Nearly 200 activists gather in person to celebrate the region’s accomplishments and activists, issuing a call for justice
Philadelphia, PA – Hundreds of community leaders and grassroots advocates from throughout the Eastern United States gathered together at the 15th annual Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region’s Gala on Saturday, October 23, 2021, at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel to celebrate the year’s progress and honor those whose work significantly impacts the Armenian Cause.
Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian presided over the gala which featured a cocktail reception and silent auction that began at 6:30 p.m. and dinner and an awards program at 7:30 pm. The region honored long-time ANC of Pennsylvania activist Andrew Kzirian with the ANCA Eastern Region Vahan Cardashian Award, as well as internationally recognized human rights attorney Siranush Sahakyan and Conan O’Brien’s Executive Assistant Sona Movsesian with ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Awards. Other honorees included Philadelphia 6ABC Action News Reporter Katie Katro with the inaugural Excellence In Media Award and the region’s summer interns Lori Baronian (New Jersey), Tvene Baronian (New Jersey) and Aram Brunson (Massachusetts) who participated in the regional internship program and the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program participants Mari Bijimenian (New York), Anais Boyajian (New Jersey) and Garen Meguerditchian (Massachusetts) in Washington, DC.
Special guests, aside from the honorees, included Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishyan, Vicar General, Armenian Prelacy, Artsakh Representative Robert Avetisyan, ARF Bureau Representative Aram Kaloustian, ARF Central Committee members George Aghjayan, Valod Atakhanian, Paulie Haroian, Steve Mesrobian, John Mkrtschjan, Sevag Shirozian and Ani Tchaghlasian, as well as ARF Central Committee Executive Director Maral Choloyan. Members of the Armenian National Committee were in attendance including ANCA National Chairman Raffi Hamparian, ANCA National Board Members Ani Tchaghlasian and Dr. Ara Chalian, as well as ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, ANCA Communications Director Elizabeth Chouldjian, ANCA Government Relations Director Tereza Yerimyan, ANCA IT Director Nerses Semerjian, ANCA Program Director Alex Manoukian and members of the ANC of Pennsylvania – Nora Kzirian, Lorig Baronian and Alidz Oshagan.
During her opening and welcome remarks, Rep. Manoogian highlighted that in addition to celebrating the honorees’ contributions to Hai Tahd, the Armenian Cause, the evening was dedicated to the activists whose work propels the Eastern Region forward. She spoke about her own experience as she worked to author, sponsor and pass Michigan House Resolution 319 which condemned Azerbaijan and Turkey’s attacks on Artsakh and Armenia.
“The truth of what our people have gone through, the suffering, was heard on the house floor at the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing that evening, just as it was in the United States Congress and when President Biden finally told the truth about the genocide. But we all know that we have much work to do and we must absolutely keep the pressure on Washington politicians to ensure that we hold Turkey and Azerbaijan accountable,” she concluded.
Following Rep. Manoogian’s welcome, Philadelphia resident Emily Adriano sang both the Armenian and American anthems and Very Rev. Fr. Yemishyan, Vicar General, Armenian Prelacy began with an invocation and provided remarks about the importance of Hai Tahd.
ANCA Eastern Region Endowment Fund Treasurer and ANCA Eastern Region Board Member Steve Mesrobian then addressed the crowd, highlighting the region’s work during 2020 and 2021, which included the region’s commitment to calling attention to the brutal Turkish and Azeri attacks on the Armenian Nation during and after the 2020 Artsakh War by encouraging the region’s congressional members to co-sponsor H.Res.240 – calling on Congress to pressure Azerbaijan to release Armenian Prisoners of War, and fostering support for the nine amendments offered up to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022.
“As last year’s 44-day war shows, Armenia today is at a crossroads. The Turkish and Azeri governments will not stop until they have overrun Artsakh and Armenia. It seems that we lose a little more each day. Make no mistake, their actions are by design and carefully planned to cause despair in our people, a sense of hopelessness so that we abandon our lands so they can just walk in and take them over, or even worse, that Armenia’s current leadership will cavalierly trade our lands for undefined commitments from our enemies to open their borders. Therefore, we must continue to remain vigilant, remain committed to our homeland and actively support her in any and all ways that we can. We have to ensure there will be an Artsakh and an Armenia for our children, grandchildren and future generations,” said Mesrobian.
Mesrobian underscored the importance of training the next generation of activists, including the ANCA Eastern Region LSI Endowment Fund that the region established in 2019, before he introduced the region’s interns including the Eastern Region’s summer interns Lori Baronian, Tvene Baronian and Aram Brunson, as well as the region’s interns who participated in the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program in Washington, DC.
