BY AREV HOVSEPIAN
On April 21, I had the privilege of flying to Washington D.C. from Los Angeles to lobby Members of Congress to support House Resolution 252 which officially recognizes the Armenian Genocide. As part of the ANCA Advocacy Days, our mission started the next morning, when about 50 ANCA volunteers from all over the country came together to try to increase the number of co-sponsors in Congress for the resolution. At 14 years old, I was the youngest of the volunteers, so naturally I was nervous. We were first taught how to address the issue and what to say to the representatives.
My team consisted of my mother and my cousin. On the first day we worked from 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., and approached 13 different offices. We talked to Representatives and their staffers from the states of California, Nevada, Oklahoma, Arizona, Nebraska, and Hawaii. Nine of the 13 Congressmen supported us, and the other 4 were either against the resolution or undecided. One of the most memorable offices of the day was that of Congressman Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada. We were pleasantly surprised when we saw that one of the Congressman’s staff members was Armenian. We asked to speak to her and had a nice conversation about the issue.
She promised us that she would try her very best to persuade her Congressman to vote for our resolution. We were the most impressed by Rep. Jim Costa’s office. As soon as we walked in, his secretary showed us a video of Rep. Costa’s speech that day on the floor of Congress talking about the Armenian Genocide and urging passage of the resolution. He is a big supporter. Two other offices were also very memorable because each of their staffers had a personal interest in our cause, including one who had personally done his own research and had given his Turkish landlord a copy of the DVD “Screamers.”
The ending to our first day was incredible. All of us volunteers went to the Congressional Armenian Caucus Genocide commemoration ceremony. It was truly inspiring to listen to about two dozen supporters from Congress speak for recognition of the Armenian Genocide. These speakers included Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. This was the most incredible experience for me. I think this was the first time in my life that I had seen so many non-Armenians support the cause and the resolution. It really touched me and made me even prouder than I already was to be Armenian. I even had the opportunity to meet three actual Genocide survivors, one of whom was 105 years old! They were happy and proud to see that even my generation was working for justice 94 years after the Genocide.
Our second advocacy day consisted of walking the halls of Congress again, but was much more disappointing because we faced many more offices that were against us. I would have to say that the highlight of our day was when we talked to a foreign affairs staffer from Texas Republican Congressman Ralph Hall’s office. He sat down with us for over an hour and talked about the issue. He was extremely knowledgeable about the issue from both sides. After we returned to the ANCA office, I had the coolest part of that day when my mother, cousin, and I were interviewed for 20 minutes by an Armenian documentary filmmaker.
The next morning, the long-anticipated day had finally come: April 24, 2009. I had been living this day ever since I could remember. However, I must say that the mood toward this day is completely different when you are in Washington D.C. Of course, we were all devastated when President Obama failed to use the word “genocide” in his statement. However, we didn’t let this stop us. We immediately rushed to the protest in front of the Turkish Embassy. There were about 250 Armenian protesters there and about 50 Turkish counter-protestors. My cousin and I were interviewed by Voice of America. The protest got pretty intense. After all, you get much more into it when you’re staring at the faces of the people who want you to fail and who hold signs claiming that the Genocide never happened. After the protest ended, we were taken by buses to the Armenian Church for a memorial service and then had a gathering in the church hall, where we all sang patriotic songs.
On April 25, about 300 Armenians gathered at the Kennedy Center to watch a musical play called “The Georgetown Boys.” This musical was absolutely fantastic. It was a true story about 109 Armenian orphans who survived the Genocide. They were all gathered in a Canadian orphanage and raised there, but they refused to give up their Armenian identities. The musical tells the story of these patriotic and inspiring Armenian boys. This was an emotional play for all of us which ended with a standing ovation.
It was our last night in D.C., and it was very hard to say goodbye to everyone. We had made new friends from all over the country including Tennessee, Michigan, New York, California, and Georgia. This was truly an indescribable experience for me. I met several Members of Congress and their staffers, and I got to talk to them about the importance of recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Leaving L.A., I thought that there wasn’t much a 14 year-old Armenian girl can do. However, leaving D.C., I learned that it doesn’t matter how old you are, where you’re from, how you’re raised, whether you are full Armenian, or whether you’re Armenian at all. Anybody can make a difference.
Sure, we didn’t get what we wanted from the U.S. Administration this year, but we are still working hard to pass House Resolution 252 in the Congress. Most people may have thought we failed. But the only way we can truly fail is if we forget who we are and what we are working for. I learned that the Armenian spirit can survive anything. I grew up hearing the tragic stories of the Genocide. I would always hear and learn about all of those people who gave up their lives to try to achieve justice. But, for the first time, I am proud to say that I am finally not just talking about that one amazing day when the world stops denying justice, but working hard to do everything in my power to make sure that that day comes as soon as it possibly can. That is why I will be back in D.C. next year, and I would encourage everyone who can to do the same and to work hard for our Cause whether it is in D.C. or here.