LOS ANGELES, CA – With coverage on local television stations, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) exhibit, highlighting the accomplishments of a pair of YMCA volunteers who were in Armenia in 1918, continues to receive wide attention. Marking its Western United States premiere, the exhibit was on display at the West Gallery on the campus of California State University Northridge (CSUN) from October 26 through November 7 and is presently featured on the premises of the YMCA of Glendale.
News reports on the exhibition were covered by community journalist Gabriela Milian for ABC7 Los Angeles (KABC) and by Maria Cozette for Horizon TV who interviewed Armenian Assembly of America Western Region Director Mihran Toumajan and ANI Director Dr. Rouben Adalian, who curated the exhibition, in addition to other media coverage.
The exhibition explains the role of the YMCA and American relief work during the first republic of Armenia (1918-1920) and focuses on John Elder and James O. Arroll who arrived in Yerevan in January 1918 to open a YMCA center. Neither Elder nor Arroll had anticipated being stranded as the only Americans left in the country’s capital city, with all communication to the outside world cut off when the front line faltered. World War I was still raging at the time and Allied forces were in retreat on the Caucasus front. The November 11, 1918 Armistice that ended World War I was many months away. By the time they left Yerevan in August 1919, Elder and Arroll had become responsible for the entire operation set up by U.S.-based charities, which earned them tribute from future U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who, at that time, headed the United States Food Administration.
Participating in the opening ceremonies on October 26 were representatives of the co-sponsoring organizations, including Ms. Jane Stanton and Mr. Lionnel Zaragoza of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, CSUN Office of Government & Community Relations and its Interim Director Mr. Rafael De La Rosa, the CSUN Armenian Studies Program and its Director Dr. Vahram Shemmassian, the CSUN Armenian Student Association (ASA), as well as special guests Ambassador Dr. Armen Baibourtian, the Consul General of the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles, Ms. Mary Chakerian who serves as a Field Representative for Congressman Brad Sherman, and Ms. Nikki Perez who serves as a Field Representative for California State Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-45).
Armenian Assembly of America Western Region Director Mihran Toumajan served as the Master of Ceremonies and introduced a distinguished group of speakers. Dr. Vahram Shemmassian, Professor of Armenian Studies at CSUN, headed the lineup of speakers. He welcomed the audience to the school and introduced the university’s plans with the recently announced $2.1 million gift dedicated to the Armenian Studies Program.
“This exhibit once again demonstrated American humanitarianism in its finest, as well as the close bonds between the American and Armenian peoples that exist until today. Armenians in the United States have contributed to this great nation in many areas including, but not limited to, science, literature, sports, arts and culture, politics and so on. In turn, the Armenian nation will forever be indebted to the American people for their altruism and benevolence shown in times of great catastrophes and tribulations,” stated Dr. Shemmassian.
During his remarks, Ambassador Dr. Armen Baibourtian reflected upon the historical meaning of the exhibit with his personal thoughts about the difficult days at the start of the Armenian republic as documented in the photographs and testimony of the exhibit.
“The initiative of organizing this important exhibition duly serves its purpose. By means of depicting the life and deeds of two American heroes in Armenia in 1918-1919, this photo exhibition sheds light on unknown pages of American humanitarian undertakings in Armenia and delves into the roots of Armenian-U.S. historical friendship,” stated Consul General Baibourtian.
Speaking on behalf of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, Ms. Jane Stanton cited Elder and Arroll as exemplars of YMCA ideals and called upon viewers to appreciate the volunteer spirit that inspired them to assume so much responsibility.
Director of the West Gallery, Mr. Jim Sweeters, welcomed the audience to the exhibit and praised CSUN ASA volunteers, who helped mount the exhibit and welcome the audience attending the opening ceremonies with refreshments and information. Concluding remarks were made by Ms. Mary Chakerian, Field Representative of Congressman Brad Sherman, who bestowed Certificates of Special Congressional Recognition upon Dr. Adalian and Dr. Shemmassian.
Prior to the opening ceremonies, Dr. Adalian gave a brief overview of the exhibit explaining key moments captured by the photography and testimony of the two YMCA volunteers in Armenia.
“While a heroic story, all of this might have been completely forgotten had Elder and Arroll not done something else, which was to take photographs of the situation in Armenia. They effectively are the first documentarians of the rebirth of the Armenian nation and the photographs they made are of a remarkable quality and contain a wealth of information. Some of the pictures are so dramatic that no amount of words can reconstruct the scenes they depict,” explained Dr. Adalian
Maria Cozette of Horizon TV conducted an extensive interview with Dr. Adalian about the origin of the exhibit, its unique elements, the importance of the humanitarian undertaking of the YMCA volunteers, and his appreciation of the Elder family who shared the resources needed to reconstruct this forgotten piece of history.
The exhibit was viewed by student groups over the course of the following two weeks. Seventh and eighth grade students from the Armenian Sisters Academy of Montrose, California visited the exhibit as part of their school program. Separately, KABC was present at the West Gallery when 10th grade students of the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School (MDS) of Canoga Park, California viewed the exhibit. In addition to interviewing Armenian Assembly Western Region Director Toumajan, a select group of AGBU MDS students were interviewed by Gabriela Milian during which they voiced their own observations about what they learned by seeing the exhibit.
Toumajan, who spearheaded the exhibit’s opening ceremonies, also provided guided tours of the exhibition while it was on display at the West Gallery. “On behalf of the Armenian Assembly, I extend our profound gratitude to our co-sponsors at the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles and at CSUN for their dedicated partnership. We are especially grateful to Mr. Suren Seropian, Director of Development of CSUN’s College of Humanities, for facilitating introductions to several stakeholders on the campus of CSUN, and for generously serving as an integral member of our team of co-sponsors,” stated Toumajan.
Upon the heels of the opening of the exhibit, momentous developments in Washington, D.C. soon put the U.S. House of Representatives on record affirming the Armenian Genocide. Dr. Adalian was interviewed by international media, including Voice of America Russian Service and Al-Arabiya News Channel, on this major legislative accomplishment of the Armenian American community and the importance of American policy in the context of international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
The YMCA exhibit has become a critical resource for YMCA centers in America and Armenia. The exhibit also served as the bridging point of reference to the partnership agreement struck between the Glendale YMCA and Artsakh YMCA signed in early November.
The exhibit is currently on display until Friday, January 17, 2020 at the YMCA of Glendale and will be traveling to other California-based centers in the new year. To view the exhibition at the YMCA of Glendale, please reserve a date and time with Ms. Arnella Putzel of the Glendale YMCA by calling (818) 696-2591 during normal business hours Monday through Friday. The YMCA of Glendale is located at: 140 North Louise Street, Glendale, CA 91206.
Organizations interested in displaying the exhibit can coordinate with the Armenian Assembly of America’s Western Region Office by calling (818) 291-6466.
“The exhibition titled American Relief in the First Republic of Armenia, along with all the other exhibits prepared by the Armenian National Institute, are available for free downloading in digital format. An abundance of other instructional resources is available on the ANI website (www.armenian-genocide.org). In light of the House of Representatives’ adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution which expressly stated that it ‘encourage[d] education and public understanding of the Armenian Genocide, including the United States role in the humanitarian relief effort,’ the Armenian National Institute calls on educators to tap the available resources for that very purpose,” stated Dr. Adalian.
Founded in 1997, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) is a 501(c)(3) educational charity based in Washington, D.C., and is dedicated to the study, research, and affirmation of the Armenian Genocide.