2024 Aurora Events in Los Angeles

2024 Aurora Events in Los Angeles

The 2024 Aurora Events were held on May 8–10, 2024 in Los Angeles, CA. The events, including the 2024 Aurora Prize Ceremony and the Human Rights and Humanitarian Forum, were organized in partnership with The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA Law.

On May 8, invitees got together at the Welcome Reception providing a unique opportunity to engage in conversation with past and present Aurora Humanitarians and learn more about their inspiring work directly from them. Guests were greeted with opening remarks by Armine Afeyan, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, and Prof. Hannah R. Garry, Executive Director of The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA Law, as well as other speakers.


The Human Rights and Humanitarian Forum

The Human Rights and Humanitarian Forum took place on May 9 and featured world leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and academics who came together to ponder topics including the global healthcare crisis, forced displacement, climate change, the right to education, AI, philanthropy, and gender justice, among other topics. Those who couldn’t attend in person, like CNN Host Fareed Zakaria, recorded special video tributes, delivering powerful messages of hope and solidarity.


“This partnership really felt quite natural for us, given our shared values, our shared intent, and the moment where we all need to raise our voice, so it couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Co-Founder and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, Founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering, and Co-Founder and Chairman of Moderna, in his opening remarks. “These kinds of events are largely to foster discussion, not a one-way street, and by mixing together the philanthropic community, human rights advocates, academics, media, and entrepreneurs, we absolutely are sure to have a fertile ground for not only discussing and identifying challenges, but more importantly, solutions.”

A dynamic discussion between Dr. Eric Esrailian, Chief of the UCLA Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, Philanthropist, Film Producer, Entrepreneur, Aurora Board Member and Co-Chair of the 2024 Aurora Prize Events in Los Angeles, and Michael Milken, Chairman of the Milken Institute, kicked off the Human Rights & Humanitarian Forum and was dedicated to their vision of a better future for all.

“To me, the Aurora Prize and the reason we’ve teamed up is symbolic of that – that just an ordinary person in a village somewhere in the world can change the course of history,” said Mr. Milken. “And so many people are alive today because someone, at some point in history, sheltered your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents. You don’t have to be Superman or Wonder Woman – everyone can contribute to this effort.” In his turn, Dr. Esrailian expressed his gratitude to Michael Milken for his work with Aurora and beyond. “Thank you for making the world a better place, thank you for changing the course of so many lives around the world, including my own,” said Dr. Esrailian. 


A session paying tribute to the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians explored their impactful achievements while shedding light on the complexities of humanitarian work. It was co-hosted by Dele Olojede, Chairman of the Board of the Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship and Aurora Prize Selection Committee member; Professor Hannah R. Garry, Executive Director of The Promise Institute for Human Rights at the UCLA School of Law; and Armine Afeyan, Executive Director of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.

“The Promise Institute of Human Rights at UCLA Law is thrilled to co-host the awarding of the Aurora Prize and Aurora’s prestigious events this week,” noted Professor Garry. “Our involvement in today’s activities is really a poignant reminder of the vital role that top educational institutions play in the global human rights landscape through thought leadership and training the next generation of humanitarians and human rights defenders.”

Concluding the session, Armine Afeyan said: “Denis, Abdulhadi and Nasrin are the best of humanity. Together, they are lights in the darkness and, combined with Aurora Humanitarians around the room, people giving of themselves every day to help others, they form a powerful, beautiful constellation. It’s on all of us to help the rest of the world see that constellation clearly.”

In his keynote address at the Human Rights and Humanitarian Forum, Zeid bin Ra’ad al Hussein, President and CEO of the International Peace Institute, spoke of the decline of democracy and other issues with reflections on his work on a global pandemic treaty and experience as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, while also highlighting the power of human rights defenders: “Is that not something we all admire, a voice that is willing to overcome the first of human instincts, human survival, for the sake of defending a principle that has relevance to all humanity?”.

Aurora Prize Ceremony and Gratitude Dinner: Honoring the Best of Humanity

Later that day, guests gathered for the 2024 Aurora Prize Ceremony and Gratitude Dinner, which opened with remarks from Mayor of Los Angeles Karen Bass, who also presented the city’s Certificate of Recognition to representatives of Aurora and The Promise Institute. The Ceremony was hosted by David Ignatius, associate editor of The Washington Post, journalist and novelist, and Dalia Atallah, Aurora’s Amal Clooney Scholarship fellow and alumna of the UWC Dilijan in Armenia.


Attendees had an opportunity to watch a special video message recorded by Chef José Andrés, founder of World Central Kitchen, who called on the world to “protect and support those on the frontlines” of humanitarian crises. This was followed by a moment of silence to remember and respect all those who have perished, and an address from Marguerite Barankitse, 2016 Aurora Prize Laureate and Founder of Maison Shalom.



“The 2024 Aurora Events in Los Angeles are a testament to what we can achieve when we join forces with genuine, committed, and altruistic people like all of you and the many people who work with all of you behind-the-scenes,” said Dr. Eric Esrailian, Chief of the UCLA Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, Philanthropist, Film Producer, Entrepreneur and Aurora Board Member in his speech at the 2024 Aurora Prize Ceremony. After that, His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, addressed the attendees of the 2024 Aurora Prize Ceremony with words of comfort and peace.

Virtuoso violinist Diana Adamyan enchanted the audience with her performance of Groong, written by the great Armenian composer Komitas, which she dedicated to people suffering from modern-day atrocities. 

