SAN FRANCISCO–"We fought together for Section 907–fought for increased aid to Armenia–and fought together to recognize the Genocide of 1915," said US Senator Barbara Boxer about her more than 20 year relationship with the Bay Area Armenian National Committee. Boxer and California Courier publisher–Harut Sassounian were the special guests at the Bay Area Armenian National Committee’s annual "Hai Tad Evening" on Treasure Island on the San Francisco Bay.
"Senator Boxer knows our issues well–and holds very principled positions on them." said Roxanne Makasdjian–Master of Ceremonies for the evening. "She has traveled to Armenia to learn first hand what’s at stake for the new republic and was instrumental in first getting Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act put in place. She also co-sponsored the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act–which said countries which prevent US aid from reaching other countries (as Turkey blocked US aid from reaching Armenia) will not be entitled to US aid. She has stood by our side from her earliest days in public office."
Senator Boxer thanked the ANC for all its hard work–expressed appreciation for the ANC’s strong support when she first ran for Congress–and for maintaining a long relationship with her. She also said she was delighted to have been recently appointed to the newly-formed Senate Committee on Central Asia and the South Caucasus.
Referring to the attacks of September 11th–Boxer commended Armenia as was one of the first countries to offer help with information and embassy security–and said the friendship and loyalty of the Armenia’s must not be forgotten.
"We need to ensure that 907 is never repealed until the issue is resolved," said Boxer. Expressing her disappointment with the administration’s recommendation to reduce aid to Armenia–she said "We need to fight for more this year. President Bush can’t do what he did and give less," using the figure of$125 million as a target.
On the issue of Genocide recognition–Boxer described how Turkish lobbyists come to her and ask–"Why not move on?" She explained that "if we don’t recognize history–we are bound to repeat it and cannot close our eyes. We must remember." Referring to her Jewish background–she said she understands the will to overcome–and that Armenia’s will prevail. "You know what happened–and focus on setting the record straight."
ANC member Haig Baghdasarian introduced California Courier publisher Harut Sassounian. "Harut Sassounian is one of those rare individuals who has the talent to contribute to many facets of Hai Tahd–and also the diplomatic skills to cooperate with community members with often-times divergent viewpoints. He has been able to raise the goals of Hai Tahd above its politics–and he is making a difference for our people and our homeland day in and day out," said Baghdassarian.
Sassounian discussed his most recent meeting with US State Department representatives along with other Armenian-Americans. The one-hour meeting included discussion of the Armenian-American community’s strong position on Armenian Genocide recognition–its dissatisfaction with the levels of aid to Armenia–potential consequences of the waiver of Section 907–the Nagorno Karabakh peace process–US-Turkish relations and Turkish-Armenia relations.
Throughout his remarks–Sassounian delivered his message of what justice should mean to Armenian-Americans and their rights and obligations as citizens of a democratic nation. "When Bush was a candidate–he committed to recognizing the Armenian Genocide repeatedly in writing. When he came to office–the word was missing. We should not give up and say politics as usual. We must remind him constantly of his promise. It would be our mistake to not hound him and shame him."
Sassounian pointed to the irony of US support of Turkey–considering the extremely low support of the Turkish public towards the US. He quoted a recent Gallup Poll–showing that only 19 percent of the Turkish public feels the US actions against Afghanistan are morally justifiable; only 46 percent believes that the World Trade Center was attacked by Arab terrorists; and only 21 percent have a favorable opinion of President Bush.
Sassounian remarked on the detrimental effects of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Committee (TARC)–strategies on increasing aid to Armenia–and he called on Armenian-Americans to protest the Israeli Government’s denial of the Genocide.
Assemblyman Joseph Simitian also briefly addressed the crowd–remarking on his first trip to Armenia last year–as part of a delegation working on the trade agreement with California. The trip was more emotional and overwhelming than he thought it would be–particularly as he reflected that after only two generations that his great-grandparents fled the genocide and established modest lifestyles–he was now living the American dream–representing 400,000 people in the Silicon Valley.
He thanked the ANC for reaching out to him first when he was a country supervisor and initiated a resolution in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
During the event–Roxanne Makasdjian reviewed the ANC’s political activities locally–including organizing and attending events for elected officials and candidates–conducting a record number of meetings with Bay Area representatives and officials. She updated those present on the Bay Area ANC’s Education Project–including the development of lesson plans for public school students–and instructional workshops for Bay Area history teachers. She informed attendees of an upcoming Armenian photographic exhibit at City Hall–which will be kicked off during commemoration month–and which will include Armenian Genocide survivor portraits and award-winning Armenian church and monastery photographs.
Also recognized during the event were the "local heroes," individuals who have displayed a rare kind of commitment and energy devoted to the Armenian Cause. ANC members Ani Baghdassarian and Gohar Momjian introduced the people being honored: Vartkes Anivian–the son of a Genocide survivor and immigrant who recently established a dairy and agricultural business in Artstakh and spends the majority of his time in the homeland with his wife–Alice; George Atashkarian–a decorated WWII veteran and retired businessman–who acts on behalf of Hai Tahd issues routinely–exemplifying the true American and true Armenian; Richard Kloian–Director of the Armenian Genocide Resource Center which has become a major repository of documentation about the Armenian Genocide. Kloian’s book on American news coverage of the Armenian Genocide has become a fixture in Armenian-American lobbying efforts–and he regularly provides the ANC with educational resources on the Genocide; and Eghisapet Chouldjian–who after years of activism as a native of the Bay Area–moved to Washington DC and has become ANCA’s Communications Director.
Each honoree spoke briefly about their vision of the Armenian Cause and about their wish that all Armenian-Americans do their part to help their people.