Message from AGBU President Berge Setrakian
New York – January 1, 2021
My compatriots, both in Armenia and around the world, we are ending a year that has been dramatically different from any other in living memory. A century after the 1918 Spanish Flu, the world has lost nearly two million souls to the Covid-19 pandemic. For Lebanese-Armenians, 2020 saw the devastating Beirut Port Explosion and a collapse of confidence in the government – ironically, during the same year that marked Lebanon’s hundredth anniversary as an independent state. In Armenia, we witnessed the devastating Artsakh War of 2020, which posed a military and socio-political defeat for our people. While the war united our people across the globe and mobilized many people of goodwill to help the country get back on its feet, its profound moral and material impact have left Armenians reeling.
For almost an entire year, our world has been confined to a socially-distant lifestyle, with families and friends unable to freely greet and embrace one another. Some have lost loved ones overnight; others have lost livelihoods or vital sources of income, as the pandemic devastated the global economy and touched almost everyone, regardless of wealth, age or cultural background. With the hope of widely-available vaccines on the horizon, we can begin to feel optimistic about overcoming this enormous challenge.
Even in looking back on a dark year, there are moments of light, unity and strength. While our in-person activities ceased, technology was creatively deployed and put to the test. AGBU volunteers and staff raised the bar to connect and engage people of all ages from every continent. We hosted compelling forums for much-needed conversations, and educated tens of thousands, including those outside our Armenian world. I am proud of AGBU’s ability to pivot its approaches and activities. We have displayed agility, innovative thinking, and execution, all with genuine compassion. Above all, we have provided critical support when it was needed most, and I am grateful to those who so effectively made this important work possible.
This year, the primary theme of our AGBU efforts was truly that of humanitarian response. With the global food insecurity crisis confronting so many, our communities in all corners rose to the challenge, providing sustenance and care to those around them. All of this was thanks to the enormous generosity of our donors and the tireless commitment of our volunteers.
Just as we all seemed to acclimate to a new way of life, our community was rocked by the Beirut Port explosion on August 4. It painfully impacted the city’s Armenian population, which already faced a traumatic year given Lebanon’s economic collapse. When lives were shattered, AGBU once again stepped up to help. Thanks to our members, friends and supporters, we secured the funds necessary to clean up the destruction, rebuild homes, provide meals and medical supplies to the needy, and offer countless other acts of philanthropic aid. Our scouts and volunteers were exemplary in demonstrating the true spirit of unity, service and civic engagement in this time of great need.
The following month, Armenians everywhere were blindsided by the outbreak of war in Artsakh. Our Republic of Armenia, which had been on a bright path toward prosperity and stability, suffered a massive setback. The offensive launched by Turkish-Azeri forces on September 27 resulted in the loss of a large portion of Artsakh and the destruction of much of its infrastructure. Even more devastating, it took the lives of more than 5,000 soldiers in less than six weeks, left 10,000 injured and nearly 70,000 civilians displaced. The full scope of the escalating humanitarian crisis becomes clearer by the week. All of this has resulted in a depressed and demoralized nation, locked in political strife.
We ended the year struck by the darkness of confusion and mourning, but we know that Armenia and Armenians will bounce back, as we always have, by applying our unmatched resilience, intelligence and hard work to tackle the challenges of the day. Using all our individual and collective force, we will overcome whatever difficulties come our way. We can never forget that we survived near-annihilation as a people, followed by decades of political uncertainty, dispersion across the diaspora and dramatic upheaval across the Middle East. We are still standing because Armenians have never let darkness overcome our spirit of service and resilience. This is no small feat.
The end of this tumultuous year is a time of deep reflection. We are rightly examining all that we have done in nearly thirty years since Armenia’s independence and across the broader history of more than a century since our first republic. It is important to look back and take stock of every assumption, every strategy, every project, even of the dynamics between the state and the diaspora. This is how we will understand what we could have done better and what we need to be doing next. This is how we will evolve and grow stronger, as individuals and as an institution.
Soon enough, this solemn introspection will lead us to new, innovative models of state-building and community building, and strategies to build a brighter future. As a people, we have the skill, talents and commitment to improve our fortunes and fortify our defenses. We also enjoy advantages we have never before had, like access to cutting edge technologies and the capacity to stay connected to each other in real time. The 21st century is the reign of the knowledge economy. This is an era in which we can truly excel, as we design smarter systems and bring out our greatest strengths as a people. We must use these assets and define a bold new vision to build the future we want to see.
May this dark moment be our transformation that leads us to a brighter future, one in which our unity will build new and even greater strength. Each one of us has a role to play and a contribution to make to our national renewal. AGBU commits itself to the important task of nation-building and development. We are here to stand with Armenians everywhere and work with all those who wish to collaborate and coordinate for the greater good. There is space for everyone to give of their time, their expertise, and their goodwill.
Thank you for your profound care and ongoing engagement in Armenian life. I wish you and your families, peace, prosperity and good health in 2021.
President of AGBU
Headquartered in Berlin, AGBU Germany is the first German Chapter of the New York-based Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted to upholding the Armenian heritage through educational, cultural, and humanitarian programs across the globe. AGBU has an active presence in 32 countries and 75 cities.
AGBU Germany was founded in 2020 in the awareness of its responsibility towards the Armenians in Germany, Armenia, Artsakh, and the Diaspora. Inspired by the unwavering determination of its mother organization AGBU founded in 1906, and in appreciation and recognition of its continuous achievements, the Chapter fits as a German link into the ranks of international AGBU Chapters as well as into the global Armenian nation.