From New Jersey to Washington: Connecting with the Armenian Cause

BY NYREE NALJIAN


When I first heard about the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship, I was so excited to finally get involved with something that meant so much to me — my heritage and culture. Although this internship sounded like the perfect opportunity, I wondered if I would fit into this political organization since at school my schedule was primarily focused on accounting courses and other electives in business. At the time I was not very conversant in politics and the American political system, but I was optimistic about working for Hai Tahd and learning as much as I could absorb in a short two-month period.
Before I knew it, the day finally came. It was June 18th and I, along with my fellow interns, were walking to work on our first hot and humid day into the beautiful city of Washington D.C. It was so surreal as we walked our first steps to what would soon become the routine path to work. I could not believe that I was chosen for an incredible opportunity to work for the Armenian Cause and suddenly become immersed in the Armenian community working in the Hai Tahd office located in the heartland of the city just blocks away from the White House.
As I walked through the door of the ANCA office, I suddenly felt a warm feeling as if I belonged there. I could feel my heart pounding as I walked up the flights of stairs to meet my new staffers. When the moment arrived, I was overwhelmed with welcoming arms and cheerful faces. I was so honored to work in such a positive and encouraging atmosphere. When we finally got comfortable in the conference room, the area where we would be spending most of our days at the office, I was ready to embark on this 8-week journey.
Before I knew it we were already introduced our first project, expanding ANCA media outreach. Our job was to go through many different newspapers, both English and Armenian, to clip out all articles or photos that mention U.S. House and Senate Members and their support of an Armenian American initiative or effort. Suddenly, all the other interns grabbed stacks of newspapers eager to find and cut out many articles. I on the other hand, nervously went through the Armenian newspapers in hopes I would recognize some of the faces of the Congressmen. I found myself in trouble as I couldn’t go through one newspaper without going back to my computer and checking up a Representatives name. For the other interns this was clearly an easy task, but for me it was a struggle.
Our first speaker was Aram Hamparian, the Executive Director of ANCA. Before he spoke, he wanted to hear a background of each of us, including where we are from, what school we attend, and what we are majoring in. As we went around the table I quickly noticed a pattern. Mostly every one of the other interns had a background in political science or were trying to pursue a career in law or the political field. Without a single course of politics during my years at Pace University, I worried whether I was suitable for this internship.
The next couple of weeks, however, clearly proved me wrong. Suddenly I was taking trips back and forth to Capitol Hill with a very strong passion and was dedicated in gaining first-hand experience into the political system. I was honored to wear my ANCA pin and represent my Armenian ethnicity while I attended a Turkish foreign policy meeting and a hearing after the 2007 Turkish Elections; a meeting with Congressmen’s aids to encourage them to co-sponsor the Armenian Genocide Resolution; a meeting with my own Congressman, Scott Garrett, to thank him for all his support with the Resolution; a trip to the Armenian Embassy; and a protest in front of the Turkish Embassy marking the 33rd anniversary of Turkey’s illegal occupation of Cyprus.
With only one week left of this life-changing internship, I look back to the beginning where it all started and question my hesitation of fitting in. The truth is, I am Armenian and working on any issue of concern to the Armenian American community is where I belong. This internship has not only made me grow into a mature and proud Armenian it has been provided me with the tools to go back to my community and share the knowledge I have learned from the ANCA team members, speakers, and the other interns. Although it will be extremely hard for me to say goodbye to the Hai Tahd office, the dedicated folks who works there, and my lifetime friends next week, I look forward to going back to New Jersey and continuing on as a devout Armenian who will stand strong for the Armenian Cause.

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