The majority of Armenians know the names of such great Armenian philanthropists as Kirk Kerkorian, Alex Manoogian, and Poghos Nubar, but only a few have heard of Gevorg (Kevork) Hovnanian. Hovnanian not only made an invaluable contribution to the development of the independent Republic of Armenia and Artsakh: he also helped strengthen the Armenian lobby in the US.
Gevorg Hovnanian was born in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk in 1923 into a family of Armenians who had escaped from the Armenian Genocide carried out in the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Gevorg’s father Stepan was from Sebastia, while his mother Maria was from Malatya.
Having lived in Iraq for more than 30 years, the Hovnanian family eventually moved to New Jersey, US. In 1959, Gevorg and his three brothers – Hrayr, Zhirayr, and Vahagn – founded a construction company “Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc.”
In a very short time, the company earned a brilliant reputation. In 1961, it was titled as the best construction company in the state of New Jersey. Over the first ten years, the company would build more than 6.000 homes in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester.
In 1969, Zhirayr, Hrayr, and Vahagn left the company and founded their own firms. Already by 1989, Hovnanian Enterprises, Inc. had built and sold more than 30.000 homes and apartments. More than 200.000 apartments would be sold between 1989 and 2009. Today, the company is the largest in New Jersey and one of the largest and most reputable in the United States.
Hrayr Hovnanian stands at the roots of the formation of the local Armenian community, which today is one of the leading political forces on the US East Coast. Already in 1959, he was funding the construction of the largest Armenian church in New Jersey. A cultural center that would host an Armenian school was also built thanks to his efforts.
In 1986, Gevorg established another foundation for the construction of an Armenian church in Long Branch, New Jersey, which became one of the largest in the country.
After the devastating earthquake of 1988 in Spitak, Armenia, Gevorg sent significant relief to Armenia and founded a special fund to help the families of the victims. In addition, in 1991, Gevorg Hovnanian presented Armenia with a building in New York which today serves as Armenia’s UN headquarters.
One of the most significant achievements of Hovnanian was the establishment of the Armenian Assembly of America in 1994, which today is one of the most influential lobbying structures in the United States. It has been and is still funded from the Gevorg Hovnanian Foundation.
On November 25, 2004, a large charity with the participation of Armenians from around the world took place in the USA, as a result of which $11 million was raised. The sum would be directed to the construction of a major north-south highway in the Artsakh Republic. The largest contributions to the charity were made by Kirk Kerkorian, Eduardo Ernekian, and Gevorg Hovnanian himself.
On March 17, 2006, Gevorg Hovnanian donated $2 million to the Armenian Aid Fund that had been created at his own initiative in 1988. In the same year, Hovnanian was awarded the St. Grigor the Illuminator, Mesrop Mashtots, and Catholicos of All Armenians Vazgen I Medals of Armenia.
The great son of the Armenian people Gevorg Hovnanian passed away on September 28, 2009.