“Aurora not only raises global awareness of the Armenian Genocide in order to prevent similar atrocities from taking place in our modern world, but also empowers extraordinary individuals across the globe doing unfathomable work to help others,” noted actor, producer, director, and author Joe Manganiello as he spoke of the responsibility to tell the stories of genocide survivors like his great-grandmother.

Unfortunately, Aurora Co-Founder Ruben Vardanyan was unable to attend the events in Los Angeles, as he remains unjustly imprisoned by the government of Azerbaijan. His wife Veronika Zonabend, Founding Partner and Chair of the Board of Governors of the UWC Dilijan, relayed his words in a moving video recorded in Armenia. “My decision to move to Artsakh – Nagorno Karabakh – was motivated by the Aurora heroes: I made a choice to be with the people who needed help and wanted to help in any way I could... I am confident that together we can do a lot to make the world a better and a kinder place for everyone,” said Ruben’s message.



“In this time of polycrisis, many of the world’s greatest crises go unnoticed or ignored. People get overwhelmed. Empathy turns off. There’s a name for this phenomenon: It’s called psychic numbing. And while it’s understandable, it’s not okay – which is a big reason we designed Aurora to operate as it does. <…> Aurora stands for the forgotten – it’s in our DNA. Forgotten people, forgotten crises, forgotten genocides,” – those were the powerful words from Dr. Noubar Afeyan, Aurora Co-Founder and Chair of the Board, directed to the audience at the Ceremony.

The performance by the Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Aloe Blacc was one of the highlights of the evening, as he debuted his new song ‘SHINE,’ a tribute to all who bring the light of hope into the darkness and an anthem that celebrates unwavering dedication to making a difference in others’ lives. 

Alice Greenwald, Board Member of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and Founder and Principal of Memory Matters, praised Aurora for its comprehensive approach. “I think the Aurora Co-Founders have found a brilliant solution to the challenge of moving on from a traumatic experience while paying respect to its enormous significance when they came up with the empowering concept of Gratitude in Action,” said Ms. Greenwald.

In his address, Hamdi Ulukaya, Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member and Founder and CEO of Chobani, compared humanitarians from around the world to snowdrop flowers, the heralds of spring and hope. “They fight in the dark days, when the chances are very little. They probably won’t see the justice, and beauty, and good days come, but they fight the snow. So, thank you for all you do for the hope of spring,” said Mr. Ulukaya.

Leymah Gbowee, Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member and President of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, highlighted Aurora’s “spirit of unity and inclusivity” before presenting the 2024 Aurora Humanitarians: Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja from Bahrain and Denmark, Denis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nasrin Sotoudeh from Iran.

Those exceptional heroes were also honored by Lord Ara Darzi, Chair of Aurora Prize Selection Committee and Co-Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, in his speech at the Ceremony. “Your bravery and dedication reflect the very spirit of the Aurora Prize and our philosophy of Gratitude in Action, and we are delighted to express our deepest appreciation to you for your outstanding work,” said Lord Darzi. 

2024 Aurora Prize was awarded to Dr. Denis Mukwege, a world-renowned gynecological surgeon and human rights activist. Dr. Mukwege is the president of Panzi Hospital and Foundation in the DRC, which he founded in 1999 to address the systemic issue of maternal healthcare and maternal mortality. 

“In the heart of my beloved Congo, the resilience and dignity of survivors of sexual violence are inspiring my every action. Their courage compels us to confront a manmade tragedy and to ignite a beacon of hope and healing in response,” said Dr. Mukwege. “This award is not mine alone. It belongs to every nurse, doctor, counselor who works tirelessly at Panzi Hospital and beyond. It is for every advocate for peace, justice, and human rights who believes in a future where justice prevails and healing is accessible to all.”


Conversation with Dr. Noubar Afeyan and Dr. Eric Esrailian 

On May 10, 2024, Dr. Noubar Afeyan and Dr. Eric Esrailian had an enlightening conversation as they discussed Aurora’s impact over the past decade, reflected on the May 9 convening and Prize Ceremony, and shared Aurora’s vision for the future. The event was moderated by Raj Kumar, Founding President & Editor-in-Chief of Devex.

 “What do you do when you’re given a second chance at life? That’s what survivors are. When you’re born into this world, you have parents. When you’re reborn, for the rest of your life, you’re the product of some event that you didn’t orchestrate, and you start over. A lot of people seek new meaning in their lives. Some people experience post-traumatic stress, but others come back with a vengeance,” said Dr. Noubar Afeyan.

Dr. Eric Esrailian added: “I hope that we can motivate people to act like the Laureates. I don’t want people to be motivated by wealth and fame, I want people to be inspired by Dennis Mukwege. I want more people to be inspired by the work being done in their community. What we should be doing is sharing the story of Aurora, touching base with all these like-minded people, sharing stories, and trying to inspire people.” 

Aurora’s Sunrise

Later that day a screening of Aurora’s Sunrise, an award-winning animated documentary telling the true story of Aurora Mardiganian, took place at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum. It was followed by a discussion with Melissa Bilal, The Promise Chair In Armenian Music, Arts, And Culture, and Director of Armenian Music Program, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music; Eric Esrailian, Chief, UCLA Vatche & Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, Philanthropist, Film Producer, Entrepreneur and Aurora Board Member; Hannah R. Garry, UCLA Law Professor from Practice, Executive Director, The Promise Institute for Human Rights at the UCLA School of Law; Vardan Hovhannisyan, Founder and Producer, Bars Media; and Inna Sahakyan, Film Producer and Director, Bars Media. The conversation with the film’s creators marked the end of the 2024 Aurora Events in Los Angeles.