BY VANNA KITSINIAN, ESQ.
LOS ANGELES—On the evening of November 30 the Ray Dolby Ballroom was filled to capacity, a sea of round tables with green colored programs perched atop the tabletops posing a striking contrast to the black linen cloths covering nearly 100 beautifully decorated tables. As I glanced around the ballroom after a long day of set-up was complete, the ANCA logo – with its characteristic red, blue, and orange next to the stars and stripes – was evident from every place setting meticulously set at each participant’s seat. The green draped programs figuratively represented the grassroots mission of the ANCA, standing tall and proud.
This was not an ordinary gathering of nearly 1,000 Southern Californians in the heart of the city center. No. This was the expression of a dream. The image of a people’s devotion to the betterment of a nation. One with purpose. One with vision and values. This was the 2013 ANCA-Western Region Annual Banquet Gala. And it was a night certainly to be remembered for many years to come.
It was clear that months of hard work by the banquet committee had paid off. Led by veteran ANCA leader Aida Dimejian and co-chair Sareen Bezdikian, Esq., the Annual Banquet, celebrated on the second day of a three day ANCA-WR Grassroots Conference, will undoubtedly go down in ANCA-WR history as one of the greatest and brightest.
The evening began with an impressive presentation of flags by the Homenetmen Scouts, followed by the national anthems of the U.S. and Armenia that were sung by Raffi Kerbabian. After welcoming remarks were delivered by banquet co-chairs, Dimejian and Bezdikian, each of whom thanked the tireless efforts of countless staff, volunteers, committees, donors, and activists, and particularly acknowledged and expressed gratitude on behalf of the ANCA-WR to the Ghailian Family as the main sponsor of the banquet, as well as major donors Varant & Hoori Melkonian, Harry & Cheryl Nadjarian, and Mrs. Ashkhen Pilavjian, the night’s first honoree quickly kicked the evening into high gear.
The “Man of the Year” Award was presented to none other than Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti by Raffi Hamparian, a member of the ANCA National Board. Garcetti has a long history of supporting Armenian-American interests, particularly as Los Angeles City Councilman for 12 years, representing Little Armenia. Mayor Garcetti spoke fondly of his relationship with Armenians in office, particularly his close working relationship with L.A. Council Member Paul Krekorian, among others. Recalling his visit to various Armenian cities and monuments in the homeland, Mayor Garcetti demonstrated his admiration and appreciation for Armenians all around the world, particularly in Southern California, many of whom supported his campaign for Los Angeles Mayor. Most notably, he encouraged the youth to get involved in politics and aspire for the highest political offices, so to bring a positive change to the causes they are most passionate about. Garcetti also reminded the attendees of his continuous support for the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh and the importance of achieving Armenian Genocide recognition, causes which he vowed to remain dedicated to as Mayor and as a potential officer of higher political offices in the future.
Mayor Garcetti went on to praise the enormous work conducted by the ANCA-WR, as he has had a close working relationship with the organization prior to, and since, becoming Mayor of Los Angeles. In addition, Garcetti specifically commended the brave leadership of Chairwoman Nora Hovsepian, Esq. and noted the rarity of seeing females in positions of leadership for such influential organizations as the ANCA.
Following the presentation of the “Man of the Year” Award, the invocation and blessing was collectively conducted by Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, Reverend Joseph D. Matossian, Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, and Very Reverend Father Krikor Chahinian of St. Gregory Catholic Church.
Next, Dr. Viken Hovsepian, Chairman of the A.R.F. Dashnaksoutioun Western USA, invited Archbishops Hovnan Derderian and Moushegh Mardirossian to the stage to jointly present the “Khrimian Hayrig” Award to Archbishop Barkev Martirosyan, Primate of the Diocese of Artsakh. Dr. Hovsepian premised his introduction of the Archbishop around Ernest Hemmingway’s quote, “Courage is grace under pressure,” drawing examples from Martirosyan’s life that make him a living testament that embodies the truth of this quote. Archbishop Martirosyan has been an inspirational figure in Artsakh, most recognized for providing religious guidance and moral support to Armenian soldiers and their families during and after the Artsakh Liberation War. In his acceptance speech, which he eloquently delivered in English and Armenian, Martirosyan stressed what an important figure Khrimian Hayrig has been for him, both as an individual, and particularly, as a clergyman, making the award in his name all that much more meaningful to him personally. During his annual visit to California, the Archbishop participated in the Armenia Fund Telethon, to encourage worldwide financial support for the redevelopment of the war-torn areas of Artsakh.
In keeping pace with the presentation of high-level honorees, the following award was presented to legendary Coach Jerry “Tark the Shark” Tarkanian, recipient of the “People’s Choice Award.” In introducing Tarkanian, Steve Artinian, ANCA-WR Board Member built excitement and adrenalin while recounting the life and legacy of the famous and revered coach, who had taken his UNLV teams to four Final Four Regional Championships, as well as a NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Many of the attendees, both young and old, grew up watching Tarkanian on National TV as he led his teams to various victories. It is perhaps Tarkanian’s acceptance speech during his Basketball Hall of Fame Induction in September 2013 that garnered even more widespread support for the coach, who reminded the world of the life of struggle his immigrant Armenian parents endured, both of whom fled their homeland on horseback with nothing but the clothes on their back as a result of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Young Turk government in 1915. In what was likely the night’s most emotional acceptance speech, Tarkanian thanked the ANCA and his fellow Armenian people for recognizing him with the esteemed honor. Being in close contact with Jerry’s son throughout the months leading up to the banquet, it was all that much more moving to learn that due to his deteriorating health, Coach Tarkanian had not spoken as many words in a week’s time as he did while addressing the crowd gathered to honor him at the banquet.
Guests enjoyed a special menu featuring dinner catered by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. Within what seemed a flash of time, dinner was followed by the ceremony recognizing the work of a handful of interns that tirelessly dedicated themselves to ANCA-WR in 2013. The young graduates, Marissa Bazikian, Anoush Djrbashian, Ani Isayan, Natalie Kalbakian, Paulina Safarian, Alina Sarkissian, and Levon Shant Tossonian, committed to the mission of Hye Tad were each presented with Certificates of Appreciation by ANCA-WR Executive Director, Elen Asatryan, honoring them as future leaders of the ANCA. Surely, it was a moving moment for all those who had the opportunity to witness it.
Ms. Asatryan spoke of the unique experience ANCA interns acquire while working at the ANCA office, quickly becoming part of the larger ANCA family starting from orientation day. Immediately, they become sitting members of committees ranging from Government Affairs, to education, to Grassroots Conferences, and have opportunities to meet one-on-one with local, state and federal elected officials. Interns are taught every detail of organizing communities, drafting press advisories, fundraising and implementing project proposals. As she explained, the true testament of ANCA’s internship program lies in the success stories of ANCA alumni who have gone on to work for public officials, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and various political campaigns.
Thereafter, one of the highlights of the evening was the address of ANCA-WR Chairwoman, Nora Hovsepian, Esq., who delivered a passionate account of the broad scope of work conducted by the ANCA-WR in the last year. A poignant moment in her speech was when she asked attendees to stand if they had ever served or volunteered their time for an Armenian organization whose mission they are devoted to. Repeating the question in varying forms, soon the entire ballroom was filled with only standing attendees, a testament to the point Mrs. Hovsepian aimed to make; that is to say, each person in attendance that evening was a selfless devotee of Hye Tad and dedicated to the collective improvement of the Armenian Nation.
Following Mrs. Hovsepian’s address, the much-anticipated ANCA Annual Banquet video entitled “The Cause Endures – The Hope Still Lives,” was presented. Every year, one of the highlights attendees look most forward to is a video summarizing the year’s work of the ANCA-WR, with all its local chapters, and its grassroots activism on both local and regional levels. To state that the annual banquet video was powerful would be a gross understatement. Utilizing excerpts from historic speeches delivered by President Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Ted Kennedy based on the theme of pursuing a dream with strong will and endless hope, coupled with strategic musical interludes and images of the countless activities organized throughout the year, the video galvanized the crowd and instilled further will to carry on the work and sacred mission of the ANCA. The video also featured moments from a first-of-its-kind official delegation visit to Armenia and Artsakh in 2013, jointly organized by ANCA-WR, the California State Assembly, and Los Angeles City Council, with the participation of Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, Assemblymembers Katcho Achadjian, Cheryl Brown, Adrin Nazarian, Scott Wilk and wife Vanessa Safoian Wilk, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Bob Blumenfield and Paul Krekorian.
Many people commented that the banquet was dynamic, with the attendance of energetic and professional youth. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the “Vahan Cardashian” Award was presented to Ara Soudjian, a shining example of a young activist who is a product of his community. Despite Ara’s successful career as a filmmaker, he has always used his talents in film and media to further advance the Armenian Cause, producing “Get Out the Vote” videos, annual ANCA banquet videos, and documenting Genocide survivor stories. Longtime friend of Soudjian and ANCA-WR Board Member Raffi Kassabian, Esq. presented the award to Ara and discussed the reasons why he was a worthy recipient of the award. Despite this, Soudjian, in his acceptance speech, recognized every individual there that night as modern day Vahan Cardashians stating, “it’s not me, it’s all of you…you are Hye Tad.” In dedicating his award to his father, he stressed what a pivotal role he has played in his life, particularly in teaching him the importance of giving back to one’s community and nation.
