Honorees: Rita S. Balian

Educator, Businesswoman, Philanthropist, Political and Humanitarian Activist, Fundraiser, Promoter of the Arts and Culture, and a Community Leader.

Leadership Activities:
Rita Balian is the Founder, President and CEO of the Armenian American Cultural Association, Inc. (AACA), an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)3 US registered, tax exempt, charitable organization, established in 1995. The mission of AACA is to promote Armenian cultural, educational and scientific endeavors and to sponsor health and humanitarian assistance projects for the people of Armenia.Through AACA, Mrs. Balian established the Armenian American Wellness Center in 1997 in Yerevan, Armenia for the early detection of breast and cervical cancer, the two most deadly cancers among Armenian women. In its tenth years, the Wellness Center has screened over 80,000 patients and has saved the lives of more than 3,000 women through early detection. Additionally, the Center has now two Satellite clinics outside Yerevan.

In 1987, Rita Balian and her husband Vartkess established and continue to manage in its twentieth year the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) New York Summer Intern Program for Armenian college students from around the world, under the auspices of the AGBU President’s Club, which the Balians Co-Chair. As philanthropists, Mrs. Balian and her husband have sponsored many American and Armenian educational, cultural, and charitable institutions, including the AGBU, the TCA, the Yerevan State University, the American University of Armenia, and have established the Vartkess & Rita Balian Elementary School in the village of Garbi, Armenia. In 1986, the Balians established the “Balian Press Award,” given annually to Armenian journalists from around the world, who have demonstrated excellence in promoting Armenian causes.

In 1996, the UNICEF 50th Anniversary Wall Calendar featured Rita Balian’s visionary project to introduce children’s art to the world through the Children’s Museum of Art in Armenia, which was printed for the first time in three languages and in 100,000 copies. In response to the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia, Mrs. Balian established a “Sister City Exchange Program” between the cities of Gyumri, Armenia and Alexandria, Virginia working with Congressman Jim Moran (then Mayor of Alexandria). She chaired the Sister City Committee for six years, organized several exchanges, and established the city’s annual Armenian Day Festival.

Mrs. Balian has organized and chaired over 30 national and international events: conventions, scientific seminars, cultural, educational and medical exchanges between the US and Armenia, and political fundraising campaigns.

She has raised millions of dollars for such causes. She has delivered speeches throughout the USA, Europe and Armenia, on topics including education, leadership, health and women, many of which have been published. Rita Balian received a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology and Child Education from the American University of Beirut. In October, she celebrated her 45th Wedding Anniversary with Vartkess. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

Honors and Awards:
In 2006, Rita Balian received the prestigious Fridtjof Nansen Gold Medal in Yerevan, Armenia and also the First Humanitarian Achievement Award from the Armenian American Medical Society of California. In 2005, The Armenian Reporter International selected her as their first Person of the Year. In 2003 and 2005, her humanitarian and philanthropic accomplishments were acknowledged in the  United States Congressional Record by congressmen Frank Pallone (D-9th NJ) & James Moran. (D-8th VA). In 2003, she received the Spirit of Life Cancer Advocacy Award from the International Spirit of Life Foundation and the Washington Cancer Institute in Washington, DC. In 2003, Rita Balian received the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Outstanding US Citizen Achievement Award, and was declared “one of the silent heroes of America” by Frederick W. Shieck, the representative of President Bush at the USAID special ceremony.

In 2001, His Holiness, Catholicos Karekin II, bestowed upon her and her husband, Vartkess, the St. Nersess Shnorhali Medal of Honor through a Pontifical Encyclical. In 2001, on the occasion of AGBU 95th Anniversary Celebrations in New York City, AGBU declared Rita and Vartkess Balian as Honored Members for their fifty years of dedicated service to the organization.

In 1995, 2000, and again in 2001, she received three Honorary Doctoral Degrees for her humanitarian, educational and medical activities from three state universities in Armenia. In 1996, the United Nations Association honored her with a Certificate of Advocacy for Women and Children on Human Rights Day in Washington, DC. In 1995, she received the Annual Achievement Award from the Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA).