First of all, let me say that the Fund is one of the exceptional institutions that carry out activities in almost all sectors. Of course, the data regard the activities completed in Armenia and Artsakh. The Fund has carried out projects worth over USD 330,000,000, 1,100 large (overall 50,000) projects and has 700,000 donators from Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora. The Fund has built, rebuilt and exploited 605 km roads, 580 km water pipelines and aqueducts, 149 km gas pipelines, 70 km electric lines, 359 schools and kindergartens, 24 community centers, 480 homes and apartments, 75 healthcare institutions, 58 sports and cultural centers, 100 greenhouses, as well as 169 educational, cultural and scientific programs.

Today, we continue with the same pace, but have added the employment and economic development factors. There is a need to make investments in the agriculture sector. It is necessary to mention the large-scale project for construction of greenhouses that has been going on for the past six years in the Tavush Province of Armenia. The general sponsor of the project is the Fund’s Argentina local affiliate, and the Armenian community of Australia also joined the project recently.

In Tavush Province, we have built over 100 greenhouses, each of which is designed for one family, creating sufficient conditions for the particular family to solve its daily issues.

One of the major projects of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund was the construction of a buckwheat factory in the Bavra village of Shirak Province through funding provided by the Devejian and Ekzerjian families of benefactors from Argentina and benefactor Kirkor Shimshiroglu, introducing a new culture in Armenian agriculture. This year we are also launching a new solar energy project. We have launched the pilot project in several villages of Tavush Province. Starting next year, we will be installing solar batteries on the roofs of the schools, kindergartens and community centers in almost all the villages of Artsakh so that we can reduce energy expenses to zero.

Generally, our projects are divided into two parts, including the theme of the main fundraiser approved by the Board of Trustees every year, and the special target programs proposed by benefactors. We willingly carry out that program in Armenia and Artsakh. The Fund carries out financial and physical international audits. We have adopted an open and transparent working style, and this is exactly the guarantee of our success.

Hayern Aysor: The establishment of the Fund was itself aimed at establishing the partnership between Armenia and the Diaspora. Was it easy to gain the trust of Diaspora Armenians and call on them for cooperation?

Ara Vardanyan: Thanks to the cooperation with the Fund, numerous Diaspora Armenians strengthened their bonds with the homeland, didn’t lose their national identity and stayed clung to their roots. There were Armenians who had never visited Armenia or Artsakh, and they came to see their Homeland through our efforts.

There are many problems. I hope we will do everything we can to solve them and further enhance the Armenia-Diaspora partnership through the activities of the Fund and the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia.

Hayern Aysor: Now let’s talk about the Board of Trustees.

Ara Vardanyan: One of the peculiarities of the Fund is the composition of the Board of Trustees, which includes representatives of Armenian churches, traditional Armenian political parties and benevolent organizations and individual benefactors, ensuring multifaceted engagement.

According to the Charter of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, the highest governing body of the Fund is the Board of Trustees, the ex-officio president of which is the President of the Republic of Armenia. The members of the Board are the Catholicos of All Armenians; the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia; the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church; the representative of the Armenian Evangelical Church the President of the Artsakh Republic; the Prime Ministers of the Republic of Armenia and the Artsakh Republic; the President of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia, the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia and the Head of the Central Bank of the Republic of Armenia; the leaders of the three traditional Armenian political parties and large benevolent organizations (AGBU, ARS and the Armenian Assembly of America), as well as well-known Diaspora Armenian figures and benefactors from Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora.

Hayern Aysor: How many affiliates are there in the Diaspora?

Ara Vardanyan: Over the past 25 years, the Fund has established 25 local affiliates in 22 countries around the world, including the United States of America (Los Angeles and New York), France, Canada (Toronto and Montreal), Great Britain, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Australia, Brazil, Argentina (Buenos Aires and Cordoba), Greece, Cyprus, Uruguay, Romania, the Russian Federation, Iran and Italy.

The local affiliates closely collaborate with representatives of the ecclesiastical, non-governmental and charitable organizations of the Armenian communities in their respective countries, as well as with well-known Diaspora Armenian figures and benefactors. The executive board of the Fund in Yerevan and the local affiliates of different countries are held accountable to the Board of Trustees.

Hayern Aysor: The annual Telethon in Los Angeles is of pivotal significance for the Fund. Is this the only way for the Fund to raise funds?

The annual Telethon, which has been broadcast in Los Angeles since 1996, helps gather the funds raised in Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora over the past year, serves as a report for donators and consolidates Armenians around the event that is of vital importance for the homeland. The donations made during the Telethons are geared towards the implementation of the large-scale strategic projects that are approved during the annual sessions of the Board of Trustees.

Out of all the charitable organizations operating in the world (and foreign organizations), the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund is the only organization that applies all the methods of fundraising.

The Fund raises its funds through Phone-a-Thons, Radio-a-Thons, bike races, fundraising banquets, charity concerts and exhibitions held in different countries, as well as through donations made via mail and SMSs, the wills of individuals and targeted funding. Every year, nearly 60,000 Armenian families who traditionally participate in the Telethon, which has become a part of their lifestyles, and in Armenia there are even pensioners who come to the Fund and donate parts of their pensions to nation-building.

The fundraisers also provide young Diaspora Armenians with the opportunity to establish a connection with Armenia. For instance, during the Phone-a-Thons, we trust them with answering the phone calls. This also serves as a major impetus for their visits to Armenia in the future and patriotism.

Hayern Aysor: How is the main topic of the Telethon determined?

Ara Vardanyan: Every May, the Fund’s Board of Trustees holds a session during which the executive board in Yerevan presents a report on the activities that have been carried out. During the session, the Board of Trustees starts discussing the main topic of the fundraiser. Each of the Board’s members can make a proposal, after which the main topic is selected based on a vote on the proposals.

Hayern Aysor: What is your call to Armenians around the world?

Ara Vardanyan: The Fund itself proved that, thanks to the unity of the Armenian nation, we can make positive changes in our lives and solve our problems. The only thing we need to do is to believe in our strengths and continue this pro-national effort for the empowerment of the Armenia-Artsakh-Diaspora triumvirate. Let us remember that the best way of preserving the Armenian identity is to participate in nation-building.

Of course, there are many groundless allegations, but we are taking the righteous path. We need to understand that any investment that is made in Artsakh is also of political significance. We Armenians have yet to show the whole world that Artsakh has been and remains an Armenian territory, and one of the ways of showing that is to do something on that territory.

Interview by Gevorg Chichyan

Scroll Up