Benefactors Sarkis and Ruth Bedevian Join as Advocates of the “Yes, Armenian Women Can” Campaign
Two visionary and loving women, one born in Konya, Turkey and the other, born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, are the inspiration behind The Baydzar Bedevian and Alice Shahbazian Memorial Scholarship earmarked for the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign that will give intelligent young women throughout Armenia the chance at a college education and a better life – tuition free.
These strong, family-oriented women are the ones who raised Mr. and Mrs. Sarkis and Ruth Bedevian and instilled in them their dedication to the Armenian people, the church and the homeland. The New Jersey-based couple named the scholarship in honor of their mothers, whose words echo in their ears every single day as they spend a lifetime supporting worthwhile and impactful causes both in the Diaspora as well as in Armenia.
At an age when she should have been learning in a classroom, Baydzar Bedevian instead found herself escaping the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide. She sought refuge in Lebanon as a teenager and a short while later married and moved to Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, which had opened its doors to survivors. The small community swelled to 25,000 post-World War I and Baydzar created a new life with her husband as they raised 6 children – one of whom was her son Sarkis, who didn’t know until later in life that his mother was orphaned when her family was killed during the massacres.
“My mother never went to school but she was very intelligent and practical,” said Sarkis. He reflects on an adolescent memory when he accompanied his mother to the Embassy so she could obtain a passport. It was then he made a startling discovery. “When it came for the signature, I gave her the pen,” said Sarkis. “She turned to me and said, “My son, I do not know how to write my name.”
He recalled this very moment when he and his wife made the commitment to AUA’s “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign that promotes the education for all women in the country “who have not had the chance to learn to read or to write and be able to get ahead in life.” The couple is particularly invested in the women living in the rural areas of Armenia because “they have intelligence that needs to be cultivated.”
Although Baydzar was denied schooling, her spirit did not diminish and she led by example for her children, passing on the importance of education and religion. “My mother was very spiritual,” said Sarkis. “She raised us within the church and never missed a Sunday to attend the Badarak, which she knew by heart.”
The quiet strength and faith of his mother stayed with Sarkis as he immigrated to the United States, graduated from New York University with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Finance and forged ahead with a career in real estate. He heeded his mother’s words as he and his wife lent a helping hand to their local parish, the Diocese and ultimately Armenia. Throughout the decades, their humble dedication has been unparalleled: from renovating the Vaskenian Seminary in Sevan, to building a new school, Sts. Tarkmanchatz, in Gyumri, to funding the construction of the St. Gregory of Narek Cathedral in Vanadzor, along with its nearby St. Gregory of Narek Youth Center, an after-school learning center for local children. The charitable and compassionate couple also serve as benefactors of the Khrimian Hayrig Museum at Holy Etchmiadzin, among many other noble philanthropic endeavors.
Sarkis’ vision to contribute to the Armenian people was matched in his lifelong partner, Ruth, who, too was raised by a matriarch who empowered her children and passed on the legacy of education.
Alice Shahbazian was born at the turn of the 20th century when President Teddy Roosevelt was shaping America’s role as a world leader through his progressive actions. After completing the 8th grade, Alice begged her mother to enroll her in high school so she could fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. Her family, however, was too poor for her to realize her professional goals.
“My mother had to start working at age 14 because her family needed income,” said Ruth. Reluctantly Alice buried her dreams and began toiling as a Warper in Royal Weaving, a large textile factory in Central Falls, Rhode Island. “It was the biggest disappointment of my mother’s life.”
Instead, Alice lived vicariously through her daughter Ruth’s accomplishments, encouraging her to obtain an education and graduate from college. After earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Institution Management from Pratt Institute, Ruth met Sarkis at an Armenian event in New York City and soon they married and raised three children, Peter, Debra, and Peggy. Once the family was on its feet, Ruth decided to go back to school to learn information technology at Bergen Community College. She enthusiastically completed her course of studies and when it came time to graduate, she did not feel the need to walk with her classmates, since she had already done so once.
“Sarkis encouraged me and I am so grateful to him because it became a deep revelation for me to witness how visibly thrilled my mother was to see me in cap and gown again,” said Ruth. “I had taken my education for granted.”
The importance of education to both Baydzar and Alice was channeled through Sarkis and Ruth’s two daughters who earned their master’s degrees, an accomplishment, Ruth says, their grandmothers would have been “very happy to see run through to the next generation.” “For us, this scholarship is a tribute to our mothers and their respect and desire for education,” said Ruth. “When you educate a woman, you educate a family, and the family is the basis of society.” Reiterating his wife’s sentiments, Sarkis stated the symbolic role of women in the Armenian family: “The woman preserves and flourishes the nation.”
Sarkis and Ruth’s commitment as “Advocates” of the “Yes, Armenian Women Can!” campaign is one of the many gifts the longtime supporters have made to AUA, particularly as Pillars of the academic institution. “AUA has done a wonderful job in its 27 short years and we have seen the University come a long way,” said Ruth. “The campus is such a delightful, exciting place to visit and it’s very stimulating to see all of the young students motivated about their futures.”
They witnessed the positive effects of AUA first-hand when a young child they sponsored in Armenia decades ago graduated from the University, earning himself scholarships and finding immediate employment with Byblos Bank. “Our godson is very patriotic and he has big ambitions to remain in Armenia and own his own business,” said Sarkis. “It’s gratifying to see the graduates staying in Armenia to better the nation and now with the Velvet Revolution, there is a lot more trust and hope that the talent will remain in the country.”
The Bedevians are frequent visitors to the homeland and will be attending AUA’s graduation ceremony in June to cheer on the graduates as the students embark on the next chapter of their lives. “We see a healthy growth,” said Sarkis. “The more support we can give through education, and give the fishing rod instead of the fish, will be the most effective way to help Armenia.”