By Tatev Oganyan
University of California, Los Angeles Class of 2011
With the fourth week of our internship program coming to a close, we have grown accustomed to DC’s fast pace lifestyle, a city filled with thousands of interns and the inevitable possibilities of running into Members of Congress and government officials anywhere in the city.
Last week, for example, as we were headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee markup of the foreign aid bill, we ran into former Secretary of State and leader of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell. The true Washington DC fashion, we introduced ourselves as ANCA interns and chatted briefly. That encounter was captured on film by a photographer for Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, and promptly posted online (with appropriate ANCA caption.)
This week, we had the chance to visit the Armenian Embassy and meet with the Ambassador of Armenia, Tatoul Markarian as well as have lunch with the former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans.
The walk from the ANCA offices took about 15 minutes and as soon as we went into the Embassy, I felt like I was at an Armenian home – warm, nicely decorated and reminiscent of our rich history and culture. Frankly, it was much nicer than the White House, which we had toured just a week before – but I may be biased.
The Ambassador told us about the Embassy’s involvement in economic, political, cultural, and scientific issues related to the Republic of Armenia. He encouraged Armenian-American students to maintain their activism in pushing for Armenian issues within legislative affairs.
It is not a secret that, as we walked into the Embassy that day, our group was worried about the Armenian Government’s actions – the roadmap fiasco, the upcoming talks between presidents Sarkisian and Aliyev regarding Karabakh.
The open dialogue with the Ambassador allowed us to express our many concerns and questions concerning Armenia-Turkey relations, Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s independence. We pointed out that the “roadmap” appeared to be simply a Turkish double-cross and that we can’t fall into the same trap with Azerbaijan regarding Nagorno Karabagh.
Ambassador Markarian stressed the importance of working on Genocide recognition and opening borders between Armenia and Turkey. He noted that open dialogue between Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan is vital as communication avoids the many possibilities of war. On many occasions, Amb. Markarian reassured us that the right to self-determination of the people of Karabagh would always be protected
After our talk with the Ambassador, we discussed internship opportunities in Armenia and within the embassy and took a mini-tour of the embassy as we observed a museum-like room filled with old documents and gifts addressed to the Armenian embassy.
On our return to the office, we received news that President Obama, Russian President Medvedev, and French President Sarkozy released a Joint Statement on the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict in which they urged the “return of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijani control.” I was shocked and ashamed of the Presidents of the OSCE Minsk Group’s unreasonable pressure on Armenia and it’s lack of concern to include NKR representatives in the peace process. Just hours prior to this news I was discussing the same issues with the Armenia Ambassador and more than ever I hoped that Armenia would stand firm in it’s position to protect Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence. I was motivated to take action as I began circulating news about the joint statement to my friends and family nationwide. Everyone I spoke to expressed concern. Everyone I spoke to asked how they can take action.
The next day, we began to distribute ANCA action alerts strongly recommending President Obama and the French and Russian Federation Ambassadors in the U.S. to urge the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to include Karabakh Reps. in the peace process and to cease unreasonable pressure on Armenia. The response was overwhelming – and great to see.
Later on in the week, we scheduled a paper bag lunch with former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Evans. We discussed the current economic issues in Armenia, the democratization process in Armenia, and the security issues of the region. Amb. Evans noted what our community has felt all along – that until Turkey, as well as other nations, recognize the Armenian Genocide, Armenia will not feel safe in the region. The fact that Turkey continues to deny the truth, presents an unstated threat to Armenia’s security. I agree with him on the notion that recognition and Turkish consciousness of the Armenian Genocide is key to lasting Armenian diplomatic relations with Turkey.
It was great to meet with the Armenian Ambassador and the former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia and get their perspectives on the region. These opportunities to share views with leaders from all braches of government – executive, legislative, Armenian, U.S. – gives you an opportunity to really look at the issues that we care about from all different vantage points – and hopefully make us better advocates for the Cause.