An Armenian Political Genesis in America

armamerican

The Armenian and American flags. Photo by Lara Garibian.

 

Not very long ago, Armenian-Americans were invigorated enough to become a force in national politics. They organized within their communities and even crisscrossed the country to bring to the United States what they – along with a majority of American voters – thought was the biggest change of their lifetimes. But, since the election of President Barack Obama, the disappointments for Armenians have been grave – and they haven’t been quiet about it either.

Shots are being fired wherever there is a shot to be taken. The amount of opprobrium being dished onto the president, Armenians for Obama, the Armenian National Committee PAC, and any former supporter of Obama’s, is enough to fill the Grand Canyon. “I told you so”, “nothing I didn’t expect”, “you couldn’t be so naïve”, and phrases of the like abound in articles, message boards, blogs, and conversations. Individuals scolding organizations, their own contemporaries, and the political system, which they feel will never change.

Who, me?

Nowhere will you find someone saying, “I didn’t do enough”, “how can I improve?”, “I need to do more”. The onus is dropped onto the Armenian National Committee (ANCA), with suggestions that it do more to get the results we want: recognition of the Genocide, aid to Armenia, support for Artsakh. It would be prudent to remember that the ANCA has a total full-time staff in Washington, D.C. that numbers less than a basketball team – and I’m just talking about the players on the court. If you add the staff in the regional offices, you’ve barely got enough people to fit in a Suburban.

You can compare this to a slew of organizations that have veritable armies working for their causes: the thousands of employees of AIPAC, ADL, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC); the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which advocates on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights; and, lest we forget, the Turkish lobby, which has at its disposal the top rung of DC lobbyists aching for the large sums the Turkish government is ready to pay to work against Armenia and Armenians in every way they can.

If you want to know what money buys you, look at the brand new, 8-story HRC building in DC, down the street from the ANCA. Then think about all the staffers that work in an office building 20 times the size that of the ANCA’s: lawyers, public relations staff, press liaisons, administrative assistants, and numerous lobbyists. It is an impressive example of organization but it is doubly poignant because it shows, very clearly, that they realize the importance of having a strong, multi-faceted lobbying group in DC and that they are willing to support it with their full financial might.

Some people, typically the younger generation, have little money to give. Lucky for them, they have myriad opportunities to volunteer and this is something that the ANCA certainly helps with. For example, every time there are Advocacy Days in DC – an annual, organized visit to congressional offices on Capitol Hill – there should be hundreds, if not thousands, of Armenians from across the country exercising their right to speak with their representatives and to demand support for the issues important to them as constituents. Every college campus with even a single Armenian student should have events that teach why Armenians still pursue justice for the Armenian Genocide, there should be articles in the school newspaper about the right to self-determination of Artsakh or the destruction of historical monuments in Turkey and Azerbaijan.

But, your contribution does not end with your donation to the ANCA Endowment Fund, nor does it end with the Action Alert that you send, nor does it end with the phone call you make to your member of Congress. The moment you think the work is done, the work you did do is lost. Every Armenian who believes in the Cause must also believe that it will only succeed if its goals become the personal responsibility of each individual. The Cause is perpetual and it does not end with any one deed.

Enough

I think I did a lot over the past few years: I volunteered for the ANC – Western Region and at the Glendale ANC; I went to Advocacy Days in Washington, DC; I volunteered at the ANC headquarters there; I was the Field Director for Armenians for Obama; I sent out a number of Action Alerts; I voted in every single election.

But, I didn’t do enough.

I’ll never have done enough. It won’t be enough when the president of the United States says the word “genocide” every single year. It won’t be enough when the U.S. Congress passes an annual resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide. It won’t be enough when Armenia is the foremost recipient of U.S. foreign aid. It won’t be enough when Artsakh is an internationally recognized independent state. Our progress cannot be subject to singular goals. Where we stand in the American and international political arenas will be a question of how much time and money we – as individuals and as a people – are willing to commit, without cessation and without the abatement of our zeal.

