The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU)—the world’s largest Armenian nonprofit — finally had the opportunity to commemorate the 110th Anniversary of its presence in France three years after the fact, due to the global pandemic and deadly war against the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) starting in 2020. Nevertheless, the event attracted participants from across the globe over the course of two days, complete with conferences, dinners, and group activities. The aim was also to generate support from French politicians as well as valued AGBU donors and friends for AGBU’s humanitarian efforts in Artsakh. The AGBU France Board was also renewed on this occasion.
A Legacy for Relief
Founded in 1906 in Cairo, AGBU first came to France in 1910 with the creation of its Marseille branch. Over the ensuing decades, AGBU came to the aid of Armenian communities in harm’s way. More recently, it expanded its capacity to meet multiple emergency situations in hotspots around the world, thanks to the AGBU Global Relief Fund. From the conflict in Syria and the Beirut Blast in Lebanon to the 2020 Artsakh War, this dedicated fund allowed AGBU to ramp up humanitarian solutions on the local level, whether delivering on-the-ground assistance with food boxes, survival gear, pharmaceutical and medical supplies, or providing longer-term financial assistance.
Since December 2022, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have been suffering the full force of a blockade imposed by the government of Azerbaijan that deprives them of energy, food and healthcare. AGBU has stepped up its efforts to support this vulnerable community with resources raised through this special fund.
In an emphatic speech, AGBU President explained the organization’s commitment to Artsakh and Armenia. “Because, for AGBU, benevolence is not only a virtue; it is a moral duty, it is a commitment,” he stated. “If the French of Armenian origin are today an exemplary model of integration, it is not only because of their courage and tenacity. It's also thanks to their spirit of solidarity, to which France has just paid homage by inducting Mélinée and Missak Manouchian into the Panthéon …Our union is more necessary than ever, our energy is more essential than ever, our generosity is more vital than ever …If history has taught us anything, it's that the future is not given, it must be taken. In 110 years' time, AGBU will still exist, with future generations who will carry the torch in pursuit of its mission. Today, the future of Armenia and Artsakh is in front of us. It is up to us to conquer it.”
To read the entire speech in English or French, go to https://agbu.org/statement/agbu-president-berge-setrakians-speech-occasion-110th-anniversary-agbu-france.
As part of the milestone occasion, AGBU organized three events, including an all-day conference on the challenges facing Armenia in the South Caucasus region, an evening for young professionals and a gala in solidarity with the Armenian people.
On June 23, “Armenia at the Crossroads, Peace and Prosperity at the Edge of Europe” was organized by AGBU France and Applied Policy Research Institute (APRI) of Armenia at Sciences Po. The keynote remarks for the morning discussion were delivered by Nathalie Loiseau, a member of European Parliament and the chair of the Subcommittee on Security and Defense.
Also in attendance was Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Regional Council of Hauts-de-France who talked about Armenian-French strategic partnership: “Leaving Nagorno-Karabakh today means abandoning Armenia tomorrow. If we leave Nagorno-Karabakh, there's going to be a massacre. We have to be aware of this. We have to show that important things are happening not only in Ukraine. And also we are talking about ethnic purification, ethnic cleansing. We should be careful that Armenia doesn't have part of its territory taken from itself, because otherwise Armenia is going to be menaced in the future.”
Among the other speakers of the morning session were Armelle Charrier, International Affairs Commentator, France24; Laure Delcour, Associate Professor in International Relations and EU Studies, Sorbonne Nouvelle University; Benyamin Poghosyan, Senior Research Fellow, APRI Armenia; Arancha González Laya, the former minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain and the dean of the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po; Ambassador Jacques Faure, the former ambassador of France to Ukraine; Former Co-Chair, OSCE Minsk Group, etc.
For the afternoon session, the emphasis was placed on sustainable agriculture in Armenia, transformative technologies, and renewable energies. A number of Armenian entrepreneurs participated, including: Anahit Markosian, the founder and head of R&D and Product Development, Nairian Skincare; Aimee Keushguerian, the founder and owner of Zulal Wines and the managing director of Keush; Victoria Aslanian, the CEO and co-founder of ArmAs Winery. Each shared their experiences and their formula for success. They also discussed how they are strengthening Armenia’s economic and business opportunities and ecosystems to build a more resilient country. First Deputy Minister of High-Tech Industry of the Republic of Armenia Gevorg Mantashyan also addressed the audience with a speech about the opportunities that exist in that sphere.
That same evening, "La Nuit des YP" was organized by the AGBU Young Professionals of Paris. bringing together 120 young professionals from across Europe to the Monnaie de Paris.
The dinner in solidarity with the Armenian people took place on Saturday, June 24 at the Westin Paris Vendôme. Over 200 people attended. AGBU Central Board of Directors, under the chairmanship of AGBU President Berge Setrakian, along with the French and European network and AGBU friends, paid tribute to its valued partners, including: Nathalie Loiseau, member of the European Parliament and chair of the European Parliament's Subcommittee on Security and Defense; Valérie Pécresse, the president of the Île-de-France Regional Council; Laurent Wauquiez, the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Regional Council; Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, represented by Arnaud Ngatcha, the deputy mayor of Paris in charge of Europe and international affairs for the French-speaking world. AGBU leadership expressed its gratitude for their continued support in solidarity projects with Armenia and Artsakh. In turn, the honorees offered their own perspectives on the crisis.
"Is Azeri aggression more acceptable than Russian aggression? Is Azeri gas more acceptable than Russian gas? Is the territory of Artsakh less sacred in the eyes of the European media than Donbass? Is Armenian blood less valuable than Ukrainian blood? Would we impose this peace on Armenia by abandoning 120,000 of your compatriots on the other side of a corridor, in a blockade of an inhumanity we didn't even think we'd see in the 21st century?" expressed Laurent Wauquiez, the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, during the solidarity dinner organized by AGBU France.
"I can no longer stand these diplomatic announcements that sound like they were written by ChatGPT, since they keep saying that both sides need to exercise restraint. I still know the difference between an aggressor and an aggressed. I can still name the fact that Azerbaijan is shooting at Armenia. I still know how to say that while Azerbaijan is firing on the internationally recognized territory of Armenia, so-called Russian peacekeepers are present and crossing their arms", said Nathalie Loiseau, Member of the European Parliament.
"Realpolitik has its limits, it can't justify everything. Just because the European Union needs Azerbaijani gas doesn't mean we should keep quiet. (...) The Armenians of both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh represent the outpost of democracy, in a region where authoritarian, even dictatorial states reign unchallenged. (...) For me, defending Armenia is defending Europe, defending our human values, our common values" added Valérie Pécresse, President of the Paris region.
A New AGBU France Board of Directors
On Saturday June 24, members of the new AGBU France Board of Directors were also able to meet with the AGBU Central Board of Directors. During this meeting, the activities and news of AGBU global, AGBU Armenia and AGBU Europe were presented. Stéphane Petrossian is appointed co-president of AGBU France, alongside Nadia Gortzounian, co-president of AGBU France. Camilio Azzouz becomes AGBU Europe President.
To help support humanitarian efforts in Artsakh, donate to AGBU Global Relief Fund at https://agbu.org/global-relief.