Editor’s Note: The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region hosted its annual banquet on October 8 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with more than 1,000 in attendance. During the banquet, Nora Hovsepian, Esq., the chairwoman of the ANCA-WR board of directors, presented the accomplishments of the organization and its future plans. Below is the complete text of her remarks.
Welcome to the ANCA Western Region’s 2017 Annual Gala Banquet!
On behalf of our Board of Directors, which I am so privileged to lead, I would first like to thank each and every one of the 1000-plus attendees here for supporting our organization and for helping us advance our Cause – a Cause which belongs not just to us, but to every single Armenian across the globe; a Cause which requires passion, activism and participation; a Cause which we pursue as David against Goliath every day; a noble Cause which seeks justice in an often unjust world.
As we all witnessed the horrific act of terror in Las Vegas a week ago today in which countless lives were senselessly lost, or the recent disasters in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida which will affect those communities forever, or the loss of dozens of Armenian soldiers and civilians falling to Azeri bullets in recent months, we know that mere expressions of concern are not enough, and we must continue to soldier on.
For our People have lived through tragedy and survived many times before. Despite the deep scars that will forever remain in our national psyche as survivors of a mass crime, we have found strength in the Cause which propels us forward. We continue to remain focused like a laser beam on our mission, and we will not be deterred by obstacles placed in our path by anyone.
The ANCA is the most influential and most effective organization pursuing our Cause anywhere in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora. And especially here in the Western Region, the hub of the largest Armenian community anywhere outside of Armenia, we are the only organization fueled by grassroots strength. We organize and mobilize our communities; we advocate in the halls of government; we prepare our youth through our impressive internship programs to become future leaders; we build coalitions; and we make the collective voice of our community heard at every level.
Let me give you just a few examples so you can see what I mean:
Seeking justice for the Armenian Genocide, I am proud to say that our Divest Turkey initiative, originally spearheaded on student campuses statewide by the AYF, has now cleared the California State Assembly and is pending in the State Senate, ensuring that public funds are not used by Turkish government investment vehicles to facilitate Turkey’s ongoing denialist campaign in this country.
I am proud to report also that after decades of persistent advocacy, all 19 States in the Western Region have now officially recognized the Genocide, including Wyoming, and now the most elusive State of Texas, being a stronghold of Turkish and Azeri influence and causing a leader of Turkish denialism in the State to publicly lament that it was a combination of apathy in the Turkish-American community and effective activism led by the ANCA in the Armenian-American community that resulted in this humiliating defeat for Turkey’s interests. We wear this as a badge of honor.
And after our ANCA-Eastern Region — whose chair Steve Mesrobian is with us today – recently secured recognition by Iowa, we are left with only three: Indiana (which Steve says is soon to come), Mississippi and Alabama, where the groundwork is being laid. So stay tuned.
I am proud to report also that we secured tangible and measurable results through the diligent efforts of our ANCA-WR Education Committee and the Genocide Education Project, whose representatives are with us tonight. This year, they started an annual tradition of honoring educators who implement Genocide education in public schools. Building upon last year’s mandates for Armenian Genocide education in the history and social studies curriculum framework, we secured up to $10 million in State funding to implement them. And we are especially grateful to local superintendents and school board members and educators, many of whom are with us tonight individually and through the United Teachers of LA, who have gone to great lengths to ensure that this mandate is implemented in the classroom and not just left on paper.
And I am proud to report that as a result of diligent advocacy by the ANCA-WR, we were able to secure a total of $4 million of State funding for the all-important Armenian American Museum project which will solidify our presence in the cultural fabric of this country for generations to come.
And all of this was accomplished because we mobilized our grassroots through Town Halls, Action Alerts and Rapid Responder initiatives, because we cultivate, maintain, and expand our efforts in the halls of government and because our friends in the State legislature, especially tonight’s Legislator of the Year award recipient Senator Anthony Portantino, recognize our strength and the just Cause we pursue and refuse to bow to pressure by Turkish and Azeri lobbyists working against us.
For Armenia and Artsakh, our ongoing relentless advocacy for federal funding in support of de-mining and economic development has also produced tangible results, as millions of dollars have been allocated with the help of our friends in Congress who hear not only from our DC office, but also from their constituents at a local level.
Our efforts to educate and encourage elected officials to make unambiguous statements of support by traveling to Artsakh despite Azeri government threats to blacklist them from visiting Baku have resulted in three recent visits by Congressmember David Valadao, tonight’s Advocate for Justice award recipient, and Congressmembers Tulsi Gabbard and Frank Pallone. We applaud the courage of their convictions and thank them for their unwavering support.
Recognizing that each elected official who is endorsed by the ANCA has the ability to serve as our voice in government, we have many friends from both sides of the aisle. Joining us tonight are ANCA-endorsed candidates, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Nevada, Danny Tarkanian, and Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress from Utah, Dr. Kathie Allen, both with Armenian heritage, and both of whom will undoubtedly champion our Cause in Washington DC once elected. And supporting those candidates and others are the highly effective National Organization of Republican Armenians and the Southern California Armenian Democrats, whose representatives are also with us tonight. We thank you all for being here.
And our local chapters throughout the region, most of which are represented here today, have been active as well. Since you may not be aware of what happens on the ground, here are some examples of true grassroots activism with tangible results:
Our Dallas and Houston chapters were instrumental in activating their communities to secure Armenian Genocide recognition in Texas.
Our Seattle chapter and its leader Vana Tavitian who is with us tonight, succeeded in convincing a Middle Eastern business to change its logo depicting Talaat Pasha.
