PHOTOS BY FREDRICK MELIKIAN
CENTURY CITY, Calif.—On October 23-24, more than 600 community leaders and members, scholars and activists gathered at the iconic Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel for the 3rd Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region Grassroots Conference to continue their active pursuit of the Armenian Cause.
The conference kicked off Friday evening with welcoming remarks by ANCA-WR chairwoman, Nora Hovsepian, Esq., who enumerated some of the recent ANCA initiatives, stating that the conference was designed to educate and empower its participants to become a more dominant force in advancing the aspirations of the Armenian Nation.
Grassroots committee member and long-time activist Nora Yacoubian introduced the evening’s Film & The Arts panel, which was an on stage interview with author and actor Eric Bogosian conducted by playwright and attorney Aram Kouyoumdjian.
The talk centered on Bogosian’s recent book, “Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide.” During the engaging one-on-one, Bogosian described in great detail some of the challenges he faced while working on the book, and highlighted his persistence to have this important story told, advancing this chapter in Armenian history in non-Armenian, mainstream literary circles.
During the interview, Bogosian reflected on the Armenian Genocide Centennial, stating, “We dreaded that there wouldn’t be enough attention on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide…and I have to credit the ANCA for really being the driving force of making sure enough attention was given to it.” Bogosian also embraced his Armenian identity, declaring, “We are not better than others. We are incredible.” Bogosian received the ANCA-WR Arts & Letters Award at the organization’s annual Gala on Sunday.
A long line for Bogosian’s book signing session followed the evening’s presentation where conference attendees had the opportunity to meet the author and actor. The success of the first day was later celebrated at a welcoming reception organized by the Grassroots Conference committee in the Olympic ballroom of the hotel.
The five panels on Saturday became an interwoven narrative of the fundamentals of Hye Tahd, with an informative presentation on present-day struggles facing Armenians in Turkey, including the burgeoning youth movements that among other things were demanding the return of Camp Armen to the Armenian community. Just two days after the conference, news came that the protesters’ efforts had succeeded, and that Camp Armen was indeed being returned to its rightful owners.
Presentations were also made on the Hidden Armenians—their struggle to emerge from the shadows and into the Armenian reality. This was followed by a discussion about the immediate needs and action items for Hye Tahd, using the 166,000-strong March for Justice on April 24 in Los Angeles as a departure point. Legal experts presented thought-provoking premises on pursuing the Armenian Cause through the international legal system, while elected officials representing local, state and federal offices, discussed the ways in which Armenians can engage to play a more integral role in politics. A powerful panel on the imperative of adapting to and adopting new—more effective—means of communication to conform with changing times encapsulated the message and brought to a close the 2015 ANCA-WR Grassroots Conference.
Conference committee co-chair Ayk Dikijian, Esq. welcomed the participants on Saturday morning, promising an engaging and empowering day of presentations, followed by introductory remarks for the first panel, in which conference committee member Noushig Karpanian highlighted that with more than 7 million Armenians living outside of Armenia and Artsakh, in addition to the estimated 2 million forcibly Islamized or “Hidden Armenians” living in present-day Eastern Turkey as a result of the 1915 Armenian Genocide, the “Western Armenia and Hidden Armenians” panel was conceived to address these important issues.
Aris Nalci, an author and filmmaker noted for his coverage of Armenian and minority issues, as well as freedom of speech, was joined by geographical and demographic researcher of Western Armenia (present-day Eastern Turkey), George Aghjayan and Raffi Bedrosyan, an activist and historian who has been working with the “Hidden Armenians” for several years. The panel was moderated by the author/attorney Matthew Karanian, whose recent book “Historic Armenia After 100 Years: Ani Kars and the Six Provinces of Western Armenia” is a photographic journey through Western Armenia. On ‘hidden Armenians’ in post-genocidal Western Armenia (eastern Turkey), moderator Matthew Karanian, Esq. said “We have Western Armenians who already live there.”
Throughout the conference, Karanian displayed his breathtaking photographs from Western Armenia and was presenting his current book, as well as his well-known and much-used “Armenia and Karabakh: The Stone Garden Travel Guide.” Baris Alen, a Kurdish activist from Turkey, who was originally announced as a panelist, was unable to attend due to the fact that he was not granted a visa.
