BY JAMES SAHAGIAN
About five years ago, I got an e-mail about a conference the Armenian National Committee of America was organizing in Washington DC. It was a 3-day event open to everyone, regardless of what part of the Armenian community one originated from or currently belonged to, in which a series of distinguished speakers and workshops were organized, along with trips to the Armenian Embassy and the Capitol to meet with members of Congress. It was an opportunity to get an up-close look at the advocacy work of the ANCA . Although married with a 2 year old, my wife and I made the childcare arrangements, and booked the trip to DC not knowing exactly what to expect.
It was a fantastic experience, and I’m so glad I made the effort to attend. About 80 activists from around the country gathered in what proved to be a wonderful opportunity to network with a diverse group of educated and motivated fellow Armenians. The age group of the attendees ranged from people in their 20’s to 60’s. There were Armenian-Americans from all over the United States, but one thing brought us all together for three days: learning more about the US political process and how to become a more effective advocate for the Armenian Cause. I have kept in-touch with several of the participants from this conference through these past 5 years, and suspect we’ll be in communication for many years to come.
Upon returning, I became actively involved in the work of the ANC on both a local and national level. A year after the conference, in October of 2007, I was driving back to DC with my wife, and this time we were transporting a dear friend and mayrig, a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, 93-year old Mrs. Askouhy Jallyan-Vassilian. The purpose of our trip this time was to attend the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on H.Res. 106, the Armenian Genocide Resolution. Vassilian, along with four other survivors, sat in the front row.
The room was packed with Armenians and Turks, along with media from the US and from around the world. In the end, H.Res. 106 was narrowly approved by the committee, and the next day we found a picture of Mrs. Vassilian and the other survivors on the front page of The New York Times! The work of the ANCA was clearly evident on the Hill as its small but incredibly capable staff was leading grassroots efforts in effective outreach and mobilization of supporters from around the world. I was proud to be part of the team.
In the following year, I became co-chair the New Jersey chapter of the ANC, in which capacity I continue to serve. Although I did not grow-up in the AYF or with any connections to the ANCA, I have developed a great appreciation for the work and mission of the organization. Over these past 5 years, I’ve seen the ANC locally and nationally grow in its outreach and effectiveness. Under the leadership of the national and regional offices, the ANCA literally reaches tens of thousands of individuals weekly with updates and action alerts, via e-mail and even Skype, and through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linked-in, on a wide variety of issues relevant to Armenians. These issues include economic development in Armenia, foreign aid from the US to Armenia, the right to self-determination for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, recognition and justice as it relates to the Armenian Genocide, and a variety of other issues.
On June 24-27, 2011, the ANCA is hosting another conference in Washington DC called: “Armenian Cause 2.0: Social Networks, Grassroots Power & Smart Advocacy.” This event is a must attend for all Armenians who are either looking for a role in the Armenian cause, or would just like to learn more. It promises to be a fun-filled three days which will serve to educate, motivate and mobilize. Looking forward to seeing you in DC!