Since the very beginning, AGBU has been committed to the development and prosperity of Armenia. Through both tragedy and triumph, we have pioneered and supported initiatives designed to empower the nation and its people. For over a century, AGBU has cultivated a strong, local presence and continues to adapt, identifying a diversity of needs in a shifting reality. Furthermore, our unique position in the vast global Armenian nation has allowed for us to engage the Diaspora as a source of expertise and collaboration, creating opportunities for exchange throughout generations.
Given our trusted reputation and international network, AGBU has strategically partnered with numerous with governmental and non-governmental agencies, non-profit organizations and reputable international institutions, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the European Union, to pilot programs, organize events, and implement projects in Armenia.
We host an array of events to feature new talents, promote important discourse, and support international forums and festivals
The Armenian General Benevolent Union was founded by visionary leaders and an inaugural board of experts and dignitaries, who laid the foundation for immediate impact and growth. Established in Cairo, Egypt on April 15, 1906, AGBU began its longstanding mission of service under the leadership of Boghos Nubar and Yervant Aghaton, who united to form a new model of an Armenian organization - one that was free of the tyranny of totalitarian regimes, and capable of promoting sustainable socio-economic and educational development for Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire.
Within its first two years AGBU formed a broad network of supportive donors from places as far as Addis Ababa, Rangoon, London and Calcutta. With this collective backing, AGBU was able to send relief to Armenians living in Eastern Ottoman Provinces.
Soon after its establishment AGBU helped the residential areas that suffered from the earthquake in Van, Mush, Agn and Baghesh. In 1907, immediately following its inception, AGBU began providing food and seeds to families in famine-stricken Yerevan.
In its first decade, AGBU remained focused on improving the socio-economic standing of Armenians across the Empire, devoting its efforts—first and foremost—to promoting educational and agricultural development. In 1910 alone, AGBU subsidized some 30 schools and sent farmers the livestock, seeds and tools essential in creating self-sustaining communities.
By 1915 however, only two schools remained, and few Armenian farmers survived in the towns and villages of Anatolia due to Ottoman persecution.
With insightfully drafted bylaws, AGBU operated freely throughout the Ottoman Empire able to serve countless Armenians in need. AGBU founders agreed that the organization "would not engage in politics but would pursue strictly humanitarian goals." This declaration was necessary to build the network needed to work within the Ottoman empire as authorities were suspicious of all political organizations. As such, the Ottoman government approved the by-laws on March 3, 1910 allowing the organization to serve Armenians in need. In fact, the foresight allowed AGBU to legally establish dozens of active chapters and projects throughout the Empire.
The magnitude of the Armenian Genocide atrocity meant a refugee crises that spanned multiple countries and continents. AGBU and its wide reaching chapters worked to ensure supplies made their way to the hands of tens of thousands of survivors leveraging relationships with various governments. AGBU set up orphanages, schools, trade schools and more to help deported Armenians resettle their lives. One example of the swift action taken took place in Port Said at a camp for refugees from Musa Dagh.
In the fall of 1915, 1,260 children from Musa Dagh were living in Port Said tent camps. In addition to paying for structures for shelter for all the families, AGBU provided funds for a school to open by October of that year. The Sisvan School fed, clothed and educated over 3,000 children by 1917 eventually also becoming a vocational school. This model of initiating humanitarian aid to meet immediate crisis followed by investment for the long-term care of the community is one that would be repeated for over a century to come and continues to be a trademark of AGBU's approach to relief.
Looking to establish permanent communities with where Armenians could pick up the pieces and build for the future, the Soviet Republic of Armenia appeared a favored option for investment of resources. According to an order passed in 1923 by officials in Soviet Armenia, AGBU became the only all-Armenian benevolent organization allowed to function there with the initial intention to build model farms and agricultural schools and to transfer orphans back to the homeland. Faced with a bleak economic situation and famine, AGBU initiated deliveries of medicine, food and clothing. Over the next 14 years, AGBU worked to provide for the common good: building infrastructure, contributing to rural development, and offering education and care to orphans.
Through AGBU's efforts to repatriate survivors of the Genocide, approximately 17,000 refugees return to Armenia from Europe and the Middle East. It was during this time that AGBU also played a vital role in organizing the transfer of the remains of Komitas to Armenia.
Identifying the critical need to invest in infrastructure and establish healthcare facilities to advance public health and improve quality of life, AGBU donors established funds to support these efforts. Within a short period of time, AGBU established the Tarouhi Hagopian Maternity Ward (including a school for midwives), the Marie Noubar Eye Clinic, and the Aved Sarkis Rabies Clinic in Yerevan.
In addition this era saw the building of multiple village schools in Plker (Shenavan) and Shiragala (Vertenud) and set up model farms and an agriculture training school in Mersen.
Proving to the local officials in that AGBU was a valuable partner in humanitarian projects, the Soviet authorities granted AGBU lands to build model farms and agricultural schools in Yeghvart and Dalma. Similar investments continued in various neighborhoods with the most ambitious project being the establishment of Nubarashen, an entirely new village outside of Yerevan conceived by Boghos Nubar and designed by Alexander Tamanyan to welcome new waves of immigration to Armenia. Irrigation of the land and construction of the homes and factories, the school, the hospital, and the theater of Nubarashen began in 1931. By 1936, AGBU had invested $417,000 in the project, but was forced to abandon progress a year later at the height of the Stalinist purges.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of AGBU and 10th anniversary of the Soviet Republic of Armenia, the AGBU Board decided to erect an apartment building in Yerevan to be used for professors teaching at the University of Yerevan and other intellectuals. This building, "Parekordzagan Doon" on Abovyan Street, would also house a representation office for AGBU - the first such presence in the homeland.
In a continued effort to improve the livelihood of the population and actively preserve important heritage resources, AGBU allocated resources to educational initiatives including funding works of Armenian linguists, archaeologists and histories, providing modern equipment to support scientific research and publish works on Armenian studies to the Yerevan State University from the Melkonian Fund. AGBU also provided financial support to the Pedagogical University of Yerevan.
In 1939, AGBU helped the Matenadaran move from Holy Etchmiadzin to Yerevan to be housed in the Public Library building.
AGBU was among the many effected by the Stalin repressions. Looking to reinforce his control, Stalin organized purges throughout the USSR claiming a grand plot against him. It was during this era that AGBU's Administrative Director in Armenia, Haygaz Karagyozian was arrested and brutally executed in July 1938. This sent a clear message to AGBU leadership in Paris and around the world: their foreign presence and progress were no longer welcome.
As World War II wrought havoc across the globe, AGBU, especially its US chapters, mobilized to help their suffering Armenian compatriots in different countries and continents with fundraising campaigns launched for the benefit of "Armenian war victims". The Soviet leadership's positive attitude toward Yerevan at the time encouraged AGBU to propose a new aid program. Working with the Soviet consulate in New York, it tested the waters with an initial transfer of funds to support the University of Yerevan, Tarouhi Agopian Maternity Ward and other relief measures.
After the devastating loss of 20 million citizens during World War II, the USSR needed to replenish its labor force and appealed to diasporan organizations like AGBU to encourage Armenians around the world to make their homes in Soviet Armenia through a repatriation, or nerkaght, campaign. Believing promises made by the Soviets to welcome Armenians back to their homeland as well as signs that the USSR would hold strong against Turkey, AGBU joined the effort and single handedly raised over $1 million to help nearly 100,000 repatriates travel to and settle in Soviet Armenia. Betrayed by Soviet propaganda, the repatriates were unfortunately met with food, housing and employment shortages that did not at all resemble the idyllic paradise they were promised.
Since its founding, AGBU has worked with and supported the Armenian Apostolic Church which is viewed as a pillar of Armenian national identity, locally and globally. A watershed moment in this relationship came in 1960 when H.H. Vasken I Catholicos of All Armenians visited New York, where he first met AGBU President Alex Manoogian. The two forged even closer ties between AGBU and Etchmiadzin resulting in collaborations throughout the world. Among many successful projects, the relationship led to the AGBU-funded restoration of Armenian architectural monuments in Soviet Armenia, including the Sanahin and Haghbad Monasteries.
Underscoring the importance of preserving the cultural legacy of Armenians and the Armenian Church, AGBU President Alex Manoogian financed the building of the Holy Etchmiadzin Museum in 1983, known now as the Alex and Marie Manoogian Treasury House (Gandzatun).