The former chair of our New Mexico and current co-chair of our Phoenix chapter Angela Heisel who is with us tonight, used her considerable expertise as a public relations strategist to stop the trend of absurd praises of Azerbaijan in the State Senate.
Our ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, participating with our friends in the Kurdish community in a protest against visiting Turkish President Tayip Erdogan, was quick enough on his feet to videotape the brutal attack by Erdogan’s security forces on peaceful American protesters in Washington DC, providing his footage to news media outlets all over the world and exposing the dictator’s shameless exportation of such tactics onto American soil. This evidence led directly to a unanimous condemnation of these tactics in Congress, 19 federal indictments against the perpetrators, and weapons sanctions against both Turkey and Azerbaijan for their ongoing human rights abuses, complementing the courageous efforts of our Freedom Award recipient and modern-day Armenian hero, founding member of the progressive HDP Party, and current member of the Turkish Parliament, Garo Paylan, as he so bravely fights against a hostile environment within Turkey to end the Turkish regime’s onslaught against Armenians, Kurds, Jews, and other minorities in the country.
Our Glendale chapter’s leadership of a community-wide outcry against the Americana’s denial of an ad for “Architects of Denial” as being “too political,” led to a prominent display of the ads on the Americana wall and opened doors for cultivating a constructive relationship with Caruso Affiliated, whose representatives are here tonight.
Our Pasadena chapter led a delegation of City officials on a sister-city trip to Armenia, cultivating the connection between our Diaspora communities and the Homeland on a local level.
Our local chapters and activists in Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Texas and California all traveled to their State Capitols to advocate for Armenian Genocide education, recognition of Artsakh, and their communities’ needs and expectations to make their collective voices heard.
Through our grassroots mobilization, political relationships, and advocacy through the arts, we were able to work with tonight’s award recipient Terry George, Eric Esrailian, and the producers of the unprecedented feature-length film “The Promise” to screen it in various State Capitols and Washington DC and to fill theaters with avid moviegoers who have long-awaited seeing our story up on the big screen. And we thank Eric for joining us here tonight as well.
Working with Bared Maronian to disseminate his historical masterpiece “Orphans of the Genocide,” we were able to use our contacts to secure long-playing presentations on public television outlets nationwide, bringing in tens of millions of viewers to learn about our story and how the American Near East Relief effort succeeded in rescuing hundreds of thousands of genocide survivors, most of whom went on to establish our communities in the Armenian Diaspora which we all serve today.
We are currently working with the producers of the new documentary film “Architects of Denial” to bring attention to this groundbreaking film which so ably connects the dots between Turkey’s perpetration of the Armenian Genocide over 100 years ago with Azerbaijan’s ongoing attempt to perpetuate this genocidal plan in modern times. And I am happy to repeat the breaking news that executive producer Montel Williams reported at our Grassroots Conference yesterday that out of over 26,000 documentary film submissions to the Oscars, only 159 were qualified, and “Architects of Denial” is one of them!
So you see, the ANCA serves as the defender of the Armenian Nation and its Cause throughout the United States, but it can only be effective with your support. You are expressing that support through your attendance tonight, as we celebrate our victories together and acknowledge the collaboration of our distinguished honorees. Hundreds of community activists expressed their support by attending our fourth ANCA-WR Grassroots Conference this weekend, where they learned about way to advocate for the Armenian Cause, and we are grateful to have several of our distinguished panelists attending tonight, including Democratic leader Congressman Adam Schiff who joined his Republican colleague Congressman Ed Royce on stage to discuss how they work together to help promote our Cause.
You express your support when you sign up for our Rapid Responders initiative, implement our Action Alerts, join our annual and monthly giving programs, register to vote through HyeVotes and then actually vote for our endorsed candidates, join our local chapters, and sign up to volunteer for committees and projects. And I hope you will express your support in massive numbers tonight as we fully mobilize for our innovative new ANCAdvocates program which you will hear more about in just a few minutes.
I want to close by thanking our amazing, energetic and passionate Banquet Co-Chairs Jacklin Boyadjian and Elizabeth Gourjian, who showed such effective leadership over a large committee of dedicated volunteers, each of whom devoted their time, expertise and talent to the success of this Banquet. Job well done to each and every one of you!
I also want to thank our ANCA-Western Region staff for its diligent hard work every single day, going above and beyond the call of duty, never treating their job as just a job, working with passion and conviction, and sacrificing so much toward the advancement of our Cause.
And I especially want to thank each of our donors tonight, who give so generously to help facilitate our efforts.
We have an unprecedented number of corporate sponsors this year, all of whom are listed in your programs, and we are truly grateful for their support as they join the ANCA family.
I also want to thank Garo Mardirossian, the Chraghchian family, the Sepetjian family, the Ghailian family, the Sarian family, the Manjikian family, Walter Karabian and the George Ignatius Foundation, the Shirvanian family, the Karapetian family, and most poignantly of all, the family of our dear benefactor Hacop Baghdassarian, whose loss a few weeks ago was a loss not just for his immediate loved ones, but for our entire community as well. We will miss him deeply and thank his wife and children for continuing his legacy with their support, especially in their time of grief.
And last but definitely not least: I want to thank Varant and Hoori Melkonian. You have consistently been our most ardent supporters and our backbone, not only in your generosity but in your counsel and advice, in serving as such a shining example of what it means to be community benefactors, in never saying no, and in everything you do not only for the ANCA but for the Armenian community at large. You are so deserving of this recognition and the countless other acknowledgements that have been bestowed upon you, including this year’s prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor. We are so proud of you for that and are so grateful for your generous role as the major sponsor of this year’s ANCA-WR Banquet.
So enjoy your evening, and starting tomorrow, I hope to see you in the trenches every day as we all work together to advance the Armenian Cause!