Fresno establishes first Armenian honorary consul

Fresno is now home to the country’s first Honorary Consul of the Republic of Armenia, the Fresno Bee reports.

Armenian dignitaries and Fresno County representatives are hosting an inaugural ceremony today.

Berj Apkarian, executive director of physician relations at Community Medical Centers, was appointed honorary consul during a county Board of Supervisors meeting last month. He immigrated to Fresno from Syria in 1979.

Apkarian said the voluntary appointment is an honor and a privilege. For his first big project as consul, Apkarian said he wants to take a team of medical and dental professionals to Armenia next October to host a medical education conference and provide free care for needy people in rural communities.

“In addition to the project itself, my goal is to establish a closer tie between the central San Joaquin Valley and Armenian commerce, (culture, medicine) — all aspects of bringing two nations and communities closer,” he said.

Fresno has one other honorary consul — Ed Fanucchi, of Italy — and one official consul —Vicente Sanchez Ventura of Mexico. Armenians around the country currently get visas, citizenship documents and other diplomatic services through the Armenian Consulate in Los Angeles.

“Given the size of our community, that’s just not representative,” said Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andreas Borgeas.

Now, those services will be available in Fresno.

Borgeas, whose wife is Greek Armenian, had pushed for the honorary consul since he helped the city of Fresno establish a sister city relationship with the city of Etchmiadzin, Armenia in 2009. While he was on the City Council, he sent a letter of request in 2012 to Grigor Hovhannissian, then the L.A.-based Armenian Consul General. He said the ceremonial position resulted from several years of work with the Armenian embassy in Washington, Armenia’s foreign ministry in Yerevan and the U.S. State Department.

The appointment is huge from a regional standpoint, Borgeas said, considering that Los Angeles and San Francisco have many more diplomatic institutions.

“This is a matter of regional pride,” he said. “It shows that Fresno is evolving and diversifying its interests that reflect the ethnic makeup of our area.”

Armenians first arrived in Fresno in the 1870s and continued through the Hamidian Massacres of the late 1800s, the Armenian Genocide from 1915-1922, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Republic of Armenia. The community has since established local educational institutions, such as Fresno State’s Armenian Studies Program, religious organizations, two Armenian-American newspapers — Asbarez and The California Courier and a yearly cultural festival.

Now, between 40,000 and 50,000 Fresno area residents are Armenian, Apkarian said.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony will be attended by representatives from the Republic of Armenia, the Armenian-American community, members of Congress and the state Legislature, as well as county and other local officials, including Tigran Sargsyan, ambassador of the Republic of Armenia in the United States and Sergey Sarkisov, consul general for the Republic of Armenia in Los Angeles.

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