Conference attendees of all ages and many backgrounds listened to Nalci highlight the sentiments of guilt felt by the Turkish people, while Bedrosyan encouraged attendees to help Islamized Armenians in post-genocidal Turkey reclaim their roots, and Aghjayan spoke on his mission to find lost relatives of the Armenian Genocide and urged all Armenians with roots in Western Armenia to engage in DNA testing to help identify their family members still living in Turkey.
“Everyone in [Turkey’s] Kurdish region knows about the Armenian Genocide and feels guilty,” said journalist Nalci. Bedrosyan paraphrased his late friend Hrant Dink, “We need to also remember the living victims of the Armenian Genocide.” Bedrosyan on his Project Rebirth, stated, “We cannot always convince hidden Armenians to come out. But when they do, we have to help them.”
The second panel of the day, called “Marching on For Justice,” discussed the impact of the 166,000 strong March for Justice in the streets of Los Angeles on April 24, 2015, as well as other events, which made the centennial of the Armenian Genocide an international event and touched on the imperative for renewed commitment to the Armenian Cause.
The panel, which was moderated by Grassroots Conference co-chair and Asbarez English Editor, Ara Khachatourian, featured ANCA National Board member Raffi Hamparian, ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. and ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan, each of whom touched on some of the critical efforts currently underway to advance the Armenian Cause.
Hamparian spoke about the Congressional letter to secure the safety of Armenians in border regions of Armenia and Artsakh and advance Karabakh peace as one of the key federal initiatives at the ANCA in response to continued violations of the cease-fire in Karabakh. He also touched on efforts to develop comprehensive economic relations between the United States and Armenia. Hamparian concluded his presentation by declaring that investing in Armenian American youth is the ANCA’s priority.
Hovsepian discussed some of the continuing efforts in the Western Region, where the ANCA has been actively pursuing Genocide education in public schools and is reaching out to states outside of California to buttress the ever-growing interest in Armenian activism. “As our Grassroots Conference comes to an end, let’s not forget what brought us together, said Hovsepian, adding, “In the USA, We Demand!”
Asatryan discussed the imperative of local engagement, stressing the need for individuals to become involved in local politics and civic organizations, as well as to continue the efforts of Hye Votes to register Armenian-Americans and participation in local ANCA chapters.
The Grassroots Conference reached capacity during the “Road to Reparations” panel, featuring human rights attorney Geoffrey Robertson QC and legal scholar and expert in reparation movements around the world Karnig Kerkonian, Esq. The panel was moderated by ANCA National Board member Steve Dadaian, Esq., and was co-sponsored by the Armenian Bar Association, which offered CLE credits to attorneys who participated.
Grassroots committee member and chair of ANCA’s National Organization of Republican Armenians, Nora Demirjian, introduced the panel and explained that with the Perinçek v. Switzerland decision, which was appealed by Robertson and his associate Amal Clooney earlier this year in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the panel was an important avenue to become acquainted with the issue of reparations for the Armenian Genocide.
Citing several international cases through which legal precedents may emerge in the pursuit of comprehensive reparations within the international judicial system, Kerkonian explained that reparations are about opening a new historic chapter. He also emphasized that the task of reparations must be undertaken by the entire Armenian Nation—Armenia and Diaspora alike—since the existence of the diasporic reality was a direct result of the Armenian Genocide. “The journey to national reparations will be a challenging one… But there are many forces in play that make this journey all the more possible and real,” said Kerkonian.
Robertson detailed the machinations of the Perinçek case and provided a first-hand perspective on the legal case, highlighting that the ECHR’s final verdict on the matter provides many positive provisions for Armenians and the Armenian Cause, mainly that the court did not go down the thorny path of debating the veracity of the Armenian Genocide. “Amal Clooney and I are delighted that the European Court ruled that Armenian communities have a right to protection against attacks against the veracity of the Armenian Genocide by denialists such as Perincek,” said Robertson.
