Berj Apkarian made history last October, becoming the country’s first Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia.
Apkarian, executive director of physician relations at Community Medical Centers, immigrated to Fresno from Syria in 1979.
He wasted no time deciding what he’d do as consul. For his first big project, Apkarian said he wants to take a team of 15-20 medical and dental professionals to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia in October to host a medical education conference and provide free care for needy people in surrounding rural communities.
The Bee caught up with Apkarian to see how things are going three months into his appointment. Answers have been edited slightly for clarity and brevity.
We started providing consular services to citizens of the Republic of Armenia so individuals don’t need to travel to L.A. to apply for citizenship, passport renewals and other documents.
On Nov. 2, I attended the groundbreaking of the Armenian Genocide Monument on the Fresno State campus. On Nov. 13, we hosted the Khachaturian Trio before their performance at Fresno State. In the past, Armenian cultural events and meetings have taken place without having a home that represents the homeland. So this office is key in terms of fostering that relationship.
Nov. 19-21 I participated in a training through the Consular Corps College in Washington D.C. On Thanksgiving day I participated in the 17th International Armenia Fund Telethon in Los Angeles (proceeds will help construction of the Vardenis to Martakert Highway). On Jan. 9, we did a New Year’s open house to share what we’re doing and where we are with our vision.
The other thing we’re working on is trying to create a stronger relationship between the consulate and local government. I have reached out to the mayor.
In all our events, both consuls, the Mexican consul and honorary consul of Italy, have taken part. We meet regularly as the three foreign diplomatic offices in the central San Joaquin Valley.
If you look at it from a big-picture standpoint, consular work is applications and documents — that’s one endeavor. But this being the centennial of the genocide, I’m also the chair of the monument project, so making sure this project is completed is an absolute priority for me.
The planning process has already started for the first Medical Mission and Symposium, scheduled for Oct. 1-12. We’re going to do it annually, in phases where we can meet the need over there as determined by the minister of health.
I feel privileged to witness this time of history. The generation before me gave their lives to keep our heritage, our language and to keep the torch alive so that we never forget that such atrocities took place. For me, it’s very important that we get a worldwide recognition. In particular current Turkish denial continues despite all the facts that speak very loud and clear.
The centennial, for me, it’s time for renewal of our commitment, not to forget, but stand in solidarity with our homeland. A stronger Armenia becomes a testimony that whatever was perpetrated did not succeed. Here we are after 100 years, we have an independent homeland and we have prosperous Armenian communities throughout the world.