BY KATY SIMONIAN
The Armenian National Committee of America–Western Region will honor Representative Jackie Speier with the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for her decades of dedicated public service and devotion to her community. Speier will be honored at the 2022 ANCA-WR Awards Gala which will be held on Sunday, September 25 at The Beverly Hilton.
During her impressive tenure as a member of Congress, she has proudly stood as an ardent champion of the Armenian Cause, spearheading policies on genocide education, recognition and prevention, and building a strong diplomatic relationship between Armenia and the United States.
As Co-Chair of the Armenian Caucus, and one of only two members of Congress of Armenian heritage, Speier remains a prominent voice for the Armenian people, honoring her heritage while fulfilling her oath to protect and serve the American people. Her commitment to justice and equality is an example of political courage for her Congressional colleagues, as she is faithful to the many people and causes she has served for decades.
The issue of genocide recognition is one of deep significance for Speier, as her family’s survival and perseverance are a constant source of inspiration. Speier’s mother Nancy Kanchelian was born in Fresno, and lost most of her extended family during the Armenian Genocide. In a heartbreaking twist of fate, her paternal Grandfather, who was Jewish, spent one month in a German concentration camp during World War II. It is poignant to think that both sides of the Congresswoman’s family were touched by genocide, a fact that drives her fierce commitment to the Armenian Cause and to human rights in general.
Jackie Speier’s career in public service is the ultimate testament of her family’s strength, bravery and resilience – qualities she would ultimately need when she herself was touched by tragedy. Her life was forever changed in 1978, when she suffered five gunshot wounds during the Jonestown Massacre, while serving as an aide to her political mentor, Congressman Leo Ryan, who was assassinated during the shooting, marking one of the worst massacres in U.S. history. It would be easy to understand why Jackie Speier would choose to withdraw from public life after suffering such an unspeakable act of violence. Those who thought she would retreat, underestimated her fighting spirit, as her survival motivated her to continue her career in public service. She was first elected to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 1980 as the youngest person ever elected to that Board, after which she ably served five terms in the California State Assembly and three terms in the California State Senate. Her political life came full circle in 2008 when she won the Congressional seat once held by the late Congressman Ryan, a victory that truly reflects her deep sense of empathy for those who have overcome obstacles in order to serve the greater good.
During her years in Congress, Speier has been a leading voice on the Armenian Cause, both as Co-Chair of the Armenian Caucus and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee. She has supported legislation to promote education on the Armenian Genocide and was instrumental in advocating for America’s Recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Her work toward recognition and policies toward prevention was fulfilled, when President Biden publicly recognized the Armenian Genocide, marking a monumental shift in foreign policy that places the United States on the right side of history, aligning with America’s principles of truth, freedom and justice.
When asked about her devotion to the Armenian Cause following U.S. recognition, Speier praised the move as a necessary step forward for U.S. – Armenia relations. “President Biden’s milestone recognition of the genocide for what it was sends a clear message to those who would try to erase history: despite their best efforts, they will never be successful. Healing and reconciliation require a truthful acknowledgement of the past, however dark it may be. For far too long, the global Armenian community has been denied this healing,” she said. “The U.S. recognition comes at a pivotal moment and sends an important message to would-be perpetrators as history risks repeating itself with Azerbaijan’s destruction of Armenian cultural and religious sites in Artsakh,” she added, reflecting the need to preserve and enforce strong U.S. foreign policy in support of the Armenian Nation.
While she recently announced that she will not seek another term, her continued support for the Armenian-American community is vital to carrying on the policies she supported during her years in office. She leads from her heart, which is full pride in her Armenian heritage, and the same courage and strength of her family, who survived the Armenian Genocide and believed in the Armenian Dream, instilling the values of hard work and humility in a woman who would go on to leave an indelible mark on Congress and the country she so humbly served.
“Congresswoman Speier has been a champion of the Armenian community in the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Matt Senekeremian, Chair of ANCA-WR’s San Francisco chapter and a long-time constituent of Representative Speier’s district. “We have been fortunate to have her represent our community in the state legislature and Congress where she has been an inspiration and role model for future generations of Armenian-Americans pursuing a career in public service,” he added.
As a Congresswoman, as an American and as a proud Armenian, Jackie Speier has built a legacy of public service that will serve as a model for future generations in the pursuit of justice for the Armenian Cause.
“Representative Jackie Speier is an inspiration to us all. Her commitment to the Armenian Cause has built a strong foundation for relations between Armenia and America to grow and thrive in the years to come,” said ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. “Her contributions to Congress as Co-Chair of the Armenian Caucus have brought forth historic change. We can all learn from her leadership, as we move forward to ensure her efforts will continue to make a positive impact on the Armenian community here in the United States and around the world,” she added.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region is the largest and most influential nonpartisan 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 in pursuit of the Armenian Cause.
Katy Simonian is a member of the 2022 ANCA-WR Gala Committee.