CENTURY CITY, Calif.– A record breaking more than 1,400 elected officials, supporters, activists, and generous donors from throughout the country attended the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region’s sold out annual gala on Sunday, October 25, 2015 at the iconic Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel in celebration of the organization’s unprecedented year of accomplishments and to pay tribute to 5 honorees who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in advancing the Armenian Cause.
The event began at 4:30 p.m. with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, and a VIP reception with major donors and elected officials. A three-course dinner followed at 6:00 p.m. with a powerful program and presentation of awards kicked off by the presentation of flags by the United States Color Guard and national anthems performed by Payla Kevorkian accompanied on piano by Alex Berberian.
Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian conducted the invocation for the evening.
As the crowd took their seats, Maria Cozette, accompanied by students from Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian school dressed as angels holding candles took stage for a moving rendition of “We Are the World” as images from the time of the Genocide and the orphans rescued by the Near East Relief alternated on screen in the background.
Following the performance, 2015 ANCA-WR Board Treasurer and Gala Committee Chair Steve Artinian welcomed guests, thanked all those that made the record breaking evening possible and introduced the 2015 Gala and Grassroots Conference sponsors Mr. and Mrs. Varant and Hoori Melkonian, and in describing their unwavering support for the Cause noted, “They do it with grace, humility and integrity. They consistently give and often go beyond every reasonable expectation. They support every good cause and in return all they expect are results, and results the ANCA delivers.”
Artinian concluded his remarks stating, “We hope you will leave tonight inspired, motivated and more committed to serve the Armenian Cause.”
As the room went dark, on-screen came an emotionally charged video presentation showcasing the astounding accomplishments of communities worldwide as each marked the Armenian Genocide Centennial. Video highlights included Pope Francis’ speech at the Vatican mass, the historic March for Justice which witnessed the participation of over 166,000 individuals who took to the streets of Los Angeles, as well as many global leaders and celebrities who echoed the call for recognition and proper commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.
At the end of the video presentation, ANCA WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq., stood in the spotlight to deliver the organization’s message. Hovsepian opened her remarks by thanking all the guests, the Gala Chair Steve Artinian, and his stellar team of committee volunteers, as well as staff for their dedicated leadership, vision, and skill. She went on to express gratitude to the elected officials, past and present, who’ve stood strong on the side of justice and the generous donors whose contributions allow the organization to continue and expand its work.
Hovsepian then moved to provide attendees with details of the organization’s expansion efforts in 2015, which included a tour of the region that resulted in numerous new local chapters in places like Colorado, New Mexico, Dallas, Seattle, and Oregon, the expansion of its Hye Votes initiative, as well as the unprecedented CA Advocacy Days, which galvanized over 700 participants from across the state, amongst many others.
She concluded her remarks calling on all attendees to march on forward in pursuit of justice. Her call to action echoed across the room as she said, “Just as 166,000 of us reignited the flame on April 24th, so we must continue. From our donors to our volunteers, from our voters to our educators, from our elected officials to our grassroots, we all have a role to play in harvesting our capital, promoting our vision, and taking the Armenian Cause to new heights of success. So roll up your sleeves, open your hearts and your wallets, volunteer your time and expertise, stay active, and join us on this incredibly fulfilling journey as we honor our martyrs, demand accountability, protect Armenia and Artsakh, organize our communities, and enter the second century of our Nation’s rebirth with optimism, hope, pride and determination for both the Homeland and the Diaspora. The March for Justice was not an end, but a beginning. The seeds have been planted, so onward we go.”
Following Hovsepian, Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian, ANCA WR Board Members Arpie Jivalagian, Esq., Nareg Kitsinian, Esq., and ANCA WR Advisory Board Members Levon Kirakosian, Esq., and Michael Mahdesian presented the 2015 ANCA WR Legacy Award to former Majority Leader of the California State Assembly the Honorable Walter Karabian for his lifelong commitment and valuable political and philanthropic contributions to the advancement of the Armenian Cause.
In introducing Karabian, Krekorian noted “All of us here, all of us who have had accomplishments, all of us who have succeeded stand on the strong shoulders of those who came before us and I think it’s fair to say that in this room for most of us there are no shoulders stronger and broader and more important to our community than the shoulders of the Honorable Walter Karabian. It would be appropriate to honor Walter Karabian with the Legacy Award simply because of his success in changing the course of California history. As a legislator and the youngest Majority Leader in our State’s history, Walter Karabian was instrumental in moving policies forward to advance equal rights for women, to reform our prison system, to protect our environment, to advance the causes of public safety and so many other areas. He moved the legislative agenda forward that set a foundation for those of us who would follow him in the legislature.” Krekorian went on to note the countless young individuals Karabian has served as mentor to, paving the way and guiding them in their pursuit of higher education, community service and public office.
