Hagop & Iroula Manuelian
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Hagop & Iroula Manuelian: Paying Forward the Gift of Education

4 min read

GLENDALE, California — Hagop and Iroula Manuelian have been supporters of the American University of Armenia (AUA) since the 1990s, when the institution was still in its infancy. Recently, they committed to sponsoring the special Vision for the Future: Advancing Higher Education in Armenia event in support of the Build a Better Future With AUA capital campaign. 

As ‘Developers’ of the University, the Manuelians have been staunch supporters of AUA in its quest to provide top-tier education to the youth in Armenia. To elaborate on why they find it so important to be part of this special initiative, Hagop shared with us a story that goes back decades. 

Delving into the history of missionaries in the Middle East, he begins with a brief overview of how the many American universities around the region came to be, starting in the 1850s. Originally established as missions, they were later converted to universities. The American University of Beirut (AUB) was the first to be founded in 1867, followed by the American University of Cairo and Robert’s College in Istanbul. “I was thrilled and proud when I learned that the fourth American University to be established in the region would be in Yerevan!” Manuelian exclaimed, adding that AUA’s partnership with the University of California assures him of its lasting success. 

Manuelian continues to explain the French government’s instrumental role in settling Armenian refugees in Syria and Lebanon after the Armenian Genocide. His father was among the first refugees who, against all odds, were able to attend AUB, remaining there for almost a decade — first as a student, then as a professor, before eventually graduating as a medical doctor. He worked there until he repaid his tuition debts to the University, subsequently establishing a clinic in his home in the Armenian quarter. He helped underserved populations who could not afford medical care, often providing his services pro bono, which earned him the moniker “Garmir Khatch” (Red Cross) of Dr. Atam. 

In 1945, when Armenian repatriation from the diaspora commenced under the USSR, Manuelian’s father became president of the Armenian Repatriation Committee for three years. “My childhood memories are full of those days when our living room was transformed into a registration center for those who wanted to apply for visas to Armenia from Lebanon and Syria,” Manuelian recalls. “Families packed their belongings and would wait on the docks of the port of Beirut for the Russian ships to carry them to Batumi and then Armenia.” He explains how the program came to a halt after three years, as Armenia was not prepared in those days to handle an influx of 100,000 immigrants in such a short period of time. 

Manuelian himself was born in Beirut in 1938. After graduating from a school set up by missionaries, he was admitted to AUB, where he met his wife, Iroula, who is of Greek Cypriot descent and also born in Lebanon. 

Upon enrolling at the University, he sought help in order to reduce his parents’ financial burden of paying tuition, applying to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. He was able to successfully receive support from the Foundation throughout his academic career, until he graduated from the AUB Bechtel School of Engineering as a Civil Engineer.

“For my engineering training, I ended up working in a large engineering firm in London, UK,” he explains. “Hearing that Mr. Essayan, then the trustee of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, was to visit London, I contacted him, and he graciously accepted my request to meet. He invited me for a lovely lunch and had highly interesting subjects to discuss. After I told him that I was never asked to repay my tuition debts to the Foundation, he said, ‘You do not owe a penny to the Foundation. In the future, when you are in a position where you can help a needy Armenian student to achieve their goal of obtaining a decent education, it will be your turn to do so!’” 

The kindness of the scholarship support Manuelian himself had received inspired him and his wife to give back to students currently studying at AUA. “My childhood emotional and sentimental attachment to the motherland has not waned over the years,” he asserts. “Quite the contrary, Iroula and I have visited Armenia twice already.” He shares how their first trip was during a dim time, just after the Spitak earthquake, while the second was during a more joyful period, in 2014, when they had the opportunity to participate in AUA’s commencement ceremony. “The second visit was very uplifting, as we were able to witness the immense progress Armenia had made since our earlier visit,” he shares, noting the advancement AUA has achieved in the three decades since. 

Manuelian and his wife are now settled in the Bay Area, and both attribute the success of their respective careers to the education they received. Together, they are parents to a daughter who is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a son who is a graduate of the University of Santa Clara. They are also proud of their three grandchildren, who have accomplished much in their high school and undergraduate careers. 

Looking to the future of AUA, they are hopeful for continued success that will help advance the Armenian nation. 

Founded in 1991, the American University of Armenia (AUA) is a private, independent university located in Yerevan, Armenia, affiliated with the University of California, and accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in the United States. AUA provides local and international students with Western-style education through top-quality undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, promotes research and innovation, encourages civic engagement and community service, and fosters democratic values. AUA’s Office of Development stewards the University’s philanthropic efforts exclusively for educational purposes.