More than 200 community members and leaders gathered at the 16th annual Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region’s Gala on Saturday, October 29, 2022, at the historic Dearborn Inn to mark the year’s progress and recognize those whose work significantly impacts the Armenian Cause. Michigan’s WXYZ News Channel 7 reporter Alex Bozarjian presided over the evening, which began with a cocktail hour and silent auction at 6:30 pm followed by dinner and awards ceremony at 7:30 pm.
The region honored six deserving individuals throughout the evening including award-winning filmmaker Jivan Avetisyan, Michigan Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and former Michigan Congressman David Trott (R-MI) with the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award, longtime ANC of Michigan activist Narses Gedigian with the ANCA Eastern Region Vahan Cardashian Award, Detroit Piston’s Assistant Coach and Armenian National Team Coach Rex Kalamian with the ANCA Eastern Region Pinnacle Award, as well as ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Fellow Natalia Matossian.
The ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award is the highest honor the region bestows upon individuals who exhibit extraordinary courage and devotion to freedom and justice. Avetisyan, Congresswoman Lawrence and Congressman David Trott join a long list of notable recipients, some of whom include US Ambassadors to Armenia John Evans and Samantha Power; Senators Robert Menendez, Ted Kennedy, Bob and Elizabeth Dole, Mark Kirk, Chris Van Hollen and Ed Markey; Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Baroness Caroline Cox; NYT best-selling author Chris Bohjalian; Ambassador Robert Morgenthau and the Morgenthau family, The Promise’s Dr. Eric Esrailian and Terry George, author and media personality Sona Movsesyan and international human rights attorney Siranush Sahakyan.
The Region also honored longtime ANC of Michigan activist Narses Gedigian with the Vahan Cardashian Award, an annual award given to an activist who demonstrates long-standing leadership and success on behalf of the Armenian Cause. The award is named in honor of the late Vahan Cardashian, who led the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA), the precursor to the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). Other Cardashian Award recipients include Bedros Bandazian, Tatul Sonentz-Papazian, Steve Dulgarian, Ruth Thomasian, Professor Richard Hovanissian, Zohrab Tazian, Alice Movsesian, John Jerikian, Carolann Najarian, Ken Sarajian and Andrew Kzirian, as well as the late Vahe Amirian, Martha Aramian, Melanie Kerneklian, Armen Topouzian, Levon Palian and Tom Vartabedian.
Other notable honorees included the recipient of the first-ever ANCA Eastern Region Pinnacle Award which was given to Rex Kalamian, coach for the Armenian National basketball team and Detroit Piston’s assistant coach, as well as Natalia Matossian who participated in the 2022 ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program on behalf of the Eastern Region.
Besides the honorees, other dignitaries in attendance included Der Hrant Kevorkian, Pastor Hagop Haroutunian, Michigan’s Attorney General Dana Nessel, Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian, ANCA Eastern Region Board Chairman Dr. Ara Chalian, ARF Bureau Representative Raffi Donabedian, ARF Central Committee members George Aghjayan, Ani Tchaghlasian, Steve Mesrobian, Valot Atakhanian, Sebouh Hamakorzian, John Mkrtschjan, Sevag Shirozian, as well as ARF Central Committee Executive Director Maral Choloyan. Members of the Armenian National Committee of America were also in attendance, including ANCA National Chairman Raffi Hamparian, ANCA National Board Members Aram Kaloustian, Ani Tchaghlasian, Dzovinar Hamakorzian, as well as ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, ANCA Communications Director Elizabeth Chouldjian, ANCA Government Relations Director Tereza Yerimyan, and members of the ANC of Michigan including Georgi-Ann Oshagan and Apraham Keyvanian.
During Bozarjian’s opening and welcome remarks, she discussed her pride in being an Armenian American growing up in the Eastern Region. She touched on the importance of uniting in Hai Tahd and the Armenian Cause, in light of continued acts of aggression on the Armenian people by the Turkish and Azeri governments.
Bozarjian then invited ANCA Eastern Region gala committee member and silent auction chair, Araxie Tossounian, to lead attendees in both the Armenian and American national anthems, which was followed by an invocation by Der Hrant Kevorkian and Badveli Haroutunian.
ANCA Eastern Region Board Chair Dr. Ara Chalian then addressed the crowd, highlighting the region’s work over the past year which includes working throughout the region’s 31 states and 34 local ANCs to harness the power of local activists, foster and build relationships with city, state and congressional officials, and garner Congressional support for legislation such as H.Res.1351, H.Res.1400, H.Res.240, H.R.7555 and S.Res.797, condemning Azerbaijani aggression, calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan, condemning Azerbaijani war crime during the 2020 attack on Artsakh, demanding Azerbaijan’s immediate and unconditional release on Armenian POWs and directing the Librarian of Congress to carry out activities to support Armenian Genocide education programs among others.
