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.
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.
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