RAFFI in Romania

RAFFI, a compatriotic and cultural association of Romanian-Armenians, was established in the hospitable Romanian capital of Bucharest in the 1920s. The Association was named in honor of one of the greatest Armenian novelists, Raffi (Hakob Melik Hakobian), a pioneer of the Armenian national revivalist movement. The Association’s primary goal was to serve the preservation of the spiritual and intellectual values of Romanian-Armenians. Furthermore, the founders pursued the mission of the revival of the ancient Armenian culture and gave a boost to the educational and sports life of the community.

At the time of the establishment of the RAFFI Compatriotic and Cultural Association the local committee meetings decided that its steering body be named “Khorhourd” (Board). Members of the “Khorhourd” were to serve for a period of ten years. The following were elected as board members: Hagop Koutchikian (Chairman), Vahe Chouljian (Vice-Chairman) and Vahan Kemidjian (Secretary). The chancery members included Professor Hagop Siruni (Jololian), a distinguished Armenologist and the former editor of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s official organ in Constantinople, the “Azatamart” (The Freedom Fight) newspaper; Kevork Kestanian, the energetic organizer and coordinator of youth activities and G. Bodikian. The local administration consisted of Serop Sourian (Chairman), Moushegh Tamrazian (Vice-Chairman) and Vahe Baghaderian (Secretary).

In 1930, the RAFFI Compatriotic and Cultural Association of Bucharest established a new chapter in the city of Constantsa which at the time had a sizeable Armenian community. In 1936, another chapter was established in the city of Ploiesti where a smaller number of Armenians resided.

As of 1932, the Association had its own facilities conveniently located within the Armenian community-owned complex in the center of Bucharest. The complex included the “Hrashdagabedots” (The Archangels) Armenian Cathedral, the Dudian House of Culture, the “Madenataran” (Repository of Manuscripts), the Missakian-Chessimian Armenian School, the hall of the “Kegharvestasirats” (Fine Arts Lovers), newspaper editing offices and a monument dedicated to General Andranik.

Thanks to the selfless dedication and commitment of its members, the Association received appreciation and high acclaim for its contributions to the development of the Armenian Diaspora. In 1935, the Association was warmly praised for its remarkable achievements in the famous “Hayrenik” (Fatherland) monthly magazine published in Boston, Massachusetts.

With the establishment of the RAFFI Association, a lecture club, attached to the Association, came to life and over the years successfully organized a series of lectures. Members were top level intellectuals and Armenian students from various Romanian institutions of higher education. The following eminent individuals were among the representatives of that notable group: Professor Hagop Siruni, a famous Armenologist; Kevork Kestanian; Sarkis Saruni, a community activist and journalist; Kevork Ghazarian, one of the former principals of the Missakian-Chessimian School in Bucharest; chemist Sarkis Araratian, the former Minister of Education of the first Armenian Republic; lawyer Vartan Kemidjian, the former Minister of Finance of the first Armenian Republic and the President of the Armenian University Union; journalist and poet Hovhannes Devedjian, one of the former principals of Missakian-Chessimian School in Bucharest and the former Chief Secretary of the Administration of the Government of the first Armenian Republic; economist Alexander Sharafian, member of the cabinet of the first Armenian Republic and the former principal of the Armenian school in Constantsa; father Meguerditch Bodurian, author and publisher of the Romanian-Armenian encyclopedia and others. Many of the local renowned intellectuals also contributed to the lecture series. Among them were: Professor Nicolae Iorga, a great friend of the Armenian people and an Armenologist; Grigore Trankou Iashi (Trankholian), a university professor, political figure, and state minister; and Levon Garabed Baldjian, none other than the future Catholicos of All Armenians H.H. Vazken I.

Creative, laborious, intelligent, educated and organized Romanian-Armenians, having overcome all the challenges of their adopted country, first became faithful citizens of Romania, and then step by step created wealth and secured for themselves a well-to-do lifestyle. Furthermore, as worthy heirs to their ancestors, endowed with vision and endeavor, they established the RAFFI Association as a symbol of the revival and perseverance of Romanian-Armenians.