Before presenting Karabian with the Legacy Award, Kitsinian surprised the capacity filled room with an announcement that Walter Karabian had pledged $50,000 to the ANCA WR towards a political fellowship in Sacramento in the name of Walter and Laurel Karabian. This fellowship is unique as it will support Armenian Americans who want to pursue careers in politics. Kitsinian continued that further details on the fellowship will be provided in the future.
Karabian began his acceptance speech discussing a topic of importance to his family that influenced him as a legislator. He told a compelling story of his mother, Zevart Shishmanian, who in 1916, at a young age only spoke Armenian living in rural Sanger, California. Due to this language barrier, when she arrived at Bethel School she could not understand her teacher and her teacher could not understand her. Frustrated with her lack of options, her teacher put her in a class for the mentally challenged.
Though young Zevart fought her way out of that class with a determination to be an excellent English speaker, the scarring from this episode was deep and permanent. Karabian went on to describe that when he arrived in the legislature in 1967, having heard of these stories during his youth, one of his first pieces of legislation he introduced dealt with this unfortunate situation where if you were going to test somebody for IQ purposes, it had to be done in the language they spoke at home with their parents.
At the time, he continued, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law, but the burden on the schools of providing testing in different languages was so great that it was phased out. Karabian further described other accomplishments he achieved as a legislator and Majority Leader of the California Assembly.
In closing his remarks Karabian stated “It has been a wonderful, productive, and glorious life for me, and I gratefully accept this honor. Do I have any regrets? Yes, several, but only two loom large in my memory. I wish my wonderful wife Laurel could be with us tonight. Having left us a year ago, she would have loved this evening and the continuation of the Armenian Nationalism of her father, Arshag Dickranian. I also regret the fact that I was not persuasive enough to convince George Deukmejian to pardon Hampig Sassounian.”
As attendees took their seats after giving Karabian a standing ovation, ANCA WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan, accompanied by ANCA WR staff members Tereza Yerimyan, Haig Baghdassarian, Esq., Anna Arakelyan, and Simon Maghakyan walked on to the stage to recognize the 2015 ANCA Western Region and ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program participants who were present that evening, Sabine Arslanian, Vana Asdourian, Vazgen Badiryan, Aline Baghdjian, Kachik Bogosyan, David Derderian, Alyssa Dermenjian, Melvin Dilanchian, Diana Dzheragyan, Ani Hakobyan, Alex Jahilian, Agnessa Kasumyan, Sarin Keosian, Dikran Khodanian, Armand Manoukian, and Morris Sarafian.
Asatryan opened her remarks by going through the values instilled and opportunities provided to ANCA WR interns and continued on to state, “With a renewed promise to provide hands on experience and a pipeline of support in helping develop the next generation of Armenian American leaders, in 2015, the ANCA Western Region expanded its internship program which resulted in the largest graduating class to date.”
“From helping organize the historic march for justice that brought over 166,000 human rights activists to the streets of Los Angeles, the largest CA Advocacy Day with over 700 participants that took on the State Capitol, our expanded efforts in hosting town hall meetings to activate the communities outside of California to walking our neighborhoods to help get the vote out and our community’s voice heard through our Hye Votes program, taking our social media platforms to new heights, and contributing to our successful Grassroots conference, there are no words to convey how grateful and proud we are of our relentless and incredible 2015 interns, who in return inspire us, day in and day out to keep marching ahead in pursuit of truth, justice and our Cause,” Asatryan continued before reading the names of the 21 graduates of the programs.
The second portion of the program opened with ANCA WR Board Members Pattyl Aposhian and Haik Petrossian, ANCA WR Advisory Board Member Harut Sassounian and ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian joining on stage to present the 2015 Advocates for Justice Award to Geoffrey Robertson, QC and Mrs. Amal Clooney, Esq., in honor of their tireless commitment and exceptional contributions toward protecting, promoting, and advancing the Armenian Cause through the legal forum.
In introducing the two prominent human rights attorneys who represented Armenia at the hearing of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) of the case Perincek v. Switzerland, ANCA WR Advisory Board Member Harut Sassounian detailed that due to their efforts and after the grand chambers ruling on October 15th, the Turkish government will no longer be able to use the lower court’s false statements to deny the Armenian Genocide. Sassounian continued on to praise Mr. Robertson’s latest book titled “An Inconvenient Genocide: Who Now Remembers the Armenians?” which has received highly favorable reviews as well as his efforts in reaching out to millions of viewers across the world through television interviews, spreading awareness about the continuous struggle for recognition. He then described how Mrs. Clooney brought international attention to Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide through her passionate argument against the lower court in denying and minimizing the Armenian Genocide.
