BY TALAR MALAKIAN
LOS ANGELES—Black Friday was embraced at the famous Loews Hollywood Hotel on November 29 with a lively, bustling crowd of 500 people shuffling through registration and check-ins, many scrambling over to Sebu Simonian to have a picture taken with the award winning Capital Cities’ star, others were hugging each other after several years of separation anxiety.
But it was not the bargain deals and the latest incredible offers on pricey goods, for which this group headed to the Loews Hotel. It was also not for a star studded weekend of tourism following the consumption of mass amounts of food after Thanksgiving Day.
Community members young and old, from across the country and the globe headed to the Loews Hotel for a three-day conference about the most recent developments pertaining to the Armenian Cause in the United States, Armenia and globally.
The conference was hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region and with full bellies and thankful hearts, participants were ready to join a conference that showcased recent accomplishments, certain failures, and the potential for a better future through community activism, entertainment, political leadership, modern social media developments, and global networks.
Representatives from ANCA, the ANCA-Eastern Region and ANCA Canada were also part of the diverse audience at ANCA Grassroots.
On Friday night, registration began at 4 p.m. Participants were given red reusable and environmentally friendly ANCA Grassroots bags with a 2013 Annual Report, a Program Book, a pen and a list of local attractions including some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles. The affordable cost of the conference provided seven incredible and informative panels as well as one breakfast Saturday morning, one luncheon Sunday, and two cocktail receptions, on Friday night and Saturday night.
The first discussion was a panel called, “Film and the Arts.” Before a stunning dark blue curtain backdrop with streaming symbolic, red, blue and orange lighting, lead singer of Capital Cities, Sebu Simonian, Emmy award winning filmmaker Bared Maronian, Genie and Gemini award winning actress Arsinee Khanjian, world renowed comedian, actor and writer Vahe Berberian, Filmmakers Edwin Avaness and Serj Minassians of “Epic Denied” and Micheline Aharonian Marcom acclaimed author of “Three Apples Fell From Heaven” discussed their experiences with utilizing cinema, writing, art and music to spread awareness about a variety of issues, but further, to reach a global audience through creativity that speaks to the heart of issues plaguing the world today, especially Armenian issues.
Vahe Berberian stressed the importance of cultural and linguistic preservation through entertainment and engagement with audiences, while all the panelists agreed that entertainment provided a platform to reach an audience through speaking to the heart of stories that matter and move them. Following the panel discussion was a cocktail reception right outside the hall on the mezzanine floor, where panelists and community members shared stories, shook hands, took pictures, and had their forearms signed.
Early Saturday morning, participants were woken up not by the strong coffee and fresh scones in the hall, but by a powerful panel called “Homeland and the Diaspora.”
Panelists Dr. Hayg Oshagan, an Associate Professor and Director of the Media Arts and Studies Program in the Department of Communication at Wayne State University and Maria Titizian, an editor for Civilnet and Dr. Talar Chahinian, a professor of Comparative literature at Cal State University Long Beach, had a heated discussion regarding identity politics and cultural production in the homeland and in the Diaspora, with a special emphasis on the various solutions to preserving the Armenian identity, whatever that identity may be to each of us.
Many participants asked questions and many were left wondering whether repatriation to Armenia was the only way to preserve a truly Armenian identity and a prosperous geographical homeland.
“The engagement in the Homeland and Diaspora panel was incredible. Participants of all ages wondered what it meant to be an Armenian in every sense of the word. The panel was political, cultural, psychological and more importantly, a conversation that needed to happen,” said Asbarez English Editor and Grassroots Committee Chairperson Ara Khachatourian.
Following the engaging panel on identity politics, was one just as informative, called “Western Armenia,” a term referring to the Eastern part of the Ottoman Empire. Challenges facing the region especially with regards to Kurdish and Armenian relations were discussed by expert scholars Ruken Sengul, Dr. Henry Theriault and Dr. Biligin Ayata. The panel was moderated by Khatchig Mouradian, a panelist recognized from the 2011 ANCA Western Region Grassroots Conference.
After a lunch break at some of the best restaurants in a jolly, Christmas-themed Hollywood and Highland Center, participants returned for the panel called “Transnational Justice.”
Noted lawyers David Balabanian, Kate Nahapetian, and Edvin Minasian and Garo Ghazarian in collaboration with the Armenian Bar Association, explored the legal possibilities for Genocide reparations especially with regards to the Armenian case of Genocide. Lawyers attending the panel discussion received 1.5 hours of CLE credit. Chairman of the Armenian Bar Association Garo Ghazarian began the panel with a moving and passionate speech regarding the importance of legal justice in international conflicts. At the end of the Question and Answer section of the panel, someone from the audience even claimed he had paperwork for a property in Western Armenia and requested one of the lawyers to take his case in retrieving what was rightfully his.