After recognizing the interns alongside ANCA Eastern Region Communications Specialist Nairi Diratsouian, one of the ANCA 2021 LSI interns Garen Meguerditchian provided an overview of his experience in the nation’s capital.
Following dinner, the program resumed with Manoogian introducing ANC of Pennsylvania and ANCA Eastern Region Gala Committee member Nora Kzirian to speak on behalf of the ANC of Pennsylvania which is comprised of a team of dedicated leaders including herself, Lorig Baronian, Karine Shamlian and Alidz Oshagan and their community who together have managed to gain the support of the majority of the state’s 18 congressional members.
“This time last year our world as Armenians was turned upside down when we were at war. But as often is the case, when there is darkness, there is always light. Hope and comfort always manage to find a way through. For the Philadelphia community, the light shined as we came together. Our light showed up in how we fundraised, how we protested and how we were represented by our government and in the media. But tonight is not just about celebration, it’s also about reflection. Our work did not end when the war did. Grassroots activism works and we can do great things if we all act together. Silence means injustice wins,” Nora Kzirian stated.
Kzirian then spoke about the work that the community has done to bring awareness of Hai Tahd to the broader community. A result of their efforts included their work with Philadelphia 6ABC News Action Report Katie Katro who the region honored with the inaugural Excellence In Media Award.
Katro accepted the award and coverage of her acceptance aired on the 6ABC Action News on Sunday, October 24 during the morning broadcast. She dedicated the award to the community and discussed her connection to the Armenian community and its parallels to her own Albanian community. She also spoke about her work in getting to tell the Armenian story to the larger audience in Philadelphia.
“It is an honor to be here to tell your stories and share your stories. I want to say I see you, I hear you, and I am so glad that the Delaware Valley also gets to see you as well,” said Katro.
In the second half of the program, Rep. Manoogian spoke about the region honoring individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward issues that concern Armenian-Americans with the Freedom Award. This year, the ANCA Eastern Region honored international human rights attorney and president of Yerevan’s International Comparative Law Center’s Siranush Sahakyan and media personality and Conan O’Brien’s Executive Assistant Sona Movsesian with the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award.
Sahakyan not only serves as the president of the ICLaw, but is also the co-founder of Path of Law NGO and an adjunct lecturer at the American University of Armenia where she also serves as the coordinator of the MA program in Human Rights and Social Justice. Through her work with the ICLaw, she is currently working in partnership with the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights on gathering evidence, witness testimony, preparing legal dossiers to file with the European Court of Human Rights, as well as other international bodies responsible for such cases, on behalf of the families of Prisoners of War and those who are illegally detained by the Azerbaijani government.
Prior to Siranush speaking, Armenian Legal Center Board Chairman Kenneth Hachikian spoke about Sahakyan and the importance of the work she is doing in conjunction with the Armenian Legal Center and the impact the work has on Hai Tahd.
Hachikian, who served as the past Chairman of the ANCA for decades, spoke about Sahakyan’s work in gathering and preparing evidence, witness testimony and legal dossiers to file with the European Court of Human Rights and other international bodies. In partnership with her work with the ALC, several POWs have been released to date.
Sahakyan, who was unable to attend at the last minute, sent in a video accepting her award in which she spoke about the common, united cause that she shares with the ANCA Eastern Region and its steadfast advocates.
“I’m so proud to be with you tonight, maybe not physically, but definitely with my entire heart and soul,” Sahakyan began. “At this moment, although I don’t share a common space with you, my heart rejoices, because I have a belief that we share more powerful things. We share the great devotion to the Armenian Cause and we share the moral courage to strive for justice and freedom. I felt terribly humbled to receive this award and I am grateful to the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region for honoring me and recognizing the accomplishments for bringing justice for many innocent Armenian victims. I also feel wholehearted appreciation to the ANCA for its long-run contribution to the Armenian cause filled with wisdom, courage, and faith. This vision inspires all Armenian Americans who love their identity, our land, and our common virtues. This vision inspires me,” said Sahakyan.
On the heels of the Sahakyan video, ANCA Eastern Region Gala Chair Anthony Deese, PhD, spoke on behalf of the gala and silent auction committee who have worked hard over the past year and a half on preparations for the in-person gala. He then moved on to introduce the next ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award recipient Sona Movsesian, who is best known for being Conan O’Brien’s executive assistant, who also sent in a video message accepting her award.
