Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity

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The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity
Armenian symbol for eternity.
Awarded for Courage, commitment to a humanitarian cause and impact on the world
Country Armenia
Presented by Aurora Humanitarian Initiative
First awarded
  • 2016 (2016)
No. of laureates 2 Laureates and 6 Organizations as of 2017

Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity is an annual international humanitarian award, which is initiated to recognize and express gratitude to those courageous individuals or organizations that impact on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes. It is awarded on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors.[1]

The Aurora Prize ceremonies take place annually in Yerevan, Armenia starting from 24 April 2016, the laureate of the prize receives $100,000 grant as well as the opportunity to nominate organizations that inspired his or her work for a US $1,000,000 award.[2]


The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity is one of the projects of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative,[3] it was officially announced at 100 LIVES launch event in New York on March 10, 2015. The Aurora Prize is inspired by many stories of the rescue of Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.

The prize is named after Arshaluys Mardikyan, who after surviving the Armenian Genocide, escaping from slavery and roaming around the world appeared in the U.S. and took the name Aurora Mardiganian. She wrote a book called “Ravished Armenia”, which presents those dreadful events, this book had then become a script for the movie in which Aurora starred. For many years this movie was a crowd-puller in the U.S., and it played an enormous role in raising awareness about the Armenian Genocide.[4]

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative seeks to empower modern-day saviors to offer life and hope to those in urgent need of basic humanitarian aid and thus continue the cycle of giving internationally, it is an eight-year commitment (2015 to 2023, in remembrance of the eight years of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1923) to support people and promote projects that tackle the needs of the most helpless and destitute, and do so at great risk. This is achieved through the Initiative’s various programs: The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the Aurora Dialogues, the Aurora Humanitarian Index, the Gratitude Projects and the 100 LIVES Initiative.

Gratitude in Action[edit]

Gratitude in Action is the concept that drives the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, the countless survivors around the world who owe their chance at life to the generosity of others can best acknowledge such benevolence by taking similar action. This is Gratitude in Action.[5]

Through Gratitude in Action, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Co-Founders wish to inspire all those who have received aid in time of crisis to express gratitude by offering similar assistance to someone else.[6]

Ravished Armenia Martikanyan


The Aurora Prize is the vision of Vartan Gregorian, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan, the prize was conceived out of a desire "to honor those who risk their own safety because of a heightened sense of humanity and responsibility and support life-saving causes in a tangible way".[7]

Nomination and Selection Process[edit]


Every year humanitarian organizations and members of the public are invited to nominate individuals they believe have overcome great external challenges to make an exceptional impact on preserving human life and advancing humanitarian causes.[8]

Any individual or group that commits an extraordinary act of humanity can be nominated to receive the Aurora Prize. Self-nominations are not permitted.[9]


All nominations are carefully vetted and reviewed through a rigorous process, monitored by a third-party independent observer, the selection of the finalists and the Aurora Prize Laureate is made by the independent Aurora Prize Selection Committee,[10] which evaluates the nominees based on the following criteria:

  • Courage in overcoming significant risks, going beyond the call of duty for the sake of helping others survive;
  • Commitment to moral values such as integrity, freedom, justice, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility and compassion, and direct involvement in helping others survive;
  • Impact on their community, country or on the world at large; a long-term effect in saving lives; inspiration to others to save lives; saving lives of a large number of individuals.[11][9]

2016 Aurora Prize[edit]

Selection Committee[edit]

Inaugural Selection Committee of the prize included the late Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel, as well as Oscar Arias, Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, human rights activist Hina Jilani, former Australian Foreign Minister and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evans, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian, and Academy Award-winning actor and humanitarian George Clooney.[12]


  • Dr. Tom Catena is the only doctor permanently based near Sudan’s border with South Sudan and is therefore responsible for serving over 500,000 people in the region. Despite several bombings by the Sudanese government, Dr. Catena resides on the hospital grounds so that he may be on call at all times, he was named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015.[13]
  • Syeda Ghulam Fatima has worked tirelessly to eradicate bonded labor in Pakistan, one of the last remaining forms of modern slavery. Fatima has liberated thousands of Pakistani workers, including approximately 21,000 children, who were forced to work for brick kiln owners in order to repay debts. Fatima has survived attempts on her life and repeated beatings during the course of her activism.
  • Father Bernard Kinvi became a priest at age 19, after losing his father and four sisters to prolonged violence and illness. Father Kinvi left his home country of Togo to head a Catholic mission with the Central African Republic; in 2012 civil war broke out. Amid the violence, Father Kinvi’s mission provided refuge and health services to those on both sides of the conflict, saving hundreds of people from persecution and death.[14]


The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity Inaugural Ceremony was held on April 24, 2016 in Yerevan at the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concerts Complex.[15]


The Ceremony was hosted by an Armenian opera diva Hasmik Papian and an American journalist and novelist David Ignatius.


