BY LARA GARIBIAN
One of the fundamentally incredible aspects of being an Armenian is the plethora of history that is an essential part of our heritage. It is that history that has kept and bound who we are as an ethnicity and as a culture the force that is the Armenian people. It is our history that has taught us that united we truly do stand and that divided we become lost. The Armenian National Committee of America as well as countless other Armenian organizations have taken a stand for unity. They have chosen to come together to keep what is most sacred in the hearts of our people across all generations. It is organizations like the ANCA that really give us a greater voice as a people in a day and age where it is most needed.
The Armenian National Committee of America is a grassroots political organization that “actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.” The ANCA stands as our voice on a playing field that allows for our Armenian American citizens and communities to experience change on a magnanimous level. It is also one of the leading organizations that teaches our elders, our parents, and our children that we have a legitimate voice. When I attended one of the annual ANCA-WR banquets a few years back, they were honoring Elizabeth Chouldjian with the Vahan Cardashian Award. In her speech she said something that resonates in my head to this very day. She told us that we had an “azkayeen bardaganootyoun (responsibility to our heritage).” It is this responsibility that is engrained within us from a young age and that remains prevalent till this very day. At the time the magnitude of her words didn’t really register. It wasn’t until a year ago that I attended my first advocacy days in Washington D.C. where I experienced firsthand the reality of what that responsibility is and the work it really entails.
On April 15th, I was one of the hundred individuals who was able to go to Sacramento, CA to advocate in the State Capitol. Only this time, instead of attending, I had the privilege of helping make our Advocacy Day a possibility. I got to work with an incredible group of young professionals who dedicated their time to make this a success. I experienced the steps and work it took to put together such an important set of events and how difficult it is to give people an opportunity to be heard on a political forum.
Needless to say our outcome was a complete success. We were joined by a large array of community members. We had a great number of people from different chapters in the Armenian Youth Federation, we had students from KZV Armenian School from San Francisco, Homenetmen Scouts from Santa Clara and Walnut Creek Chapters, students from Sahag Mesrob Armenian School from Pasadena, ASA members from Los Angeles and Alta Loma, and ANCA-WR volunteers from all across the state, including Chairwoman Aida Dimejian. This was by far the largest Advocacy Day California officials had the pleasure of experiencing.
The day began with the Senate Commemoration then continued with a moving ceremony in the State Assembly during which activists watched community leaders speak out on the importance of promoting genocide awareness.
There are two bills that passed both the Senate and the Assembly unanimously. The first was resolution SJR 26, which designates April 24th as Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day in California. The second was ACR 148, which called upon the California Department of Transportation to erect a sign on State Highway 60, which would direct motorists to the “Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument” in Montebello, CA.
Activists, students and volunteers were excited and ready to take on the task of lobbying. They visited the offices of every Senate member and Assemblymember for the state of California. They spoke to their staff members as well as some of the legislative officials themselves and expressed their gratitude on the support they provided for both bills and to encourage their support on getting the United States to reaffirm the genocide. They gave legislators packets that contained information about both resolutions as well as the Genocide Education Project. California must continue to take the lead in educating the next generation of leaders in the hope that they will be better equipped to prevent future genocides. As the genocide in Darfur enters its eighth year, it is more important than ever that California maintain its leadership role.
One of the great parts about attending Advocacy Day’s is the opportunity you have to meet other Armenian’s from different walks of life. I had the pleasure of meeting Rich Kazanjian, who is the Chairman of the Sacramento ANC. When speaking to him about why he felt lobbying efforts were so crucial he replied, “The United States is the most important country on the planet. California is the flagship state of the union. We are the most influential state when it comes to Armenian American community issues. If we send a strong enough message to Washington D.C., we hope that it will cause the United States to take a stand against genocide denial, which will in turn send a strong message to the rest of the world. It is then that we can convert the suffering of our ancestors to the prevention of suffering for anyone else.”
Even young elementary students such as fifth grader Michael Berian from Sahag Mesrob Armenian School showed his enthusiasm about going to Sacramento to be part of the commemoration. He said, “It is very important for us to be here to see and learn how we can make a change, so that when we get older we can continue to do the same ourselves.”
Tatiana Kostanian, who works with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, made the trip with her daughter, Natasha, to support and encourage those who came to take part in lobbying efforts. “As Armenian people,” Kostanian stated, “the genocide has in one way or another played a role in all of our lives, whether in the present day or the past. It is our job to gain a validity for the atrocities that occurred 95 years ago and to maintain the support of our community leaders in the process.”
Tatiana was surely not the only person who felt that way during the commemoration and lobbying efforts. Hundreds, including legislative officials, gathered to see the photo exhibit put on by Ara Oshagan and Levon Parian, called iWitness. The exhibit featured photos of genocide survivors along with their respective stories. The exhibit will be on display in the second floor of the rotunda of the Capitol Building through April 31st, 2010.
Each and every person made a contribution that day by being there and by fulfilling a part of their “azkayeen bardaganootyoun.” I know that I personally have developed a deep respect and understanding for what those words really mean and my hope is that everyone of our youth will grow to embrace that as well. We truly have a gift as a people. We have the gift of unity. We must always hold that dear to our hearts, practice it regularly and pass it on through our generations. Advocacy is just one of the many ways we can do that.