Zaven Khanjian: “It is not right to lose hope when it comes to contact and communication with the homeland”

In 2018, the Armenian Missionary Association of America will celebrate its 100th year anniversary. The Association has made great contributions to the homeland following the declaration of independence of the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh.

In an interview with the Executive Director of the Association Zaven Khanjian, Hayern Aysor tried to take a retrospective glance to present the activities of the century-old Association in Armenia and Artsakh, as well as the past 100 years of its operation.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Khanjian, you participated in the 6th Armenia-Diaspora Pan-Armenian Conference held under the title “Mutual Trust, Unity and Responsibility”, and I would like to start our interview with the conference. How would you sum it up?

Zaven Khanjian: I would like to express my thoughts from two perspectives.

Firstly, the atmosphere of mutual trust was very warm and fraternal. Everything was well-prepared. In that atmosphere, I felt that the Armenian people have a focal point around which the sons of the Armenian nation of the world had gathered. Some were getting acquainted with each other, while many were catching up with old acquaintances. It was helpful because the circles of acquaintances can be expanded and be fruitful in different ways. Consolidation can truly be very pleasant and effective. It is also a difficult task because it is not easy to gather more than 1,000 delegates from four corners of the globe. In this sense, I appreciate the efforts of Minister of Diaspora Hranush Hakobyan and the employees of the Ministry of Diaspora.

I would like to set aside the presence of volunteers at the conference. They were very well-trained young people who served as a guide and a map for us during the three-day conference. I don’t remember if there were volunteers during the last conference, but the initiative is very commendable.

Secondly, in terms of organization and unity, dividing the topics of the conference under four headings was the right thing to do. Each participant had the opportunity to choose and could follow the program and express his or her thoughts by participating in this or that discussion.

As far as forming mutual trust, assuming responsibility, examining the issues of national concern and finding solutions to those issues, I must say that there was a platform for making recommendations, and the moderators of the sessions were organizing the process very well. If there were people who had disagreements over a particular issue and wanted to express their views, the moderator would give them the opportunity to speak and try to understand how the issue could be solved. I also consider this a very positive phenomenon.

Throughout a conference, only time can help give the right evaluation of the solution to issues that were discussed.

Before the conference, some Diaspora Armenians had negative views on the conference, and this was mainly due to the implementation of the outcomes of the previous conferences. In my opinion, those people are not less patriotic than the participants of the last conference. They simply decided not to participate since they were deceived and desperate. I wouldn’t like to criticize or justify them, but I think it is not right to lose hope when it comes to contact and communication with the homeland. We can lose hope for a moment, but we always need to show a positive approach, make positive statements, seek that which is good, seek solutions and make our statements with more courage.

I have always been at ease and expressed my thoughts. This is why I have never had any difficulties during our meetings and dialogues. I have never had any difficulty with attending the conference or deciding the importance of our organization’s participation in this conference. We learned a lot, and the items on the agenda were key items that are linked to the lives of our nation.

The homeland is sacred for us, but the most important value in Armenia is the human being, that is, the citizen of Armenia. Our plans and decisions are for the citizens. If we want to give an evaluation of the conferences, sometimes we need to ask our citizens as well.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Khanjian, on May 28, President Serzh Sargsyan awarded you with the Medal of Gratitude for your contributions to the strengthening of Armenia-Diaspora relations. During the days of the conference, you had a meeting with President of Artsakh Bako Sahakyan and received the Medal of Gratitude granted to the Association for services provided to Artsakh and on the occasion of the 100th year anniversary of the Armenian Missionary Association of America. What does this award mean to the Association? I would also like to ask you to talk about the programs that you carry out in Artsakh and the assistance that you provide to Artsakh.

Zaven Khanjian: The Armenian Missionary Association of America can proudly declare that it has been providing its services to Artsakh since the first days of Independence.

Artsakh is the focal point of our key objectives. Reinforcing and maintaining Artsakh’s independence are key objectives for the nation. It is the duty of all us Armenians to do everything possible to help Artsakh and empower the State of Artsakh. We won the war, but not peace, which is still alarming for Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora. We need to use our potential so that we win peace for Artsakh.