The Ceremony was opened by an animation film directed by Eric Nazarian featuring Serj Tankian’s “Aurora’s Dream” as the soundtrack,[16] each of the finalists has been introduced with a documentary mini-film directed by Andrey Loshak.[17]


The live music during the Ceremony was performed by State Youth Orchestra of Armenia conducted by Sergey Smbatyan. The Fanfares of the Ceremony was composed by Stepan Shakaryan, the Statuette, created by Manvel Matevosyan was presented with an excerpt from “Two Suns” ballet by “Ballet2021 Foundation” dance troupe (choreographer Roudolf Kharatyan), accompanied by Avet Terteryan’s and Arno Babajanyan’s music. The State Youth Orchestra of Armenia performed an excerpt from Aram Khachaturyan’s Symphony No. 2 (Bell Symphony). The co-hostess, soprano Hasmik Papian performed Barsegh Kanachyan’s “Lullaby”, the Ceremony was concluded with the song “Pour toi, Arménie’’ (For you, Armenia) performed by Gevorg Hakobyan and the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia.[16]


The inaugural Aurora Prize was awarded to Marguerite Barankitse from Maison Shalom and REMA Hospital in Burundi for the extraordinary impact she has had in saving thousands of lives and caring for orphans and refugees during the country’s years of civil war.
Barankitse has dedicated her life to providing safe haven and education to children escaping violence and abuse. When war first broke out in Burundi, Barankitse, a Tutsi, tried to hide 72 of her closest Hutu neighbors to keep them safe from persecution, they were discovered and executed, while she was forced to watch.
Following this horrifying experience, which truly tested her faith in humanity, Barankitse began her work saving and caring for children and refugees. Over the next 20 years Barankitse rescued and educated roughly 30000 children, and in 2008 she opened a hospital which has treated more than 80000 patients to date.[18][19][20][21]

Love transcends all obstacles. Even if we have nothing we can give laughter and tenderness.

Marguerite Barankitse, A Calling to Love[22]


Marguerite Barankitse, as 2016 Aurora Prize Laureate, selected the following organizations that inspired her work to receive a $1 million award: Fondation Jean-Francois Peterbroeck, Foundation du Grand-Duc et de la Grande-Duchesse, Bridderlech Deelen.[23]


Award Money[edit]

As Laureate, Marguerite Barankitse was awarded the $100 000 grant and donated the accompanying $1 000 000 award to the organizations to advance aid and rehabilitation for child refugees and orphans, and fight child poverty.[24]


The Statuette of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was created by Manvel Matevosyan and called Towards Eternity.[25]

2017 Aurora Prize[edit]

Selection Committee[edit]

The members of Selection Committee of 2017 Aurora Prize are George Clooney (Co-Chair), Vartan Gregorian, Oscar Arias, Shirin Ebadi, Gareth Evans, Leymah Gbowee, Hina Jilani, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo.[26][27]


The nominations for 2017 Aurora Prize were opened on June 1 and closed on September 9, 2016. 558 submissions from 66 countries for 254 unique candidates were received.[28] 2017 finalists were:

  • Ms. Fartuun Adan and Ms. Ilwad Elman, founders of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, Somalia, mother and daughter who are unwavering in their mission to protect human rights, women’s rights, and facilitate peace building, development and the rehabilitation of child soldiers amidst insecure and dangerous conditions.
  • Ms. Jamila Afghani, chairperson of the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organization, Afghanistan – a polio victim who accidentally received the gift of reading and has dedicated her life to bringing reading and education to girls and women, while enlisting the help of Muslim leaders of faith in her mission.
  • Dr. Tom Catena from Amsterdam, New York, surgeon at the Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Nuba Mountains, Sudan, a Catholic missionary and doctor who for nearly a decade remains the only permanent doctor to treat the remote and war-torn region’s half-million population, performing more than 1,000 operations each year.
  • Mr. Muhammad Darwish, Medical Doctor at the Madaya Field Hospital, Syria, a student of dentistry who returned to his home-town and took on the full responsibilities of a medical doctor, began to perform medical procedures, offered care and maintained meticulous documentation of the conditions of patients, many of them children, affected by persisting violence, thus bringing international attention to the besieged area.
  • Dr. Denis Mukwege, gynaecological surgeon and founder of the Panzi Hospital, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an obstetrician turned gynaecological surgeon who is providing physical, psychological and legal support to more than 50,000 survivors of sexual violence in the war-torn country while fearlessly seeking to bring to justice those responsible.[29][30][31][32]


