Between 1915 and 1923, over a million Armenian citizens were arrested and deported or killed in what is commonly known as the Armenian genocide. While the reality of this atrocity cannot be softened, the founders of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative believe that this past tragedy can inspire change and hope for the future.

The Aurora Initiative was founded on the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide, with the purpose of awarding a monetary prize every year for eight years, in commemoration of the eight years of the genocide, to an individual who has performed an “extraordinary act of humanity.” The first prize was presented in May 2016 to Marguerite Barankitse, for her work with refugees in Burundi, operating the Maison Shalom and REMA Hospital there since 2008.

This April, five finalists were selected for the 2017 Aurora Prize, out of hundreds of nominees. The Prize consists of a $100,000 grant to support the laureate’s work, as well as $1,000,000 which the laureate may assign as he chooses to other organizations that have inspired his work. This year’s prize will be awarded to the winning candidate at a ceremony this coming Sunday, on May 28th.

These finalists are people who have dedicated their lives to saving and changing the lives of people in great need. The Selection Committee strives to select candidates who aid others at great personal risk to themselves. Many of these individuals were inspired to this kind of self-sacrifice by the gifts they received from others, or tragedies in their own lives which moved them to help others in similar situations.

As Vartan Gregorian, co-founder of the Aurora Initiative and spokesman for the Aurora Prize’s Selection Committee, said, “Individual human beings risk their own well-being and safety in order to rescue those in desperate need of help, and it is Aurora’s mission to support these saviors. We believe those who are rescued will themselves continue the cycle of gratitude and giving.” 

Finalist Fartuun Adan, for example, Executive Director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Somalia, was moved by the assassination of her husband by Somali warlords in 1996 to work, alongside her daughter, for peace in Somalia and the rehabilitation of victims of violence.

Finalist Muhammad Darwish grew up in the war-torn town of Madaya, Syria, and experienced the dangers of life there firsthand. After completing medical school he returned to his hometown, even as many Syrian doctors fled the country’s violence, which often directly targets hospitals and medical professionals. He now serves as one of only three doctors in Madaya, caring for a population of over 40,000 people.

The three other candidates for this year’s prize, Tom Catena, a Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan, Jamila Afghani, an educator focused on bringing literacy and learning to women and children in Afghanistan, and Denis Mukwege, the founder and head of a medical center aiding victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, have similarly powerful stories.

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative takes as its model this cycle of tragedy giving birth to hope. It soberly recognizes the centennial anniversary of the Armenian genocide not by dwelling on its tragedy, but by giving hope to those in the present and the future.