The “Legislator of the Year” Award was presented to California State Assembly Member Katcho Achadjian by Pattyl Aposhian-Kasparian, ANCA-WR Board Member. Since taking office in 2010 representing the 35th Assembly District of San Luis Obispo County, Katcho Achadjian has worked tirelessly on Armenian-American issues, such as introducing the Return of Churches Joint Resolution calling on Turkey to respect religious freedom. Assemblyman Achadjian was also part of the legislative delegation to Armenia and Artsakh in September 2013. Emotional and humbled by the honor, Achadjian thanked the ANCA for recognizing his work and vowed to continue to support Armenian-American interests dear to his heart.
The banquet was attended by countless local, state, and federal elected officials who were seated throughout different corners of the ballroom, mixing and mingling with the people, engaging in grassroots activities, and getting to know what mattered most to them on a personal level. This is another reason the ANCA Annual Banquet provides a unique forum for politicians and laypersons alike to get to know one another, and join hands in solidarity to advance the goals of the Armenian-American community, whether it be Hye Tad, or improving the life of Armenians in Armenia and throughout the world.
Lastly, the “Legacy” Award was presented to longtime community activist and supporter Manas Boujikian. Levon Kirakosian, ANCA-WR Advisory Board Member, who fondly recounted the personal and community relationship he has shared with Boujikian over the course of the last few decades, presented the award to his friend. Mr. Boujikian has been committed to advancing Armenian advocacy nearly his entire life and has served several terms as Chair of the ANCA-WR and the ANCA National Board. His generous philanthropy has funded many long-term projects, including contributing to the purchase of the ANCA National Headquarters in Washington DC. In his typical humble manner, Mr. Boujikian gave thanks to the organization which he has given so much to, without ever expecting any special recognition.
“The success of the ANCA-WR Annual Banquet speaks volumes about the influence of our grassroots. The ANCA’s all-star line up of banquet honorees demonstrates that our cause is a common one that can be achieved in many ways, whether it be through the power of the pen, sports, film, religion or philanthropy. The evening’s success was a good reminder of not only the great work that the ANCA has accomplished, but the significant work that still lies ahead,” stated Sareen Bezdikian, Esq., Co-Chair of the banquet.
Aida Dimejian, Co-Chair of the banquet explained, “The ANCA has its finger on the pulse of our community and ensures that our issues are on the forefront locally and statewide. With thousands of activists, we were able to achieve tremendous victories this past year, which was showcased at our marquee event – the 2013 Annual Banquet. I am proud of each and every individual who does their part in advancing the Armenian Cause.”
Yes. It was a great night! One to be proud of. And I think one reason for that is that no one there would ask “Why?” Why do ANCA supporters return year after year and stand alongside this organization and share their Thanksgiving weekend with their extended Armenian-American family? Why do we donate a portion of our hard-earned income to this organization? It was clear there was no need to ask these questions. Everyone there knew the invaluable work the ANCA conducts and the political clout the ANCA carries in the halls of Congress to push forward Armenian-American interests. Indeed. Everyone knew that the ANCA is the organization that speaks up to stop the desecration of ancient churches, monuments, and khatchkars as part of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s efforts to erase the memory of our 4,000 years of Armenian history. We know well that the ANCA is responsible for responding to Turkish and Azerbaijani efforts to isolate and impoverish Armenia through illegal blockades and use their geopolitical leverage and alliance to deny the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic its right to self-determination. In the face of such injustices, the ANCA is the Armenian-American grassroots political organization that gives voice to the views and values of the Armenian-American community. We know that too. There is no other organization that carries out such a broad range of work for the improvement of Armenia and the Diaspora. And we understand that we must stand beside this organization and enable it to forge forward in such tasks for the betterment of each and every one of us.
“After many months of planning, the ANCA-WR was gratified to bring together six esteemed honorees and nearly 1,000 community activists, leaders, supporters and representatives from the full spectrum of Armenian governmental, political, religious, youth, social, cultural and athletic organizations and entities operating in the Western United States, all of whom enthusiastically acknowledged the ANCA’s tremendous work in pursuit of the Armenian Cause. It was particularly moving to see the entire ballroom audience stand up and commit themselves to the grassroots efforts of Hye Tad, and we look forward to further activating our community’s strength beyond this one unforgettable evening toward the collective achievement of our common national goals,” stated Nora Hovsepian, Esq. Chairwoman of the ANCA-WR.
The success of the ANCA-WR Annual Banquet was measured by the gathering of a group of passionate individuals with a vision, each committed to something greater than themselves. Something more lasting, more permanent, and more powerful than just the here and the now. It was the will and the devotion of each and every participant who attended the banquet and whose devotion and philanthropy transcended regional boundaries and extends to the greater good of our nation and people. Success was the bringing together of such people who believe in the pursuit of justice with respect to the Armenian Cause, and beyond…
The Armenian National Committee of America- Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.