“Amongst the many means by which to advocate for the Armenian Cause, one of the most effective is to pursue justice through domestic and foreign court systems. The purpose of this panel was to highlight such ongoing efforts and to explore new legal options, and we are grateful to our esteemed panelists from the Armenian Bar Association for a thought-provoking presentation.” said ANCA Western Region Chairperson Nora Hovsepian.
The “Hye Votes” panel followed “Transnational Justice.” Since the last Grassroots conference, a successful campaign led by the ANCA Western Region HyeVotes initiative registered over 5,000 people in the Los Angeles area to vote.
Moderated by HyeVotes Campaign Director and ANCA Western Region Executive Director Elen Asatryan, elected officials and campaign staff discussed grassroots activism, elections, and community organization. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian started off by inspiring the crowd and empowering them to activism, as the first Armenian Los Angeles City Councilmember. Jack Hadjinian of Montebello City Council said he wanted to be a rockstar as a kid, before he decided to run for office. Christine Jerian, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s External Affairs Liaison, called on Armenian women to run for office as the only female panelist. Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian talked about his experiences with the UCLA Armenian Students’ Association and Turkish lobbying on campus. Glendale City Treasurer Rafi Manoukian discussed his extensive experience in local politics and Glendale City Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan stressed the importance of service.
“The Hye Votes panel was the culmination of the experiences of elected officials, a reminder of how important it is to be involved in the electoral process, and a celebration of the grassroots activism that has been going on politically, especially in Los Angeles,” said ANCA Western Region Executive Director and Hye Votes panel moderator, Elen Asatryan.
Immediately after the Hye Votes panel, “iZartonk” panelists Vache Thomassian and Paul Chaderjian emotionally charged the audience through dedicating the panel to Allen Yekikian who conceived the concept of iZartonk as a multi-platform media professional and Armenian Youth Federation activist. Allen and his wife Sose, Vache Thomassian’s sister, moved to Armenia where they lost their lives after repatriating to Armenia earlier this year.
The two panelists were joined by moderator and ANCA Grassroots committee member Aris Hovasapian to talk about the Digital Revolution and the changing face of community outreach through social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube among many others. During the panel, ANCA Western Region, local ANCA chapters, and community members posted pictures and videos online. Many were emotional through watching Allen Yekikian’s 2011 presentation, and many found themselves ready to use social media tools as ways to engage.
The ANCA Western Region Annual Banquet that evening, was attended by over a 1,000 community leaders, elected officials, and community representatives. Following the Banquet was the “ANCA Professional Network After Party” included in the Grassroots Conference package, in the Panorama Suite of the Loews Hotel. Panelists, elected officials, and friends of all ages rubbed elbows, looked out at the twinkling Los Angeles night sky and found themselves awed by the beauty of towering skyscrapers from a wide set window running along the glamorous suite.
A fascinating luncheon called “The Hye Tad Global Initiative” took place Sunday afternoon, after a long night of fun and celebration.
On Sunday at noon representatives from Armenian National Committees in South America, Europe, Armenia, Australia and the Middle East streamed in through Google Hangouts video chat to discuss their advocacy efforts in their respective communities.
International Hye Tad Director Giro Manoyan (Armenia), Dr. Khatchik Der-Gougassian (South America), Vera Yacoubian (Middle East), Shahen Mirakian (Canada), Kaspar Karampetian (Europe) and Vache Kahramanian (Australia) remotely joined ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian and ANCA-WR Board Chairwoman Nora Hovsepian who were in the ballroom for a multi-faceted discussion about the Armenian Cause moderated by ANCA Grassroots Committee chairperson and Asbarez English Editor Ara Khachatourian.
Participants from the ANCA Western Region Facebook and twitter pages engaged with the panelists, along with international communities watching the online stream through the Asbarez website. A global discussion through modern contemporary media breached geographical barriers in a groundbreaking event where Armenians from everywhere discussed leadership, the Armenian cause, and the future for Armenia and the Diaspora in one room though thousands of miles away.
After hearing the panelists, and concluding with a community of global conversation, the ANCA Western Region Grassroots conference touched the lives of all the participants by making them uncomfortable with the status quo, showing them the progressive ways communities are changing and empowering people to be a part of the Armenian Cause as a working body of various necessary organs, always developing, moving forward, with the same values, integrity and passion for justice. The ANCA WR Grassroots Conference will be back two years from now, following the Armenian Genocide Centennial.
By then, it can be wholeheartedly said that the ANCA Western Region has empowered people internationally, to charge forward, take justice through the grassroots to a new level, and to remember always that full bellies and giving thanks for panorama suites and informative panels should actually mean giving more to the things that require love, heart, and undivided attention, every day until the world is flawless. Take a breath, pat yourselves on the back for coming, then join the movement that is changing the world and mobilizing the Armenian Cause.
The Armenian National Committee of America- Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.