BY ARAZ HASSERJIAN
From June 24th to June 27th, I was lucky enough to attend the Armenian National Committee of America’s (ANCA) Armenian Cause 2.0 Leadership Conference. As one of the five Leo Sarkisian interns working at the ANCA office this summer, I also got the pleasure of working behind the scenes and helping coordinate some of the activities for our 200+ guests.
My fellow interns and I arrived less than a week before the conference: talk about being thrown right into the fire! The ANCA team had already been working on this endeavor for months prior to our arrival, and within our first day at the office, we were briefed and put to directly to work. The schedule was jam-packed with educational lectures, enlightening discussions and events to mingle with fellow attendees and we were going to be involved along every step of the way.
I must note that I was excited about the conference well before I arrived in DC. I had heard about the conference and had planned on attending before I had even applied for the LSI summer internship program. I was intrigued by the progressive topics that were being highlighted during the conference as well as the All-Star line-up of speakers who were going to impart their expert knowledge. My excitement only multiplied when I found out I was going to be interning for the ANCA during the conference.
The days leading up to the conference involved late nights, a little bit of last minute scrambling, and plenty of eager anticipation. A few attendees who arrived in D.C. earlier in the week trickled into the office and provided some much needed bursts of energy as the event drew closer.
The weekend started off with a dual reception on Friday night: with a maximum capacity attendance, half of our guests were lucky enough to enjoy a reception at the W hotel, while the rest of our guests were luckier to enjoy a reception at the ANCA headquarters. It was great to see the ANCA offices filled to capacity with our community leaders from across North America and our enthusiastic youth. At the end of the night, the group was still buzzing and they ended the party with an impromptu sing-along of a medley of Armenian songs in the stairwell.
The conference officially kicked off early the next morning and conference goers were able to delve right into the topics being presented. We were able to discuss contemporary issues surrounding our Cause, like the idea of reparations, and what the 2012 elections will mean for Armenian Americans. However, one of the most unique topics that everyone seemed to be most fascinated by was the use of social networking to further the Armenian Cause. In this brand new age of social media, there are many tools that weren’t available just a few years ago, and most everyone at the conference was excited to learn how to use social media to further the Cause in their daily lives. With ANCA being a grassroots organization, it is this kind of grassroots power that usually provides us the biggest push and it was fantastic that people were prepared to use was they were being taught, right away.
At times, people’s interest was overwhelming, especially during the keynote address by Politico’s National Politics Editor, Charles Mahtesian. It was obvious that people were curious, and wanting to learn how to be smart and more efficient advocates for our Cause. The crowd was getting engaged and asking important questions, taking advantage of the opportunity to speak with some of the great presenters ANCA had been able to secure for the event.
It was also excellent that people were able to engage with one another: after all, a conference about social networking should be able to provide some terrific opportunities to network and socialize on a face-to-face level as well. There was a great afternoon trip to Woodrow Wilson’s former home, which was an amazing chance to visit the home of the man who drew the map of Armenia according to the Treaty of Sevres. Later that evening followed a reception at the Armenian Embassy hosted by Armenian Ambassador to the United States, Tatoul Markarian, allowing each of our guests to visit “Armenian soil”, at least for a little while, during their time in Washington.
One of the highlights of the entire conference was a cruise along the Potomac River on Sunday evening, allowing us to enjoy the scenery and at the same time enjoy each other’s company. Once again, due to a maximum capacity crowd, the group had to be split, and while one would expect the youth boat to be the livelier crew, it was the more “mature” crowd that was still dancing and singing as their boat pulled back into the harbor.
The conference came to a close on Monday morning, but not before a group discussion on what everyone had learned over the course of the weekend, and what lessons they had drawn from the conference. While many people had to leave early to travel back home, those who were lucky enough to stay behind were able to tour the Library of Congress and meet Dr. Levon Avdoyan, who is responsible for the library’s Armenian collection. By the end of the day the original 200+ group had whittled away to the remaining few who said their goodbyes and made plans to see each other “next time”.
And with that, Armenian Cause 2.0 was over. Yet it felt as though the most rewarding part for those in the ANCA office was returning to work on Tuesday and going through the surveys the attendees had filled in. It was great to see how much people appreciated all the hard work that had been put into organizing the event, and the great ideas they had come up with to use towards the next conference. You will all be glad to know that there have already been discussions of when and where to hold the next conference. And while I may not be an intern when that time comes, you can all be sure that I will definitely be attending!