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AUA Hosts the Najarian Family: Three Generations of Philanthropists

YEREVAN, Armenia ‒ On April 18, 2019, the American University of Armenia (AUA) hosted members of the Najarian family, including Boston philanthropists K. George and Dr. Carolann S. Najarian. The couple has been heavily involved in causes in Armenia for decades, starting with their aid work after the earthquake in Spitak in 1988 and later during the war years in Artsakh. Most recently, they donated two buildings to the University to be used as an AUA social innovation facility and a student dormitory.

AUA President Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian and several other AUA representatives welcomed the guests at the entrance of the University. George and Carolann arrived with George’s nephew Stephen and his son Jonathan. The three generations of Najarians were greeted enthusiastically by the AUA community. Dr. Der Kiureghian led a tour of the main building, including AUA’s History Display and the AGBU Papazian Library. The Library Director, Satenik Avakian, spoke about the AUA Digital Library of Classical Armenian Literature project. “Oh yes,” Carolann said, smiling. “I remember. Some of my students were involved.” In the 1990s, Carolann was a guest lecturer for the first class of Public Health students and was also involved in other projects throughout the University.

The guests continued the tour, seeing the Large Auditorium and the Entrepreneurship and Product Innovation Center (EPIC), presented by EPIC Director Dr. Michael Kouchakdjian. The center is a startup incubator that helps AUA students, alumni, and others advance their ideas. Two members of new EPIC startup teams introduced themselves and their projects. Earlier in the tour, Dr. Kouchakdjian and Arman Asatryan, Facilities Engineer at EPIC, presented EPIC’s cutting-edge prototyping lab, which houses the only 3-D laser scanner in Armenia.

During the tour, the Najarians spoke about the changes that have taken place since they first began visiting Armenia. George recalled the dire days after the earthquake in Spitak, when many groups and individuals across the US came together to provide aid to Armenia. “Those were desperate times,” George said. People came together to offer whatever help they could. Six shipping containers were sent with emergency supplies and two World War II cargo planes flew to Armenia as well.

George described standing on the runway at Logan airport in Boston as they watched the outdated cargo planes take off, laden with supplies. The old planes lumbered down the runway, trailing plumes of smoke. Everyone held their breath, wondering if the aircraft would be able to lift off the runway. George was especially tense: his wife Carolann was on one of the planes, flying to Armenia to offer her services as a medical doctor.

Later, the AUA delegation accompanied the family on a tour of the two buildings they donated to the University. The buildings are situated in the Dzoragyugh district, near the Sergei Parajanov Museum. The Najarians originally purchased the land and began construction of the buildings as a personal project in the 1990s, but generously decided to gift the facilities to AUA to advance the mission of the University.

Currently, the buildings are being renovated with grants from the American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA) program of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and should be finalized by 2020. One of the buildings, the Najarian Center for Social Entrepreneurship, will house several AUA programs, including the Center for Research in Applied Linguistics (CRAL), the Acopian Center for the Environment (ACE), as well as a partnership program with Impact Hub Yerevan on social innovation. The other building will be a dormitory for students.

“It’s a student residence, mainly for internationals and Armenian students from the regions – not inside Yerevan. But if we have space left, we will accommodate applicants from within Yerevan,” said Shahan Jebejian, AUA’s Director of Facilities & Services and Constructions Project Manager. The residence has 28 rooms that can hold 60 occupants, including four disability access rooms. “You’ll see it. It’s like a boutique hotel,” said Jebejian, laughing. “It has the nicest views.” The two buildings are adjacent to each other, overlooking the expansive, lush gorge of the Hrazdan River with Mount Ararat in the distance.

The Najarian family will be staying in Armenia for several days, visiting friends and touring sites across their homeland. The last time they were in Armenia was 12 years ago.

“We came together in ’88 before the earthquake…then I flew here in ’89 on a cargo plane with humanitarian relief. That was the start of our work here,” said Carolann, reminiscing. “I lectured to the first class [of Public Health students]. Some of them are still my friends,” she added, laughing. “In fact, I have to call them.”

She finished by saying, “People have greeted us so warmly…it’s been so nice.”

The Najarians have been long-time supporters of the University and of development work in Armenia and Artsakh. Dr. Carolann Najarian wrote a book about her experiences titled “A Call From Home.”

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, and affiliated with the University of California. AUA provides a global education in Armenia and the region, offering high-quality graduate and undergraduate studies, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting public service and democratic values.

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