PASADENA—The Armenian National Committee, Western Region, celebrated a year of successes at its annual banquet at the newly-renovated Pasadena Convention Center on Sunday, November 8, 2009. More than 800 activists and donors attended the fundraiser, which drew prominent and senior elected officials and civil servants from the federal, state, and local governments. Also joining the ANC-WR were leaders from the Armenian community, representatives from Armenian churches, educational, cultural, sporting, and social services organizations, and friends of the Armenian Cause.
“This year’s banquet honorees did an outstanding job of articulating the Armenian American community’s steadfast commitment and resolve in pursuing the Armenian Cause,” stated ANC-WR Chairman Vicken Sonentz Papazian. “The superb work of the Banquet Committee and the ANC staff once again provided Hai Tahd supporters, hailing from a wide array of community organizations and from all walks of life, the opportunity to gather, rejoice and recommit to moving our collective cause one step closer to fruition and justice.”
ANC-WR 2009 Banquet Chairwoman Elizabeth Boyajian began the program by welcoming the guests, His Eminence Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, and the Honorable California Attorney General, former California Governor Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr. Boyajian said the much-anticipated banquet serves as an opportunity to reflect on the ANC-WR’s activities over the past year, evaluate the organization’s progress, and reaffirm its commitment as it goes forward.
“During these pivotal times our nation’s collective cause remains the same,” said Ms. Boyajian. “In fact, we have seen our resolve for justice intensify as Armenians all over the world stand united in preserving the core values that have taken us so far this past century. It is through the ANC and your support for this organization that the Diaspora is able to channel its energy and show the world that our nation both seeks and expects justice and is prepared to meet any and all challenges that may come our way.”
The Master of Ceremonies for the evening was California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (44th District), who was introduced as a longtime friend and strong supporter of the Armenian Community since his days as a council member and then Mayor of the City of La Canada-Flintridge.
“It’s a tremendous honor for me to be asked to be the Master of Ceremonies tonight,” said Assemblyman Portantino. “This is a banquet that I’ve attended throughout the years and have just had a terrific time as a guest. I have tremendous respect for the Armenian Community and particularly the Armenian National Committee and all the great grassroots activism and work it does. To have been called this year to play a role was just a tremendous honor.”
Times That Try Men’s Souls
Armenian National Committee of America Chairman Ken Hachikian called to attention the importance of the ANCA in these “times that try men’s souls.” He said Armenians have come to a crossroads of survival or surrender. He said the Armenian nation is being forced to accept the proposed Armenian-Turkish Protocols, “even though they clearly threaten Armenia’s security, abandon the rights of all Armenians, and cast doubt on the Armenian Genocide.”
Hachikian said that the Armenian Genocide cannot be reduced to a simply bilateral dispute between Armenia and Turkey. “It will always be a crime against all humanity – one that must be recognized by the American government and resolved truthfully and justly by the international community and, of course by Turkey.”
He warned that Armenia is also being forced to adopt the Madrid Principles, “which trade the surrender of vast Armenian lands, today, in return for a vague promise that Azerbaijan may someday allow a decision on Artsakh’s future status.”
Hachikian’s passionate speech also warned the audience if these unacceptable scenarios are executed, we will “witness the death of the Armenian Cause and, with it, the viability of the Armenian nation.”
He said Armenians need to reject retreat and dispense with the illusions of easy answers.
“We must reject surrender – on the Protocols, the Madrid Principles, justice for our nation, and freedom for our people – and choose instead a path forward based on hope and wisdom, not fear,” said Mr. Hachikian.
“We must, in our homeland and here in America, reclaim the right to our voice and our values. And back all this up with our activism, our political power, our energy, and our resources,” he said. “As you are doing tonight and as we must all do in days and weeks ahead. We must keep our national aspirations burning bright, our moral compass aligned toward justice, and our nation moving forward. We must choose survival, not surrender. Survival, not surrender. There is no other choice. I call upon you to join us in that struggle. We will persevere.”
Jerry Brown and Harut Sassounian
A number of awards were handed out during the banquet, including the ANC-WR’s Freedom Award to California Attorney General Jerry Brown. The award was presented by former assemblyman and attorney Walter Karabian, who has been a champion of Hai Tahd and received ANC-WR’s Man of the Year Award in 1997.
