ANCA-Western Region and Armenians of Colorado Open Offices on Denver’s Capitol Hill

ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan and Armenians of Colorado,
Inc. (AOC) Board President Sona Hedeshian are joined by community
leaders and elected officials, including Denver Deputy Mayor Don Mares
and several state lawmakers, in the May 2, 2016 ribbon cutting
ceremony for the shared ANCA/AOC office across the street from
Colorado's Capitol. (Photo: Evan Semón)

Denver—Spirits were high early Monday as the snow from days’ prior melted away and the warm morning sun beamed down in the Centennial State for the official opening of the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR) and Armenians of Colorado (AOC) shared offices across the street from the Capitol – giving Colorado’s vibrant Armenian community a home to call their own in the heart of Denver.

“The opening of our first regional office outside California is a testament to our unwavering commitment to our grassroots and our expansion efforts in the region,” remarked Elen Asatryan, Executive Director of the Los Angeles-headquartered ANCA-WR. “Our regional office in Denver staffed by our community development coordinator will not only allow for us to take activism to the next level in Colorado especially as we near elections, but also educate, motivate, and activate communities in 17 other states in the American West. In light of continued attacks In Artsakh, we must unite to fight for the survival and strengthening of our homeland and communities on all levels. We look forward to building on our strong foundation and partnership with AOC, our grassroots, and Colorado based organizations to advance our collective cause for years to come,” she added.

Joined by Denver Deputy Mayor Don Mares, state lawmakers, and community members, Asatryan, AOC Board President Sona Hedeshian, as well as ANCA-WR board member Pierre Yenokian and community development coordinator Simon Maghakyan led the ribbon cutting ceremony at the First Baptist Church of Denver, where the shared offices are located.

The ceremony started with opening remarks by Hedeshian and Asatryan, who welcomed guests and noted the historic symbolism of establishing an office in the very same church that was a statewide leader in the 1915-1930 Near East Relief effort that helped save the Armenian nation during the Armenian Genocide and their excitement in working hand-in-hand to further develop grassroots activities and partnerships with other nonprofit and groups in Colorado.

“We are more than ever dedicated to serving the growing Armenian community in Colorado by offering new programs and cultural activities in our new space,” remarked Hadeshian. “We are thrilled that this community center happens to be across the street from the Armenian Genocide Memorial Garden on State Capitol grounds, established by AOC in 1982. We proudly welcome ANCA-WR to Colorado and look forward to partnering toward a common goal of promoting and empowering our community and heritage.”

In his congratulatory remarks, Denver Deputy Mayor Don Mares noted that “I am thrilled to be here. The one thing that is amazing to me that I have learned as Deputy Mayor is that the work of our government these days doesn’t happen without strong partnerships and this is a very special relationship here with the Armenian community. Let’s continue to work together because we really can’t do anything alone. Anything the city can do, we are here”

Senator Linda Newell, a longtime supporter of the Armenian community welcomed the group to capitol hill and went on to thank both organizations for all their efforts and in welcoming her into the Armenian family with open arms. Sen. John Kefalas, who made some of his remarks in his native Greek language, commended the success of the brotherly Armenian community.

Two elected officials spoke of Armenian American issues, including securing peace for Artsakh. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt reiterated his support for Artsakh’s self-determination, peace, and diplomacy despite apparent protest from the Government of Azerbaijan to his earlier condemnation of the latter’s aggression and war crimes in April 2016. Rep. Paul Rosenthal spoke of the friendships he has developed with Armenian-Americans, as well as about the great time he had visiting Armenia and Artsakh last year.

Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, who joined the ceremony toward the end, was the first to sign the office guestbook following the ceremony. Guests were acquainted with the shared office, which consists of working and meeting areas and is adorned by the flags of the USA, Colorado, Armenia, and Artsakh, as well as beautiful wall photographs and a map of modern Armenia, donated by Mike’s Camera. During the
breakfast reception, Asatryan and Hedeshian publicly thanked all supporters, and especially recipient of September’s “Colorado We Thank You” gala Lifetime Achievement recipient LaRae Orullian for her generous donation toward paying the rents of both organizations for the first six months.

The reception gave an opportunity to Armenian American community members to interact with elected officials, as well as learn more about national and regional updates from the ANCA-WR delegation visiting from Los Angeles. Notable community members who attended the ribbon cutting and reception but were unable to visit the House of Representatives afterwards included ANCA-Colorado Advisory Board member Dr. Garo Chalian, founder of Endodontics of Colorado and Quinn and Chalian Law; Vic’s Jewelry and Watch founder Vahe Berejiklian, Sarkisian’s Oriental Rugs and Fine Arts co-owner Tor Sarkisian, Morgan Stanley vice president Roger Papazian, Denver businessman and philanthropist George Cole, and independent watchmaker Sako Maghakyan.

Following the ribbon cutting and breakfast reception, ANCA-WR and AOC leaders, joined by community members, were welcomed on the floor of the Colorado House of Representatives. Rep. Alec Garnett, whose Capitol Hill district includes the new offices, presented tributes signed by House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst to Asatryan and Hedeshian, stating that “The members of the Colorado House of Representatives are proud to recognize and celebrate the opening of the Denver office,” which “signifies the strides of this community against all odds.” Full text of the tribute is available here.

