In her remarks during this year’s Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region banquet, the organization’s chairperson Nora Hovsepian, Esq. put forth a compelling agenda for advancing the Armenian Cause and called on all Armenians to come together to pursue our just national aspirations. She said: “We must see ourselves: as Armenians in pursuit of a national agenda to seek justice for the Armenian Genocide, support for Armenia and Artsakh.”
Below is the complete text of Hovsepian’s remarks.
Welcome to the ANCA Western Region’s 2019 Annual Gala Banquet!
I want to start first by thanking our Banquet Committee Chair Marie Filipian and the entire Banquet Committee for their dedication and hard work. Only those who have done it know how challenging it is to handle nearly 1000 guests and cover every detail in an event of this magnitude.
On behalf of our ANCA-WR Board of Directors, I also want to express our gratitude to our wonderful staff, a stellar team led by our new Executive Director Armen Sahakyan, who has literally been working 24/7 to ensure the success of this weekend and of everything we do, from regional road trips to multi-state advocacy days, organizing legislative trips to Armenia to building coalitions, managing our internship programs to working with our committees and local chapters, collaborating with public agencies to meet the needs of our community, to everything in between. We are proud of this generation of young leaders and we thank them for rising to the challenge every day.
To each of our donors, supporters, and distinguished honorees: thank you for being here, thank you for your generous contributions, and thank you for your encouragement. You truly provide the inspiration that fuels our work. And to each of the elected officials who join us tonight, all good friends to our community, thank you for being here to feel the love of our community.
In addition to U.S. officials, we are proud to have representatives from three other countries join us tonight: from the Republic of Armenia, High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, former ANCA-WR Board member, former mayor of the City of Glendale, and son of our community, Zareh Sinanyan. From the Republic of Artsakh, Deputy Foreign Minister Armine Aleksanyan; and from Japan, Consul General to Southern California and Arizona, the Honorable Akira Muto. Welcome to all of you!
Our major banquet sponsors, Gevik & Peter Baghdassarian and their families, have admirably continued the philanthropic legacy of their beloved father, Hacop Baghdassarian, setting an example for all of us to promote with our own children, so that they understand the importance of giving back to the community that has so tenderly raised them in Armenian churches, schools, organizations, and families, instilling in them a sense of national duty and pride. We are deeply grateful and thank you for the confidence you have shown by taking on this massive responsibility.
The Sepetjian Family, led by Sarkis and Nune, quietly offer their most benevolent support year after year, for which we are eternally grateful.
Varant and Hoori Melkonian, pillars in our community, have generously supported the ANCA-WR and so many other organizations for so many years, that a mere thank you seems wholly inadequate. We greatly value your passion, your faith, your wisdom, and your exemplary philanthropic spirit.
Special thanks and sincere gratitude this year and every year for the consistent support from community leaders and benefactors: the Chraghchians, Eshgians, Ghailians, Karapetians, Manjikians, Fermanians, and the Trustees of the George Ignatius Foundation.
I also want to highlight the contributions of David & Laura McKenzie and their wonderful daughter Elizabeth, recipients of our Excellence in Media award last year, who spare no effort to assist us in every possible way. Most recently, David generously provided professional guidance and logistical assistance to help us launch our newest initiative: the Impact Media Institute, which will serve as a media watchdog to uphold and promote fundamental human rights for all people, to fight against hatred, bigotry, intolerance and historical revisionism in all forms of media, and to cultivate media relationships to ensure the proper coverage of our issues. Thank you David and Laura, and stay tuned for exciting developments on this front in the coming weeks and months.
It is also important to acknowledge some significant milestones this year. It’s our birthday! One hundred years ago in 1919, the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia, the precursor to the Armenian National Committee of America, was founded by Vahan Cardashian. Serving on the frontlines of Armenian-American advocacy for decades, the ANCA’s Western Region was established fifty years ago in 1969. Sadly, these milestones are punctuated by the fact that we just lost one of our true leaders from those historic times, a visionary who served as the California Director of the ACIA in the 1950’s and then as founding chairman of the ANCA Western Region. Hagop Manjikian was a true soldier of the Armenian Cause and leaves a lifetime of service that we can only aspire to match, tirelessly advocating till the end for community unity to strengthen our voice against those who oppose us. He will be missed, but his legacy lives on through our continued work.
And as our work has continued for many decades, we have stood on the shoulders of Hagop Manjikian’s generation. Just this weekend, we had our 5th biennial Grassroots Conference which brought together hundreds of activists of all ages to gain insight from our esteemed panelists on a wide range of diverse topics: Artsakh, Western Armenia and the aftermath of the Genocide, Turkey’s recent invasion and ethnic cleansing in northern Syria, Azerbaijan’s cultural genocide in Djulfa. We listened with pride to successful Armenian women in media. We explored avenues for civic engagement with high ranking government officials, and we learned ways to define the role we play in inter-relations between Homeland and Diaspora.
Our community has been through a lot of ups and downs over the years. And while there are naturally inherent divisions among us, ranging from the place of birth to political preferences to organizational loyalties, it is vital to scratch below the surface and focus on all that we have in common in order to move forward as effectively as possible. We must reject any person or entity, from outside our community or from within, who tries to exploit that which may divide us. We must have zero tolerance for anyone who tries to weaken us.
For it is no longer just about simply surviving as “good” Armenians, as my friend and colleague Antranig Kasbarian likes to say. It is about being proactive collectively as “effective” Armenians. This is our challenge of the present as we navigate changing roles for Homeland and Diaspora, trying to find a balance to move forward as one entity to assert our national demands and aspirations.
Decades of work have shown, unequivocally, that if it weren’t for our civic engagement as an organized Armenian-American community, if it weren’t for the consistent, persistent, focused advocacy for the Armenian Cause by each generation, our issues would never have made their way onto the American political agenda. This is the victory of our community, and this is the strength we can continue to offer to our Homeland.
For when our enemies come after us, literally or figuratively, they don’t ask whether we are Eastern Armenian or Western Armenian, Tashnag or Ramgavar, Republican or Democrat, parishioners of the Mother See of Etchmiadzin or the Holy See of the Great House of Cilicia, because it doesn’t matter. They see us first and foremost as we must see ourselves: as Armenians in pursuit of a national agenda to seek justice for the Armenian Genocide, support for Armenia and Artsakh, and to assert our collective will to effectuate positive change in US policy toward our Cause.
So let’s move from the philosophical to the practical, because we have work to do. In the coming year, we must collectively focus on mobilizing every single Armenian-American to do two things: (1) write in the word “Armenian” under “Other” in the 2020 Census so we can be accurately counted; and (2) vote in the March primary and November general election for incumbents and candidates who support our Cause and value our community. And if they don’t, then vote them out!
Can we do it? If we mobilize and continue our collaboration to promote our national agenda, we most certainly can. And when we do, there is nothing that can stop us.
So let’s get to work, and we will see you in the trenches!