Anna Hakobyan, a former journalist and the wife of new Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, was warmly embraced by the Greater Boston Armenian community during a two-day visit that culminated in a sold-out gala Friday night at the Westin Hotel in Waltham, where nearly $150,000 was raised for the City of Smile charitable foundation.
Hakobyan, 41, the event’s keynote speaker, is chairman of the board of the Yerevan, Armenia-based organization that raises money for supplies and services to treat Armenian children with cancer.
“In wealthy and developed countries, cancer is just a disease, but in many less-developed countries, it is equal to a death sentence,” she told the more than 450 people in attendance, including designer Michael Aram, artist Arpi Krikorian, Armenian ambassador to the US Varuzhan Nersesyan, and Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian.
“I dream to establish . . . a hospital in Armenia which has all of the necessary drugs and techniques so no parent has to take their child to Europe, Russia, or the United States. My dream is that our children stay at home in Armenia and receive treatment in close proximity of their houses.”
Burlington resident and event co-chair Cynthia Kazanjian — who said City of Smile (founded in 2014) hopes to appropriate the St. Jude Children’s Hospital model in that it wants to ensure children in Armenia receive treatment regardless of family income — likened Hakobyan’s stature in Armenia and with the Armenian disapora to that of former first lady Michelle Obama.
“She and her husband, who was elected in December, are trying to build a new Armenia and for the first time, the people there have hope. For a long time, people were either very poor or very rich, with no middle class,” Kazanjian said. “With new leadership, that is changing. It’s very exciting.”
Boston is one of five cities Hakobyan is visiting on a 17-day trip to the United States. While in Boston, she also met with medical professionals and students at Harvard and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, visited the Armenian Heritage Park on the Greenway, and met with Armenian dignitaries for lunch at Union Oyster House. The mother of four also visited the Armenian Museum of America and St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School, both in Watertown.