ANCA Leadership Conference Empowers Activists to Expand Armenian American Grassroots Advocacy

WASHINGTONNearly 150 Armenian American activists and leaders from across the United States converged on Washington D.C. last week for the 2006 Armenian National Committee of America’s Leadership Conference. Part of the ANCA’s ongoing efforts to empower activists with advocacy tools and techniques, the conference-titled "Grassroots Makes the Difference"-was a three day program featuring dynamic lectures, seminars, and meetings. ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian opened the conference by welcoming the diverse group of guests. He reviewed ANCA accomplishmen’s in the past year and highlighted the weekend’s schedule that included meetings with members of congress, staff, and the US Administration as well as other Capital insiders and analysts. Kicking off Friday’s flurry of activity, participants departed for Capitol Hill for a briefing by US Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). Rep. Schiff spoke about the successes and the challenges facing Armenian Americans as they work with Congress in support of Armenian Genocide reaffirmation, US aid to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, and a range of community concerns. "It was a thrill to meet so many vibrant and talented grassroots activists," Schiff said. "The Armenian-American community is known for its dedication and commitment to promoting important causes. The ANCA Leadership Conference has done an amazing job improving the effectiveness of an already strong grassroots network of Armenian-Americans who meet with Congress regularly."We would like to thank Rep. Schiff for providing his insights on how our community can further expand its grassroots outreach to Members of Congress in support of Armenian American concerns," stated Pasadena resident and ANCA Western Region Board Member Aida Dimejian. "His remarks to the ANCA Leadership Conference attendees — both recent and veteran activists — will help inspire a new level of participation in the American political process." Rep. Schiff was followed by Elise Aronson, Chief of Staff for US Representative Jim Saxton (D-NJ) and Charles Yessaian Jr., Legislative Director for US Representative Joe Schwarz (R-MI) who instructed the conference participants how to effectively communication with their Members of Congress. Both speakers urged student attendees to explore careers on Capitol Hill, encouraging participation in the ANCA Capital Gateway Program. The Program, now in its third years, provides university students and recent graduates career advice, housing and job placement assistance as they explore opportunities on Capitol Hill and other Washington DC area think tanks and institutions. The featured speaker of the day was Assistant Secretary of the State Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Dan Fried. Fried addressed the conference participants and discussed issues including US policy on the Armenian Genocide, US- Armenia relations and the Nagorno Karabakh peace process Fried was followed by State Department Coordinator for US Assistance to Europe and Eurasia, Tom Adams who reviewed the history and current developmen’s in US aid to Armenia and $235 Million Challenge grant to Armenia. The day was concluded with a reception at the ANCA’s new office in Washington D.C., where the participants took the opportunity to acquaint themselves with fellow activists and leaders from different regions of the USA. Saturday opened with an address delivered by Aram Hamparian, ANCA Executive Director in which he reviewed the accomplishmen’s of Armenian American advocacy efforts and outlooks in the coming year. ANCA-Eastern Region Board Member, George Aghjayan and Vartan Djihanian, Press Secretary for US Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ) both offered their perspectives promoting Armenian American issues through public relations and media outreach initiatives. The keynote address of the conference was delivered by Charles Mahtesian, Editor of the Almanac of American Politics. Mahtesian gave an overview of the political landscape heading into the 2006 general elections. During the question and answer session he fielded a range of questions including those about control of the Congress and the potential impact of the Armenian American community at the polls this coming November. The day’s events also featured presentations on fundraising strategies delivered by Dro Abrahamian, President of Development Service Associates, LLC and ANCA-Western Region Board Member, Souzi Zerounian-Khanzadian as well as workshops focusing on the state of local affairs in the Eastern Region and Western Regions. A concurrent workshop on student issues, activism and ANC engagement was led former Western Region Executive Director and current City Clerk of Glendale, CA, Ardashes Kassakhian. He was joined by former Western Region staffer and current Public Relations Specialist at Baker, Inc., Angineh Babooian who spoke about the ANCA’s Capital Gateway Program. "Mr. Kassakhian’s presentation reminded us that, as students, we have the ability and the responsibility to advance our issues of concern within the university," said Teresa Petrosyan, an undergraduate, International Development Studies student at UCLA. The sentiment was noticeably shared by the over two dozen students participating in the conference and workshop generating a vigorous question and answer session. "I was particularly encouraged by the number of young Armenian-Americans from diverse backgrounds and locals who are eager and willing to take up the cause and become advocates for human rights and justice," commented Kassakhian. The evening came to a close with a reception at the Armenian Embassy. Conference participants, many visiting the Embassy for the first time, had an opportunity to tour the grounds and were treated to a question and answer session led by Chief Consul, Arman Israelian, in which a number of the embassy staff participated. Many participants used the Conference as an opportunity to visit the Washington, DC offices of their legislators. Vatche Hovsepian and Khachig Papanyan from the ANC of Texas met with the Ari Stein, Legislative Assistant for Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX). Papanyan had led a community meeting with the Congressman in his district office in late August, and took the opportunity to follow up on the meeting with the Congressman’s staff while in Washington for the conference. The two were joined by ANCA-WR Community Relations Director, Haig Hovsepian. ANCA Western Region Representatives Raffi Hamparian, Leonard Manoukian, Jack Hadjinian and Vasken Yardemian met with a series of California Congressional staff representing Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Representatives Grace Napolitano (D-CA), David Dreier (R-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and staff from Arizona Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ). ANCA Eastern Region Executive Director Karine Birazian attended a breakfast briefing with Illinois Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Barack Obama (D-IL), following which Birazian met with Sen. Obama’s foreign affairs staff. ANCA Eastern Region Board member George Aghjayan met with Rep. James McGovern’s Foreign Affairs staffer, Ms. Cindy Buhl. Ending the conference on a strong note, Sunday featured presentations on the Genocide Education Project (GenEd) and a workshop on effective grassroots organization. Opening the morning session, Rafi Momjian, Executive Director of GenEd gave an overview of the organization’s history and recent activities. He was joined in his presentation by ANCA-Eastern Region Executive Director, Karine Birazian who, before assuming her current position, had worked extensively on Armenian Genocide-related education efforts in Illinois. ANCA-Eastern Region Board Member, Aram Sarafian delivered an insightful workshop on grassroots mobilization. His overview of the goal-oriented, strategic approach to Armenian Genocide recognition and justice measures in North Carolina inspired many questions from the conference participants eager to learn how to help participate in similarly organized advocacy initiatives back in their home states. Aram Hamparian delivered the closing remarks of the conference and conveyed the ANCA’s optimism for even greater Armenian American community activism following the conclusion of the weekend’s program. "The attendees seemed very enthused and were looking forward to returning home to put what they have learned into practice," said Zerounian-Khanzadian. "Given the program and diverse cross-section of the Armenian American community that joined us in Washington, D.C. this weekend, I am certain that this conference will bring positive results for Hai Tahd."

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