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THE DECISIVE ROLE OF THE YMCA AND AMERICAN RELIEF IN ARMENIA A CENTURY AGO

20th August 2018

On 8 August the solemn opening ceremony of an exclusive exhibition on “The Decisive Role of the YMCA and American Relief in the First Republic of Armenia in 1918-20” based on historical photos and archive documents took place in “Naregatsi” Art Institute.

The story of superhuman efforts of YMCA volunteers Mr John Elder and Mr James O. Arroll to rescue Armenians from numerous disasters in the period of the First Republic of Armenia is presented to the public. The exhibition story is based on Mr Elder’s personal diary, as well as photos signed and original service documents saved by him. 

“The idea of this exhibition was born when the grandchild of Mr John Elder, after having found the archive of his grandfather in their attic, handed all the materials to Mr Ruben Adalyan who has collected all this and is presenting to you”, Mr Van Grigoryan, Co-chair of American Assembly of Armenia highlighted in his speech. 

The exhibition comprises of 95 photos 64 out of which are from Mr John Elder’s photo collection, 8 of them are contemporaneous records and documents and 4 are maps. In total 32 quotes from Mr Elder’s diary which verify the evidences visible in the photos presented, as well as his introductory speech and explanatory notes fully depict the first year of the newly proclaimed independent Republic of Armenia. Among the exhibits there is a whole series of photos that tell about the years when Mr Elder lived in Armenia. Several other workers of American humanitarian support are mentioned as well. 



Among other Americans in the exhibits are Mr F. Willoughby Smith, the US Council in Tbilisi, who supported the work of the relief workers, Mr Robert McDowell who was on the frontline when the Turkish forces broke through and raided Alexandrapol (Gyumri), Dr. John H.T. Main, the president of Grinnell College in Iowa, who witnessed the horrific conditions in Armenia on behalf of the American Committee for Relief in the Near East, Ms Grace Knapp, a missioner and Mr John Mott, the long-term president of the American YMCA, who, with the encouragement of his friend President Woodrow Wilson, sent young Americans to wherever there was a need in civilian support behind the soldiers on the frontline. 



The evidences included in the exhibition have been gathered due to the cooperation of different bodies. Thanks to the permission and proofs provided by the Elder family and YMCA employees, the story of these devoted humanitarian workers has not been forgotten in the entire world and especially in Armenia. At the peak of the conflict in the Caucasus when other relief workers preferred to leave, John Elder refused to do so fearing that ten thousands of more Armenians would be doomed to starvation if the relief programs were discontinued. He is credited in providing relief for 15,000 Armenian orphans.



The initiators and organisers of the exhibition are the American Assembly of Armenia, the Armenian National Institute (ANI) in Washington, D.C., the Armenian National Union of YMCAs and “Naregatsi” Art Institute. 
The opening ceremony of the exhibition was launched with the national anthems of Armenia and the USA performed by Ms Anoush Barclay (with Mr Harutyun Tagvoryan, being the accompanist). 



Mr Narek Harutyunyan, the founder of “Naregatsi” Art Institute made an opening speech and presented a small cross-stone with the logo of the “Naregatsi” Art Institute which combines the Lord’s blessing and the culture as a special awarding gift to the YMCA.



YMCA volunteers who have been committed and doing great work in different communities of Armenia in various YMCA philanthropic and development projects and have supported other humanitarian organisations working in Armenia during the recent 25 years were specially invited to the event.


Representatives from local YMCAs of Armenia, “Peace Corps” volunteers working in the YMCAs attended the event too. Mr Vardan Hambardzumyan, the YMCA Europe Executive Secretary in his welcoming speech passed greetings on behalf of Juan Simoes Iglesias, the YMCA Europe Secretary General and briefly presented some episodes from the history of the continuous YMCA humanitarian support in Armenia. 



Mr Arayik Harutyunyan, the RA Minister of Education and Science, Mr Rafik Mansour, the US Deputy Ambassador, Mr Zaven Sargsyan, Mr Hayk Demoyan were among other honorable guests attending the event.

Special thanks to Ms Arpi Vartanyan, the Regional Director of the American Assembly of Armenia and the office staff for organizing the exhibition. 

The exhibition will continue till 25 August 2018 with a free access.


Read more about the critical role of the YMCA and American relief in Armenia a centry ago, HERE.

Author/Source: YMCA Armenia

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