Largest ANCA Intern Class Leaves Its Mark on Washington
WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America Leo Sarkisian Internship and Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program summer class have returned to their campuses and communities, energized to share the importance of increased Armenian American advocacy with friends and family, all the while cherishing memories that will last a lifetime.
Hailing from California to Massachusetts, Michigan to Montreal, the sixteen intern class – the largest in the program’s 30-year history – spent their eight weeks in the nation’s capital honing their leadership skills, getting first-hand experience with the inner workings government, all the while advancing Armenian-American policy priorities.
“The impact of our programs goes far beyond the 16 participants and their unique experiences,” explained Tereza Yerimyan, ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program Director, who manages both internships. “During the course of the summer these students learned about Hai Tahd, about DC politics, and the effect advocacy groups, think-tanks and individuals have on policy initiatives. Most importantly they learned valuable life lessons – living, working and respecting the perspectives of Armenians of different backgrounds and ages. Our summer 16, and the hundreds before them, are all ambassadors of our Cause – ambassadors that we are proud to work with during a lifetime of service to our community.”
The 2017 Leo Sarkisian interns included Shant Eulmessekian, Shushan Gabrielyan, Hagop Housbian, Harout Manougian, Taleen Simonian, Mari Tikoyan, and Leonardo Torosian. They were joined by CGP fellows Anna Avannesyan, Gregor Bayburtian, Monique Bolsajian, Stephen Boursalian, Sevana Dombalagian, Garen Kosoyan, Hasmik Krikorian, Marie Papazian, and Noor Varjabedian.
From meetings with Congressional offices to participation in think tank events, online social media campaigns to grassroots community outreach, lectures and simulations to visits with the local Armenian American community – the following is a look back at the 2017 summer internship adventure.
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs and Members Inspire Interns to Public Service
A core component of the ANCA summer internship experience in Washington, DC was meeting with elected officials – in a group setting and one-on-one – to learn, first-hand, how Congress works and to discuss local community concerns. Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) shared their personal stories, insights about advancing policy in a polarized political environment, and the challenges of facing Turkey and Azerbaijan’s multi-million dollar anti-Armenian lobbying machines.
For Shant Eulmessekian, it was an inspirational experience, “Congresswoman Jackie Speier… [proves] that no matter what the circumstances are, you may overcome and excel. She serves as a symbol of hope for all those who would like to accomplish good through public policy.”
Massachusetts native Taleen Simonian discussed community concerns with her Representative, Joe Kennedy, III – and commented: “I was expecting to have only a few moments with him, but instead he invited me into his office and gave me his undivided attention…we discussed topics ranging from my internship with the ANCA to STEM in politics. It was my first time interacting one-on-one with an elected official from my district, and it was an incredible experience.”
Constituent meetings were also held with Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) among others.
“Thunderclap” for Artsakh and Grassroots Mobilization
The importance of harnessing the power of our community voices in support of Artsakh safety, security and rehabilitation was a core component of the ANCA LSI and CGP summer internship experience, through the innovative “Thunderclap” for Artsakh initiative. Led by 2017 summer social media team of Marie Papazian, Taleen Simonian, and Mari Tikoyan, ANCA interns used videos, op/eds, and social media posts to raise awareness about the importance of continued U.S. funding of demining efforts in Artsakh; the key role the Royce-Engel proposals play in ensuring Artsakh peace; and the vital services Stepanakert’s Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center provides to restore health and hope for those suffering with disabilities. The aggregated Facebook and Twitter posts reached over 540,000 in 28 countries.
“My fellow interns and I launched a social media campaign called #AdvocateForArtsakh. We spent the whole summer on this project, and watching it come to fruition was incredibly fulfilling,” said Papazian. “It goes to show that just a handful of people can make a large difference in educating the public, if only they are determined.”
The “Thunderclap” was paired with traditional outreach mechanisms – calls and emails to constituents – in support of Congressional initiatives, including the successful passage of Rep. Dave Trott’s (R-MI) amendment to the Defense Authorization bill, which required additional scrutiny of the proposed sale of handguns to Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail, many of whom were responsible for the May 16th beating of peaceful protesters in Washington, DC.
Taking to the Streets: Standing up for the First Amendment and Against Genocide
On July 19th, ANCA interns joined with senior members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ted Poe (R-TX), Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Co-Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD) in condemning Turkish President Erdogan’s violent crackdown – both in Turkey and the U.S. – during “A Stand for Free Speech” held at Washington, DC’s Sheridan Circle, site of the May 16th attack by the Turkish presidential security detail which hospitalized nine people.
“Being able to take action and stand up for my first amendment rights at Sheridan Circle with my fellow interns and influential congressmen was a moving experience I’ll always remember,” explained Noor Varjabedian. Marie Papazian, concurred, noting: “This was my first-ever protest, and I learned how just a small group of determined citizens can bring attention to injustice. That realization was inspiring beyond words.”
