The history and the true image of an organization and its achievements do not solely stand on neatly catalogued documents. The narrative of a living, breathing, prolific organization, such as the ARS with thousands of actively involved members, and supporters continues to justify its humanitarian vocation today as it did yesterday.
The history of the Armenian Relief Society starts in New York City, on January 1, 1910 — five years before the beginning of the Metz Yeghern — with a group of concerned Armenian women, enjoying the guidance and support of the prominent ARF activist, Khachatur Malumian (Edgar Agnouni), who, foreseeing the coming storm, wanted to mobilize the great, untapped potential of Armenian women, determined to serve their scattered nation in its hour of need.
At its founding, the society was known as the Armenian Red Cross, and as such it was recognized by the International Red Cross and, in 1921, was invited to participate in its 10th International Convention held in Geneva, Switzerland. After the fall of the 1st Republic, the Society could no longer retain that recognition and became a strictly Diasporan relief organization, working under various names in different countries, yet recognizing the leadership of the US-based regional center.
Until 1979, the Society’s American regional administration played the dual role of regional as well as central executive for a fast growing international society destined to become the largest Armenian women’s organization in the world. In its International Convention, held in July, 1979, the Society, revising its Constitution and Bylaws, created a Central Executive Board to run the international organization as its highest body, and renamed the regional entity Armenian Relief Society of North America, encompassing the entire United States and Canada.
In 1984, in view of the rapid growth of the Armenian community on the West Coast, a new regional entity was initiated, the Armenian Relief Society of Western USA, encompassing all the states west of the Mississippi River, the remaining region, including the US East Coast and Canada, retaining the name Armenian Relief Society of North America until 1990, when Canada officially assumed regional status. Thus, that date marked the beginning of the present Armenian Relief Society of Eastern United States.
Since then, this regional entity, whose roots go directly to the very conception and birth of the great ARS family, has been one of the solid pillars of the Society, involved in all aspects of the humanitarian mission of the ARS, on both regional and international levels with a variety of programs — implemented across the region and in the Homeland — in the fields of education, health and social services.
Among its various activities involving education, the region subsidizes and runs the ARS Summer Studies Project. Started in 1971, this program continues to this date to give a chance to college level students to get acquainted with Armenian history, literature, and culture in all its aspects. Held on various North-Eastern campuses, this two-week program, presented by experts in the fields of history, language, liberal arts, music and cinema has become the summer gathering place for Armenian students eager to discuss, study and appreciate their national heritage in both its past and modern aspects.
In keeping with the Society’s mission, ARS/East has actively supported the region’s Armenian schools and continues to do so with grants to the Hovnanian School in New Jersey, the Armenian Sisters Schools in Philadelphia and Boston, and the St.. Stephen’s School in Watertown, Massachusetts. In 1996, the ARS “Washington Heights” Chapter of New York, granted $100,000 to the St. Illuminator’s School of New York for the construction of new buildings. The ARS/East also provides assistance to deserving students by maintaining scholarship programs for young scholars of Armenian origin.
The welfare of Armenian youth remains one of the primary concerns of the ARS. Every year, the Regional Executive helps youngsters of needy families to spend a few weeks of the summer at the AYF Camp Haiastan, in Franklin, Massachusetts. In the same spirit, after Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union, the ARS/East sponsored the trip of a group of the Armenian Youth Federation to Armenia to work with the “Land and Culture” program.
As part of its services to the community, the Regional Executive has opened a Social Services Office in the building of the Armenian cultural and Educational Center in Watertown, Massachusetts; similar ARS offices operate in New Jersey, Detroit and Providence.accommodations and services are planned for the near future.
The greatest challenge – alongside the Artsakh liberation war — that the Society, along with the rest of the Armenian people confronted, was the earthquake, that some twenty years ago devastated northwestern Armenia, leaving behind it thousands of homeless families, orphans, widows, crippled and maimed casualties.
Needless to say, the ARS/East immediately mobilized its chapters and ungeruhis, along with countless supporters and friends in an all out effort of assistance to the stricken Homeland. Together with the ARS Central Executive Board and the ARF Central Committee, a plan of immediate and long-range action was mapped out, which included the following emergency steps: 1. Mobile first aid units; 2. Emergency treatment teams for the Children’s Hospital; 3. Public clinics for the villages; 4. Recovery center for the youth. 5. Kindergartens; 6. Exchange of specialists; 6. Information and PR center; 7. Youth volunteer units; 8. Housing and shelters; 9. Prosthetics, artificial limbs; Orphan care.
This ambitious program was to be implemented with the close cooperation of international organizations and humanitarian groups, such as, the American Red Cross, the USAID, and various agencies of the United Nations. In context with the set goals, the ARS/East, in cooperation with the ARS/West built the Krashen village, consisting of 40 individual housing units, ready for occupancy.
Among all the projects and programs that the ARS of Eastern United States initiated and carried out in Armenia, one stands out as a monument to the resurgent spirit of the Armenian nation – the ARS “Mother & Child” Health and Birthing Center in Akhurian. Started as a pre- and post-natal care clinic, the Center today provides complete health and maternity care to the women of Akhurian and its surrounding villages. So far, over 3,000 healthy births – including one case of triplets – have been registered at the Birthing Center. In view of the success of this ARS establishment, expansion, both in accommodations and services are planned for the near future.