SAN FRANCISCO–At the Bay Area Armenian National Committee’s annual "Hye Tad Evening," Armenian-American congressional candidate Jackie Speier talked about the power of her Armenian roots, her record passing laws on issues important to the Armenian-American community, and her commitment to pursue those issues in Congress.
"When I get elected to Congress, the epicenter of Armenian-American representation in Congress will be right here," said Speier, pointing out that the Bay Area Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is also of Armenian descent.
Speier and Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America, were the Special Guests at the sold-out event, during which Bay Area ANC Chairperson Roxanne Makasdjian outlined the chapter’s activities over the past year, calling on the community to continue and increase their participation in political action. The evening also included videos of ANCA Western Region news and clips of the October 10th House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, during which the Armenian Genocide resolution was heatedly debated and passed.
"I attribute my ability to withstand adversity and survive in the political arena to my Armenian blood," Speier said. Referring to the 1978 Jonestown, Guyana mass murder during which Congressman Leo Ryan was killed and Speier, his young staffer, was shot five times, Speier said, "As I lay on the tarmac shot several times and left to die; I think my ability to survive can be attributed to my Armenian heritage. As you know, Armenia’s are known for their ability to withstand atrocities greater than anyone can imagine. It’s also possible that my stubborn Armenian genes played a part as well."
Speier also spoke about her early education about the Armenian Genocide. "Growing up I remember my Mother sharing stories about her relatives who were killed during the Armenian Genocide," she said. "And I have read over and over and over again Ambassador Henry Morgenthau’s telegram to the Secretary of State, dated July 16, 1915: ‘Deportation of and excesses against peaceful Armenia’s is increasing and from harrowing reports of eye witnesses it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion.’”
"We are told by some to forget the Armenian Genocide. We have a Secretary of state that says, ‘Get over it.’ But we will not forget and we will not get over it. We demand justice, because we know as students of history that our world is more dangerous to everyone if it is allowed to dismiss the Armenian Genocide. We demand justice because we cannot allow the murder of a nation with impunity. If the US is to be the leader of the free world, we need to lead on this issue, not follow the Turkish government’s immoral attempts to bury the truth." said Speier.
Speier criticized the U.S. government for removing the U.S. ambassador to Armenia. "Shame on America for first muzzling and then punishing Ambassador Evans for his speech and his acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide, and then offering a denier of the Armenian Genocide as his replacement," said Speier. She also criticized the government for doing nothing to stop Azerbaijan’s continuing eradication of Armenian historical landmarks in Azerbaijan, and it’s military threats against Karabagh.
She reminded the audience that she has been working alongside the ANC for many years, and as a California state legislator, she authored 16 bills related to Armenian issues. In 1989, she advocated for the law mandating the Department of Education to include instruction on the Armenian Genocide in public schools. Every year thereafter, she co-sponsored the resolution commemorating the Armenian Genocide, including the 2005 bill that made the commemoration permanent law. In her final term, Speier introduced a measure that allows Armenian Genocide victims or their beneficiaries to file claims against banks doing business in California, that refuse to pay for deposited or looted assets of Armenian Genocide victims.
As a member of Congress, Speier said she would also work to provide development and humanitarian aid to Armenia and Karabagh, and help them become more democratic and prosperous. Referring to the recent Armenian government police actions against demonstrators in Yerevan, Speier said, "A democratic government must represent the will of its people, never to oppress or violate their rights."
Speier said she would rally support for Section. 907 of the Freedom Support Act, limiting aid to Azerbaijan, until it lifts its blockade of Armenia and Karabagh. Section 907 is currently not in effect due to a waiver by President Bush. "Turkey cannot strangle Armenia into submission by circumventing Armenia’s territory in every regional infrastructure project. Turkey must include Armenia in these projects, because this is the only way to lasting peace."
Aram Hamparian gave a rousing speech on the current national work of the ANCA, beginning with praise for the Bay Area ANC. "There is no better chapter in America than the one here in San Francisco," he said, adding that the ANCA is continuing to grow, establishing more chapters across the country. "The ANC is wherever the Armenian Cause and the Armenian communities are."
Hamparian told about the ANCA’s involvement in the presidential elections, working to elicit policy positions from the candidates. "We’ve all learned through painful experience that political promises are not always honored. But it would be a mistake not to secure as much commitment as possible from the candidates when we have the most leverage, and we have the most leverage during the election season."
He also spoke about ANCA efforts to bring Armenian-American youth into the political process, by expanding outreach to students, internships, launching Internet blogs, and particularly emphasizing ANCA’s Capitol Gateway program, designed to financially and professionally support young professionals in pursuing careers in public service, advocacy, and media in Washington.
"I see it time and time again," said Hamparian. "The greatest payoff for our community is an investment in our youth. Give them a hand, and they will carry us on their backs tomorrow. They will rise in the State Department. They will rise in the Department of Defense. They will rise in the White House and Congress. They will be the future Jackie Speiers, the future Anna Eshoos. They will be the proud children of our nation that will take our hopes and our dreams with them to very high places. Our Capitol Gateway program is essential for our future."
Hamparian also said that that the best way for our cause to move forward is for Armenia’s to take positions of power. "We want to be at the table, all the tables that deal with our future," he said. Instead of asking what public officials can do for us, it would be much more effective to sit down with public officials and ask, ‘How can we together toward our common goals?’, Hamparian suggested. "We are today under-represented in Washington. There’s a limit to what you can do standing outside of a building holding signs and shouting slogans. And there are limits to what you can do, doing the lobbying game. You transcend that wall by getting yourself into the system," said Hamparian.
On behalf of the Bay Area ANC, Roxanne Makasdjian presented Speier and Hamparian each with a framed large photograph from the 1918 Fourth of July parade in San Francisco, showing Armenian-Americans marching with banners asking for support for America’s "little ally."