Harout Manougian noted the importance of Armenian American participation in the White House vigil marking the third anniversary of the ISIS attack on Shingal (Sinjar, in Arabic) and the beginning of the Yezidi Genocide in 2014. “I see Armenians as inheriting a responsibility to fight for genocide prevention for all peoples around the world.,” explained Manougian. “The organizers were very appreciative of our participation at the Yezidi Genocide Commemoration.
Exploring the World of Congressional Hearings and Think Tank Briefings
From House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings with Secretary of State Tillerson to the Carnegie Endowment’s overview of the quarter century of US-Armenia relations, opportunities to participate in daily life of Congressional Committee meetings and think tank briefings abounded – each offering a new chance to interact with policy makers from the US and around the world.
Following a Capitol Hill policy discussion regarding the upcoming Iraqi Kurdistan referendum, intern Harout Manougian noted: “Whether in Scotland, Artsakh, or Kurdistan, I believe all people have the right to self-determination. It was refreshing to hear speakers and congressmen asserting that right at the Kurdistan Symposium held at the Capitol.”
Hagop Housbian had the opportunity to attend a lecture by the Prime Minister of his birthplace, Lebanon. “I also got to ask him a question on the current state of affairs in the Middle East, so it was definitely quite the rewarding experience.”
One on One: Discussing Policy and Politics with Leaders and Experts
Developing a deeper understanding of Armenia’s foreign policy challenges and effective advocacy techniques to advance core community concerns were a primary focus of the ANCA’s summer lecture series. Interns held in-depth discussions with Armenian Ambassador to the U.S. Grigor Hovhannissian, Artsakh Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan, and Artsakh Ombudsman Ruben Melikyan and gained insight about the Washington’s world of diplomacy. ANCA Chairman Emeritus Garo Armenian offered an intensive review of Armenia’s geopolitics, while National Chairman Raffi Hamparian and ANCA staff drilled down on policy priorities. Additional lecturers shared insights on post-university graduate opportunities from the Peace Corps to careers in foreign service to exploring Washington DC public policy priorities through the ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program.
Monique Bolsajian’s favorite lecture was a United Nations simulation led by ANCA Eastern Region Board member Armen Sahakyan. “We did a negotiation simulation where we all were able to experience what it is like to take part in important decision-making and policy building. It definitely opened my eyes as to the amount of compromise that goes into negotiating key points, and I learned a lot about what it would be like to pursue a career within an institution such as the United Nations.”
Connecting with the Community and Exploring all that Washington DC has to Offer
The intersection of Washington DC and Armenian history and culture took center stage during the annual intern visit with Dr. Levon Avdoyan, Armenian and Georgian Area Specialist under the Near East Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division of the Library of Congress, who gave an extensive tour of the Library and its Armenian holdings. ANCA and Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) interns had an exclusive curated view of the World Bank’s Armenian art collection, on loan through the generosity of Mrs. Rita Balian, followed by a dinner graciously hosted by the Balian family.
Interspersed with the Congressional hearings, lectures, protests and various projects, the ANCA summer interns took time to connect with the DC area Armenian community, attending picnics hosted by Soorp Khatch Armenian Church and the local ARF/AYF. The ANC Richmond picnic was intern Leo Torosian’s favorite event: “Meeting the vibrant Armenian community in Richmond, Virginia made me realize how resilient they are. We spent a beautiful sunny day with these welcoming, proud people.” Shushan Gabrielyan concurred, noting, “It was truly inspiring to spend the day with such a devoted Armenian community in a place with a relatively small Armenian population.”
Monique Bolsajian enjoyed cheering on Armenia’s young TUMO team at the First Global Robotics Competition. “We were all so proud to see them represent the creativity and innovation of the Armenian youth,” explained Bolsajian. “We can’t wait for the amazing things they will accomplish in the future!”
Taleen Simonian enjoyed celebrating July 4th on the steps of the Capitol with the ANCA intern team. “The live performances were extremely entertaining and the firework show was absolutely breathtaking. The view of fireworks exploding over the Washington Monument is one that I will never forget,” said Simonian.
ANCA and Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) interns met up at the annual intern mixer, hosted this year at the ANCA offices, as well as at a Capital Hill mixer hosted by Congresswoman Jackie Speier and lecture with Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) organized by the Armenian Assembly at St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church. ANCA interns also shared insights with East Los Angeles Community College Hilda Solis Summer Washington Internship participants.
ANCA Summer Internship Programs: 30 Years Strong and Counting
Established in 1986 and named in memory of the late ANCA Eastern U.S. community leader who spearheaded Armenian American grassroots advocacy for more than four decades, the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship program now has hundreds of alumni across the world, spreading the message of truth and justice for the Armenian Genocide, freedom for Artsakh, and a secure, prosperous, and democratic Armenian homeland.
Launched in 2003, the ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program helps secure permanent employment and professional internships in Washington, DC for young Armenian American professionals and students. Through the years, the ANCA has developed many relationships in and around Capitol Hill and identified a wide range of opportunities in the Washington, DC area. The CGP utilizes these resources and contacts to help candidates identify and secure jobs that fit their interests and needs.