BY ARAM SUREN HAMPARIAN
With a new round of talented and ambitious young Armenian Americans set to arrive in Washington to take part in the ANCA’s pioneering job placement service – known as the ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program – we are reminded why this program represents such a fitting legacy to Hovig’s wonderful life and sacred memory.
The Gateway Program is a true “game-changer” – one that helps recent Armenian American graduates start public policy careers in Washington – named after, Hovig, a remarkable young Armenian – taken from us far too soon – who truly represented the very best of both the Armenian and American traditions. A proud son of our ancient nation, committed to its rebirth, and, in equal measure, a devoted American, fully engaged in the civic life of the United States.
The Saghdejian family – in the years since Hovig’s tragic death in 2004 – has sustained and strengthened the Gateway Program, creating life-changing opportunities for promising young Armenians – called Gateway Fellows. The ANCA has, in Hovig’s name, helped talented Armenian women and men from across America realize their potential – as government officials, public policy experts, lobbyists, and media professionals. His family has helped them get a strong start in life, launching careers of vast promise and potential.
And along the way, they have literally changed the political landscape of Washington, DC, transforming a major world capital, once without a meaningful Armenian professional presence, into one that now has young, ambitious Armenians working in nearly every aspect of politics and policymaking. The seeds planted by the Saghdejians – an agricultural family from the Central Valley of California – are already bearing fruit. Those they have helped will, in time, be reinforced by successive new waves of Gateway Fellows, filling even more positions of power, respect, and influence.
Job placements made possible through the Saghdejian family’s support include those at the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Congressional committees, and World Bank, U.S. Export-Import Bank, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Presidential campaigns. Other key placements have been made to think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies; human rights groups like Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Human Rights Campaign; international development agencies such as the National Democratic Institute and Chemonics International; public relations and lobbying firms, like Fleishman-Hillard; consulting companies, such as Booz Allen Hamilton and Deloitte, and; media outlets, including Congressional Quarterly and Bloomberg.
As far reaching as its impact – both personally in the lives of our Fellows and politically for our community – the Gateway Program is, at its heart, really quite simple. It offers nuts and bolts solutions to the key challenges faced by young Armenians who are, rather naturally, worried about what it means to move to a new town and look for a professional position in this city’s complex and competitive workplace. The ANCA offers those accepted into our program – following a demanding application process, including interviews and peer-review by former Fellows – three months of free housing in the ANCA Martha Aramian Armenian Cultural Center in downtown Washington, DC – made possible through a generous Aramian family donation in her memory. They receive job-search training, professional seminars, and networking opportunities. Perhaps even more importantly, they join ANCA’s network of friends throughout Washington, a support group that includes current and former Gateway Fellows.
It is this spirit of solidarity that – perhaps more than anything else – speaks to the beauty of Hovig’s soul. His legacy inspires us to strengthen the personal bonds of young Armenians to one another and the Armenian nation, even as we – at a more political level – empower a new generation to both realize their own ambitions and fulfill our community’s aspirations.
The ANCA strives, always, to keep Hovig’s fire alive, working hard to meet our practical goals while never forgetting that – at its heart – our work in his memory is all about the Armenian spirit. The same spirit that has long sustained our ancient nation, inspiring each generation – going back thousands of years – to sacrifice for a better future. So much has changed during the long years of our nation’s journey. We constantly invent and reinvent ourselves – as we should – and the Gateway Program represents a great example of our community’s innovation. But our progress rests today, as it always has, on the willingness of Armenians – young and old – to give of ourselves, to serve others, and to sacrifice for our nation. Hovig embodied this timeless spirit, the intangible but absolutely essential force that inspires us to take determined, concerted, and effective action. Our survival as Armenians, in many profound ways, depends on the ability of our families to raise, and our community organizations to nurture, the future Hovigs of the world, for, on their shoulders rests the fate of our nation.
