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AGBU Press Office


Monday, August 13, 2007

Over 700 Young Armenians Participate in Sold-Out AGBU FOCUS 2007 in New York

Weekend Celebrates 20 Years of New York Summer Intern Program (NYSIP) & Honors Mr. and Mrs. Vartkess Balian and Rita Balian

AGBU FOCUS has wrapped up its fourth and largest biennial affair with over 700 participants, from 15 countries and more than 150 US cities, coming together in the city where it all began back in 2001. The four-day event was hosted at the Hudson Hotel near Columbus Circle, and included networking, fundraising and social activities throughout Manhattan, and exposing guests to the city's unique neighborhoods and culture. Through the tireless efforts of FOCUS Co-Chairpersons, Arda Berberian and Ani Manoukian, the weekend also raised over $85,000, which will go toward a special scholarship endowment fund for the New York Summer Intern Program. NYSIP is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary and was selected by the FOCUS Committee as the "focus" of its special tribute in 2007.

First initiated in 2001, FOCUS is designed to bring together young Armenian professionals so that they can share their international perspectives, as well as provide a venue for showcasing notable contributions and achievements made by the organization's diverse youth programs. This landmark affair, planned entirely by a new generation of AGBU beneficiaries and members, has grown to become the most anticipated event for young Armenian professionals around the world. Tickets for FOCUS events were sold out over two weeks before the weekend began, setting a new record for this singular endeavor that continues to set the standard for young Armenian professional events.


FOCUS Co-Chairperson, Ani Manoukian, said this year's event exceeded everyone's expectations, "The enthusiasm for this year's FOCUS 2007 was unprecedented. We always hoped that young Armenians would share the Organizing Committee's passion for all things AGBU, but it was amazing to see the true dedication of young Armenian professionals toward the goals and mission of an organization that celebrated its centennial last year but continues to be youthful in its energy and drive."

"Every FOCUS highlights a specific AGBU youth program that has shaped our generation. This year we chose the New York Summer Intern Program and took this opportunity to honor Mr. and Mrs. Vartkess and Rita Balian for their hard work and commitment for the past 20 years, ensuring the Program's success. The New York Summer Intern Program is near and dear to many of the weekend's attendees, including myself," Manoukian, who is a NYSIP alumna, explained.

To date, over 700 NYSIP interns worldwide have benefited from this extraordinary life-changing program. To ensure the future success of the Program, FOCUS fundraising initiatives established a NYSIP scholarship endowment, which will offer students in need of financial assistance the means to realize their professional potential.

NYSIP is sponsored by the AGBU President's Club, which is co-chaired by Vartkess and Rita Balian. As the driving force behind NYSIP, the Balians were chosen as the guests of honor for the FOCUS 2007 gala in acknowledgment of their visionary leadership that has helped NYSIP thrive through the years.

The pre-weekend fundraising, which totaled over $50,000, included dozens of donations from NYSIP alumni eager to give back and offer a helping hand to others. Additional donations from individuals during the weekend totaled $35,000, to bring the grand total for the special NYSIP endowment to over $85,000. Among the weekend donations was a generous pledge of $30,000 announced by Vartkess Balian at the Gala evening.


FOCUS ceremonially began on Thursday night with the traditional Perspectives event at Midtown Loft near the city's famed Empire State Building. Over 200 guests attended the panel discussion on the topic of "Active Citizenship: Duty & Responsibility Toward Your Armenian & Non-Armenian Communities."

Moderated by Organizing Committee member, Amy Katcherian, the panel included Natalie Gabrelian of New York, Rupen Nacaroglu of Lugano (Switzerland), Vartan Marashlyan of Moscow, Serge Kassardjian of San Francisco and Karen Papazian of Toronto.

Panelists shared their experiences in balancing their work and personal lives, while making an effort to stay connected to both their Armenian and non-Armenian communities. Audience members joined the dialogue, asking pointed questions regarding the inspiration behind thriving as an Armenian professional in the Diaspora, and panelists revealed that an integral part of contemporary Armenian youth is the constant negotiation among the various facets of an individual's identity. In fact, it is something that adds to its richness and brings Armenians together. As part of the event, a display on 100 Years of AGBU history was on hand to educate participants about the organization's substantial history.

Panelist Karen Papazian was impressed with the level of discussion and the strength of convictions among those who spoke. "I was delighted to participate in this year's Perspectives event, as it is an incredible opportunity to engage the community's young professionals in issues that should be at the forefront of our thinking. I was honored to share the stage with so many accomplished young Armenians who are doing outstanding work in their communities. It helped me see what FOCUS is all about -- bringing people together."

After the discussion, guests were invited to the rooftop terrace, where they were greeted with a reception served under the moonlit city skyline, which included a picture-postcard view of some of the area's architectural landmarks.

From professional to funky, the following night's highly popular club night attracted some 600 Armenians to the Upper West Side's LOFT nightclub. Featuring two floors of hot rhythms, guests enjoyed a global mix of Western and world music, while socializing with new and old friends eager to share in the energy of the city's wondrous nightlife.


This year, FOCUS organized a special reunion luncheon for NYSIP alumni on Friday afternoon, attended by close to 80 alumni representing almost every intern class through the years. Emceed by former NYSIP Associate Director, Lana Kazangian, the informal gathering invited some former interns to speak about the importance of their internships to their future careers and personal growth. The speakers included Robin Barone, Lara Setrakian, Krikor Deurdulian and the keynote speaker, Paul Nadjarian, who is both an alumnus and currently a NYSIP Supervisor.

Special guests, Vartkess & Rita Balian, also attended the intimate lunch, which offered attendees an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends. Rita Balian addressed the group of alumni and shared her thoughts about the lasting values of NYSIP and its role in the lives of its participants.