Numerous valuable religious and heritage artifacts are exhibited in the halls of the Treasury House, including samples of church art, ancient Armenian carpets, pottery, engravings, illuminate manuscripts, vestments and more. Among the most notable items is the precious relic of the "Holy Spear" which is believed to have been the spear which wounded Jesus Christ at the Crucifixion and brought by the Apostle Thaddeus to Armenia and initially kept at Geghard Monastery (Geghard meaning spear).
After a devastating earthquake struck Soviet Armenia in December 1988, AGBU took immediate action with a massive international relief effort. AGBU leadership oversaw critical emergency efforts that saved tens of thousands of lives with then-Vice-President Louise Manoogian Simone taking charge. Within three days of the disaster, AGBU began distributing clothing, food, medicine, and other provisions to Armenia, facilitating medical treatments in the United States and sending specialists from abroad to treat the wounded. By the end of 1991, AGBU had raised over $10 million to bring relief to earthquake victims. AGBU also established a 10,000-ton cold food storage plant in Gyumri to ensure preservation of supplies.
AGBU's presence was so helpful and welcomed by the Soviet government that in 1989, Ms. Simone negotiated permission to establish a permanent representation of AGBU in Yerevan in 1991. This was later ratified by the Armenian government a year later.
Among the many humanitarian and construction projects that AGBU carried out in Gyumri after the devastating earthquake was renovation of St. Hakob Church (2002) and the establishment of the Gyumri Art Academy (1997). It houses the Film and Theater State Institute and the Gyumri branches of the Yerevan State Komitas Conservatory and the Yerevan Academy of Fine Arts. AGBU also rebuild Gyumri School #3 for children with disabilities and the Lord Byron School.
While the early days of independence had symbolic hope, the reality on the ground was quite bleak with oil, food and supply shortages across the country. In 1990, Armenia was virtually cut off from the rest of the world lacking modern means of communication. The Armenian government had a single telex machine and handful of fax machines that barely worked connected to an obsolete telephone network. AGBU provided satellite telephones and purchased 7 modern telex machines and 24 computers (1992).
AGBU donors also played a major part in Operation Winter Rescue led by the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund which distributed food to Armenia and Karabagh as well as purchased oil from Iran to address the fuel shortage. In addition to this effort, AGBU supplied fuel, air-condition and security systems to ensure preservation of archives at the Matenadaran. AGBU also paid the salaries of the employees through 2000.
In an effort to ensure the cultural preservation and motivate the population in Armenia, AGBU also made major contributions to national institutions including the Armenian philharmonic Orchestra, the Gyumri Art Academy, the Gyumri Choral Ensemble and later the Stepanakert Chamber Orchestra. AGBU provided equipment and salaries for the printing house of the Armenian Academy of Sciences.
After the independence of Armenia in 1991, the scope of AGBU’s operations in Armenia expanded dramatically with an eye to modernizing the country socially and economically. Having already established an office in Yerevan a year prior, the initial goal was to provide the nation with resources needed in its early independence. Under the leadership of AGBU President Louise Manoogian Simon, among the many major achievements was the founding of the American University of Armenia in 1991, the first U.S.-accredited institution in the former Soviet Union. Projects devoted to cultivating an active cultural life also represented a significant part of the organization’s efforts. Subsidies to individual artists, theater groups, and music ensembles, notably the Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra, all helped to create a sense of normalcy in the midst of instability and political turmoil in the young republic.
In the early days of independence there was a clear need to provide social service assistance to communities in Armenia where the young government could not meet the critical needs. AGBU partnered with the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin to established three centers in the Malatia, Nork and Arapkir regions surrounding Yerevan. These centers would provide warm meals and care for seniors as well as robust after-school instruction for children ages 5 and above. The Senior Dining Centers and Children’s Centers continue to provide nourishment to low-income pensioners and inspiring instruction to youth even today, having served tens of thousands over the years.
