Los Angeles Gala presents Lifetime Achievement Award, honors community leaders

Sold-out AAASC event raises funds for future programs

October 2018 | By Joe Snell | Feature photo contributed

Los Angeles, CA  – Pierre Toulakany walked through a crowd of roughly 200 guests at the downtown Los Angeles Millennium Biltmore to receive his Walter Shahbaz Lifetime Achievement Award.

The award, part of the Assyrian American Association of Southern California (AAASC)’s Annual Gala held on Oct. 6, honored nearly six decades of work by Toulakany, including co-founding the AAASC in the mid 1960s, his role as President of the Assyrian American National Federation, and his work on the national board of directors of the Assyrian Aid Society of America. 

“He accomplished all of this while becoming a successful businessman and entrepreneur in the fields of financial planning and property investments,” said a representative from the AAASC. “He has received many commendations including from the City of Los Angeles.”

Toulakany joined five other award recipients at the Annual Gala, which honors the work of both Assyrians and non-Assyrians for their contributions to the community. 

“Each of these individuals embodies that Assyrian spirit and mentality to never give up, always work hard, and always give back,” said Jon Koriel, Executive Vice President of AAASC.

The inaugural gala was held last year as the AAASC brainstormed ways to host an event that would spotlight individuals for their work and dedication to the community as well as a way to fundraise for future events.

This year’s gala was organized by Deeana Betsamo, AAASC Executive Secretary, and Peter Warda, AAASC Director of Advocacy.

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Reine Hanna, Director of the Assyrian Policy Institute, is honored with the Advocate Award. / Photo contributed

Reine Hanna, Director of the Assyrian Policy Institute (API), was surprised with the Advocate Award.

API was established earlier this year to campaign for the recognition of Assyrian rights. Since then, the organization has advocated for a number of initiatives including the creation of a Nineveh Plain Province for Assyrians, Yazidis, and other minority communities.

“The outpouring of support and positivity in response to this award has energized [the API],” Hanna said. “Realizing that so many people appreciate the work that we do gives us the strength to keep fighting, no matter the odds.”

Other honorees include Vania David, who was honored with the Outstanding Contribution to the Arts award for, among other work, his written collection of over 200 original songs in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Doctors Christopher and Richard Zoumalan were awarded the Forward Under 40 award for their work in the field of plastic surgery. 

Also honored was California State Senator Scott Wilk as the Legislator of the Year. Senator Wilk is a strong proponent of genocide recognition and has worked to pass legislation so that the genocide is included in California history textbooks. This year, he co-authored a bill to divest California pension funds from Turkish companies.

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AAASC members Jon Koriel (left), Executive VP, and Peter Warda, Director of Advocacy, introduce honorees at this year’s Annual Gala. / Photo contributed

“When I was in school, we didn’t learn about the Genocide at all,” Senator Wilk said. “We are now making corrections in our textbooks. Assyrians need to go beyond their own community to others.”

Comerica Bank was the Platinum Sponsor for the event. Gold Sponsors were Ishtar Motors, J&S RV Storage, Zoumalan Plastic Surgery, and GLO Modern Dentistry.

Proceeds from the evening go toward a number of programs organized by Assyrian associations including language and history courses, a summer day camp for kids, and the August 7th commemoration.

“This gala allows for us to build our account in continuing to provide these amazing services for members of our community,” Koriel said.

Visit the Assyrian American Association of Southern California for more information about the organization and their upcoming events: aaaofsc.org

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