BY PAUL CHADERJIAN
A humble yet gutsy and courageous visionary with a strong moral sense and a proven political track record received the prestigious "Man of the Year" award from the Armenian National Committee Saturday night.
State Senator Charles Poochigian–the statesman who has earned the deepest and most heartfelt respect from residents of the communities he serves–was welcomed to the Holy Trinity Church banquet hall with a standing ovation — the first of many more standing ovations to come throughout the evening.
"This is someone we can be very proud of within that Armenian community" said California Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvin Baxter. "He’s a wonderful public servant–and he’s capable of handling virtually any office within the state and nation. He’s one whose focus is on what’s best for the people–rather than what’s necessarily best for himself; and he will attack issues–public issues–in a non-partisan way–attempting to do what’s right for the people–rather than to do what may be politically opportune at the time."
After graduating from law school–Poochigian began his career in public service by helping former California Governor George Deukmejian win the post of state Attorney General. Poochigian joined Deukmejian’s administration as appointment secretary in 1988 and also served in the same post for Governor Pete Wilson.
"This honor comes with the endorsement of the general public of the state–who have seen Chuck Poochigian at work and have recognized his competence and have recognized his integrity and brought him to office and will continue to do so," said ANC Central California founder Richard Darmanian. "The ANC is honoring state senator Chuck Poochigian in recognition of his public service to the state of California and his commitment to the advancement of the Armenian cause."
More than 325 Armenia’s and non-Armenia’s–including influential democratic and republican political leaders from city–county–state and federal seats joined the American-Armenian community in honoring the Senator. Among the proclamations were votes of confidence and tributes from California’s Governor and Assembly member Sarah Reyes–both democrats.
"We are very fortunate to have Chuck–as well as the ANC–serving this community with dedication and integrity," said Sosi Vogt–an attorney who attended the banquet with husband John Vogt–Fresno County Superior Court Judge. "We always hear the same comment about Senator Poochigian — his integrity–his efficiency–the efficiency of his staff and his dedication to his community and his love of family and tradition. And you can’t ask for anything more for a public servant. He serves from the heart. He’s a man of his word. He has his finger on the pulse of this community–and he serves his community with integrity and honor–and we’re very fortunate to have him."
"It’s obviously a great honor–and I’m humbled by it," said the Senator–who was first elected to the Assembly in 1994 and to the Senate in 1998. "I’ve seen so many people here today who are old friends–family friends–especially the elderly ones. It’s a little awkward–frankly–to receive words of praise and tribute from people who really have gone through so much–and sacrificed so much in their lifetimes as did their parents just to get us to this point."
With great humility–the Senator credited his ancestors for his successes. "If we have a birthright–it is not to boast," he said. "It is to approach the undertaking of a central duty. I don’t see the honor as a reward for something exceptional–because–hopefully all of us conduct ourselves in a way that brings credit on our people. Whether you hold a high office or you are in the work world. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we conduct ourselves in a way that brings credit not only to ourselves but also our people."
The "who’s who" celebrating the Senator’s accomplishmen’s were representatives of the executive–legislative and judicial branches of government–business and education leaders and local religious leaders — Pastors Ayvazian and Gostanian–representing both Armenian Apostolic Churches in Fresno.
"It’s really about honesty–integrity and a man who is a tireless worker on behalf of all the people–not just the Armenia’s," said US Congressman Devin Nunes. "He treats Armenia’s just like he treats everyone else. I think that’s why all the other community around here have a lot of respect for Senator Poochigian."
Nunes–who represents Central California on Capitol Hill–flew from Washington–DC to Fresno to attend the banquet. "It’s one of those things that I wanted to come home for–just so that I could be here for this occasion of the Armenian community honoring the Senator," said the freshman congressman. "The senator is a mentor of mine–and a good friend–and a guy that has been a great public servant. And I hope that he will continue to serve us here in the San Joaquin Valley."
"Senator Poochigian has always been a shining example of a good leader," said Viken Yepremian–chairman of the Central California ARF–who congratulated the Senator on behalf of the Soghomon Tehlirian Committee. "He is a family man–and he is very deserving of all the great words of praise from his colleagues and peers in public service. We hope that he has even a brighter future in public life."
Explaining one of the reasons why the ANC chose to name Senator Poochigian as "Man of the Year," Hygo Ohannessian–ANC Central California chair woman–reminded the audience of the Senator’s efforts in designating April 24th as a day of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide. "On Thursday–April 10th–2003," said Ohannessian–"the California assembly passed Senate Joint resolution–SR1–introduced by Senator Poochigian–officially designating April 24th–2003 as day of remembrance of the Armenian Genocide and recommending the United States Congress to also commemorate the Armenian Genocide."