Finally able to directly support the Armenian Church in a free homeland, AGBU leadership and donors eagerly invested in various projects to ensure growth and stability of the Church. One of the earliest projects was in 1993 with the establishment of Vaskenian Theological Seminary named in honor of the late Vasken I Catholicos of all Armenians. The Seminary, which sits in the idyllic hills by Lake Sevan ensures well-rounded education for new clergy who would be taught to go out into the homeland and diaspora to lead parishes around the world.
In addition to the Seminary, AGBU donors continually funded restorations and construction of major churches in Armenia. Among the notable contributions includes the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral (2001) and the Holy Trinity Church (2003) in Yerevan and the St. Gregory of Narek Church (2005)in Vanadzor. In the complex of the Holy See Mother Etchmiadzin, AGBU donors funded the Candle Lighting Hall and Catholicoi Mausoleum (in process). In addition, the Old Veharan was renovated by sponsorship of AGBU President Berge and Vera Setrakian in 2014.
In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, President Levon Ter-Petrosyan signed a decree establishing the Armenian Genocide Museum. The first main exhibition opened on September 29, 1995 on the grounds of Tsitserngabert. The building of the museum was state-financed with funding contributed by AGBU and the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund. A symbol of diaspora and state coming together.
Much like earlier efforts, AGBU focused on healthcare initiatives to ensure the safety and care of the Armenian people. In the days after the 1988 earthquake and the years that followed, AGBU provided medical equipment and continuous aid and chapters around the world mobilized efforts to bring patients to international hospitals to receive rehabilitative and reconstructive surgeries.
Always looking for long-term investments, AGBU not only focused on emergency relief but helped fund the establishment of critical facilities starting with Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Centers at Erebuni Hospital and the Mikayelian Hospital in Yerevan in 1992 and 1993. A few years later AGBU founded the Ultrasound Center at Yerevan State Medical University in 1996 bringing state-of-the-art technology to Armenia and training hundreds of doctors. AGBU also helped establish the St. Nerses Hospital in 2001 with the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin which is now known as Izmirlian Hospital.
AGBU continues to provide medical equipment and assistance across Armenia and Artsakh. Read more about our medical support.
Having provided vital support to rebuilding the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) since the ceasefire in 1994, a decade later AGBU launched a more long-term investment in the region. In 2004, under the leadership of President Berge Setrakian, AGBU led an international effort to bring hope and development to areas that bore the greatest brunt of the conflict. The initiative saw the construction of 35 homes, a new medical center and a school and kindergarten in the villages of Norashen, Pareshen and Jrakn (Hadrut region) to improve the livelihood of the native Armenians who remained. Stepanakert School #7 was also opened in 2006 to hundred of students. Five years later, AGBU partnered with Fruitful Armenia Fund for the Our Educational Program (One laptop per child) working to elevate education in the region. The revitalization efforts primed the region for growth and prosperity.
Through funding by the AGBU, the Artsakh Chamber Orchestra (KCO) was established in 2004; today, it flourishes and continues to invigorate the local community with a love of classical music and cultural excellence.
Continuing on in the spirit of rebuilding important cultural centers throughout Armenia, AGBU and its donors invested significantly in a myriad of projects. From reconstructing the Gyumri Arts Academy (1994) after the 1988 earthquake, to building a Sports and Cultural Center in Nubarashen (2008) to renovating the library of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia (2008), the projects were diverse and meaningful, bringing access to art, sport and recreation for a new generation living in an independent Armenia. Specific contributions were also made to provide equipment for gymnastics, computers and religious studies resources at the Peniamin Jamgotchian School (2008), and continual assistance to the Meghri Kindergarten (2002-2007).
In 2009, allocations were made toward the development of Armenia's literary industry by establishing the Levon Zaven Surmelian Printing House at the Writers’ Union of Armenia. During this time, AGBU also sponsored numerous publications.
It was during this time that AGBU constructed the American University of Armenia Business Center on Alex Manoogian Street in Yerevan with the assistance of the US Government and Armenian-American benefactors. AGBU's Armenia Representation Office maintained its presence here from 1999 until 2015.
With the launch of the Armenian Virtual College (AVC), the world’s first online Armenian school in 2009, AGBU ushered in an era of reimagining access to Armenian culture, language and history through technology. Soon thereafter, interactive apps and e-books tailored for language learning and cultural development provided unprecedented engagement with Armenian studies. Seeking to facilitate increasing engagement with a wider range of topics, AGBU WebTalks was created. A rich repository of reliable research, the online video series centers thought leaders and dynamic thinkers from around the world as they share their expertise.