On Saturday, July 28, FOCUS organized a unique art event, known as "FOCUS on Art," which welcomed guests to the Grant Gallery in Soho for a fundraiser featuring artworks by Armenian artists from five countries (Armenia, Canada, Italy, Syria and the United States). The combination live and silent auction raised thousands for the NYSIP Scholarship Endowment.

Close to two hundred guests journeyed to one of the city's most vibrant cultural districts for the spirited auction. Charity auctioneer Aileen Agopian assisted by Taline Aynilian, roused the crowd as they bought select pieces in a memorable live auction.

Artworks from the AGBU Sarian Art Academy (Aleppo, Syria) and the AGBU-supported Yerevan Fine Arts Academy (Yerevan, Armenia) were among those sold for charity. An impressive scope of works by Anet Abnous, Vahram Aghazarian, Shant Donabedian, Linda Ganjian, Aram Jibilian, Carla Koulajian, Vadim Krisyan, Helga Sarkis, Gailyn Saroyan, Sam Tchakalian and Sossy Terzian were also donated.


The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday-night Gala held at Gotham Hall near Manhattan's Herald Square. This elegant affair paid tribute to the 20th anniversary of the New York Summer Intern Program (NYSIP), and honored Vartkess and Rita Balian, Co-chairs of the AGBU President's Club, who have supported NYSIP from its inception.

Beginning with cocktails on the upper mezzanine of the classically inspired venue, guests were then welcomed downstairs to the main hall where they were treated to a multimedia program, a full-course dinner and an evening with the Kevork Artinian Band from Montreal, which played Armenian and international classics for a crowd eager to dance the night away.

The Gala program commenced with opening remarks by the lively Master of Ceremonies, NYSIP alumnus and longtime activities coordinator, Arthur Bohdjalian of Vienna, Austria. FOCUS Co-Chairs Arda Berberian and Ani Manoukian then took the stage, welcoming the 540 guests who filled the room.

"As Co-Chair of this year's FOCUS, I had the opportunity to see firsthand how unique a weekend this truly is. Young Armenian professionals from all over the world with diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to come together and create bonds that last a lifetime. I have personally appreciated the impact of these friendships and am grateful for the experience," Arda Berberian stated to the crowd. "FOCUS is also the vehicle for us to highlight and give back to the important AGBU youth programs that have influenced our lives and, this year, we honor the New York Summer Intern Program," she added.

Their words were amplified by a special video presentation with photographs illustrating memories from the past two decades. The video was narrated by alumni and staff of the Program, who shared their experiences and highlighted the aspects of a program that has touched the lives of many.

Raffi Balian, son of Vartkess and Rita Balian, was invited to the podium to speak about his parents' support of NYSIP and their belief in the future of Armenian youth. "I can honestly say that one of their biggest ideas was that, from the first day, they believed in the possibility of you. They established the internship program because they have tremendous faith in you and expect great things from you," he emphasized. "By their example, my parents have taught the value of giving unselfishly, of working diligently, of persevering relentlessly, and of loving wholeheartedly. I have always said that if I am half the person that my father and mother are, then I will have succeeded in life."

FOCUS presented a special award to Vartkess and Rita Balian for their steadfast vision and commitment to AGBU youth. Mr. and Mrs. Balian accepted the honor and expressed their appreciation to FOCUS for making the dream of uniting Armenian youth into a reality. "Your presence here tonight really exceeds our expectations. You don't know how happy you make us and Mr. and Mrs. Alex Manoogian [AGBU Life President and his wife], who are watching us from the heavens. This is their dream come true," Rita Balian said.

Her words were inspiring to those gathered, and she underlined the principles that have guided her and her husband's longstanding vision, "I would like you, as Armenians, to always succeed and never leave each other. Help each other, stick together, empower each other and share everything that you have with the world. Always be proud that you are Armenian, that you are talented people, and that you belong to the Armenian General Benevolent Union."

Vartkess Balian, echoing his wife's sentiments, pledged $30,000 for the NYSIP scholarship endowment and added his own words of pride for what they have accomplished together, "Twenty years ago, this [internship program] was a dream. Today it is a reality. It is a tremendous joy for me to see so many young people together."

The rousing words by Vartkess and Rita Balian sent electricity through the crowd, who gave the couple a standing ovation in recognition of their decades of work and commitment to AGBU youth.


On the final morning, close to 250 guests came together for the gourmet brunch at Josephina Restaurant near Lincoln Center. This casual event offered them the opportunity to share stories and reconnect with friends after an action-packed weekend that continues to spotlight the vitality of the young Armenian professional community around the world.

The FOCUS 2007 Organizing Committee was composed of over a dozen volunteers and spearheaded by vivacious Co-chairpersons Arda Berberian and Ani Manoukian. The dedicated members of the committee included Ani Bardakjian, Aline Ekmekji, Natalie Gabrelian, Monica Ghailian, Aline Ghazarian, Natalie Golnazarians, Veken Gueyikian, Mher Hartoonian, Talia Jebejian, Amy Katcherian, Vana Khanjian, Vadim Krisyan, Serge Kassardjian, Taleen Mangassarian, Aline Markarian, Salpi Mekhjian, Tamar Nahabedian, Aida Setrakian, and Hrag Vartanian.

"We are grateful for all of the support from our Organizing Committee. This was a truly a 'dream team' and we are proud to have worked with such dedicated and forward-thinking individuals. We look forward to another success in 2009," stated Berberian and Manoukian in a shared sentiment.

To view photos and videos from the weekend or learn more about FOCUS and how to get involved, please visit: