BY ALEX DER ALEXANIAN
Last week, my fellow ANCA “Leo Sarkisian” interns and I attended a demonstration in front of the Turkish Embassy, organized by the Cyprus Action Network. The demonstration was to protest the ongoing illegal Turkish occupation of Cyprus. With the Armenian and Greek communities being long time friends, and also having a shared disdain for the human rights violations committed by Turkey, we were more than happy to protest side by side with our Cypriot friends. The excitement kept building as we prepared signs and got ready for the demonstration. As we chanted along with other protestors and waved our signs, I began to think about Armenian activism. I recalled the countless demonstrations Armenian Americans and our compatriots around the world have organized for Armenian Genocide recognition, Nagorno Karabakh independence, human rights in Turkey, amongst many other topics. I realized that decades after suffering a devastating genocide, Armenia’s have developed a rich history of being politically active and standing up for their rights ‘s both on the streets and in the Halls of Congress.
“Get your Hands off our Lands”
As the chants at the protest continued, my thoughts began to drift off to tangents, which eventually led me to ponder present day Armenian American political advocacy. Interning at the ANCA national headquarters, I realized how important it is for Armenian Americans to stand up and be active in American politics on the grassroots level. In meeting with Rep. Royce last week, I knew that the attention given to Armenian Genocide recognition and U.S.-Armenia bilateral relations was not only because the Representative felt strongly about being on the right side on these issues, but because our local Orange County community had brought vital these issues to his attention and made them a priority. There are million good causes that vie for Congressional attention in Washington DC. The ones that are actually tackled are the ones that have vocal advocates moving the issues forward. And that’s where the ANCA and Armenian American community come in.
“Turkish Troops ‘s Out of Cyprus”
The demonstration began picking up steam as activists from the Serbian American community joined in the protest. Seeing all these communities gathered together ‘s speaking in one voice against Turkey’s illegal occupation – made me realize the importance and power of coalitions. When you think about the huge portion of international decisions made in Washington and all the forces working for and against each issue ‘s the need for coalitions becomes so patently apparent. Take the Armenian Genocide Resolution, for example. There are currently 47 ethnic, religious and human rights organizations calling for the passage of H.Res.106 ‘s a vital component to increasing Congressional cosponsorship for this important human rights measure. The ANCA and other organizations worked to build and expand that coalition, so that in conjunction with grassroots efforts, our community can maximize it political reach.
“What Do We Want? Justice! When Do We Want it? Now!”
Back to the protest, as the increasingly frustrated Turkish Embassy workers began to blast Turkish music to drown out our cries for justice. Such childishness. If they want our communities to stop protesting, they can simply get out of Cyprus; lift the blockade of Armenia; speak honestly about the Armenian Genocide and make appropriate amen’s according to international law; end the persecution of the Christians, Jews and other religious minorities in Turkey ‘s not necessarily in that particular order.
But, I digress; As we ramped up the chanting, my mind started going to other issues. I began thinking about the American political system and our successes within that system. Over $1.5 billion in assistance to Armenia, millions in U.S. aid to Nagorno Karabakh, the ongoing effort for proper U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, keeping Armenia off the U.S. terrorist list ‘s just to name a few. Then I began reviewing some of the material I have been learning from the “Leo Sarkisian” lectures and began thinking about the future. How can we maximize our grassroots advocacy? The next step for Armenian Americans is not just to set up meetings with House Members and staff ‘s it is to BE House Members and Senate Members and hold key positions within the State Department and other agencies. Like Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA). Like former Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY). Like former California Governor George Deukmejian.
And the ANCA has taken steps towards this with two excellent programs. The first is the Capital Gateway Program, which is geared to help recent Armenian American graduates find jobs in the nation’s capital. The second is the Leo Sarkisian Internship Program (LSI), which I am extremely honored to be participating in. These two programs are helping expand the educated and politically active Armenian American public policy community around Washington, DC. In my short time in DC, I have met many past LSI and Capital Gateway interns who now have successful jobs in the nation’s capital.
This is when I realized the big picture of the Armenian Cause. It is with Armenian Americans uniting, getting educated, progressing politically and speaking out for our issues on multiple fronts ‘s from the streets in front of the Turkish Embassy to the Halls of Congress and the White House.