December 1, 2023
On Saturday, November 4, 2023, AGBU Hye Geen and the Young Circle launched an international conference in partnership with CSUN Armenian Studies to celebrate its 30th anniversary of engaging and empowering Armenian women and preserving the national identity. To mark this significant milestone, three distinguished speakers were invited to describe how women approach leadership. The celebration also featured a unique tribute to thirty remarkable women in the community chosen by the Hye Geen Committee for their “unwavering belief in our existence and right to survive.”
The day’s opening remarks were read by Suren Seropian from a message prepared by Vahram Shemmassian, director of the Armenian Studies Program at California State University Northridge. Referring to the heavy losses sustained by the nation, Prof. Shemmassian stressed the need to chart a new course, avoiding the mistakes of the past and insuring “that the common good is the guarantor of the individual good and not vice versa.” In spite of the prevailing adverse conditions, he chose to maintain a “positive outlook and uplifting spirit.” He also congratulated the day’s honorees and pledged to proceed together “on a new path that will lead us to great heights, drawing the admiration of the world.”
This was followed by the introductory remarks of Hye Geen Young Circle’s Nellie Yacoubian, Chairperson of the International Conference Committee. She dwelt on the nation’s pivotal moment of facing harrowing experiences, as well as celebrating an important milestone of “honoring the past, embracing the present and shaping the future.”
On the local level, she cited how Hye Geen and Young Circle have encouraged women to take on key positions in the community and secure the funding of nine Pregnant Women Centers in Armenia. These Centers have positively impacted women’s lives by providing prenatal and postnatal care, as well as hygiene education for the family.
She also referred to the regular publication of Hye Geen Magazine with a special 30th anniversary edition highlighting the accomplishments of the thirty honorees, who had fulfilled their obligations of facing national challenges and rebuilding shattered lives.
The first speaker of the day was Judge Gassia Apkarian of the Supreme Court of California in the County of Orange. She has served as special assistant to Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States and advisor to the President of Armenia.
In the wake of the 44-Day war following Azerbaijan’s invasion of Artsakh and a nearly yearlong humanitarian siege, in 1921 Judge Apkarian became a founding member and advisor of the Center for Truth and Justice. The purpose of the Center is to collect and document admissible evidence of war crimes committed by Azerbaijan in order to achieve accountability and justice for Armenians. Mostly young women lawyers are recruited and trained by the Center to diligently pursue the release of the Prisoners of War (POW) in Azeri custody, and to file cases of Azeri atrocities for the International Criminal Court. These cases will serve to open investigations for what can be called an Indigenous Genocide based on ethnic cleansing or the forced exodus of Artsakh natives, creating a massive refugee crisis.
Judge Apkarian urged diasporan youths and parents to be involved in the nation’s unresolved conflicts and search peace initiatives using their expertise in shaping the future. This distinctive leadership style of taking responsibility for resolving problems rather than depending upon or blaming others was welcomed by an appreciative audience.
The second speaker was professor and media personality Dr. Maria Cozette Akopian. During her doctoral studies at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, she initiated a “groundbreaking women’s leadership program.” Then, while serving as marketing professor in the same institution, her program became the first of its kind to be adopted by the University.
In 2017, she founded the Thornbird Marketing Inc., successfully representing major brands. In time, the resourceful professor became a popular media personality by pioneering the first English speaking show on Armenian TV in 2009. She won awards as a recording artist, songwriter and producer, enjoying an Armenian American youthful following. In 2019, she even initiated her own Maria Cozette Show, proof of her transformational leadership.
Known as a resilient problem solver, Dr. Akopian’s leadership style is marked by overcoming the barriers of the patriarchal system, rejecting the self imposed constraints of misconceptions, challenging the inadequate opportunities available to women and by aggressively pursuing avenues of advancement through collaborative engagement.
Dr. Akopian also acknowledged the importance of mentorship and the need for women to support and elevate one another, becoming inspiring leaders.
Due to the forced evacuation of Arsakh, the third speaker Elina Mkhitaryan, director of AGBU Hye Geen’s Pregnant Women’s Center in Stepanakert had her speech relayed from Yerevan.
She began by describing the devastation of war, the hardships of the Azeri imposed blockade cutting off Artsakh from the outside world and the trauma of being disconnected from her birthplace. However, she stressed that a forced exodus did not mean abandoning the ancestral land and culture.
Having served as advisor to the State Minister of the Republic of Artsakh, she felt confident that she could depend on the resilience and endurance of Armenian women. Just like their historical forbears from goddesses to queens, princesses and
hardy matriarchs, they needed to be involved in the nation’s politics and public diplomacy to improve decision making and promote a sustainable peace paving the way for the return of refugees to live in dignity and security.
After lunch, a unique feature of the international conference was the tribute paid to thirty remarkable women by AGBU Hye Geen Young Circle’s Sevan Deirbadrossian.
All the honorees had overcome hurdles and left an indelible mark on their area of expertise from the promotion of women’s studies to education, community service, the pursuit of justice, human rights, the environment the arts and literature, as well as the advocacy of the homeland. Their names are inscribed in the day’s booklet, and the special edition of the 30th anniversary of AGBU Hye Geen Magazine.
Finally, the closing remarks were made by Sona Yacoubian, founder and chairperson of AGBU Hye Geen. Reflecting on the road traveled, she observed that the intention was to “support the National Cause by nurturing and empowering Armenian women to get involved in anyway that they possibly could by holding tight to the family unit, thus preserving the Armenian identity.”
By all accounts, the international conference was a day to be remembered.