The 2017 Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity was awarded to Dr. Tom Catena, for the last nine years, Dr. Catena – known by locals as “Dr. Tom” – has been on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Mother of Mercy Catholic Hospital to care for the more than 750,000 citizens amidst ongoing civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Patients have been known to walk for up to seven days to receive treatment for injuries from bombing attacks and ailments varying from bone fractures to malnourishment and malaria, it is estimated that Dr. Catena treats 500 patients per day and performs more than one thousand operations each year.[29]

We all have an obligation to look after our brothers and sisters. It is possible that every single person can make a contribution, and to recognize that shared humanity can lead to a brighter future.

Dr. Tom Catena, 2017 Aurora Prize Ceremony.[33]

Dr. Catena received a $100,000 grant and the opportunity to continue the cycle of giving by donating the accompanying $1,000,000 award to organizations of his choice. Dr. Catena will donate the award to three organizations: African Mission Healthcare Foundation (AMHF), USA; Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB), USA; Aktion Canchanabury, Germany.

2018 Aurora Prize[edit]

Selection Committee[edit]

The members of Selection Committee of 2018 Aurora Prize are George Clooney (Co-Chair), Vartan Gregorian, Oscar Arias, Shirin Ebadi, Gareth Evans, Leymah Gbowee, Hina Jilani, Mary Robinson, Ernesto Zedillo, Lord Ara Darzi,[34] Bernard Kouchner[35] and Samantha Power.[36]


In its third year, the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity has received 750 submissions for 509 unique candidates.

During the nomination period, which opened the day after the 2017 prize was announced, and closed September 8, entries were submitted in 12 languages from 115 countries including USA, Russia, Egypt, Armenia, India, Germany, UK, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Kenya,[37] this represents a 100% increase from last year when 254 candidates were presented in 13 languages from 66 countries.


The Aurora Prize, granted by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, named:

  • Mr. Kyaw Hla Aung, Lawyer and Rohingya Leader, Myanmar – A Rohingya Muslim who, despite being imprisoned for a collective 12 years for peaceful protests against systematic discrimination and violence, uses his legal expertise to fight for equality, improvements in education and human rights for his community, he has nominated international organizations that provide medical aid and assistance to refugees in Myanmar.[38]
  • Fr. Héctor Tomás González Castillo, Founder of La 72, Mexico – A Franciscan friar who has provided shelter, food, water, counseling and legal assistance to more than 50,000 Central American immigrants along their often-harrowing journeys through Mexico, providing aid to all, including those who suffer traumatic attacks, attempted kidnappings and expulsions from their own countries, he has nominated organizations working to promote human rights for those living with HIV/AIDS and to provide cultural education to Mayans in Mexico.[39]
  • Mrs. Sunitha Krishnan, Co-Founder of Prajwala, India – A gang rape survivor turned women’s rights advocate who used her trauma as motivation to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate victims of sex trafficking and forced prostitution back into society, creating an organization that has positively impacted the lives of more than 17,800 women and children, she has nominated organizations that fight gender imbalance and sexual violence and trafficking throughout India.[40]


The $1 million Aurora Prize will be awarded for the third time on June 10, 2018 in Armenia, the Laureate is invited to share $1 million with organizations which inspire their work. The award ceremony will be a culmination of the weekend of special events that will take place in Armenia on June 8–10, 2018.[41]

Aurora Dialogues[edit]

The Aurora Dialogues is a platform for the world’s leading humanitarians, academics, philanthropists, business leaders, and civil society to come together for a series of insightful discussions about some of today’s most pressing humanitarian challenges; in keeping with the spirit of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the Aurora Dialogues shines a light on the people who are working to address today’s atrocities in a real and substantial manner and seek to identify ideas that will deliver tangible change.

2016 Aurora Dialogues[edit]

The inaugural 2016 Aurora Dialogues were held on April 23, 2016 in Matenadaran, Yerevan. Participants, including Selection Committee members Hina Jilani, Shirin Ebadi and Gareth Evans, offered their views on the global refugee crisis, the role of women in the humanitarian community, and the role of the media in bringing humanitarian crises to the world’s attention.[42][43][44][45]

2017 Aurora Dialogues[edit]

2017 Aurora Dialogues took place on May 27–28 in Armenia and on December 4–5 in Berlin, Germany.

On May 27–28, 2017 many distinguished guests have gathered in Armenia to attend a series of panel discussions and breakout sessions during which leading international humanitarians, academics and philanthropists tackled the problems of ensuring education for all, positioning the role of the media in raising the world’s humanitarian issues, protecting human rights, creating role models, overcoming adversity and empowering refugees.[46]

Aurora Dialogues Berlin 2017 “Millions on The Move: Need for Development and Integration” were held on December 4–5, 2017 at the Robert Bosch Stiftung Representative Office in Berlin, Germany.[47] Speakers addressed the state of the global migration crisis and looked at the role of different actors in advancing positive change, as well as development programs and solutions that can make a difference.[48][49][50][51]

Aurora Humanitarian Index[edit]

The Aurora Humanitarian Index is a special survey that examines public perceptions of major humanitarian issues, it explores the international public’s attitudes toward both responsibility and effectiveness of humanitarian intervention, as well as the motivations that urge people to intervene on behalf of others.

The annual survey is conducted across multiple countries and its findings are presented each year during the Aurora Dialogues, an international platform for discussions among leading experts in the humanitarian community.

2016 Humanitarian Index[edit]

Introduced during the 2016 Aurora Dialogues, this specially commissioned study measured public perception of top humanitarian issues, based on 4600 people in six countries, the study’s findings revealed the global disconnect between perception and reality vis-à-vis the refugee crisis, by exploring the respondents’ opinions on the need and responsibility for international intervention.[52][53][54]

2017 Humanitarian Index[edit]

2017 Aurora Humanitarian Index, presented to the public during the 2017 Aurora Dialogues, revealed that support for humanitarian action is on a steep decline and there is an overwhelming lack of confidence in world leaders to address the refugees crisis.[55] The report said: “This year’s findings demonstrate an overall decline in the support for humanitarian action based on skepticism in the ability to make an impact and ambivalence in defending social values over self-interest.[56]

Aurora Gratitude Projects[edit]

The Aurora Gratitude Projects are humanitarian and educational initiatives which help children, refugees and other vulnerable citizens around the world. Through these projects, the descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide seek to express thanks to the memory of those who helped save the victims of genocide, by providing educational initiatives and scholarships, grants to humanitarian projects and promoting public awareness of humanitarian efforts.

In cooperation with the Near East Foundation, 100 academic scholarships are given to at-risk youth from the Middle East who have been affected by conflict, displacement, and poverty.[57] The scholarship program runs between 2015 and 2023 (in remembrance of the eight years of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1923) and will offer recipients an internationally recognized education within the United World Colleges (UWC) network of schools, including Armenia-based UWC Dilijan — a co-educational boarding school currently hosting students from over 82 countries.

It has individual scholarships named after Lamya Haji Bashar that is given to Yazidi students[58] and after Amal Clooney that is given to a female student from Lebanon who demonstrates strong interest in human rights.[59][60][61][62] In addition, in cooperation with Scholae Mundi Armenia, scholarships are granted to students from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt to study at the American University of Armenia.[63]

100 LIVES[edit]

The 100 LIVES Initiative was launched in March 2015 by famous businessmen and philanthropists Ruben Vardanyan and Noubar Afeyan and President of Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian[64] to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, in which the overwhelming majority of the Armenian population perished. Those who survived did so thanks to the benevolent intervention of institutions and individuals – often strangers; in recognition of their humanity and courage, 100 LIVES seeks and shares the stories of Armenian Genocide survivors, their saviors and their descendants. Each story captures the unique transformation of each victim to a valuable contributor to society.[65]

Aurora Community of Supporters[edit]

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative was founded in 2015, by three people[66] committed to honoring the memory of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide by supporting projects that honor their saviors, since that time, more than 250 individuals and organizations have been inspired to join the founders in transforming a nation’s gratitude to action.[67]

External links[edit]


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  47. ^ Division, Hex. "Experts Gathered at the Aurora Dialogues Berlin to Analyze Key Challenges in addressing the Ongoing Migration Crisis - IDeA". IDeA. Retrieved 2018-01-18. 
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