UNIVERSAL CITY—The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region welcomed more than 800 community members on Saturday, November 26 at the Sheraton Universal to one of its most successful annual banquets in recent memory.
The guests were treated to presentations packed with substance and excitement as elected officials, military veterans, community benefactors, and accomplished and dedicated individuals were honored. A video presentation, produced by Ara Soudjian, highlighted the many diverse programs of the ANCA.
The evening began with remarks by the Annual Banquet committee co-chairs, Christina Jabarian and Linda Adran. Jabarian stated that “[tonight we] stand tall and proud and marvel at the accomplishments of the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region.” Jabarian ended with a message of gratitude: “To the soldiers of Hai Tahd, a big thank you!”
She was followed by Adran, who emphasized that “continued support, dedication, and activism will help us all” attain the goal of completing the great deal of work that remains.
Lara Garibian’s moving rendition of the US and Armenian national anthems was followed by an ecumenical invocation presented by Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirosian, Reverend Joseph Matossian of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, and Very Rev. Father Krikor Chahinian of the Armenian Catholic Church.
The impressive awards ceremony of the evening began with Congressman Ed Royce, who received the Man of the Year Award for his steadfast support of Armenian-American issues in Congress. Royce was presented the award by chairman of the National Organizational of Republican Armenians, Aram Gaboudian.
In his remakes Royce stated without equivocation that, “it’s long past time for the United States to stand with the rest of the world on human rights.” He continued by saying that “the property that has been confiscated should be returned to the rightful owners and that’s the stand we’re taking”, referring to the church properties stolen and appropriated by the Turkish government in the wake of the Armenian Genocide. Exalting the work he had seen them do, he said that “the ANC[A] has been a formidable force” in American politics.
The congressman was followed by His Eminence, Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, who received the Khrimian Hayrig Award for his ceaseless work strengthening the voice of the Armenian nation. Archbishop Mardirossian provided a historical background of Khrimian Hayrig, who is famous for insisting that Armenians, instead of negotiating for their rights with a paper ladle, use an iron ladle instead. ANCA-WR Board member Pattyl Aposhian-Kasbarian presented the Prelate with the award.
Archbishop Mardirossian confidently pronounced that, “it is indeed the duty of all Armenians to champion the Armenian Cause, advocate for human rights, unrelentingly pursue truth and justice, bring awareness of our Cause in the international arena until justice is served and recognition of the Armenian Genocide is attained. The ANC[A] is at the forefront in the pursuit of our Cause. It is our national duty to join them in this pursuit and unite our efforts so that we may triumphantly reach our greatest goals and dreams.”
The definitive highlight of the evening came before dinner when Raffi Hamparian, ANCA National board member, introduced Armenian-American military veterans, most of whom had served in combat roles. He began by saying, “valor, duty, service, sacrifice, patriot, hero, these are the codewords, the hallmarks, the signatures, of the individuals we honor this evening.”
In a spontaneous and extremely touching moment, Nikki Smith (née Satenik Gondjian), a 92 year old World War II U.S. Navy veteran, helped push the wheelchair of Kevork Khachadurian, a 22 year old double-amputee and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, up to the stage. The audience at the banquet gave a standing ovation to all the veterans as they approached the stage and they continued to stand for over eight minutes as each of them received their awards, remarks were made, and as they exited the stage. The veterans honored also included Baleny Minas (USMC), Karo Krtikashyan (US Army), Jimmy Abbamontian (USMC), John Merguerian (US Army) who were present. Shahe Assilian, Hovig Margossian, Raffi Yeremian, and Adrineh Gouloomian were also honored but could not attend.
The awards to the veterans were presented by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Smith and Khachadurian, the oldest and youngest among the veterans, offered some thoughts. Khachadurian gratefully said, “I’m honored to be here…thank God for the guys who saved me out there, if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here with you all.”
Smith told her story of how she joined the armed forces and how things have changed since her time in the service: “I joined without my parents knowing [and] my mother responded “over my dead body”, in Armenian.”
