After long months of silence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Toronto’s Armenian Community Centre came alive on Nov. 27-28 when the annual Heritage Day (Dohmig Or) returned in triumph. This year the diaspora communities honored were the Armenians of the Holy Land and of Jordan.
In the past three decades, the A.R. S Toronto “Roubina” chapter has organized many memorable Heritage Days during the 26 versions of the celebrations. The 2021 version was unquestioningly one of the most successful, according to veteran Heritage Day attendees. In the days following the celebrations, many who had attended the two-day event—and some who hadn’t– bombarded Heritage Day lead organizers Zepure Dorna and Houri Najarian with phone calls and emails complimenting them and the 16 members of the “Roubina” chapter’s Heritage Day committee for organizing the remarkable celebrations.
What were the attributes that made the 2021 Heritage Day such a success? Everything! The Saturday night banquet, the high-energy entertainment, the Jerusalem-themed decor of the banquet hall, the video of Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, the informative lectures/speeches, the cultural program, the delicious ample food, and the sale of Holy Land items combined to offer a memorable evening to more than 225 attendees.
The lobby leading to the banquet hall was decked by panels displaying blow-ups of current and historic photos of the Holy Land taken by Yeghia Kahvedjian, Garo Nalbandian of Jerusalem, Zohrab Markarian, Vartan Vartanian, Mardo Nalbandian and Hrair Pazeh Hawk of Montreal.
The far end of the hall was dedicated to the sale of religious artifacts, Jerusalem ceramics, photo blow-ups of the Holy Land by celebrated photographers Hrair Hawk of Montreal and Jerusalem photographer Garo Nalbandian, Artsakh rugs, Jerusalem ceramics, jewelry (some imported from Jerusalem), icons, Armenian brandy, holy water/olive oil/incense from the Holy Land, reproductions of illuminated manuscripts, and traditional Armenian puppets. The adjacent exhibition included Palestinian peasant costumes, carvings made of Holy Land olive wood, books, Jerusalem family albums, magazines, Jerusalem ceramics, framed photos of Jerusalem’s Sts. James Armenian Church, and ecclesiastical items provided by ex-Jerusalemites and Toronto residents who have visited the Holy Land.
Upon entering the banquet hall, attendees were offered the 546-page Armenian communities of Holy Land and Jordan book published by the Armenian Relief Society Toronto Chapter. The bilingual and richly illustrated (color and B/W photographs) carried detailed articles about the 2,000-year Armenian presence and achievements in the region—from Medzn Dikran’s occupation of northern Palestine to modern times. Everyone from famous patriarchs to the Armenian queens of Jerusalem to the mini-renaissance of Armenian Jerusalem in the 19th century to Armenian churches in the region were featured in the book. An important section of the encyclopedic (weight 1.5 kg) book featured the biographies of prominent Armenians of Jerusalem and Jordan. To purchase the book, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The book is priced at $30.
At the entrance attendees were informed they had a chance to win 3 door prizes with their admission ticket, and they were given memorabilia from Jerusalem with 5 lottery tickets for a chance to win 66 beautiful prizes (jewelry, gift certificates, miniature icons, CDs, gift baskets and more).
The showpiece of the hall was the reproduction of the Sts. James Cathedral’s altar, blow-ups of Virgin Mary’s portrait together with infant Jesus, reproduction of the cathedral’s blue-and-white ceramic wall, and 40 lamps imported from Jerusalem plus a chandelier. The dramatic reproduction transported attendees to the mysterious, spiritual, and dreamlike Holy Land.
Following mistress of ceremonies Zepure Dorna’s welcome address, Andre’s video was presented singing “Artsakh Tsavet Danim”s a song dedicated to Artsakh, and Anush Galestian-Pasishnik sang “Der Voghormia” hymn. Very Rev. Father Vartan Tashjian of St Mary Armenian Apost. church sang Patriarch Yeghishe Tourian’s “Yedeves Yegour” hymn. Sarine Poladian-Apiguian recited Vahakn Davityan’s “Kisherayin Zeruyts Naregatsou Hed”. The 9 members of the “Aznavourian Choir” sang 3 hymns: “Ov Zarmanali”, “Tsendza Yerousaghem” and “Kovya Yerousaghem zDer”. His Eminence Archbishop Papken Tcharian, Prelate of the Armenian church of Canada, gave his message and blessed the dinner table. The dinner followed by a video portrait of Jerusalem’s Armenian community by Garo Nalbandian. The 5 young singers, Armenia Sarkisian, Sevag Haroutyunian, Never Ghazarian, Levon Karagulian, and Toros Maydosian, singing patriotic and popular Armenian songs accompanied by Giligia Band, entertained the audience for long hours.
The next day Maral Bekarian acted as mistress of ceremonies for a program of lectures on Armenian Jerusalem, in addition to renderings of spiritual and popular songs. The program began with a video recording of the message of Rev. Father Goryun Paghtasarian of Jerusalem, followed by Jack Hagopian’s “Prayer” recited by Lorig Berberian. The lecture by Rev. Hagop Gyatayan of St. Kevork Church in Laval, Quebec focused on his days as a seminarian at the Sts. James Seminary in Jerusalem. Madiana Torosian played on Kanun the music of Gomidas’ “Groung” and “Der Voghormia”. Anush Galestian-Pasishnik sang “Luys e Louso” and “Mayr yev Guys” hymns, followed by Holy Land reminisces of Hrair Hawk and a video portrait of Jerusalem’s Armenian community by Garo Nalbandian.
While this year’s Heritage Day was a triumph by any measure… it presents a pleasant challenge to next year’s Heritage Day organizers to excel it.