Fresno Raisins Reach Armenia

Fresno Raisins Reach Armenia

March 25, 2006


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by Andranik Michaelian

Yerevan, Armenia — According to historians, raisins were first cultivated in the plains and fields of Anatolia, in Old Armenia. Millenia later, Armenian farmers in Fresno became famous for the production of raisins, supplying the worldwide market with the sun-drenched delight. Recently, orphans, the elderly, and others in socially vulnerable groups in Armenia were able to enjoy raisins grown and packed in Fresno, thanks to the generosity of the Raisin Advisory Committee and the Raisin Bargaining Association, who donated the raisins; Victor Packing, Lion Packing, and National Raisin Company, who packed the raisins; the United Armenian Fund, which paid for shipping the raisins from Fresno to Yerevan; and, the California-based Armenian Technology Group (ATG).

Founded in 1989, ATG has worked diligently to strengthen the rural economy of Armenia and Karabagh, establishing noted programs such as the Wheat Seed Project, Sis Project, the Honey Project, and the grape nursery in Khramort, a village in Karabagh that had been completely destroyed during the war. In the current project, ATG is working closely with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare to distribute nearly 50 tons of raisins to the neediest segments of Armenian society.

Razmik Ghazaryan, chief specialist and coordinator of benevolent programs for the ministry, says the donation of raisins is playing an important role in providing nutrition for those in need. “Our department works to reduce poverty in Armenia,” he said. “The shipment of Fresno raisins is helping in the most important area — nutrition — and is letting people know they are not forgotten. We thank ATG and the raisin growers of Fresno for their generous donation.”

Orphanages, special schools are recipients

In Armenia, special schools for disadvantaged and handicapped children are located in Yerevan and regions to the north, including Lori, Shirak, and Gegharkunik, near Lake Sevan. Special School No. 2, in the Taron district of Vanadzor, is home to children with hearing and vision problems, as well as others from socially insecure families from Vanadzor and villages as far away as Sanahin and Tashir.

“Here, these children receive the care they need,” states Hasmik Nerkararyan, the school’s director. “We received 540 kilograms of raisins at our school. The children were overjoyed when the raisins arrived. We will serve the raisins with pilaf, and during sport activities. Not only that, several of the older children want to join the ATG Bike-a-Thon when it passes Vanadzor.”

Nearby, at Special School No. 1, principal Sassoun Harutyunyan sat with his pupils during lunch. At each table, plates were filled with raisins, dried apricots, and apples. “One hundred twenty kids go to school here,” he said. “We want the best for every one of them. I come here on Sundays, my day off, to see the children, to make sure everybody is fine. Some of these kids don’t see their parents the entire school year. We are one big family. I can’t say enough about what it means to the children, and all of us here, to have these raisins sent from our fellow Armenians in Fresno.”

In Yerevan, at the Orran Benevolent Non-Governmental Organization, the reception of Fresno raisins had special meaning. “Raffi Hovhannisyan, who has roots in the Fresno area, founded Orran, along with his wife, Armine,” Heriknaz Harutyunyan, executive director of Orran, explained. “Receiving these raisins was a big surprise. We were wondering what to do this Easter. We wanted to do something special. Then, one day, we got a call from the ATG office in Yerevan. They said they had raisins for us, from Fresno. For us, this is special, a gift from Nature. It gives us a closer tie with our Armenian brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.”

Across town at Zatik Orphanage, children and staff were busy preparing for the Easter holiday. “Easter is a special holiday for us,” stated Ashot Mnatsakanyan, founder and director of Zatik. “Zatik means Easter in Armenian.” Several boys rushed to unload boxes of raisins from a truck. Forming an assembly line, they passed the boxes of raisins to the next in line, before reaching a boy who stacked the raisins in storage. As they worked, a van from an old age home in Vardenis arrived, to take raisins to residents there.

“This Easter, we will cook our pilaf with raisins from Fresno,” Mnatsakanyan said. “We will use plenty of raisins. Everybody is welcome.”

For more information about how you can help Armenia’s farmers, contact the ATG office at (559) 224-1000 or by e-mail ( Tax-deductible donations can be sent to ATG; 1300 E. Shaw, Suite 149; P.O.Box 5969; Fresno, CA 93755-5969.
You may also donate to ATG online.