Armenian Assembly Mourns the Loss of Dr. Raffy Hovanessian

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America joins the Hovanessian family and Armenians the world over in mourning the loss of distinguished physician, community leader, and philanthropist Dr. Raffy Hovanessian, who passed away on May 27, 2020, at the age of 81.

Dr. Raffy’s beloved wife of 55 years, Vicki Shoghag Hovanessian, shared the following moving tribute to her husband, courtesy of the Armenian Radio Hour of New Jersey:

“It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the sad news of the passing of our beloved Raffy. He passed away peacefully tonight surrounded by his family. I would like to personally thank each and every one of you for your love, respect, and support throughout his life, especially during the last seven years of his heroic battle. You all have a special place in his heart. Please remember him in the happy memories we all shared throughout the years.”

The son of survivors of the Armenian Genocide, Arakel and Dirouhie Hovanessian, Raffy spent his formative years in Aleppo, where he attended grade school and college. Inspired by his mother, a nurse and midwife, and the teachings of renowned physician, theologian, humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Raffy earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1958 and a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1962 from the American University of Beirut (AUB). While in medical school at AUB, he specialized in internal medicine and gastroenterology. In 1965, Raffy married his soulmate, Vicki Shoghag, in a wedding in Beirut officiated by Dr. Hovanessian’s lifelong friend, the Very Rev. Fr. Karekin Sarkissian. Decades later, Hayr Karekin would be elected Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin I.  Shortly after their union, Dr. Raffy and Vicki settled in the United States, where he continued his medical education in New Jersey and later at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Notably, during the most intense period of the Vietnam War, Dr. Hovanessian was drafted in the United States Army, earned the rank of Major, and served as Chief of the Ireland Army Community Hospital in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he focused on treating fellow service members afflicted with infectious diseases of the stomach and colon. The hospital is named in honor of the 23rd U.S. Army Surgeon General, Major General Merritte Weber Ireland, who served in that capacity between 1918 and 1931.

Blessed with the birth of their three children – Armen, Ani, and Aileen – the Hovanessians settled in Northwest Indiana near Chicago, where Dr. Raffy established a successful private medical practice, while Vicki became a leading curator and collector of contemporary art.

A Fellow Trustee and member of the Board of Directors of the Armenian Assembly of America (1986-1988), Dr. Raffy Hovanessian served with grace and humility. His commitment to faith and family was remarkable. His insights and work with the Assembly’s government affairs and grassroots initiatives were impactful and deeply appreciated. Dr. Raffy championed quality programming for Armenian youth, including the Terjenian-Thomas Assembly Internship Program in Washington, DC of which his son, Dr. Armen Hovanessian is an alumnus (’89). With his genuine and earnest efforts at encouraging camaraderie and unity among Armenian institutions – both clerical and lay – Dr. Raffy Hovanessian embodied the essence and mission of the Armenian Assembly.

Dr. Hovanessian was a man of action and service. For two decades, he served as a Diocesan Delegate of his local parish, Saints Joachim & Anne Armenian Apostolic Church of Palos Heights, Illinois, a church to which he and Vicki contributed tremendously for over four decades. He served as Vice-Chair and Delegate at the National Ecclesiastical Assembly in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin for the election of Catholicoi in 1995 and 1999. He served on the Diocesan Council of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America and on the boards of directors of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary and the Armenian Church Endowment Fund, in addition to serving as a member of the Diocesan Board of Trustees. Dr. Hovanessian was also active with and contributed to several educational, professional, and philanthropic organizations, including the American University of Armenia, Armenian American Health Professionals Organization, Armenian General Benevolent Union, Armenian Missionary Association of America, Fund for Armenian Relief, Knights of Vartan, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, and the Tekeyan Cultural Association.

Dr. Hovanessian devoted considerable time and effort towards improving the quality of health care for his brothers and sisters living in Armenia, Javakhk, and Artsakh. A deserving recipient of awards and commendations, spanning several decades, by Armenian and non-Armenian organizations, Dr. Hovanessian inspired fellow physicians, as well as fellow Armenians, to live a life of dedicated service, piety, and philanthropy – all for the greater good. During the 112th Diocesan Assembly in New York City in 2014, the Eastern Diocese named Dr. Raffy Hovanessian as its “Armenian Church Member of the Year.” Significantly, the inspirational story of Dr. Hovanessian’s personal and professional life was entered into the Congressional Record in February 1994 by his good friend, U.S. Congressman Peter J. Visclosky, whose 1st Congressional District represents constituents based in Northwest Indiana.

“We deeply mourn the passing of Dr. Raffy Hovanessian as a loss to the entire Armenian-American community and Armenians around the world and everyone whose lives he touched. His constant positivism, willingness to help others and wonderful smile will never be forgotten. He was truly a gifted individual and inspiring member of the Assembly’s Board. He was generous with his services to his fellow Armenians and a doctor whose skills at healing made him an admired physician among friends and professionals. We were lucky to have him, and the Assembly shares the pain of his accomplished and loving wife Vicki Shoghag, their devoted children and grandchildren, family members and friends,” stated Armenian Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.


NR# 2020-16

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Armenian Assembly of America Alarmed by Turkish President’s Incitement Against Minorities

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting of provincial election officials at the headquarters of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara on January 29, 2019. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America considers the recent rhetoric of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as both a fresh admission of the Armenian Genocide and an early warning sign of immediate threats to Armenians, Greeks, Christians, Kurds, as well as other minorities in the region. We call on the United States government and its NATO allies, and all other concerned governments to counteract these threats and safeguard innocent lives. President Erdoğan’s actions trigger the activation of the United Nations Genocide Convention, of which Turkey is a signatory party, and obligations to prevent another genocide.

During a May 4, 2020 briefing on COVID-19, Erdoğan proclaimed: “We do not allow terrorist leftovers of the sword in our country.” The term “leftover of the sword” has been utilized pejoratively by Turkish authorities during the past century to stigmatize its Armenian, Assyrian and Greek populations. During the Armenian Genocide, over 1.5 million Armenians were victims as Turkey not only eliminated its Christian Armenian population but also its Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, and other nations in the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The United States Congress passed resolutions in 2019 reaffirming policies to avoid the repetition of genocide. History teaches that, especially in emergency situations, leaders’ dog-whistle calls to racism lead to tragic consequences and we are seeing that history repeats itself in the current pandemic crisis, with President Erdoğan clearly trying to divert attention from his country’s real problems.

President Erdoğan’s inflammatory language and actions are contributing to the elevation of tensions in Turkish society and inciting some of his countrymen to commit hate crimes towards Armenians and Armenian properties in Turkey, the latest of which occurred on May 8, 2020, when St. Mary Armenian Church in Istanbul’s Bakırköy neighborhood was vandalized during an attempted burning of the church. The apprehended suspect stated that his motive to burn down the church was predicated on the false notion that Armenians “caused the coronavirus – the plague.” While it is encouraging that the deputy police chief of Istanbul reached out to the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople to “express sadness” and that a suspect has been detained, the preemption of such hate incidents significantly hinges on Turkish authorities refraining from airing provocative declarations targeting minority populations. Minority groups in countries outside of Turkey, including in Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, also feel threatened by such statements.

We thank all governments and groups monitoring these threats. Updates will be issued as the situation develops.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.


NR# 2020-15

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