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Rome Reports

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Aurora Prize pays forward, remembering those who saved Armenians during genocide


The moment when Mirza Dinnayi took the stage to accept the 2019 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, it was not only for himself. In doing so, he joined a group of humanitarian heroes recognized for their work in remote areas, often working without resources. 

Since its beginning in 2016, the four Aurora Prize laureates who have won each year, all have one aspect in common: they save lives.  

One example is Tom Catena. He was the 2017 laureate and spent 20 years working in Africa. He lived 12 years in Sudan, eight of which he was the sole doctor for all the inhabitants.

TOM CATENA
Laureate 2017, Aurora Prize

“In June 2011, Civil War started almost overnight we became like a mass unit, with wounded and civilian and military casualties. We also became a hospital for traumatized patients fighting from the war. Now there's been a ceasefire, so we're back to the other kind of usual types of disease.”

Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy and emergency surgeries now make up his daily work as a Catholic missionary. For him, winning the Aurora prize and the $1.1 million prize money made a huge difference in his work. 

From that amount, the institution allows laureates to put $100,000 toward their personal work before they “pay forward,” splitting one million between three organizations of their choice.

NOUBAR AFEYAN
Co-founder, Aurora Prize

“We started this project to to bring attention of the world to people who are risking their lives to help the lives of others and to save the lives of others. This is the ultimate sacrificial humanitarian activity, if you will. We did that motivated by our past, our history. In 2015, the Armenian nation, worldwide, commemorated the hundredth anniversary of what was the first genocide of the 20th century, committed against Armenian by the then-Ottoman Empire. As we approach the centennial, many of us started asking are what are we going to do?”

That question led to the Aurora Prize. This year, they celebrated in Armenia, with past laureates and notable guests in attendance. In the month of October, the two Armenian co-founders even made their way to Rome, to meet the pope. 

RUBEN VARDANYAN
Co-Founder, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative

“It was not very long meeting but it was really nice, because we gave a present to him. We included all the stories of Aurora humanitarian movement finalists and Laureates. Also Armenians who had been saved and survived during the Armenian time. We made a unique book, with one copy for him. He was very pleased to get this present, he was excited about Armenia. He knew very well about the Armenian genocide.”

As the Aurora Prize is becoming more well-known, there are more nominations each year. It is a way to recognize those who are saving lives in the world today, while remembering those who did it in the past, protecting the Armenians during the genocide.