Movsesian has used her voice and platform to create awareness of the Armenian Cause for years and most recently, used her platform to call attention to the Azeri and Turkish attacks on the Armenians of Armenia and Artsakh during last year’s 44-day war.
“Obviously my love for my community comes from home – my parents are a big reason that I am being honored tonight… my new family – my husband and babies… and last but absolutely not least a very tall Irish man named Conan O’Brien… who is the reason I went to Armenia for the very first time. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to work for someone who doesn’t have a connection to our community but respects it and loves it… and is happy to accept me for who I am,” Movsesian said.
Manoogian then introduced the last award of the evening – the ANCA Eastern Region’s Vahan Cardashian Award, which is given annually to an ANCA Eastern Region activist or supporter who demonstrates long-standing accomplishments on behalf of the Armenian Cause. This year, the region honored Andrew Kzirian, a life-long Hai Tahd activist and active member of the ANC of Philadelphia community.
A native of Philadelphia, Kzirian has been a lifelong activist in the Armenian community wherever he has lived. He started his career as an educator and then went on to pursue a successful career in sales for the next 40 years, including Interstate Lift, the family business.
In his community, Kzirian has served in multiple positions spanning over 50 years. They include being the chairman of the Philadelphia Armenian Intercommunal Committee, a proud member and leader of Hai Tahd activities for the Philadelphia ARF Gomideh, and serving on the St. Gregory Armenian Church Board of Trustees and as National Representative Assembly delegate for Philadelphia. He also spent a memorable summer as the director of Camp Haiastan, where his children followed in his footsteps as counselors many years later.
In a touching tribute and introduction, Andrew Kzirian’s son Antranig Kzirian talked about his father’s dedication and activism to his community and family before Andrew Kzirian took to the stage and took the audience through the stages in his life where he not only worked to advance Hai Tahd, but also how he also laid the foundation of Hai Tahd in his family – with his sons – who are in turn laying the foundation and passing on the legacy their father built to their own children.
“The last few years have been extremely difficult for Armenia Artsakh and the Armenians in Lebanon. Between the recent Artsakh War, the divisive national election in Armenia, the unforgivable devastating explosion in Beirut and the pandemic, our people have suffered immeasurably. We must do everything within our power to help alleviate the dire conditions in both Beirut and Artsakh, as well as in Armenia itself, for our compatriots. The work continues, until the final realization of true and lasting justice for the Armenian people and the Armenian Nation. The day when we shall see our historic homeland, western and eastern Armenia, liberated, United, free and independent. Karounuh mod eh,” Kzirian said.
Closing out the evening’s program, ANCA National Chairman Raffi Hamparian inspired the audience to renew their commitment and faith in the Hai Tahd movement. He provided examples from the past and examples from the present and offered the following thoughts.
“This evening has been inspiring because we have recognized inspirational individuals – people who elevate our community, make us better, remind us where our North Star is, what the cause represents, and what it takes to advance it,” said Hamparian, who issued a rallying cry to the audience.
“We are in a dark era – an era where light is in short supply and darkness prevails over 75 percent of Artsakh. It will be us, us in this room, with the cooperation of our heroic compatriots in Armenia and Artsakh, who will force a new spring to cast light into the darkness. In that effort, I want there to be no doubt – to any person in this room and to any Armenian American – in this fight we are engaging, we will not bend, we will not break, we will not bow until Artsakh is free again.”
“In the darkness, we will bring light. And, we will do it all together, because this is what we owe the heroes who came before us. We owe them nothing less than to give ourselves to this great, noble, and just cause. And in that fight, I am proud and honored to fight every step of the way with you,” concluded Hamparian.
The evening also featured a silent auction, featuring numerous items donated from local Armenian and non- Armenian businesses and individuals. For more information about this year’s gala or to make a donation, please visit givergy.us/ancaer.
“Thank you to the gala committee, the silent auction committee and the other volunteers who helped make this night a success. The gala is a time for us to gather, reflect and raise the necessary funds to continue the integral advocacy work that this region does on a daily basis. We need to stay unwavering and steadfast in our commitment. I urge you to join us in doing whatever we have in our power to help amplify our voices to members of the US government to call for a stop to Azerbaijani and Turkish aggression, stopping military aid to Azerbaijan, sanctioning Turkey and Azerbaijan for their war crimes against the Armenian nation and increasing recognition of Artsakh,” said ANCA National Board Member and ANCA Eastern Region Board Chair Ani Tchaghlasian.
ANCA Eastern Region