Karabian introduced his friend Jerry Brown as an advocate for the Armenian-American Community for more than four decades as California’s governor, Mayor of Oakland, Community College Trustee, Secretary of State, and California’s Attorney General.
“We Armenians have many memories of Jerry, but none burn as brightly as his compassion and humanitarianism when he pardoned Gougen Yanikian,” said Mr. Karabian. “Jerry will have the record as the youngest and the oldest Governor in California history. I predict he will be so successful against the most difficult odds about the budget deficit faced by any Governor.”
Echoing the praises of the Attorney General was ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian, who recalled Jerry Brown’s recent involvement in a Genocide assets restitution case.
“Attorney General Jerry Brown has shown courage in stepping forward in the Movsessian case, which is about the rights of Genocide survivors, who had property stolen from them by the Ottoman Empire and the California Legislature has legislation allowing for them to recover, and the insurance companies are challenging that in front of the courts,” said Hachikian. “Attorney General Brown filed an Amicus brief in support of the right of the Armenians, and for that we’re particularly grateful for his courage and for his initiative of having done so.”
ANC-WR Board member Pattyl Aposhian-Kasparian introduced the evening’s Legacy Award recipient by saying that the words activist, tireless leader, visionary, and devoted teacher are not enough to describe Harut Sassounian, who is the Publisher of the California Courier newspaper, President of the United Armenian Fund, and Vice President of Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation.
“Harut is a timeless moral voice. An author, publisher, speaker, community activist and leader,” said Aposhian-Kasparian. “He is a highly respected name in many circles and has helped define the political fabric of our time, championed free speech, and fought on local, national and international grounds for justice. His persistence has received national media attention and has gently pushed open the gates of reform.”
Aposhian-Kasparian summarized Mr. Sassounian’s long history of activism including advocacy for Genocide recognition at the United Nations in the 70’s.
“Through his columns, Harut is one of the first to diagnose a problem and write a prescription,” she said. “Countless examples come to mind from the campaign against the L.A. Times and its Managing Editor Douglas Franz to Time Magazine and Time Warner, when Harut lobbied against the paid Turkish denialist DVD. From the dismissal of Ambassador Evans to the nomination of Ambassador Hoagland. From a letter writing campaign countering the denial of the Armenian Genocide by the British Ambassador to PBS stations nationwide to counter plans to air a panel discussion with Turkish scholars. The list goes on to cover more than 30 years of activism.”
In his acceptance speech, Sassounian said that Armenians must do everything in their power to restore justice. He called on Armenians to also demand the return of the stolen properties and occupied territories to their proper owners – the Armenian nation.
“Our collective efforts on behalf of the Armenian Cause stem from the tragic fact that a terrible injustice was committed against our people more than 90 years ago,” said Sassounian. “The Genocide and the loss of our homeland went unnoticed by the international community for many decades, until our people, led by our political organizations, rose from the ashes of decimation and defeat, and struggled to regain their rights. As a result, the Armenian Genocide is universally recognized, and is no longer a forgotten episode.”
Sassounian also said that Diasproans should not hold back any political, economic or humanitarian assistance from the Homeland because of disagreements with Armenia’s leadership.
“Regimes and leaders come and go, but the nation is eternal,” he said. “Let us remain vigilant, engaged and united in our purpose. Let us carry on the torch of our Cause, until justice is restored to our long-suffering nation.”
Also commending the ANC for honoring Sassounian was philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian. “I have known Harut for many years, and I am proud of the good work he has done for Armenia and on behalf of the Armenian community worldwide,” wrote Mr. Kerkorian. “I congratulate the ANC for honoring him.”
Krekorian and Wyland
ANC Western Region board member Aida Dimejian introduced the recipients of the two Legislator of the Year awards to California State Senator Mark Wyland (38th District) and California State Assemblyman Paul Krekorian (43rd District). The two state lawmakers were honored for their outstanding contributions to civic life.