She highlighted the considerable advances in women’s rights since her time in the military and how it’s changed over the years: “During my service time, the women in the branches were auxiliaries known WAVES, WACS, WASPS, and SPARS [referring to the acronyms used to describe women in different areas of service during World War II], now through the equality that women gained in the past 60 years, women now serve side by side with their male counterparts and are simply known as Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines.”
Smith concluded by capturing the audience and telling them about being part of the first group of people to become a member of what would eventually be known as they Armenian Youth Federation, saying that when she “was 13 years old” she was initiated by “General [Karekin] Njdeh,” as she referred to him, the founder of the AYF, and that she remained a “tseghagroon,” the term used to describe the first group of members, until she was 18 years old.
After dinner, the chairman of the ANCA-WR, Andrew Kzirian, delivered the keynote address of the organization. He outlined the goals of the organization, “to prepare Armenian-American youth for leadership in modern-day society, to engage public officials, [and] to mobilize and activate our grassroots.” Kzirian then enumerated the numerous challenges and opportunities of the ANCA-WR, while maintaining a powerful and positive tone, focusing on the community’s strength, that kept the crowd engaged.
Kzirian expressed the ANCA-WR’s sincere and deep gratitude to the generous donors of the evening, among them Mr. & Mrs. Harry & Cheryl Nadjarian, who were the gracious major sponsors of the banquet. Kzirian also thanked Mr. & Mrs. Harout & Christina Jabarian, Mrs. Ashkhen Pilavjian, Mr. & Mrs. Varant & Hoori Melkonian, Mr. & Mrs. Vahe & Nora Yacoubian, as well as Mr. & Mrs. Serop & Arsho Beylerian.
The Legacy Award, going to individuals who have, over the years, continuously supported the Armenian community, went to Hacop Baghdassarian, a longtime benefactor of many Armenian organizations, including the ANCA-WR. On stage, he offered his remarks in Armenian, saying, “we are responsible to help the Armenian Cause…they do a wonderful job.” Baghdassarian is the owner of the popular mall food store chain, Massis Kabob. ANCA-WR Board member Aida Yeghiazarian presented the award to Baghdassarian.
California State Assembly Member Anthony Portantino, who was honored as the Legislator of the Year, opened his remarks with “pari yerego”, meaning “good evening”, saying that he would be practicing his Armenian there that night. As one of the stalwart supporters of Armenian-American issues in the California State Legislature, Portantino spoke about his experience, extolling the ANCA-WR and stating he believes that “this community [the Armenian-American community] is the finest example of grassroots activism […] in California.” Known for saying “life is good”, he stayed true to his earlier stated intention and closed his remarks in saying, “gyankuh lav eh.” ANCA-WR Government Relations Director, Haig Hovsepian presented the award.
Honored for his long list of accomplishments as an Armenian-American throughout a fruitful professional career, including being the speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan, advisor on nine presidential campaigns, and referred to as the “Lion of California GOP Politics,” Ken Khachigian was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. “I commend the Armenian National Committee [of America] for its involvement in the critical issues facing […] the Diaspora,” said Khachigian.
He then told the story of how he was the son of Genocide survivors and how that colored his experience, growing up as an Armenian American. He concluded in offering sage advice, that “with determination and a sense of a our history I know that there are many more who can do what I did: to make a difference, to be useful to our country[…], and to honor the memory of those who survived the desert, and those who did not.” ANCA-WR Board advisor Chris Gouldjian presented the award.
The coda of the evening was when Vic Darchinyan, renowned boxing superstar, was bestowed the People’s Champion award by ANCA-WR Board member Zareh Sinanyan.
An exciting introductory video showed the many completed knockouts during his fights, which included a clip showing Darchinyan using the opportunity after his fight on April 23, 2011, to dedicate his victory, on live television, to the memory of the 1.5 million martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. Humble and succinct, Darchinyan ended the evening by offering a small insight into his approach to the Armenian Cause: “I’m using my brain and my fists.”
The Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian community on a broad range of issues.