The people of Artsakh can’t continue to live a dignified life in peace when peace is still not ensured.

As far as the award and gratitude are concerned, I can only express my respect to the people and their representative, President Bako Sahakyan. The President honored us with the award because we fulfill our duty. By relying on the spirit of our nation and the Christian spirit, we help take care of the spiritual, educational and physical needs of our people through our programs.

The gratitude and appreciation make us more committed to work harder and expand our services to help the people of Artsakh.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Khanjian, throughout the past couple of years, the Association has also provided assistance to the Armenians devastated by the Syrian war.

Zaven Khanjian: For five consecutive years, the unrest of the Syrian-Armenians was the major issue of the Armenian Diaspora, and not only the Armenian Diaspora. I temporarily consider the unrest a national catastrophe.

The Armenian community of Syria is the ��?anchor’ of the Armenian Diaspora. The Armenians who escaped the Armenian Genocide were saved and settled in the hospitable city of Syria that went on to become the city of the Main Armenian Community in the Armenian Diaspora.

The loss of the community was terribly shocking for all Diaspora Armenians. I think the physical, material and human losses of the Syrian-Armenians are invaluable and, unfortunately, irreversible.

The Syrian war was a surprise for not only the Diaspora, but also Syria. Since the very first days, the Association stood by the side of the Syrian-Armenian community. I personally stood by their side since I still hadn’t assumed leadership of the Association, and as an Armenian who used to live in Aleppo, I established the Syrian-Armenian Relief Fund (SARF) in Los Angeles along with the representatives of the Association. The SARF worked wonderfully to provide material assistance to our compatriots under fire and raise the level of public awareness because it was hard for the United States and other countries (in general) to understand what was really going on in Syria. It seemed as though Syria was shrouded in the war. As part of the SARF and after being elected executive director of the Armenian Missionary Association of America in 2014, I have made great contributions to our compatriots in a devastating state in Syria along with the Association.

Throughout the past five years, many Syrian-Armenians have left Syria, and obviously, the homeland became the main host country for them. This was a miracle that we needed to realize. These were people whose passports were not accepted anywhere, but they could freely enter the homeland. Armenia was the only country that received them and provided them with homes and shelters. The Syrian-Armenians are very well aware of this. I refer to the Syrian-Armenians having settled in Armenia as people without a compass because they escaped the war and were saved in Armenia, but couldn’t make decisions. They didn’t know what to do. Many came and then left for other countries, while others stayed to decide where they could go and what they could do.

Our assistance was targeted in a way to help the Syrian-Armenians in Armenia decide to settle in the homeland. In association with the Ministry of Diaspora and the Center for Coordination of Syrian-Armenians’ Issues NGO, we have carried out and carry out programs. We have provided material assistance, reimbursed apartment rents, allocated funds for medical services, provided educational assistance, paid fees and allocated benefits to those who are in need of food on a daily basis.

We continued to provide them with guidance in order to show them that the bilateral interest requires that they settle in the homeland. As a Diaspora, Armenians will definitely win, if the Syrian-Armenians settle here. It will also help the homeland because they will use their talent and potential. Activities are underway.

The Association has even supported the Syrian-Armenians having settled in Canada. However, throughout the past years, our major target has been Syria and Armenia.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Khanjian, you have been serving as the Executive Director of the Armenian Missionary Association of America since 2014. Was it easy for you to assume that position? What does it mean to you?

Zaven Khanjian: Community service has always been a part of my personal life and career. Even decades before I assumed this position, that is, ever since I settled in the USA, serving the nation, community and people has been a part of my task for nearly 30-35 years. This is why the transition was easy for me and close to my heart because I am in an atmosphere that makes me feel spiritually content. I am using my potential for and providing my services to an association with principles that I believe in and that are part of my ideology and conviction.

I assumed my working duties very easily and smoothly. I do my job with so much satisfaction that sometimes I don’t feel how the hours go by.

Of course, there are a lot of hardships and challenges, even serious challenges, but we have managed to overcome them.

The guarantee of our success is that the Armenian Missionary Association of America has adopted several major principles by which it is guided by.

The first is that the Association is a very transparent organization. Our programs and activities are out in the open. We choose our services by voting, and our representatives and executive body are elected by members. Everyone is entitled to vote.

The second is that we are accountable. During our annual regular meetings, we update our members on our activities through the news and messages posted on our website. A member of the Association is someone who benefits the Association every year, and it does not matter which country the person is from or what denomination the person is affiliated to.

The third is that our organization is a responsible organization. It is the sense of responsibility that has been helping us resist all the hardships, surprises and challenges for the past century.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Khanjian, in 2018, the Armenian Missionary Association of America will be celebrating its 100th year anniversary. How have the passing 100 years been for the Association?

Zaven Khanjian: Firstly, whatever the Association has achieved over the past 100 years it owes it to the thousands of people who have shared their ideas, provided funds, put in time and worked hard since the establishment of the Association in order for us to have what we have today. It has been a wonderful 100 years, and we owe it to only those people. They are people who shaped this legacy and passed it on to us. Every generation has laid a brick on the wall and helped construct a building that is rising year after year. Today we are enjoying the fruit of the sacrifices that were made by them. The awareness of all this only makes us admire those who were before us.

Secondly, we are asking ourselves what our role is today. We gather, rejoice and share our happiness with others, but what is our role? Our role is to put another brick, plan for the next 100th anniversary, ensure the lives of the next generations-something that we must be able to do through hard work, sacrifice and dedication.

Taking all this into consideration, in 2016, the Association planned to organize a fundraiser to raise $20 million. Works are underway, and they will be complete by the end of the year 2018.

We hope to make that one stone into two stones so that we can take care of the needs of the next generations more easily and even their lives in the course of the next 100 years.

Hayern Aysor: How are you going to be celebrating the anniversary?

Zaven Khanjian: We have programs and services in 24 countries on 5 continents and thought we would cover as many regions as possible.

Although we planned to hold the fundraiser in October 2016, our ceremonies and celebrations will be launched on October 21, 2017 in the Eastern USA Region. This is the period of the annual assembly of the Armenian Missionary Association of America and coincides with the banquet for the annual assembly. The celebrations will continue in Australia (March 2018), Canada (May 2018), Lebanon (early June 2018), France (mid-June 2018) and Armenia (September 2018). In October 2018, we will wrap up our ceremonies and our fundraiser in Los Angeles.

Hayern Aysor: Mr. Khanjian, how would you like to end our interview?

Zaven Khanjian: I would like to get back to the conference and express my thought. As I mentioned, the major wealth of Armenia is the Armenian individual. Gaining independence wasn’t easy. Gaining freedom and independence was especially difficult for Artsakh. It wasn’t served to us on a silver platter. We liberated our lands and declared Independence through bloodshed and hard work.

In Armenia’s case, it was a little different. Armenia’s Independence, the 26th anniversary of which we gladly celebrated recently, was declared following the collapse of the Soviet Union and by the self-determination of our people to live freely.

Our dream came true 26 years ago, and Armenians around the world found their independence here. It was a surprise, but it was not independence gained through a struggle, even though we needed to start from scratch since it was a transition from the Soviet order to a new social order. In this kind of situation, groping was logical and making mistakes was expected since it takes time to shape a country.

However, unfortunately, over the past 26 years, there has been a tremendous difference between the good and bad situation of the people, and this is very painful for us.

Various organizations try to help those in dire conditions, but we still have a problem with lifting that tremendous mass. The future will show to what extent this conference helped examine the issues and find paths.

It is very important for us to reduce the space and lift people living in socially unequal conditions. By doing that, we will also keep them on the homeland because I don’t believe that a person can decide to leave his homeland, if he can take care of his family’s needs here.

Let’s hope, pray and work, do our share of the work and expect that the authorities of Armenia also seek paths to reduce the space and maintain our people in better conditions.

Interview by Lusine Abrahamyan





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