Upon receiving his award and accepting another on behalf of Mrs. Clooney, Robertson recalled the journey that led to the ruling on October 15th as he described the call from Mrs. Clooney agreeing to join him in representing Armenia during which time she said, “The Cause is utterly just and I would be honored to be part of the Armenian team.” He continued on in detail about what took place prior to and during the hearing: “Seven judges said the Armenian Genocide is a matter of historical fact. So first, contrary judgments have been buried, they cease to exist, the lower court ruling has been eradicated…and second, Armenians have a right to identify themselves as a people who’ve gone through a genocide and that is a legal right, a legal right for Armenians in Europe based on the European Convention of Human Rights and that right can be inserted into any case.” He continued on to note that given all that has taken place, the pronouncements made, the legal battles won in just 2015, that in this 100th Anniversary, there is no doubt that the Genocide did take place. “The second stage is reparations and the Turkish government has shamelessly said nothing, the least they could do is to announce that Mt. Ararat would be handed back to Armenia, but not a squeak, so reparations must be progressed, crimes against humanity, which undoubtedly was a crime in 1915 and there is no time limit on crimes against humanity.”
Robertson’s remarks did not stop at a call for reparations for the Armenian Genocide, as he moved on to discuss the right to independence and self determination of the people of Artsakh, stating, “Artsakh has really struck my heart because I have seen those young Armenians, Karabaghtsis that have been shot at, sniped at and killed in the last 15 years by the Azeris… A country with 200,000 people yet is not recognized by any country in the world and yet in my opinion, and I looked at this carefully, Nagorno Karabakh has a right in international law, a right of self-determination. It has a right to secede, a right based on international law in principle when oppressed, when subject to pogroms, when subject to utter cruelty, the right to secede, in this case wrongly granted to Azerbaijan by Stalin, a right to succeed, and nothing succeeds like secession.”
On behalf of himself and Amal, who asked him to relay that she and George Clooney will be traveling to Armenia next April 24th, Robertson concluded his remarks by stating, “This is not just an honor because it has been a privilege to act for Armenia, for Armenians, and above all, in this spin doctored world, to act for the truth.”
The fact filled and charged speech was followed by yet another with ANCA WR Board Members Souzi Zerounian-Khanzadian and Pierre Yenokian and ANCA WR Advisory Board Members Berdj Karapetian and Karo Khanjian presenting the 2015 ANCA WR Arts and Letters Award to Eric Bogosian for his literary contribution toward advancing awareness of the Armenian Cause.
In her introductory remarks, Khanzadian described Bogosian as a successful actor and author, as well a proud son of the Armenian nation who refused to change his name and appearance to appease Hollywood. In providing background on Bogosian’s most recent book “Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide,” Khanzadian noted that Bogosian dedicated 7 years of his life researching and writing the book and considers it “his contribution to the Armenian Cause,” and with his status as a public figure, “he is uniquely positioned to reach hundreds of thousands of people to create awareness about it.”
Bogosian paused gazing out to the packed room before he remarked that he had been on Broadway, walked the red carpet, and shot films around the world, but had never been as intimidated as he was that evening by the attendees present. He continued on to say, “This evening in some ways is a culmination of a journey for me where eight, nine years ago I thought I knew what it meant to be an Armenian, and I thought I knew who I was, but I learned so much in these seven years about our history, our politics, our culture, even our alphabet and more than that, I’ve been shifted in a big way and I can honestly say I have been radicalized. And that’s why I’m so honored to be here tonight with all of you.”
Prior to going into details about how he came to write the book and the journey that led him to its completion, with a deep sense of conviction Bogosian stated, “I’ve traveled to many cities and attended many memorial and centennial events, I’ve marched and I am very aware of where the efforts were and how this success that we had this year, memorializing the Genocide, where that came from, and that came from you. The ANCA was the largest motivating force for bringing attention to the Armenian Genocide this year and I know it’s from the hard work of so many people that are in this room tonight and I commend you and I thank you”.
This was all topped off with ANCA WR Board Member Raffi Kassabian, Esq., along with ANCA National Board Member Steven Dadaian, Esq., and ANCA WR Advisory Board Members Aida Dimejian and Mourad Topalian, all AYF alumni presenting the 2015 Vahan Cardashian Award to Armenian Youth Federation – WUS Alumni and Members from 1933-2015 for their steadfast commitment to forcefully championing the Armenian Cause and serving as an inspirational force for Armenian-American youth.
In describing the selfless dedication of the Armenian Youth Federation which for generations has served as a true leader and the beacon of hope for the Armenian Cause, Kassabian stated, “Today, the AYF has redefined the way we fight for social change and justice and the AYF continues to demand: it continues to demand on the streets of Los Angeles, 166,000 strong; it continues to demand in the homeland where our AYF Youth Corps take a hands-on approach in the nation-building process of Armenia; and it continues to demand in the halls of our college campuses, alongside the Armenian Student Associations, to ensure that the University of California divests from the Republic of Turkey. Standing on the shoulders of General Karekin Njdeh and all the generations of AYF that came before them, today’s AYF continues the struggle that was begun by their predecessors more than 80 years ago.”
