HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—The Armenian Bar Association celebrated its 28th year of service to the Armenian nation when its members congregated for the Annual Meeting in picturesque Huntington Beach, California on the weekend of June 9 to 11.
The gathering featured special guests of honor, California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Mr. Ruben Melikyan, the Ombudsman/Human Rights Defender for the Republic of Artsakh. Organizing committee Chairwoman and Board member, Sara Bedirian, said in an interview at the start of the weekend’s activities: “To have Justice Cuéllar address our members—and offer potential solutions—to the deepening divide which exacerbates the unequal access to justice is nothing short of a major milestone for the Armenian Bar. And to have Mr. Melikyan present his views on the challenges facing the Armenians of Artsakh only strengthened our organization’s resolve to embrace and assist our brothers and sisters in the homeland.”
The annual event began with a meeting of the 17 members of the Board of Governors. Board members heard from veteran executive Gary Moomjian as he provided an update on the NY/NJ/CT Chapter committee’s activities. Treasurer Gerard Kassabian reported on the status of the organization’s finances and Student Affairs Committee Co-Chairwomen, Lucy Varpetian and Elizabeth Al-Dajani, presented on a proposed amendment to the by-laws to incorporate the National Armenian Law Students’ Association into the Armenian Bar Association and also addressed the groundbreaking work of the Mentor-Mentee Program. Scholarship Committee Chairwoman Christine Engustian addressed the progress of the scholarship committee.
Following the Friday afternoon board meeting, members and guests enjoyed an outdoor/indoor gala reception in the beautiful Royal Tern Room at the Hyatt Regency. Rev. Father Karekin Bedourian of Forty Martyrs Armenian Apostolic Church of Orange County offered an inspirational blessing and invocation, followed by welcoming remarks by Association Chairman Saro Kerkonian. Guests partook in a deliciously abundant dinner and cocktails in the midst of a cool ocean breeze and an open view of the Pacific Ocean.
On Saturday, June 10, the meeting began with a comprehensive report from Karnig Kerkonian, Co-Chair of the Armenian Rights Watch Committee (ARWC). Kerkonian explained that, with the leadership of Co-Chair Garo Ghazarian, “The ARWC is a grassroots initiative which identifies transgressions against fundamental rights and then acts promptly to protect and promote their positions in civil society. Our mission is to stand and deliver a laser-like focus on human rights and civil rights violations in order to help ensure the enshrinement of a recognized and respected bill of rudimentary rights for our fellow citizens, both in Armenia and the Diaspora.”
Following Kerkonian’s presentation, newly-appointed Mentor-Mentee Program director, Aleksan Giragosian, spoke of the success of the program and its goals for the future. The Mentor-Mentee report was followed by an update from Membership Committee Chairwoman Lucy Varpetian, who spoke of plans to enliven membership in the Armenian Bar Association and a report on the use of social media to promote communication with the organization’s membership. Association Treasurer Gerard Kassabian acknowledged and thanked the meeting’s sponsors: Mesrop Khoudagoulian, Tina Odjaghian, Golden State Bank, Judicate West, SillyBeez and Keush Ranch and gave the general assembly a breakdown of the Association’s budget and assets.
The final report came from Armen K. Hovannisian, Chairman of the Armenian Genocide Reparations Committee (AGRC). Hovannisian shared that the AGRC committee members have been exploring and honing in on definitive stratagems involving an array of legal theories to address Genocide-related civil wrongs. Hovannisian stated “From our perspective, monetary settlements will bring only fleeting gratification to our cause and will do little to help heal our people’s open wounds. Our aim is to secure verdicts in courts of law against the Republic of Turkey and those who have profited from the great national dispossession of the Armenian homeland.”
The meeting of the general membership then continued with the election and re-election of six board members, including: Christine Engustian, Garo Ghazarian, Armen K. Hovannisian, Vanna Kitsinian, Gary Moomjian and Lucy Varpetian. There was also unanimous approval of the amendment to the by-laws which will formalize the incorporation of the National Armenian Law Students Association as part of the Armenian Bar Association. The National ALSA will be given a representative seat on the board of governors.
Professor Jessica Peake of the UCLA Promise Institute for Human Rights, which recently received a significant grant from the late Kirk Kerkorian’s philanthropic legacy, educated the guests about the purpose of the Institute and asked for the Armenian Bar Association and other community organizations to participate in the Institute’s work.
The business meeting was followed by the first legal education panel on the current situation in the Republic of Artsakh and the work of its Human Rights Defender, Mr. Ruben Melikyan. In addition to Melikyan, the panel featured the expertise of Nora Hovsepian, the Chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of America–Western Region and Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney Amy Ashvanian and was moderated by Asbarez English Editor Ara Khatchatourian. Together the panelists and moderator unveiled and explained the intricate and uplifting work of the Artsakh Human Rights Defender, the fallout from the Four Day War of April 2016, and the current situation facing the Armenians of Artsakh.
Then came the Grand Luncheon. With the cadence and aplomb of a seasoned toastmaster, Karnig Kerkonian provided an entertaining and engaging introduction of his undergraduate roommate at Harvard University, the Honorable Justice of the California Supreme Court Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. Canvasing the crowd with soft and humorous touches of nostalgia set in Harvard Yard, Kerkonian reflected on their college days when Tino was introduced by Karnig to Armenian dance, music and other aspects of the Armenian culture. Kerkonian lightheartedly emphasized that Justice Cuéllar’s years since graduating from Harvard have been a quest in search of his “inner Armenian-ness.” Justice Cuéllar thanked Kerkonian for the best introduction he has ever had and provided the guests with a compelling address on the subject of the California courts and how it is incumbent on them to ensure that it is a judicial system that provides equal and unfettered access to justice for all.
In the afternoon, Armenian Bar members were given an eye-opening opportunity to inform their knowledge and sharpen their skills with a frank and free-flowing exchange of perspectives from those who serve from behind the bench. Featured on the judicial panel were three highly-respected California jurists, Judge Andre Manssourian, Judge Maria Daghlian-Hernandez and Judge Gassia Apkarian. With artful and insightful interlocution, San Francisco-area star litigator Ara Jabagchourian served as moderator.
The Executive Committee of the Board of Governors was selected at a Board Meeting on Saturday afternoon, during which the following officers were installed: Saro Kerkonian–Chairman, Kathy Ossian–Vice-Chairwoman, Gerard Kassabian–Treasurer, Vanna Kitsinian—Secretary, and Harry Dikranian of Montreal remains as Chairman Ex-Officio.
The weekend’s activities concluded with a Saturday night dinner with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean at the popular BLK Earth Sea Spirits.
At the conclusion of the conference, Armenian Bar Vice-Chairwoman, Kathy Ossian of Detroit, stated “Following on the heels of our successful Annual Meeting, we look forward with great anticipation to the coming year for our organization. We welcome you and invite you to participate as the Armenian Bar Association sets new milestones in the 2017-2018 year.”