“Along with Members of the ANC-Western Region State Affairs Committee and our Community relations director Haig Hovsepian, I have had the pleasure of working closely with these two fine public servants this past year,” said Dimejian. “At the same time, we have witnesses an unprecedented effort by the Turkish and Azeri Lobby in Sacramento to influence legislators, block legislation and continue their genocide denial efforts. For that reason alone, we are very fortunate to have these two distinguished legislators continue to champion the truth and resist the deep pocket efforts by the Turkish and Azeri lobbies to infiltrate California politics and deny and distort history.”
Dimejian told those gathered about how Senator Wyland was instrumental in establishing the current state education curriculum, which mandates the inclusion of the Armenian Genocide in high school instruction. She also said Senator Wyland introduced Senate Bill 234 “the Genocide Awareness Act,” which calls for the inclusion of an oral history component that includes survivor and witness testimony in genocide education.
Dimejian also introduced Assemblymember Paul Krekorian, calling the 43th district assemblyman a “prolific author of legislation,” who has the distinction of being the legislator with the highest number of bills passed and signed by the Governor.
“Paul also introduced Assembly Bill 961, which insures that any company which wrongfully withholds assets from the victims of the Genocide, are not eligible for California State contracts,” said Dimejian. “This legislation, along with Senator Wyland’s Genocide Awareness Act, continues to withstand strong Azeri and Turkish opposition.”
Assemblyman Krekorian, who is in a run-off election for a Los Angeles City Council seat on December 8th, said he was deeply thrilled and profoundly honored to receive his award.
“I’ve been so pleased to stand with the ANCA throughout these many years as partners in working towards Hai Tahd and towards making public policy that benefits our community,” said Assemblyman Krekorian. “I’ve always considered the work that I’ve done in public office to be the collective work of everyone in this community who has supported me in the past. I consider myself as kind of a vehicle for the community to do the work that we need to do in the public environment.
Helping honor this year’s award recipients were Congressman Brad Sherman (27th District), Congressman Bob Filner (51st District), and Congresswoman Judy Chu (32nd District); Marcy Winograd, who is challenging incumbent Rep. Jane Harman (36th District); Senate hopeful, Nevadan Danny Tarkanian; and California State Controller John Chiang.
“The honorees this year are terrific,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu. “In particular, I’m thrilled to be here for Paul Krekorian, who has done an outstanding job as an assembly member. He is very intelligent. He is very sharp. He’s also so community minded. I think he’s just a terrific person for the ANC to honor.”
ANC-WR Chairman’s Message
A powerful speech by ANC-Western Region Chairman Vicken Sonentz Papazian was the keynote address at the banquet. The attorney and volunteer chairman of the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States said that it was less than a century ago that the Armenian nation was pushed to the brink of extinction.
Papazian called those who survived the Genocide not mere survivors but “dreamers who had the audacity to dream long after the rest of the world had written their obituary.”
“Today, less than a century later, it is that same vision, and that same audacious dream that has spurred two Armenian states to emerge, supported by a thriving and prosperous Diaspora,” said Papazian.
How is such an improbable rebirth of the Armenian nation possible, asked the ANC-WR Chairman?
“The answer is simple. Look around you, seated at every table here tonight is an individual success, borne out of hard work and talent, certainly, but most of all borne out of an ambition – – a vision of him or herself that is greater than anyone would have thought,” said Papazian. “A living embodiment of what Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. You, my friends, are living proof that success all begins with a vision of that success.”
The ANC-WR Chairman said that since its inception the goal of the ANC has been to take individual talent and transform it into collective success. That success, said the attorney, relies on sharing a common vision to strive for a common purpose.
“Recent events, culminating in the signing of this ill advised protocol, prove that we have much work ahead of us,” said Papazian. “Ladies and Gentlemen, today, our challenge is not to divide the nation or denigrate our brethren – as wrong as we believe they may be – but rather to engage in a healthy and vigorous dialogue, to alert our misguided brothers and sisters of the errors of their ways and to build a better nation and a greater collective vision, a vision befitting the lofty ambitions we hold for ourselves and our loved ones.”
Papazian left the audience with a message of hope and a directive to continue the struggle, “to build the consensus and vision and continue our march forward – to be another step forward toward the culmination of the Armenian miracle.”