Hovig’s Life and Legacy
Hovig, a 23-year old community activist from Fresno, lost his life in 2004 in a tragic car accident. Hovig’s father, Apo, his late mother, Rosine, and sister, Nayiri, established the Hovig Apo Saghdejian Memorial Fund, the principal of which is held by the ANCA in perpetuity. The annual income the Fund produces is used to support the ANCA Capital Gateway Program named in Hovig’s memory. Family and friends continue to add to this Fund.
The Saghdejian family, beyond their transformative support for the growth of the Gateway Program in the United States, has also honored Hovig’s legacy in the Armenian homeland. Immediately after Hovig’s passing, they donated a home to the needy residents of the small village of Haykavan, located in a war-ravaged Hadrut region of southern Artsakh. They also built a chapel (madour) in the village of Ayroum, where Hovig worked during his Land and Culture Organization campaign in Armenia. This beautiful chapel – a gathering place for the residents of the village – represents the town’s only spiritual center.
Hovig’s sudden and tragic death was not only a great loss for his family, but also for his many friends, the Armenian American community in the Central Valley, and for Armenians around the nation and the world. He was an exemplary son, brother, grandson, nephew, and friend, who left a legacy of love for his family and friends, and of selfless devotion to his fellow Armenians and his cultural heritage. Hovig was, fittingly, laid to rest in Fresno’s historic Ararat Masis Cemetery, alongside Armenian national hero Soghomon Tehlirian.
Hovig Apo Saghdejian was born on December 31, 1980 in Fresno, California. He completed his elementary education at the Armenian Community School of Fresno. After graduation from the Armenian school, Hovig attended Kastner Intermediate and later Clovis West High School, where he received his high school diploma, as an Advanced Placement Scholar with Honors.
Early in life, Hovig became a member of the Homenetmen Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts, and he joined the ranks of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). After graduating from Clovis West in 1998, Hovig attended Fresno City College, California State University, Fresno, and the University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in Interdisciplinary Studies, with an emphasis on economics, philosophy and film studies. While attending college, Hovig was active in the Armenian Student’s Association. He also received numerous honors, such as the Armenian Relief Society Merit Scholarship and Foundation West Merit Scholarship.
Hovig had a passion for his Armenian culture that was instilled by his family. As an active member of AYF and Homenetmen, as both a scout and athlete, he contributed to the welfare of the Armenian American community and reinforced his commitment to his homeland. He traveled to Beirut, Lebanon with the Hamazkayin Cultural Society to broaden his cultural understanding.
As a devoted son of the Saghdejian family, Hovig lived a life of commitment to the Armenian Cause and his ancient Armenian homeland. He breathed life into the ideals of his youth by working to preserve and reinvent Armenian identity in America, while bringing a sense of optimism to the people of Armenia for a better future. As a volunteer with the Land and Culture organization, Hovig traveled to Armenia during the summer of 2003 to work as a volunteer in Ayroum, developing infrastructure and self-sustainability for the impoverished population of this village.
Beyond the value of the hard work that contributed significantly to the well being of the villagers, Hovig’s efforts helped bring hope to all he came in contact with that the future held better things for the people of Armenia. Commenting on his time in Ayroum, in a testimonial on the Land and Culture website, Hovig explained that, “I know that when I reflect back on this experience I will feel ecstatic about the work we accomplished, the things we saw, and the bonds we forged.”
Hovig was a leader in the American civic arena as well, working with the local ANCA chapter, and cooperating with Congressman George Radanovich and State Assemblymember Steve Samuelian on a broad array of campaign and public policy projects. He volunteered his spare time to help his mother at the Adult Day Care Center, and to assist his father with the family business – all reflections of his devotion to his family, his commitment to his community, and his dedication to the future of the Armenian nation.
The ANCA is honored to serve Hovig’s sacred memory. His living legacy exists today across Washington, DC – through the public service of countless Armenian Americans and the growth of our community’s power, respect, and influence in our nation’s capital.
Aram Hamparian is Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America