During his presentation, Robertson also made a case for the imperative of addressing the current Karabakh conflict through the international legal system. “Nagorno-Karabakh should not have ever been put under Soviet Azerbaijan. I think it’s time for lawyers… to help secure international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh.” Robertson concluded his presentation by challenging Armenian American lawyers to pursue accountability for German complicity in the Genocide, fight for the return of Armenian community properties in Turkey, and help secure international recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh. Following the panel, Robertson signed copies of his latest book, “An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?”
Robertson was awarded the ANCA-WR’s “Advocates for Justice” Award alongside Clooney during Sunday’s Gala banquet. He accepted the award on behalf of Clooney who was unable to attend the event.
Saturday afternoon sessions continued with ANCA-WR Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan introducing the powerhouse “Armenians and Politics” panel, which featured Congressman Adam Schiff, State Assembly Member and endorsed congressional candidate Katcho Achadjian and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian. The panel was moderated by Glendale City Clerk and the ANCA-WR-endorsed candidate for the 43rd State Assembly district, Ardashess “Ardy” Kassakhian.
In what often times became an emotional discussion, each public official shared with the audience his unique path to civil service, with a common message emerging at the conclusion of the panel: the need and viability for Armenians in public service is ever more imperative. “ANCA is one of the primary reasons why Armenian Americans have become a dramatically successful player in US politics,” said Congressman Adam Schiff.
“We, Armenian Americans, are as proud, as educated, and as willing as Americans of all backgrounds,” stated California State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian during his presentation.
“We no longer count registered Armenian Americans. We now count elected Armenian Americans. This is in large measure due to the ANCA,” concluded Krekorian.
The final panel of the conference touched on the critical need to utilize alternative communication methods in advancing the message of the Armenian Cause and enhancing activism. The panel, aptly named “Alternative Activism” was introduced by Grassroots committee member Joseph Kaskanian, who is also a member of the Central Executive of the Armenian Youth Federation. Kaskanian accepted the ANCA-WR’s Vahan Cardashian award at the Gala banquet Sunday, on behalf of the AYF, which was the recipient of the award.
Kaskanian introduced long-time ANCA activist, communications strategist and professor Dr. Lucig Danielian, who served as the moderator of the panel, which included the participation of UCLA professor Paul von Blum, photographer Scout Tufankjian and ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
In his presentation, Von Blum focused on the need to use what he has termed “agitational communication,” to drive the message home to audiences that are constantly distracted and bombarded by information. “I am not Armenian. But I am human. That’s why I am here,” said Von Blum.
Tufankjian, who rose to fame as the official campaign photographer during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, presented her talk with accompanying slides from her new book “There is Only the Earth,” which weaved the story of several subjects she encountered during her journey through the Armenian Diaspora and Homeland to make the point that despite efforts to annihilate the entire Armenian nation, Armenians are living and thriving throughout the world and represent a potent power in the pursuit of our national aspirations. “We are not a disappeared people,” said Tufankjian.
Hamparian utilized the forum to highlight how the ANCA, in advancing its national agenda for advocacy, has increasingly been using alternative approaches to garner support in Washington. He cited numerous successful alternative activism initiatives by the ANCA: Facebook protest against Starbucks’ photo misrepresentation of Armenian culture, nationwide pressure on the White House to display Armenian Genocide Orphan Rug, “Return of Churches” initiative, as well as the current effort to promote Karabakh Peace by promoting the use of life-saving mechanisms along the Armenia, Karabakh and Azerbaijan border.
Throughout the conference, Tufankjian exhibited beautiful photographs from her book and signed copies of “There is Only the Earth: Images from The Armenian Diaspora Project.”
Grassroots Conference Co-Chair Ara Khachatourian closed the successful weekend panels by thanking participants, panelists, volunteers, and staff for their incredible work. Over forty-five volunteers from local middle schools, high schools and colleges came together to help the Armenian Cause.
Excited participants, panelists and organizers came together for a mixer organized by the ANCA-WR Professional Network, which served as a fitting conclusion to the event.
The dynamic two-day ANCA-WR biennial Grassroots Conference was the third in a groundbreaking series of informative and inspirational lectures, workshops and seminars which brings together artists, academics, legal experts, and political officials with hundreds of activists from all over the world to explore issues related to the Armenian Cause and to develop and promote new avenues of leadership and civic engagement.
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, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.