American University of Armenia (AUA) supporter Hagop Manuelian recently discussed with us the reasons why he and his wife Iroula support AUA, starting with 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 1850’s. 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 of those refugees who, against all odds, was able to attend AUB, remaining there for almost a decade — first as a student, then 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 located in the Armenian quarter. He helped underserved populations who could not afford medical care, oftentimes 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 to then be transported to 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, which is 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 very graciously accepted my request to meet with him. He invited me for a lovely lunch and had highly interesting subjects to discuss. Finally, 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 that you can help a needy Armenian student to achieve his or her goal to obtain a decent education, it will be your turn to do so!’”
The kindness of the scholarship support Manuelian himself had received is what 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 visit was during a dim time, just after the Spitak earthquake, while the second was during a more joyful time, 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 that Armenia had made since our earlier visit,” he shares, also 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 were able to receive. Together, they are parents to a daughter who is a graduate of UC Berkeley and a son who is a graduate of the University of Santa Clara. They are also proud of their three grandchildren, who have also accomplished much in their high school and undergraduate careers.
Looking to the future of AUA, they are hopeful for continued success that will help to advance the Armenian nation.