From March 17-19, 2022, 70 delegates from Armenia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Switzerland, UK, and the US gathered in Beirut to participate in an intensive three-day conference including multiple panel discussions, public recognitions, formal dinners, and quality entertainment.
This is the first of several regional summits that the AGBU central leadership has planned for over the course of this year and next in regions with a strong Armenian and AGBU presence.
Considering the historically significant events and crises of the last few years of an already turbulent decade, these gatherings are intended to take serious inventory of the new realities, changing trends, shifting attitudes and behaviors of Armenians around the world. The goal is to pre-emptively reimagine what the future looks like for the overall AGBU mission in response to the information and insights presented during the moderated panel discussions designed to encourage a free exchange of diverse observations, ideas, and perspectives.
Dedication of the Berge and Vera Setrakian Hall
On the evening before the public sessions, AGBU delegates and distinguished guests were invited to a welcome dinner for which the main event was the opening of the Berge and Vera Setrakian Hall at the AGBU-AYA Zabel Movsessian Center in Sin el Fil. The dedicated space honors Berge Setrakian, who recently marked his 20th year as the seventh president of AGBU, and Vera Setrakian for their tireless devotion to the mission of AGBU.
Sylva Libaridian and Gary Nazarian, secretary and member of the AGBU Lebanon District Committee respectively, praised the Setrakians for their lifetime of efforts to expand the reach of AGBU, unify the Armenian people, and keep the AGBU relevant and responsive through rapidly changing times. On this occasion, President Setrakian was also honored by an Official Letter of Blessing by Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia.
Among the distinguished guests were Her Excellency Mrs. Leila Solh, Mrs. May Mikati, His Excellency Mr. Vahakn Atabekyan (Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Lebanon), MP General Jean Talouzian, Minister of Industry Mr. George Boujikian, and benefactor and former MP Mr. Arthur and Mrs. Tamar Nazarian.
Two Days of Deep Discussion and Critical Debate
The moderated panel discussions took place over March 18-19 at the AGBU Demirdjian Center. Launching the first session, Gerard Tufenkjian, the chair of AGBU Lebanon, welcomed the delegates, introduced the program, and set the stage for President Setrakian to explain the importance of conducting such meetings in the context of the current challenges facing humanity and the Armenian people. Setrakian asserted that questions regarding the Diaspora, the Armenian homeland, and definitions of Armenian identity are crucial to address, adding, “It is the youth and young people who are going to continue the legacy of the AGBU. At this meeting’s level, we should be far-sighted and consider your and our concerns."
Camilio Azzouz, an AGBU central board member representing the United Kingdom, set the conference agenda and moderated all the sessions throughout the proceedings.
During the first day’s sessions, ideas and insights were presented and discussed by a distinguished roster of panelists including: H.E. Ambassador Grigor Hovhannisyan, the chairman of the board of Ararat Bank; Yeghia Tashjian, a regional analyst and researcher on Geopolitical and Energy Security Developments in the Middle East and South Caucasus, Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, the president of Haigazian University, and Dr. Asbed Kotchikian, an associate professor at the American University of Armenia (AUA). Panel 1 focused on Today’s Armenia and Future Prospects; Panel 2 addressed Today’s Global Diaspora.
Featured speakers of Panel 3 and 4, focused on the Armenian Church and the Armenian Diaspora of the Middle East, respectively. They included Abp. Shahe Panosian, the prelate of Lebanon, Bp. Armash Nalbandian, the primate of the Diocese of Damascus; and Very Rev. Fr. Shahe Ananyan, the supreme archimandrite and dean of the Gevorkian Theological Seminary in Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia; Dr. Antranik Dakessian, an associate professor in the department of Armenian Studies at Haigazian University; Shaghig Hudaverdian, an instructor in the department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Haigazian University; and Armenak Tokmajian, a non-resident scholar at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Topics ranged from the new realities in the Armenian world, the future of Armenia in a post-war context, the state of the Diaspora globally and in the Middle East particularly, issues surrounding the Armenian Church, ethnic identity in a globally connected society, generational differences and experiences of Armenian-ness, the prospects for youth, and other concerns related to shifting priorities and prevailing attitudes across the Armenian world in general.
The second day's sessions explored how the issues raised the previous day in broad terms applied to the work of AGBU. The dialogues were framed in global, regional, and local contexts, but there was special focus on the role of AGBU in the Middle East. This region has experienced a disproportionate share of crises impacting Armenian communities over the last 15 years, marked by the great upheavals in Syria and Lebanon. Speakers included Marina Mkhitaryan, the executive director of AGBU Armenia, Grigor Hovhannisyan (for a second time), and Camilio Azzouz and Yervant Zorian, both AGBU board members.
That evening, AGBU Lebanon organized a concert of classical music, performed by the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted by Maestro Garo Avessian, at the majestic St. Joseph Church in Monot, Beirut. The following day, the conference concluded with a farewell dinner at the Cocteau restaurant.
Reflecting on the intensive discussions and special moments of the three-day summit, President Berge Setrakian expressed his personal gratitude and satisfaction with all that had transpired. “It was most striking and heartening to see so many inspired and gifted thought leaders and AGBU members coming together to share their knowledge, expertise and observations so generously. Everyone was eager to engage on a very high level of analysis, objectivity, and refreshing candor, which are critical to helping AGBU develop sound strategies and reachable goals for the near and long term. By the time these gatherings have worked their way around the globe, I am confident that we will be well positioned and prepared to meet the toughest challenges and most promising opportunities that lie ahead.”