Sacramento, CA – On Monday, April 18, 2016, hundreds of activists gathered at the California State Capitol in Sacramento to participate in the Annual Advocacy Day organized and hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region.
Now in its ninth year, the 2016 Advocacy Day drew participants of all ages from San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, the Central Coast, Fresno, the Bay Area and locally from Sacramento, all with one mission in mind: to advocate for the Armenian Cause.
“Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to the CA Armenian Legislative Caucus and all of the legislators who hosted, facilitated, and stood in solidarity to commemorate the 100+1 Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, our Government Affairs committee members who worked so tirelessly on this event for many months, and all of our eager community members who traveled to the capitol to make our community’s voice heard. As we move forward with our initiative and priorities, we know we have both an educated legislature on our issues and an emboldened grassroots ready to take our cause to the next level,” stated ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian.
A brief moment of calm settled on the group as they stood on the front steps of the Capitol for a group photo before the start of a whirlwind day of high-energy and jam-packed schedules, which included a press conference hosted by the Armenian Legislative Caucus, followed by commemorations on the Senate and Assembly floors, a reception with elected officials, and over 80 meetings with representatives.
Following the briefing on capitol steps, officials, community members and press gathered at 10:30 am at the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts for the Armenian Legislative Caucus press conference calling on Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. An exhibit table organized by the State Archives showcased historical legislative and cultural items from the California Armenian-American community.
Before the start of the conference, a diverse group of officials took time to shake hands and introduce themselves to attendees, with a standing crowd of activists, local community members, and fellow elected officials spilling out into the hallway.
ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan opened the press conference with a moment of silence for the victims of Azerbaijan’s attacks in Artsakh over the past two weeks, and concluded by thanking the Armenian Caucus, the CA legislature, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson for their leadership, stating that “Turkey must unequivocally and fully acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and its consequences by taking concrete steps toward reparations, restitution and reconciliation.”
Armenian Legislative Caucus founding member Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian took to the podium to announce that the Armenian Caucus had introduced Assembly Joint Resolution 32 designating 2016 as the State of California’s Year of Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. Achadjian went on to state that “AJR 34 is an important step in ensuring that the atrocities that occurred over a century ago are recognized as a part of the world’s history. I am grateful for the dedication of my colleagues, fellow Armenians, and our allies who work tirelessly to ensure that such tragedies never happen again.”
Achadjian was followed by fellow founding member and Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian who presented the three high-school winners of the state-wide Armenian Genocide essay contest, and reflected on the sober nature of the event, stating, “101 years have passed since 1.5 million Armenian souls perished from Earth. The international community’s refusal to recognize this genocide is a disgrace. The shelling of innocent Armenian women, children, and elderly in Nagorno Karabakh is a sad reminder that silence is an invitation to violence.”
“In California, the Armenian Caucus will not be silent. We are once again moving forward with legislation calling on the divestment from Turkey until they acknowledge their maleficence towards Armenians,” he added.
Assemblymember Scott Wilk built on Nazarian’s statement, recognizing the California Museum archives staff for their efforts and adding, “It is completely unacceptable that 101 years after this great tragedy Turkey still refuses to acknowledge this appalling piece of history. It is high time that we place pressure on Turkey to admit past wrongdoings.”
CA Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León joined the press conference to announce that the Caucus will visit Armenia this September. “As the proud Senator for Little Armenia and the Armenian community of Los Angeles, I’m looking forward to visiting Armenia for the first time this fall,” Senator de León stated. “The Armenian story is part of the greater California story – our state is a place where people of every color and creed from across the globe can prosper together.”
The press conference concluded with officials and community members joining the Caucus leadership on stage in solidarity for Assembly Bill 2650, which requires the Public Employees’ Retirement System and State Teachers’ Retirement System to divest from Turkey, and calling on Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
As a day of back-to-back meetings progressed, highlights included leadership and grassroots representatives meeting with CA Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assembly Majority Leader Ian Calderon.
Focal points of discussion with officials centered around the recent Azeri aggression, attacks and war crimes in Artsakh and Bill AB 2650, which would allow the California government to divest from its investments in Turkish government bonds. The submission of AB 2650 came at a critical time, as a campaign spearheaded by the All-ASA and Armenian Youth Federation for the University of California to divest from its investments in Turkey has seen eight out of the nine UC schools pass unanimous resolutions in favor of divestment.
Constituents stressed during meetings the importance of divestment in order to halt funding Genocide denial by the Turkish government. Activists brought up the leadership of the California government in furthering Armenian Genocide education for students, and the contradiction between Genocide education and funding a government sponsoring denial of the Genocide. California’s precedent in divesting from foreign governments was discussed in the meetings as well.
Throughout the day, activists and community members also had the opportunity to attend screenings of Journey to the Homeland, a documentary film by ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, detailing her visit to the ancestral homelands of Western Armenia.
The highlight of the day was the presentation and unanimous adoption of Armenian Genocide Resolutions in both houses of the State legislature. The Assembly commemoration began with the Archbishop of Western Diocese His Eminence Hovnan Derderian delivering prayers on the floor, and with Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian introducing AJR 32.
The Archbishop of Western Prelacy His Eminence Moushegh Mardirossian opened the Senate commemoration with prayers later that afternoon, and CA Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León introduced the resolution on the Senate side. Deputy Consul General Valery Mkrtoumian of the Consulate General of Armenia in Los Angeles delivered remarks during the Senate commemoration, drawing parallels between the Genocide and the brutal attacks perpetrated by Azerbaijan in Artsakh today.
“Unfortunately, quite recently the world witnessed a new wave of large-scale aggression unleashed by the Azerbaijani military against the Nagorno-Karabagh defense forces – this time targeting also the settlements and civilian population of Artsakh,” Deputy Consul General Mkrtoumian stated. “The use of heavy weapons by the Azeri side is completely incompatible with the International human rights law. It is nothing else than another attempt of genocide, this time against the peace-loving people of Artsakh. We strongly condemn this violence. What the people of the Nagorno-Karabagh republic want is to live freely, peacefully and in dignity.”
The galleries were filled to capacity by activists who attentively listened while speaker after speaker rose in each house in commemoration and recognition of the 100+1 anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The resolution passed unanimously in both houses.
The strength of the grassroots advocacy exhibited by the ANCA-WR participants was noted by state officials.
“As we mark the 101th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I would like to commend the ANCA-Western Region for energizing and empowering its grassroots and educating legislators on issues of importance to the Armenian American community,” stated Majority Leader Ian Calderon. “California has always been at the forefront of human rights issues and I’m proud to join my colleagues as we continue to seek and demand justice for the Armenian Genocide.”
Participants left Sacramento that evening invigorated for the upcoming election year, and ready to use their grassroots power to make a difference in their local communities and at the polls on June 7. We are confident that the positive ripple effects of this year’s advocacy day will be witnessed through a heightened level of activism across the Golden State and look forward to working with our grassroots to that end,” stated ANCA-WR Board Members and Co-Chairs of the Government Affairs Committee Arpie Jivalagian and Raffi Kassabian.
“After my last Advocacy Day meeting was over, I felt hope for the future of my community. But most importantly, I was surprised that elected officials were so receptive to the issues we wanted to talk about, and that they took the time to grant us an audience and have a conversation with us. Walking around the halls of the Capitol building and seeing fellow Advocacy Day participants emerging from meetings and reviewing their notes made me feel like a part of something bigger than myself- and something powerful. Government feels accessible to me now, and I hope that other Armenians realize that they have the power to shape what the future of their communities,” said Michelle Khazaryan, currently an intern at the ANCA-WR.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices and supporters around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.