Due to radical changes that occurred following the end of World War II and more specifically, as a result of the establishment of a Communist regime in Romania, the RAFFI Association was banned. The worst came when a number of the Association members were imprisoned and exiled to Siberia in the period from December 1944 to April 1945.  Some perished while in Siberia and the more fortunate returned back to Romania starting in 1953.

During the Communist reign the remarkable community of Romanian-Armenians was deeply shaken, resulting in the exodus of most of its members. Thousands fled in search of freedom and economic opportunities to remote lands. They settled in foreign countries, including the western part of the United States, in the city of Los Angeles.

RAFFI in Southern California     

The newly settled Romanian-Armenian community of Los Angeles established itself in its new adopted country, the United States, by becoming model citizens and with hard work began to economically recover and prosper.  At the same time, they also assumed a responsibility in protecting the Armenian identity and serving the national cause. In December 1963, the Romanian-Armenians under the leadership of Sarkis Saruni, established the RAFFI Cultural Association, a non-profit California corporation. The newly established Association faithfully followed the principles of the RAFFI Association established in Bucharest in the 1920s.

Initially, the President of the Association was Boghos Narghizian.  He was followed as President by Jirair Kolangian, Vasken Ajemian, Agop Arakelian, Gaizag Ohanesian and Kaloust Agopian. These individuals played key roles in the development and integration of the Association within the Armenian community of Southern California.  Along with these Board leaders, Papken Sayan, played an integral role and worked tirelessly to fulfill the goals of the Association.

The Association gradually took pride of place in the heart of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora and the Armenian-American community. It initiated its activities with an important and crucial mission in mind which has remained unchanged to this day:

  1. To stay aware of its important and significant role in the life of the Armenian community of California;
  2. To preserve the Armenian identity and life-style under the circumstances of steady degradation of national values in the Diaspora;
  3. To cooperate and maintain favorable relationships with the Armenian community at large in reaching our national goals; and
  4. To educate and support the new generation of members to be  in a position to continue the proud tradition of the RAFFI Association.

In its early years of existence, the Association’s more important successes centered around three significant educational, sports and cultural achievements as follows:

  • In 1964, when the Association was still a newly established entity, the founding of an American-Armenian day school finally became a reality. In September of 1964, the first American-Armenian day school, the Ferrahian School, was founded in the Los Angeles area with the majority of the initial students coming from the Romanian Armenian community. The parents of this initial group of students were RAFFI members and strong supporters of the concept of bilingual education as a way to preserve the Armenian heritage. Many in the community at large had serious doubts about the school’s survival chances. However, the Ferrahian School grew and flourished and became a model for many other American-Armenian day schools.       

  • In 1966, inspired by the presence of former experienced Boy Scout fellows and community leaders from Romania, the Association established the RAFFI soccer team. In 1968, the RAFFI soccer team became the first HOMENETMEN sports team in the United States. With this step, the RAFFI leaders became part of the first group to initiate the foundation of the Los Angeles chapter of HOMENETMEN. This was not only an important historical event, but an unprecedented one. As a result, in 1968, in support of the wishes of the local Armenian community, the establishment of the chapter was ratified by the Regional Administration of HOMENETMEN in Lebanon. The Los Angeles chapter became the cornerstone of the HOMENETMEN movement in the Western part of the United States.

  • Between 1960 and 1966, approximately seventy former singers from the well-known “Komitas” choir of the Armenian community in Romania settled in the Los Angeles area. This became a favorable trigger for founding a new choir, named RAFFI. Over time, the choir and its needs expanded, going beyond the limited opportunities offered by the Association.  The choir joined the Armenian Youth Association’s choir and after a while was renamed “Gousan”, coming under the sponsorship of “Hamazkain” Cultural Association. All the while the choir was directed by famous musicologist Professor Ara Manash; a Romanian Armenian.