After honoring ANCA-WR and AOC, Rep. Garnett presented a tribute to Sarkisian’s Oriental Rugs and Fine Arts, re-established in Colorado in 1891 by Harootune Enfiajian of Kharpert, Armenia (now eastern Turkey), which is widely considered Denver’s oldest family-owned business.

Several representatives joined Garnett in recognizing and honoring their Armenian American constituents. Rep. Jonathan Singer introduced 22-year CEO of Highland Technical Staffing and AOC Genocide Centennial Committee chair Anahid Katchian, as well as acknowledged Great American Beer Festival founder and “father of homebrewing” Charlie Papazian, represented by his wife Sandra Papazian. Rep. Paul Rosenthal honored Jirair Christianian, a longtime community activist whose family owns and operates Mike’s Camera stores, as well as introduced Artine Yapoujian, founder and operator of Brewing Market Coffee shops. Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt introduced US Bank vice president and AOC board member Byuzand Yeremyan. Representative Max Tyler introduced Colorado Business Hall of Fame laureate, former Girl Scouts national president, founder of Colorado Women’s Bank and former chair of Frontier Airlines LaRae Orullian, who was an original founder of AOC and is currently a member of ANCA-Colorado Advisory Board.

Rep. Kathleen Conti presented a tribute signed by Speaker Hullinghorst to three-time Emmy-winner Denise Gentilini, whose accomplishments include the musical I AM ALIVE about her grandparents’ survival of the Armenian Genocide. Gentilini was joined in the House of Representatives by her wife Lynnette Prisner, as well as her mother Marie Gentilini. I AM ALIVE premiered last year and was performed again with new songs at Denver’s Mile Hi Church on April 29. Leading up to the musical, Mile Hi Church hosted ANCA-WR’s America We Thank You exhibit, detailing the saving of Armenian orphans by the Near East Relief. Incidentally, Gentilini’s grandparents Kourken and Malvine met at a Near East Relief refugee camp in Greece after surviving the Armenian Genocide.

Other prominent members of Colorado’s Armenian community present in the House of Representatives included MetLife Director Kevo Hedeshian, artist Susanna Avagyan, Crestview Church Worship and Arts Pastor Sydney Yapoujian, and longtime community leader and singer Kim Christianian, who as co-chair of AOC’s Genocide Commemoration Committee for many years played the key role in establishing strong community relations with the Colorado legislature.

The opening of the shared ANCA-WR and AOC office generated a lot of buzz on Capitol Hill. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Joey Bunch reported in detail the office opening on The Denver Post. “An emerging
political presence stepped farther out into the Colorado spotlight Monday, as Armenians of Colorado and Armenian National Committee of America opened a shared office in the basement of the First Baptist
Church, across 14th Street from the Capitol,” wrote Bunch. Quoting Asatryan, Yenokian, and elected officials, Bunch also noted the successful 2015 Colorado commemoration of the Armenian Genocide
Centennial: “Last year, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled the State Capitol Khachkar Memorial dedicated to all victims of crimes against humanity.” As of 8 p.m. on May 3, Bunch’s “Armenian National Committee sets shop in Colorado” was the second most-viewed report on the Denver Post’s political blog.

The shared ANCA-WR and AOC offices are located at 1373 Grant Street, Suite 101A, Denver, Colorado 80203 – a few minute walk from the Armenian Genocide Memorial Garden on Colorado State Capitol Grounds.

The opening of the office comes a week after the 100+1 Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide organized by the AOC at the memorial on April 24 and the legislature commemoration, when on Friday, April 22, the Colorado community took to the capitol to join the CO Senate and House, and the AOC in commemorating the Armenian Genocide on the house and senate floors and spent the day meeting with over 50 officials to educate them about the current realities on the front-lines in Artsakh, the Armenian Genocide and our priorities and initiatives for the year during our CO Advocacy Day. Details on the ANCA WR Colorado Advocacy Day can be found at ancawr.rg/coadpost.

While the missions of the ANCA-WR and AOC vary in scope, both organizations strive to empower and give voice to Armenian-Americans, build bridges within communities, and establish meaningful and effective partnerships with a multitude of cultural, community based and civically-engaged organizations.

Since its founding in 1979, AOC has furthered the understanding of Armenian history and heritage through educational and cultural programs in Colorado and has led the charge in the Centennial state.

Though recognition, resolution and education of the Armenian Genocide, the right to self-determination of Artsakh, and defending the political, social, economic rights of the Armenian-American community is at the forefront of its priorities, ANCA-WR through its local chapters caters to the needs of each of its communities differently. Programs range from initiatives such as Hye Votes, which concentrates on making the community’s voice heard through the ballot box through voter registration and get out the vote efforts, Path to College which help parents and students through graduation requirements and the college admissions process, and  free legal clinics to educational town halls on local, state and federal issues, internship and policy fellowship opportunities for students and young professionals, and coalition building with organizations that take on causes that affect the livelihood and seek measures for the overall betterment of the community and the residents they serve.

Community members interested in making a donation for the ANCA-WR Denver office and activities may make a contribution online at www.ancawr.org/denver-office-sponsorship or contact Elen Asatryan at elen@ancawr.org or 818.500.1919.

To get involved, email Simon@ancawr.org or visit ANCAWR.org/getinvolved.

For general or earmarked monthly, annual or one time donations visit ANCAWR.org/donate

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.

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