Capital Perspectives: Road Trip Full of History and Activism

0713anca (Small)

By Taleen Mekhjavakian
University of Central Florida, Class of 2010

Not all ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship work is done in Washington, DC. The summer offers the opportunity to spread the Hai Tahd message across the U.S.

Take, for example, our trip to Providence and Boston this past weekend. The intern team attended the Homenetmen Eastern Region Olympics — supporting the athletes and the organization and having a good time with the friends. But, our main purpose was to spread the word about our latest effort to battle Armenian Genocide denial.

As most people already know, the Associated Press recently reported that five major energy and defense contractors are currently lobbying against Armenian Genocide legislation (H.Res.252) – complicit in Turkey’s international campaign of genocide denial. We decided to focus on one of those companies – Chevron. Chevron CEO Dave O’Reilly brags about running his corporation “the Chevron Way: responsibly, ethically, and with respect for human rights”. How can a company have respect for human rights and yet lobby against Genocide Recognition. With this campaign we hope to bring awareness to the public on what Chevron and the other corporations – Goodrich, United Technologies, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman — are doing through a nationwide protest on July 22nd, 2009.

We knew that a group of seven interns in DC did not have the manpower alone to take on a corporation like Chevron. When hearing about Chevron’s lobbying, the Armenian Youth Federation was ready to take a joint leadership role. Our first step was to reach out to the Armenian American Community to educate them on the issue and activate them to make a difference.

Which brings us to our road trip to Providence – and all the logistics associated with that – reasonable car rentals, hotel stay, gas prices (not-Chevron or Texaco, of course.)

And on Saturday July 4, 2009 we set up a table at the Homenetmen Olympics hotel and began our campaign (the AYF Western Region spread the word at the Navasartian Games, so we knew we were covered there).

When we first got to the Welcome Desk in Providence, it was nice to see how active the Homenetmen participants were. They were all willing to send out ANCA Action Alerts to Dave O’Reilly (www.anca.org/chevron), sign up to the ANCA fan page on facebook, send an Action Alert to their Congressman so they can co-sponsor the HR 252, and signed up to help participate in the protest. Although there were people who were hesitant to send the Action Alert to Mr. O’Reilly at first, we explained the situation to them, which just made people angry and determined to attend the protest. With enough word of mouth and the AYF / ANCA’s push we’ll get a strong showing at the protest.

With our tabling done, we headed to Watertown, MA to visit the Hairenik Building. We made an appointment with Armenian Relief Society Executive Director Jirayr Beugekian to give us at tour of the building. Being from Florida it was such a different experience for me to drive through an American city and see so many Armenian flags and Armenian stores – it was nice to see. Unger Jirayr first gave us a tour of the Hairenik office then we went to the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Archives. It was so interesting to see all the history in the archives, the fact that you can trace back the first Armenians that moved to the US, how they tried to send help during the Genocide, all the activism they did, and the letters that went back and forth between ARF members was so interesting.

After the tour of the Archives we went to the Armenian Relief Society’s office where Unger Jirayr explained to us all the work the ARS does and all it’s history. The ARS is currently working on bettering the health care system in Armenia, improving schools in Armenia, created a Mother and Child program which takes care of pregnant mothers until their child is born and vaccinated also it provides free dental care. ARS also is working on helping orphans in Armenia. They created a program to make sure after an orphan leaves the orphanage they are able to assimilate into the outside world through finding them a job and apartment. There is also a scholarship program for one orphan from Armenia and one from Javakhk per year that pays for their tuition and housing at Lebanon’s Haigazian University.

Our road trip this past weekend had a little bit of everything –  Hai Tahd activism, history, education, and, of course – camaraderie and good times. We got more people to send an action alert in one day than we do in a week. And we set the stage for a successful campaign, exposing Chevron for “fueling Genocide denial.”

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