“Today we are here to honor you and your work, as individuals and committees of the ANC ER, but these remain trying times. The threat to our nation, our way of life and values affect Armenia and Artsakh and our Diaspora. Our work is the foundation along with our other community organizations and families to building the future of the Armenian Nation. Let tonight’s celebration be a catalyst… renew your pledge, deepen your resolve… be a multiplier both in action and messaging,” said Dr. Chalian.
Dr. Chalian then introduced ANCA ER Board Member Steve Mesrobian who emphasized the importance of training and empowering the next generation of activists. Mesrobian highlighted the significance of the ANCA Eastern Region Leo Sarkisian Internship Endowment Fund that the region established in 2019 before recognizing this year’s intern, Natalia Matossian.
“One of the critical measures of a successful organization is developing new leaders to ensure continued viability and long-term success… This year, we made up for quantity with quality as we had one intern, who did a wonderful job. Born and raised in California, Natalia came to us from Louisiana after graduating from Tulane University. Not only did she complete the internship, but she is currently serving as one of the ANCA’s Capital Gateway Program fellows while working for Congressman Sanford Bishop on Capitol Hill. Natalia is just one example of what investing in our youth can produce and as such, the ANCA Eastern Region will continue to make that investment a priority,” said Mesrobian.
After dinner, the Hamazkayin Arax Dance Ensemble performed two dances, led by instructor Nayiri Karapetian. The first dance was called Im Anoush Davigh, which was performed by three female dancers. The mellow sounds of the duduk captivated the audience as the dancers performed in authentic Armenian costumes. The second dance Sheeraki Sharan was an upbeat dance performed by a group of male dancers. As soon as the music filled the room, the crowd excitedly clapped in unison to the beat.
Following the dance performance, Alex Bozarjian introduced ANCA National and Eastern Region Board member, Ani Tchaghlasian. Tchaghlasian spoke about the important work that the region is doing to support the Armenian Legal Center in its partnership with international human rights attorney Siranush Sahakyan. Sahakyan who serves as the president of Yerevan’s International Comparative Law Center (ICLaw) is actively filing cases with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on behalf of the Armenian prisoners of war.
Tchaghlasian then introduced ANC of Artsakh Chairman Georgi Petrosyan and ANC of Artsakh member, Gev Iskajyan, and Areni Hamparian who all sent in video messages from Artsakh. Petroysyan and Iskajyan gave words of thanks to the ANCA Eastern Region for not only supporting the ANC of Artsakh but for empowering the region’s activists to continue to fight for Artsakh. Serving as a link between the homeland and ANCs around the world, the leaders on the ground in Artsakh stressed the importance of continuing to fight for Artsakh whether through the creation of sister cities and state-level recognitions among other strategies.
After the video message, ANCA National Board Member and ANC of Michigan Chair, Dzovinar Hamakorzian spoke about the tireless work that the ANC of Michigan led over the course of the last two years since the Artsakh War, which included working on the city and state level securing more than 10 proclamations and statements, working on the federal level as the ANC of MI worked with the state’s senators and 14 representatives, organizing events and film screenings to name a few. Hamakorzian thanked her community and region and laid a foundation for the future.
“The road to justice for the Armenian people, and our ongoing struggle for decades… can be overwhelming and draining, but seeing everyone here tonight supporting Hai Tahd, supporting our Cause, gives us the necessary fuel to continue what we are doing with renewed energy. Our community and volunteers are a force that no one can reckon with as we work relentlessly day and night for the survival of our Nation. As long as we have soldiers like you behind the Hai Tahd army, we will get justice and get closer to having a prosperous free, independent and united Armenia,” said Hamakorzian.
Prior to introducing the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award to her Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, Hamakorzian read letters and delivered messages from Congresswoman Haley Stevens, Senator Gary Peters and Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer who congratulated the ANC of Michigan and the ANCA Eastern Region as well as their colleague Congresswoman Lawrence. Hamakorzian also presented the Governor’s proclamation on her behalf which highlights the work of the ANC of Michigan, the state’s resolve in support of not only Armenian Genocide recognition but also Artsakh.
Congresswoman Lawrence, who has been integral in supporting the Armenian American community of Michigan and the Cause, then took to the stage to accept the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award. She shared stories of her work with the community from the time she was mayor of Southfield to her tenure in Congress. She commended the community and the ANCA for its resolve in advocating for the Armenian Cause and gave the example of the Armenian Genocide recognition and the continuation of work despite the challenges.
