The Library of Congress: Where American and Armenian History Come Alive

The ANCA Leo Sarkisian Interns with Dr. Levon Avdoyan, the Armenian and Georgian area specialist at the Library of Congress.

Vanderbilt Class of 2016
ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Class of 2014

When I was applying for the Leo Sarkisian internship back in February, the blurb at the top of the application said the following: During the eight week Washington, DC program, interns live at the ANCA Hovig Saghdejian Capital Gateway House, located a short distance from the ANCA National Headquarters. The participants work on a wide variety of projects based on their individual interests, while gaining hands-on experience within the American political system. A bi-weekly lecture series features guest lecturers including Members of Congress, ambassadors, and Armenian American leaders.

It was this last part – the bi-weekly lecture series – that I was most excited about. Ever since my first AYF-YOARF Junior Seminar – ten years ago – I have walked into lectures armed with pencil and paper. I have been – and still continue to be – inspired by educationals, lectures, and lecturers. Reading that we would have a bi-weekly lecture series during our eight weeks in Washington, D.C. was great news.

Since I arrived in D.C., I have had the privilege of learning from a variety of successful and knowledgeable individuals. Aram Hamparian, executive director of the ANCA, lectured us on the first day in the office. Yeghisapet Chouldjian, communication director at the ANCA, spoke to us about the importance of public relations, the use of media, and how to write a press release. We have met – and taken pictures – with countless Congressmen and Congresswomen, including Rep. Schiff, Rep. Sherman, and Rep. Pallone. We have been to the Capitol and witnessed a variety of hearings and events, including a Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing for the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, a POLITICO lunch with former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a briefing on Cyprus, and a State Department briefing on Syria. But, out of all of our lectures, my favorite was given by Dr. Levon Avdoyan, the Armenian and Georgian area specialist at the Library of Congress.

I will admit that I was partial to his lecture from the beginning because it was in the Library of Congress. Even though Congressional meeting rooms are beautiful, not much can compare with the Tiffany glass on the ceiling in the main reading room or the imported marble slabs that have been carved to make the Library of Congress what it is. As an avid reader, I could have spent the entire day alternating between exploring the building and finding the perfect reading spot.

With this backdrop, Dr. Avdoyan told us about the work that he carries out at the Library of Congress. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the longest running lecture series at the Library of Congress is the Armenian lecture series. Dr. Avdoyan mentioned this after telling us that the Armenian collection has over 44,000 items, including manuscripts, books, dictionaries, and maps. But what I found most remarkable was that Dr. Avdoyan had discovered a note between then U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau and the architect of the Armenian Genocide, Talaat Pasha dated April 24th, 1915. The note was an exchange between these two men, asking to dine together that evening. Dr. Avdoyan explained that the discovery of this note is a strong counterargument to those that claim that Talaat and Morgenthau were not close enough for Mongenthau to know valid or intimate information about Talaat Pasha or Turkey during that time. When Dr. Avdoyan told us this story, he had a glimmer in his eyes, his arms were flailing about expressively, and we were awestruck and staring. This small and seemingly insignificant note is important to our history; even more interesting was that Dr. Avdoyan was able to find this note within the thousands of items in the Library of Congress and give it context and meaning.

Being in the Library of Congress and meeting with Dr. Avdoyan was incredible for a variety of reasons: the architecture and artwork were breathtaking, I got an official library card, and Dr. Avdoyan’s personal tour was more than I could have hoped for. The Library of Congress reminded me of a few things too: it reminded me, once again, that there are Armenians everywhere, doing incredible and important work; it reminded me that history – American and Armenian – can and does come alive; and it reminded to me that, no matter where I end up in the future – from working on Capitol Hill to working at a library – I can always use my passion and my work to help The Cause, to give back to my people.


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