So, make your donations, volunteer at your ANC office or on an election campaign, support candidates who protect the interests of Armenian-Americans, visit your member of congress, find a job in DC – and then ask what more you can do. Because, there is always more work to be done and we must embrace this reality to fully exercise our potential. Complacence is not, and never will be, an option.

See you on the front line.

 

To support the ANCA Endowment Fund, visit: http://www.2009telethon.org

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8 Comments

  1. Lara Garibian said:

    Phenominal article… Our work is never done and reminding us of that is the best form of motivation! See you on the front lines :)

  2. Avery said:

    Disclosure: I know William personally.

    A great, inspirational article.

    What many of the readers do not know, is that William is a native Californian, born and bred in the good old U.S. of A., of immigrant parents.

    Why is that significant ? It is significant because Turks and their purchased sycophants and shills nurture the vain hope that their ‘Deny and Delay’ strategy will work in the long run: they hope that with each generation, the memory of the Genocide and demands for Reparations and Return of lands will fade away. That Armenians’ descendents will disappear into the great American melting pot, and one day ask “What Genocide ?”

    Unfortunately for the Turks, it is quite clear that the newer generations are even more aware and indignant at the wrong done to their ancestors. They are as American and as ‘melted’ as it gets, but the torch of their ancestors burns bright in their hearts. William is just one example of hundreds of thousands of American descendants of Genocide survivors who have taken up the mantle of the struggle.

    We all must settle in for a long slog, doing our part, then passing the baton to the next generation and the next.

    Let us recall – not forgetting the injustices done to Palestinians – that our Jewish friends soldiered on for 2,000 years to return to the land of their ancestors.

    Sorry dear Turkish neighbors, people like Armenians, who have 1000s of years accumulated resilience, do not simply fade away.

    To add to William’s excellent advice:

    • We must keep at it, like chipping away at granite: it will seem hopeless at first, but each chip will make the boulder weaker and it will eventually give way.
    • There will be no quick victories: Turks will not just fold and go away.
    • There will be many defeats and disappointments: no sweat – we learn from our mistakes and do better next time, and the next time, and the next….
    • We will be lied to and betrayed routinely: nice – better to hone our politician-management skills, and sharpen our senses – for the Big fights.
    • We have a deep well of strength and resilience, inherited from our ancestors, shared by few in this world.
    • Every time you feel like giving up, take a look at just one photograph of the hanged Armenian clergymen; one photograph of the piles of severed heads of Armenian civilians; one picture of murdered Armenian children- with Turkish soldiers proudly standing next to them.
    • Every time you feel like giving up, remember the freedom fighters of Artsakh; they faced impossible odds, facing a numerically superior, better equipped, better armed foe bent on their complete annihilation – but never uttered a word of self-doubt or considered giving up.
    • Every time you feel like giving up, remember General George Washington and his men at Valley Forge; cold and hungry, they never gave up hope, never doubted the justness of their cause and eventually defeated the greatest military power in the world.
    • Every time you feel like giving up, remember the battle of Avarayr.
    • Every time you feel like giving up, remember the battle of Sardarabad.
    • We have the Moral High Ground. We are in the Right. We will Succeed.

    Our Founding Fathers had lives of privilege and comfort. Yet they signed their names to a document, the Declaration of Independence, that was tantamount to signing their own death warrants – because they knew they were in the Right.

    Nobody is asking us to give a limb or life on a battlefield.
    All we need to give is a little of our time and money – consistently

  3. Armanen said:

    Good article. I guess I may be considered one of those who said ‘I told you so’ about obama but it wasn’t based on Armenian related issues, it was based more on the ridiculous euphoria surrounding his election and the fact that many Americans actually believed he would be much different from Clinton, McCain or the other big names. The real difference would have been seen if we had people like Ron Paul or Mike Gravel elected, but of course the powers that be would never allow true patriots to hold the office of the U.S. Presidency.

    As for Armenian issues, I agree, if we had even half the budget and staff that the bigger lobbies have much of the political work we are doing now would have been accomplished sooner or with less effort. However, until we do we need to focus on our collective strengths and continue to support Armenians entering the political and governmental fields all across the country.