“Some of you know that I was given the opportunity to travel to Azerbaijan and to really be taken to task if I would stand up for the people I know and love… and face the fate of the state department of Azerbaijan. When I was questioned about whether I represented Armenians and answered yes… they said I’m sure you’ve heard some stories. I said, I know some facts… history reflects it was a genocide,” said Congresswoman Lawrence.
Following Lawrence’s acceptance speech, the Armenian Community Center of Greater Detroit’s Chairman and ANC of Michigan member Raffi Ourlian introduced the second recipient of the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award, Congressman David Trott. During his time as Congressman, Trott was very connected with the Armenian community, even serving as Co-Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus.
“When you’re first elected to Congress, one of the initial struggles is trying to figure out how you’re going to make a difference… I appreciate this award but frankly what I’m more thankful for is how warm and welcoming the Armenian community was when I first got elected… I was honored to be co-chair of the Armenian Caucus, honored to be invited to attend the premiere of The Promise, working toward Armenian Genocide recognition and part of President Obama’s delegation to visit Yerevan. Gatherings like this, your work, your voice, your mantra never forget, the fact that you have a Freedom Award all threaten the tyrants and strengthen the calls for peace and equality,” said Trott.
After Trott’s speech, ACAA Artsakh Fund Chairperson, Sebouh Hamakorzian, introduced the final recipient of the ANCA Eastern Region Freedom Award, award-winning film director Jivan Avetisyan.
Avetisyan, who has spread awareness of the Armenian Cause worldwide through his films, spoke to us about his most recent work and film, Gate to Heaven, in which he said, “Thank you for motivating me to continue having the highest level of dedication to the world of cinema… I am a film director who believes that art can generate great power. I believe that my work and that of my team can strengthen and mutually complement the work of Hai Thad, paving the way to greater impact. Just as the activity of Hai Tahd is aimed at the unification of Armenians, so is art – art unifies communities.”
Following Avetisyan’s moving speech, ANC of Michigan member, Georgi-Ann Oshagan introduced the next honoree lifelong ANC of Michigan activist Narses Gedigian who was presented with the ANCA Eastern Region’s Vahan Cardashian. Gedigian played a major role in the Armenian community in Michigan and outlined the goals and steps taken to raise awareness of the Armenian Cause and to empower his fellow community.
In closing, he issued a call to action saying that “there are going to be dark days ahead, it’s the way it’s been for a while. But do not despair. Despair is defeatism. Stand tall with your comrades, shoulder to shoulder and let’s continue our struggle and we will overcome,” said Gedigian.
The final awardee of the night was introduced by Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian, who serves the 40th District in Michigan’s House of Representatives. Manoogian introduced the Armenian National Basketball team’s coach and Detroit Piston’s assistant coach, Rex Kalamian, and presented Kalamian with the region’s first-ever Pinnacle Award. As a grandchild of an Armenian Genocide survivor Kalamian did not forget about his roots. He shared fond memories of his career but also of his time in the homeland concluding his remarks by saying, “I’ve been in the NBA for 29 years, but honestly, the thing that kept sticking with me as my proudest moment was coaching the Armenian National Team,” concluded Kalamian.
To end the program, ANCA National Chairman Raffi Hamparian discussed ways in which the crowd, along with all Armenian people, can continue to advocate for the Armenian Cause.
“First, let us keep the faith in our Cause. Our faith is being sorely tested today – as it was in 1918 on the fields of Bashabaran, Karakelise and Sardarabdad. By keeping the faith, we both honor those who sacrificed for Armenia years ago but we also remain true to the thousands of men and women who gave their last measure of devotion for Artsakh in 2020. From this faith, we cannot waiver. Second, let us remind ourselves of the importance of organization and the power of collective action. In the coming days, dark clouds will continue to menace the Armenian Nation and in this time, let it be clear to our friends and foes alike that during these trying times, the ANCA will continue to advance the cause of freedom and liberty for the Armenian people,” said Hamparian.
The evening also featured a silent auction, featuring numerous items donated from local Armenian and non-Armenian businesses and individuals, as well as music by Shant Massoyan.
“On behalf of the ANCA Eastern Region and the ANC of Michigan, I want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to all for attending the gala and/or supporting the region with their contributions. Over the last 16 years, we have gathered to honor those who have worked tirelessly for the region – but it’s not just the gathering itself that is important. It’s the camaraderie and the inspiration we’re able to draw from our honorees – from our committed activists like Narses Gedigian to our youth who we will one day pass the torch onto to be the next generation of Hai Tahd leaders,” said Tchaghlasian.
For more information about this year’s gala or to donate, please visit givergy.us/ancaer.