Capital Perspectives: Adventures on the Hill

Impressions from the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Class of 2009

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The nation’s capital moves at an amazing pace — hundreds of foreign and domestic policy issues being addressed simultaneously at record speed. For the ANCA Leo Sarkisian interns, who just recently arrived in Washington DC, this past weekend has been an educational journey.

This was a lesson learned on our second day at the ANCA offices. No intern knew when walking to our internship that morning we would be headed for Capitol Hill that afternoon to watch the House Appropriations Committee adopt legislation that would specifically affect Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. But before discussing the Committee “mark-up” of the foreign aid bill, let me say that just getting to Capitol Hill was an adventure.

Walking to the metro from the office was the first leg of our journey. Stepping outside it was clear and several of us were still adjusting to the humid and warm weather. The continuous walking from place to place just adds to the unpleasant feeling of always sweating. The metro and walking are our main means of transportation in the Capital. I feel a sense of excitement and civic involvement knowing that I share these roads and metros with legislative and elected officials. Getting on the metro is a refreshing feeling due to the cool climate under the city. Some of us experienced the annoying reminder that the ticket purchased to Capitol Hill wasn’t enough — there was additional exit fare required.

Getting out of the Capitol South station, we caught a glimpse of the Capitol up close. Majestic, austere, breathtaking.

We headed toward the first Congressional office building — Cannon. Inside the building there was the usual procedure of going through a security check, walking through endless halls, going up and down stairs, passing by historic pictures and statues inside. The ANCA’s Raffi Karakashian and Garo Manjikian were our official tour guides through the series of buildings – Cannon, Longworth and finally Rayburn – our final destination. Raffi began to tell us little insights of how the buildings are designed — the numerical system for each building, etc. What was surprising to some of us was the ameneties offered to our elected officials: an amazing cafeteria in each building, shoe shining stalls, special elevators for Members (to ensure they get to their votes on time), and a U.S. post office in the middle of the building. Officials could basically live inside there offices if one desired to with all the accommodations provided for them (and 50 Members do, including Utah Republican Freshman Jason Chaffetz. See his story)

Then there are the constant alarms ringing everywhere – which for the outsider sounds like an evacuation notice, but they are simply reminders that there is a vote in progress.

Ending our tour we made it to the doors of the House Appropriation Committee — and two long lines of folks just as interested as we were in the process. We opted to join the shorter line, only to find out that it was the staff line and we needed to move to the longer line at the end of the hall for public viewing.

As we moved to the end of the line, we started getting “looks” from a group of gentlemen in black suits clearly eyeing our ANCA pins. Raffi explained that this was the usual cast of characters lobbying for Turkey and Azerbaijan. As we moved ahead, we saw representatives from the Armenian Embassy and the Nagorno Karabagh Office and chatted about the provisions in the foreign aid bill — $48 million for Armenia, and unprecedented $10 million for Nagorno Karabagh and maintaining military assistance parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

As we waited for the mark-up to begin, Members of Congress rushed ahead to set up for the meeting. We caught up with Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Mark Kirk from Illinois — who serves on the Foreign Operations Subcommittee and along with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Chairwoman Nita Lowey, Steve Rothman (D-NJ) and many others, fight for the foreign aid provisions Armenian Americans are concerned with. Despite being in a hurry, Rep. Kirk took a moment to speak to each of us and encouraged us in our efforts to get more involved in the political process — and at our request, took a moment to snap a photo.

The wait was frustrating — made it all the more so when we found out that we would not be able to get in to see the actual mark-up because the room was too small. Despite this dilemma, the process was educational. We found out later to our satisfaction, that the Armenian provisions, adopted by the Subcommittee the previous week, were left unchanged. The provisions are now passed to the full House for consideration.

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Photo Caption:
Congressional Armenian Caucus CoChair Mark Kirk (R-IL) with Rose Pallone, Taleen Mekhdjavakian, Sosse Beugekian, Tatev Oganyan, Savada Simounian-Khygani, Tamar Thomassian, Hovanes Gasparian and Nareg Aghjayan.

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