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28 Jul, 2023

Getting to Know Birthright Armenia Founder Edele Hovnanian

3 min read

Imagine a world where every Armenian, regardless of their background, could experience the beauty and complexities of their homeland firsthand. This vision became a reality thanks to the dedication of Edele Hovnanian, the visionary founder of Birthright Armenia. From her transformative experiences to her commitment to bridging the gap between the diaspora and the homeland, Edele's story is one of passion, resilience, and the power of giving back. When she visits Armenia, she always takes the time to meet program participants and tell them how it began.

A Catalyst for Change

Edele's journey began in the early 1980s, when she decided to embark on an extraordinary adventure. Despite being an American college graduate from a prestigious ivy league university, she followed her heart and set off for the Soviet Republic of Armenia, armed with only a handful of Armenian words and phrases in hot pursuit of learning the language. Little did she know that this decision would forever shape her life and pave the way for new organizations like Birthright Armenia and HIKEArmenia, along with the expansion of the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) and Repat Armenia.

Being in Armenia during years of profound change, Edele experienced firsthand the resilience and spirit of the Armenian people. The challenges faced by the country, including the devastating earthquake and the early years of independence, deeply affected her. She witnessed the high expectations of the diaspora, eager to contribute to the nation's development and the subsequent disconnect that emerged as their visions diverged from the realities on the ground.

Building Bridges: The Diaspora-Homeland Connection

This disconnect ignited a fire within Edele. She realized that every Armenian should have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the homeland and truly understand its people, culture, and struggles. Inspired by the successes of the Birthright Israel program, Edele founded Birthright Armenia in 2003, and along with Linda Yepoyan accepted the very first volunteer group in summer 2004. The mission was to create an immersion program that would allow young Armenians to spend a significant amount of time in Armenia, fostering a deep connection and understanding of the nation's needs and aspirations. Their mantra: the longer the stay the deeper the roots!

From its humble beginnings, Birthright Armenia has grown into a transformative force, enabling thousands of young Armenians from the diaspora to experience Armenia in a meaningful way. The program offers volunteer service opportunities, educational excursions, language instruction, and the chance to live with local host families. These experiences create a unique bond between participants and their homeland, fostering a sense of commitment and a desire to contribute to Armenia's development.

Edele Hovnanian's commitment to Armenia extends beyond Birthright Armenia. As President and CEO of the H. Hovnanian Family Office and President of the H. Hovnanian Family Foundation, she ensures that her philanthropic efforts leave a lasting impact. The Foundation supports various causes, with a particular focus on education, the arts, and healthcare institutions, social services and economic development in both Armenia and the United States. Edele's hands-on approach ensures that the Foundation's mission is fulfilled, making a positive difference in the lives of many.

Her vision for Armenia is clear. She strives for a future where a significant percentage of diasporan youth have personal ties to Armenia, actively participating in the nation's development. She envisions energized and inspired Armenian youth committed to remaining in their homeland, recognizing their critical role in nation-building. And finally, she also seeks to develop future leaders of the diaspora with solid ties to the homeland, promoting participation in Armenia's development within communities worldwide.

Just before his passing, Hirair Hovnanian, Edele's father, imparted a powerful message to her: "Don't be the first generation that saw the birth and death of a nation in your lifetime". These words resonated deeply, fueling her determination to continue to invest in Armenia, and encourage those in her inner circle of philanthropy to do the same, to ensure its long-lasting future.

Preserving Armenian Culture and Heritage for the Future

Today, Birthright Armenia stands as a testament to Edele Hovnanian's remarkable journey and commitment. Through her vision, thousands of young Armenians have been given the opportunity to connect not only with their homeland but also with each other.

Birthright Armenia, along with its sister organizations Armenian Volunteer Corps, Repat Armenia, and HIKEArmenia, has fostered a vibrant community of Armenians from the diaspora, inspiring them to forge lifelong friendships and partnerships. Together, they contribute to Armenia's development, strengthen ties between the diaspora and the homeland, and build a collective future rooted in a deep understanding and appreciation of Armenian culture and heritage.


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