In 1976, when H.H. Vazken I, Catholicos of All Armenians, was on a pastoral visit to the United States, a meeting was organized for His Holiness and his former compatriots and friends. The meeting took place at St. John’s church in Hollywood. During that event His Holiness met with some of his former students, friends, and many other compatriots. The thrilling reunion, full of unforgettable memories, is recorded in the annals of the RAFFI Association as a historic event. 

The RAFFI Association actively supported the founding of both the St. Garabed Church and the Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in the Hollywood area. The skilled members of the Association had their invaluable input in the planning and construction work of the school. They also became active members of the trusteeship of St. Garabed Church, assuming responsible positions as chairpersons and community representatives.

As for the Association’s humanitarian and benevolent activities devoted to the most important national causes, the Association participates – within its means - in the fundraisers and Pan-Armenian telethons in Los Angeles. Also, the Association sends humanitarian aid to the elderly and needy in the Armenian communities of Romania. RAFFI supports Armenian Relief Society projects; rehabilitation projects in the earthquake zone in Armenia; as well as assistance to many other organizations.

At the beginning of 1992, thanks to contributions gathered over the course of many years, the Association acquired a property and began operations in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles.  Efforts to acquire the property were led by Papken Sayan, Agop Arakelian, Gaizag Ohanesian, Garbis Artinian and Onnig Eghenian.

Over the years Ardash Hairabedian, Agop Garabedian, Vasken Kochumian, Krikor Tamizian, Antranik Mesrobian, Mihran Hodikian, Mike Ananighian and Garo Abazian also contributed to the growth and success of the Association through their hard work and tireless efforts.     

The late 1990s saw a new generation of RAFFI members join the Board and assumed responsible positions alongside the “old guard”; among them Kaloust Agopian, Krikor Hovsepian, Haig Tacorian, Sorin Alexanian and Hazar Chircorian.  The energy they brought lifted the activities of the Association to a new level.

In 2000, a two-story building was acquired in the center of Hollywood that serves as the central office and activities headquarters. Following repairs and modifications, RAFFI now has the facilities and amenities needed to accomplish its goals and assure long term prosperity.

The weekly sessions of the Association’s administration are held at the headquarters of RAFFI. The meetings proceed in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and cooperation. The reception hall hosts the Association’s general conferences, social, educational and cultural, as well as traditional events, including gatherings for the senior members, Mothers’ Day celebrations, Romanian and Armenian nights, New Year celebrations, films and slide shows, as well as children’s and youth programs.

The Ladies Auxiliary has always played a major role in the overall success of RAFFI by providing moral and financial support as well as taking an active part in organizing and realizing the Association’s events. Over the years, Agavni Avanian, Armenouhi Sarafian and Virginia Kolangian became some of the more active and leading members of the Ladies Auxiliary.  The Board and general membership greatly appreciates the Ladies Auxiliary’s continued and tireless work.

As part of an important initiative aimed at the preservation of the Armenian identity, lectures and artistic performances are held in the framework of the “Cultural Month of October”. The public lectures and discussions revolve around scientific, historical and political issues, as well as Armenology, arts and music related topics. These activities generate a lot of enthusiasm among the attendees. In addition, the RAFFI Association commemorates the annual Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day in a well organized fashion.

In 2004, the RAFFI Cultural Association celebrated with pomp and ceremony the 40th anniversary of its establishment in Southern California. The event took place at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles in the presence of a large number of members and guests. The event was a very successful fundraiser and attended by City of Los Angeles officials and representatives of many different Armenian organizations.  Proclamations were presented to the Association and words of gratitude and appreciation expressed for the efforts of RAFFI within the Armenian Diaspora.

On January 16, 2011 The Board of Trustees of the St. Garabed Armenian Church along with the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of the Western United States formally recognized The RAFFI Cultural Association for its significant achievements and continued leadership in support of the Armenian community of Southern California.  On this occasion, His Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian and the Reverend Father Vicken Vassilian presented proclamations to the Association’s President, Ara Echighian and Vice-President Krikor Hovsepian. Click here for full article.

Given today’s challenging environment, the current Board remains committed to continue to Promote and Support Cultural, Educational, and Sports Activities; and Preserve Our Proud Armenian Heritage.