He then called up on stage generations of AYF alumni who continue to fight the good fight in the trenches. The eldest, 95-year-old Nikki Smith (Satenig Gondjian), was sworn in at the age of 14 by the AYF’s founder, General Karekin Njdeh, in 1933 as a founding member of the AYF Musa Dagh Chapter in Hollywood, and was escorted onto the stage to a standing ovation by AYF alumnus and current ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. They were joined by dozens of well-known AYF alumni from each generation that followed, an impressive group which included elected officials such as CA State Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian and Montebello Mayor Jack Hadjinian, all of whom got their start in the AYF.
As generations young and old embraced each other during what seemed to be an emotional reunion for many, AYF-WUS Central Executive Board Member Joseph Kaskanian took to the podium and stated, “Living in the United States, we are bombarded with the notion of only doing things for your individual benefit, but the AYF teaches you to give your time and energy for the collective good, to achieve the interests of our entire people. The AYF teaches its members to give and not to expect anything in return. The AYF teaches you to humbly demand the most from yourself and the most from your peers in service to our Cause. So when the idea of honoring the AYF with the Vahan Cardashian award was first brought up, I have to be honest and say it created a lot of hesitation among our members. We’re not used to being on stages, we’re used to being in trenches. And even now I’m not sure I’m fully comfortable sharing this stage with so many of these remarkable alumni when we have so much yet to accomplish. But we soon realized that this award does not belong to this Central Executive, or even our current members. This award belongs to each of the generations that came before us and all of the generations that will come after us.”
Kaskanian closed his remarks by noting “Inspired by our past generations and empowering our future generations, we will continue to lead our youth and with your unwavering support, we will move mountains.”
At the end of the presentation, the band green KARD performed and dedicated a song to the AYF, which led the alumni to spontaneously come together arm in arm for a traditional “shourch bar” dance on stage.
The 2015 ANCA WR Gala Banquet concluded with powerful remarks by ANCA National Board member Raffi Hamparian who stated, “At its core, we are in the arena for the Armenian Cause, not outside it, because we are believers. We believe in our community, we believe in our Cause. We believe in our Nation. We are not arm chair quarterbacks, we are not backbenchers, we are not critics and cynics, we are not finger pointers. In a community where we need to practice addition some people subtract for a living. Instead of multiplying our Cause these people divide. Today, the ANCA is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with you, the builders of our community, the innovators of our Cause, the dreamers. The special people like you who know deep in your hearts, deep in your minds, deep in your gut, that the best days, the very best days for our community, for Armenia, for Artsakh, for Western Armenia lie ahead of us on a brilliant horizon. A horizon that is reachable – if we have the will. To you, the backbone of our community. To you, who have faith and fidelity, dedication and determination, conviction and courage, valor and love. To you, the ANCA believers. To you, the 2nd army of the Armenian Nation: I say this with clarity and without hesitation. We have work to do to build, to create and to realize our common dreams. Let’s get to work.”
Throughout the night, between the presentations of honorees, videos highlighting the organization’s unprecedented accomplishments played on screen that showcased its efforts in obtaining proper recognition for the Armenian Genocide and the right to self-determination of Artsakh, in community building, advocacy work, voter registration and elections, youth development programs as well as well as a special tribute video to the 125th Anniversary of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutyun. All of these moving and memorable videos may be found online on the ANCA Western Region Channel on YouTube.
As they left the banquet hall with renewed optimism and determination to continue their support of the ANCA-WR and its collective pursuit of the Armenian Cause, guests received gift bags which included the informative ANCA-WR Annual Report, its special publication of a keepsake commemorative book entitled “Armenian Genocide Centennial: The Struggle Toward Victory and Justice Continues,” a generous donation by ANCA-WR Advisory Board Member Harut Sassounian of his recent book, “The Armenian Genocide: The World Speaks Out 1915-2015, Documents & Declarations,” as well as a special Tribute Book marking the occasion.
The ANCA-WR Annual Banquet is the largest event of its kind and helps raise funds to operate the nation’s largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots and political advocacy organization. Through these funds, the ANCA-WR is able to educate the general public about the Armenian Genocide, the Republic of Armenia, Artsakh, and other vital issues of concern to the Armenian-American community.
To financially assist the ANCA-WR in its work, community members are encouraged to enroll in the Friends of the ANCA-WR Monthly Giving, the ANCA-WR Founders’ Circle Annual Giving, and the Support our Supporters Corporate and Business Giving programs by visiting www.ancawr.org or calling 818.500.1919.
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.