"The bill passed both the Assembly and the Senate with overwhelming support," said Ohannessian–who was overcome with emotion as she continued. "On that same afternoon–Nazenig Terzian–a survivor of the Armenian genocide passed away. She was a resident of the California Armenian home. Nazenig Terzian was 95-years-old. Till her death–she had vivid memories of the atrocity. Most of us here today are the grandchildren and the great grandchildren of Genocide survivors. With men’such as Charles Poochigian–we hope our government formally recognizes the Genocide while some survivors are living."
"Our hope is to secure justice for the Armenian Genocide–the justice that Senator Poochigian just fought for on the floor of the state senate in the California legislature," said Raffi Hamparian–ANC Chairman for the Western United States. "That hope must be our hope–and we must remain firm. The ANC will remain true to this cause. We shall not waiver. We shall not turn from this great cause."
Hamparian’s touching oratory about the responsibility of Armenia’s to their forefathers included references to a ghostly orphaned Armenian girl–"An orphan by the crime of Genocide–a crime that remains denied to this day."
"That girl–for 88 years now has wandered the cobble-stoned roads of Kharpert," said Hamparian–"has walked across the fields of Dickranagerd–has gone across the holy sites of Ani–has walked in the mountains of Zeytoon–has walked on the shores of Lake Van. She’s been in the plateaus of Erzeroom. She’s been on the plains of Moosh and Marash. My friends–for 88 years now–we have sought to bring that little orphaned Armenian girl something called justice–and in that cause–we will remain steadfast."
Supporters say Senator Poochigian has been a strong voice and advocate of the American Armenian community. In addition to Genocide recognition resolutions–the Senator has authored the Armenian Genocide victims insurance bill–which opens the door to the reclamation of monetary settlemen’s. The Senator has also played a very important role in establishing a California trade office in Armenia and has served on the board of the Armenian Community School of Fresno.
"He puts everybody else ahead of himself–and he is very humble," said Bryan Bedrosian–a business man and board member of the Armenian Community School. "And he always manages to give a good–inspiring message in humility. I admire that."
"As I was looking around the room," said Bedrosian–"and I saw all the accomplished Armenia’s here–who are leaders in every walk of life–and I said–bravo Chuck. Those commendations are all great and they’re all wonderful–but what he said was far more inspiring and far more of a tribute to him."
"He is a man of principle," said Bill Sahatjian–a businessman and board member of the Holy Trinity Church. "I admire and respect everything about him."
"The Senator has worked with Governor Davis on many issues important to the Armenian community," said Jack Hall–the Central Valley representative to Governor Gray Davis. "As a team builder–as a leader–Chuck Poochigan has been there for Governor Davis and the Armenian community," said Hall. "Chuck is someone who is willing to listen to other people–and that is what makes him a great statesman."
"Throughout his tenure in the legislature–Chuck has distinguished himself through service on key committees and currently serves as chair of the Senate Republican Caucus," said Justice Baxter – a past recipient of the ANC "Man of the Year" honor–who commended the ANC for the work it does on behalf of Central California Armenia’s. The Justice also commended the ANC for exercising great judgment in recognizing Senator Charles Poochigian.
"Chuck has earned the respect and the trust from legislators on both sides of the political isle–and has received many–many awards for outstanding legislative service," said the Justice. "So to say that we in the valley are blessed with an outstanding state senator is an understatement. Chuck has all of the attributes one can hope for. He is honest–he’s bright. He’s industrious. He works extremely well with people–and above all–he has excellent judgment; and the best example of his excellent judgment is when he asked Debbie for her hand in marriage."
"You know–it is so humbling," said the Senator’s wife after the banquet. "I’m very fortunate. I have an honorable husband–honest–honorable. He’s got a lot of integrity–and I just love him to death."
"Looking around the room," continued Debbie–"and Chuck’s Sunday school teacher was here." She smiled and held her breath for a beat. "We were both born and raised in Fresno–and so many of our friends that we’ve known for fifty years are here–and it was just a great evening. It was just so kind of everyone to come and be a part of it. It was wonderful."
One of the most emotional momen’s for Debbie–the Senator and their children was when Fresno County Supervisor Juan Arambula read parts of a speech delivered by Debbie’s father–the late Fresno County Supervisor Deran Koligian–who was also honored by the ANC several years ago.
"We have suffered–but what is important is that we persevered," Mr. Koligian words echoed in the hall as they were read by Supervisor Arambula. "We are the greatest survivors the world has known. We’re achievers. We have fought and kept the faith. We experienced assimilation–but the key is to reproduce and also retain our unique culture. We have come so far that to give up our culture would dishonor those who preceded us. We must educate ourselves–attend our churches–enjoy our foods and teach our children."
"I looked across the when they were talking about my dad–"said Debbie–"and I saw a little bit of tears in their eyes about that. My dad would have been proud tonight. He would have been very proud. It was a great evening."
"Senator Poochigian," concluded Supervisor Arambula from the podium–"I know Deran was pleased with you and how you turned out. May you continue dreaming big dreams and fulfilling our collective aspirations."