The 2021 Aurora Prize events took place on October 8-10, 2021, in Venice, Italy, and celebrated the lasting connection between this universally valued cultural site and the spirit of Aurora, with its deeply embedded respect for the human life. During the successful and highly engaging 3-day program packed with meaningful activities, members of Aurora’s community had an opportunity to address the most pressing global humanitarian issues, honor modern-day heroes, discuss the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and pay tribute to those who are no longer with us.
On October 8, the Aurora Dialogues discussion titled “Conversation with the 2021 Aurora Humanitarians” was organized at the Venice International University Auditorium on the picturesque San Servolo Island (Isola di San Sèrvolo). The event allowed the 2021 Aurora Humanitarians to introduce their work and the causes that motivate them, inspiring the audience with stories of human perseverance and courage in the face of extreme adversity. It was also a chance to finally give the Aurora Prize statuette to 2020 Laureate Fartuun Adan, who had had to be honored online with her daughter Ilwad Elman because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
“It brings to us why we’re all here. The sacrifices that some are making around the globe, it stands in your face, and we’re very, very touched by the amazing people who put themselves up for this very important prize, a prize that acknowledges what they’ve done, but is also a prize that recognizes the tremendous hardships that exist around the globe,” noted Lord Ara Darzi, Chair of Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London.
On October 9, the main events of the weekend took place on the San Lazzaro Island, the headquarters of the Mekhitarist Congregation and one of the world’s most prominent centers of Armenian culture and Armenian studies. The events began with the meeting of the Aurora Prize Selection Committee who deliberated on the name of the 2021 Laureate. Later, a “Prayer for Solidarity” was held in the Church of the Armenian Catholic congregation of Mekhitarists. The service, attended by religious and state leaders and representatives of the international humanitarian community and accompanied by live performances, was followed by the “In Remembrance. The Aurora Co-Founder Vartan Gregorian” event dedicated to the memory of the outstanding Armenian American humanitarian and scholar. The passing of Mr. Gregorian, who stood at the very origins of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, was mourned by many across the globe, and his legacy lives on.
“Vartan set us all a standard, in most humble of ways, that we need to strive for as we leverage our learnings from him throughout our lives. We’re gathered today in a bastion of knowledge that contains historic records of the Armenian culture and heritage, and that is the reflection of the power Vartan Gregorian talked about – the power we all have; the power we must use to do good,” said Noubar Afeyan, Co-Founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering.
The 2021 Aurora Prize Ceremony, titled “Reviving Together,” was hosted by Dalia Atallah, Aurora’s Amal Clooney Scholarship Fellow and UWC Dilijan alumna from Lebanon, and David Ignatius, Associate Editor and Columnist for The Washington Post and long-time friend of Aurora. It also featured performances by Aram Ipekdjian and Jivan Gasparyan Jr. playing duduk, a traditional Armenian instrument, as well as by the Hover State Chamber Choir, conducted by Sona Hovhannisyan and famous for its experimental choral performances and promoting the Armenian choral heritage throughout the world. The enchanting sounds of duduk and the voices of the singers transported the audience to the homeland of the Initiative, highlighting the rich Armenian legacy of the location.
“Last year was a tough one for all Armenians. We lost a lot of young people who died in the war – on both sides, not only on the Armenian side, and it was horrible for all of us. I think it’s very symbolic that we’re here today, in the place where we can be proud of being Armenian and of giving something to the world, but also trying to keep our identity, trying to preserve who we are,” stated Ruben Vardanyan, Co-Founder of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and Noôdome.
The sixth annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was awarded to Julienne Lusenge, a human rights defender, co-founder of Women's Solidarity for Inclusive Peace and Development (SOFEPADI) and Fund for Congolese Women (FFC), who has been helping the victims of wartime sexual violence for years. Her boundless courage and tireless activism have shone a light on the desperate plight of thousands of Congolese women subjected to horrific sexual abuse amidst the civil war in the country, exposing the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
The Ceremony culminated in a performance by Maestro Andrea Bocelli, a world-famous Italian opera tenor and philanthropist who empowers people and communities through his Andrea Bocelli Foundation. After the event, according to tradition, the name of the 2021 Aurora Prize Laureate Julienne Lusenge was added to the Chronicles of Aurora, a unique modern hand-written tome that contains the depictions of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative’s activities.
The Aurora Dialogues Venice event titled “Health Security: Humanitarian Impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic” was organized on October 10, 2021. During the discussion, speakers from different regions and spheres talked openly and honestly about the brutal reality of facing COVID-19 and dealing with its short- and long-term consequences, as well as the efforts that must be taken by the global community to avoid such disasters in the future.
Over the years, the Co-Founders have been joined by thousands of supporters and partners. And even though there are too many to name each one of them, the Initiative remains eternally grateful to all who contribute to its mission. To date, all Aurora programs have benefitted, directly and indirectly, over 2,500,000 people in more than 50 countries. However, there is more work to be done, and for that, the movement must grow further in size, scope, and reach. In order to make a difference and join Aurora’s vision of a better future, created by our imagination and shared humanity, please support the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative here.
Top photo: Aurora Co-Founders Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan (right) with 2021 Aurora Prize Laureate Julienne Lusenge and the Chronicles of Aurora on the San Lazzaro Island in Venice, Italy, on October 9, 2021