In 2019, AGBU once again revolutionized access by piloting AGBU ATLAS, a unique electronic learning resource center, curating a platform for promoting the Armenian heritage to Armenians and non-Armenians around the world. With a virtual presence in more than 100 countries worldwide, AGBU continues to redefine global communities by providing educational resources to those interested in Armenian studies.
Having established the Ultrasound Center at Yerevan State Medical University (YMSU) 14 years earlier, the demand for state-of-the-art equipment and training for physicians continued to increase. AGBU, with the support of the Nazarian Family, doubled its efforts to revolutionize diagnostic testing and radiology procedures in the country with the Levon and Claudia Nazarian Ultrasound Center at YMSU. The Center has tested and treated thousands of patients, largely thanks to a partnership with Jefferson Memorial Teaching Hospital in Philadelphia, USA.
Relying on the longstanding network of supporters, AGBU launched the Humanitarian Relief Fund for Syrian Armenians in 2012 as the reality of the Syrian Civil War set in. During the height of the crisis, AGBU raised $5 million through grass-roots campaigns throughout its global network, generating nearly 170,000 food baskets, providing emergency medical services to over 15,000 victims, and funding approximately 1,000 surgical procedures for wounded civilians. As Syrian Armenians sought asylum, AGBU formed significant programs for repatriation to Armenia including long-term assistance projects in healthcare, education and social services and partnered with the Syrian Armenian Relief Center NGO. In 2016, the AGBU Claudia Nazarian Polycinic was inaugurated offering medical care for immigrant families in a familiar and supportive environment. AGBU also launched agriculture investment projects for Syrian Armenians in Artsakh.
In 2015, Armenians commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide throughout the world with services, demonstration and conferences. In this same year, AGBU demonstrated the spirit and resilience of the Armenian people with a multitude of visionary projects unveiling in the homeland that very same year.
AGBU opened it's AGBU Armenia Office and 6-story building on Melik-Adamian Street melding the historic neo-classical architectural features with modern and environmentally friendly elements. This inauguration of this property came off of the heels of the Vahe Karapetian Center facility which opened the year before. Both projects marking a permanent physical footprint for operations out of Yerevan.
In addition, AGBU announced its formidable partnership with TUMO Center for Creative Technologies opening centers in Stepanakert and Gyumri for teens to explore their greatest potential.
To encourage the human capital potential of Armenia and Artsakh, AGBU launched diverse socioeconomic programs aimed at empowering local Armenians to strengthen the country from within. Mentorship programs like AGBU Women Entrepreneurs (W.E.) Program, a free leadership and entrepreneurship course aimed at mobilizing women, and agricultural programs, like AGBU Fields of Hope and AGBU Olive Tree Orchards, supporting local farmers through the Fund for Artsakh, have defined the work AGBU has done to empower all Armenians to participate in civic life.
This effort expanded to include AGBU Women Coders (2020) and has added diaspora connection programs like AGBU ANI Language Coaching and AGBU Business Mentors (2021). AGBU also reaffirmed its position as a key partner for international organizations working with the European Union, USAID and others to bring socioeconomic development projects to the people of Armenia.
In a year paralyzed by pandemic, Armenians in Armenia and Artsakh were blindsided by an unprovoked attack in September of 2020. The 44-day war in Artsakh evoked fears of the past with very real consequences for the future. AGBU raised over $10 million for relief and ongoing programs for the people of the region, working with key partners like World Food Program, UCLA Medical Center, the European Union and countless others to provide COVID relief and refugee assistance. In the year that followed, AGBU women empowerment programs continued to grow, youth programs resumed and AGBU launched Camp Nairi, a summer camp for youth who lost loved ones from the Artsakh War seeking support and mental health assistance.
The post-war efforts also launched a resurgence in diaspora-based volunteering launching the growth of the established Armenie Terre de Vie program and the new Armenians Come Together (ACT). It has been a true testament to the commitment of AGBU volunteers, staff and supporters who continue to work together toward building a positive future for all Armenians.