The world of journalism is sometimes like a boomerang. What you throw out there in terms of a story often comes back in another way. It amazes me how intertwined and related life often becomes.
A story I just wrote on Vartus Varadian’s battle with cancer and Chinese art told of her family’s connection with ANCHA at a time when members were emigrating from Romania.
Their journey was aided by ANCHA, the call letters for American National Committee for Homeless Armenians, not to be confused with the Armenian National Committee of America. Two different entities, folks, but with similar goals: to create a better world for the Armenian people.
The Artinians (Vartus’ family) settled here by way of Beirut. They were set to immigrate to Argentina where they had relatives, but the unsettled climate veered them straight toward the American Dream.
Now, Vartus winds up marrying a Providence guy named Paul Varadian, only to discover that his mom Anahid (Karentz) Varadian was a big ANCHA patriot with the Armenian Relief Society (ARS).
“It was not until I met Paul that I found out his grandmother Vergine Karentz was an instrumental figure in the creation of ANCHA,” she brought out.
No doubt, the family owes its allegiance to ANCHA, as did many others of its kind. Many an immigrant in the post-World War II era could vouch for the benefits they received while emigrating here.
The very first Armenian book I ever read as an AYFer was George Mardikian’s Song of America. I discovered him, before I read Saroyan, likely because there was an old copy of the book lying around the old Hairenik building. I took it home and was engrossed by it.
It was there that I first heard about ANCHA and Mardikian’s subtle beginnings with the organization. Over and beyond his business as a restaurateur with Omar Khayyam and his impeccable work with the Boy Scouts, Mardikian was bullish about bringing Armenians to this country and getting them settled.
I wish I had a dollar for every complimentary meal he dished out at his San Francisco eatery. I never did get to meet the man, much less dine there, but his reputation as a Good Samaritan behooves us all.
There to assist him was Atty. Suren Saroyan and other prominent Armenian-Americans in California. To raise money, Mardikian turned to the ARS during a national convention in New York.
Two hundred delegates unanimously raised $25,000 and promised to represent ANCHA in their communities. Upon his retirement from active duty, Brig. Gen. Haig Shekerjian accepted the directorship of ANCHA in Europe and began distributing food, clothing, and medical supplies.
By 1949, over 2,000 people had been rescued from the DP (Displaced Persons) camps in Germany and Italy and brought to America. Discussions with the Brazilian Embassy in Washington resulted in another 200 individuals being sent to Brazil.
Many of these DPs arrived in Providence from New York and established a viable Armenian community in that state, with people like Vergine and Soghomon Karentz showing the way, joined by Aghavni and Zaven Tenkarian, Nishan Bedrosian, Hovag Hagopian, Arthur (Giragosian) Gregian, Boghos Sahagian, and Zakar Bogosian.
Indeed, Providence, New York City, and Boston became meccas for ANCHA refugees.
“It was a heart-wrenching sight to see adults carrying only one small piece of luggage—their worldly possessions—in one hand and cradling a sleeping child in the other, uncertain of the future,” recalls Anahid Karentz Varadian. “The task was enormous and the Providence community responded to their plight by finding homes and furnishings, along with employment, financial assistance, schools for their children, transportation for medical care, and translators to cope with forms and permits.”
Troubled times for immigrants were facilitated through the efforts of ANCHA and a cadre of Armenian-American missionaries looking out for their welfare.
These days, the Armenian Prelacy is distributing a new paperback titled Our Brothers’ Keepers by Hratch Zadoian, which tells the entire ANCHA story. The book contains only 106 pages and features pictures, letters, and references.
“After all these years, I’m so glad to see the story documented,” added Karentz-Varadian. “It’s a great resource on this humanitarian project that started after World War II, thanks to Mardikian and Saroyan.”
Suren Saroyan continued the work after Mardikian’s death, bringing thousands more from Romania, Bulgaria, Armenia, Cyprus, and Egypt. In the end, offices in 62 cities were manned by volunteers.
This past October, ANCHA was recognized with a Prelacy Award for its extraordinary humanitarian actions. Accepting the honor was Hourig Papazian-Sahagian, teacher extraordinaire and playwright.
Tribute was paid to Hourig’s mother Arpi, who unabashedly recruited family and friends to help the refugees when they settled in New York City.
Among those who rose to their feet in applause were Armenians who were sponsored by ANCHA.