    Our Hay Tad is never over!

  4. Sam said:

    Me too, I have to admit, I was one who said ” Another one failed us.” You’re right in the sense that we as a people give up on things too fast. But I only think that is so because we have been betrayed so many times in our history by the powers that be, and by our neighboring countries and even sometimes allies.

    You make a good point throughout the article, but I agree with you in one thing the most. We are a very weak and feeble political force. We are not a force that has grown from our grassroots efforts. We have one, as you said, “barely enough people to fit in a suburban,” and I think as a force that wants to be heard, that is very sad.

    Cheers to an Armenian who will not give up, and keeps us strong. You have my support comrade!

  5. Anna said:

    THANK YOU ANCA FOR YOUR EFFORTS – for the Armenian Genocide recognition, for Armenia and Artsakh support !!!

    Thanks!

    Anna
    Republic of Armenia

  6. Katia said:

    Thank you William for being who you are! Also, Avery, what an intelligent commentary! Thank you ANCA ! You are the Armenian version of the “Spartan 300!” Small but very effective. You all make us proud!

    I am a member of the Executive Committee of a Homenetmen Chapter. We constantly hear complaints from parents who compare Homenetmen with AYSO and other American institutions, and often leave to sign up with those organizations instead. This is the reality of “assimilation”. It is our deadliest enemy, and it is what Turkey is banking on. As a small people, we are at a great disadvantage when we consider the shear number of human and monetary resources others have at their disposal. But money is not everything, and there is no joy in being just a “number” in a huge organization. Our organizations are small, but they are OURS. Us. One of the oldest people on earth. With history so quitely rich, yet so powerfully stamped on our hearts.

    Small nations with strong national pride and persistant stubbornness have brought big nations to their knees(Israel vs. the Arab nations, Vietnam vs USA etc.) Our cause is JUST. Powerful arms and weaponry are useless if they are not backed with brains and strategy. There are big lessons to be be learned at each step. It has become very clear to us that Turkey is playing the hand of time. Their strategy is to prolong the recognition of the Armenian Genocide to where there are no more survivors left, no more personal documents left such as property deeds, and there is so much assimilation into other nations that there is no more will left among our people to pursue our cause.

    The only area that we have lacked in our quest for justice, mostly because of our lack of resources, is the “Legal Pursuit for Reparations”. I strongly feel that that is where Turkey’s Achille’s heal lies. Suing the Turkish and European governments for reparations will do double duty to return to us what is rightfully ours, and will expose the evidence for the Genocide at an unprecedented level. Especially small individual claims with specific documents and evidence, filed consistently and persistently will gnaw at Turkey’s resolve to hide this most hideous of crimes. We have an undisputable case against Turkey, and for Turkey’s great pleasure we have yet to legally pursue it.

    It is important to secure the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by major countries, especially the United States, but it is equally if not more important to address the issue head on, and confront the culprit himself with all the legal rights at our disposal. Our defense cannot and should not be deferred to others. Even if these trials fail, they will succeed in their mission to expose the truth and to annoy Turkey.

    One can always hope, that the Turkish people realize that it takes a great nation to recognize its errors. Acknowledging the wrong they have done to the Armenian nation will put them in the forefront of democratic and developed countries. As Presdent Obama said, not dealing with one’s history can become “a great burden”. All the billions that Turkey has and continues to spend to cover up this crime could have long ago gone toward reparations for all the atrocities committed to the Armenians, and invested in the healing process of both our nations. Unfortunately, by going to extreme lengths to cover up the crime that its ancestors have committed, today’s Turkish nation is chosing to continue “massacring” the Armenian people using modern techniques involving buying off lobbyists and congressmen in Washington and elsewhere.

  7. Ruzanna said:

    Dear AVERY!

    I would like to remind turks the famous excerpt of Saroyan’s writing “The Armenian and the Armenian”!!!

    “I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars

    have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers

    are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia. See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or

    water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them

    meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”

    Best wishes,
    Ruzanna
    Yerevan, ARMENIA

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