It’s really amazing how quickly people can get used to new situations. I have been tossed into a brand new environment in the nation’s capitol with 5 other people who are in the exact same boat as me, and now we’re as close as if we’d always known each other, after only three weeks. Living and working together is a great way to get to know someone, and yourself.
After the initial excitement of the first week, with the House and Senate hearings on Armenia, died down, we were given our first big group project: the newspaper project. This is a very important project assigned to the interns each year. As part of its public relations effort, the ANCA office sends out copies of every article about any Senate and House member that was printed in the past year in an Armenian publication. It’s our way of saying that we do care about what they do and that our community is aware of what help they provide. So our task was to go through all the newspapers and cut the relevant articles, copy them, and mail them off. Now, this may sound like busy-work, but it was actually a great way for us to become even tighter knit. The hours we spent together in the conference room flipping pages and cutting articles gave us a great chance to explore each others’ musical tastes and personalities. It’s also a great way to learn more about our Congressional friends ‘s who takes leadership on Armenian American concerns, and, frankly, who does not.
Although the majority of our time has been spent doing the newspaper project, DC, the heartbeat of the nation, provides ample distractions from the office. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Human Rights was having a hearing called “From Nuremburg to Darfur: Accountability for Crimes Against Humanity.” Arbi, Rita and I represented the ANCA there, conquering the metro system, navigating the Capitol and taking advantage of our status as ANCA representatives to be some of the first people in the committee room. Sitting in the second row, we had a great view of the witnesses. One of them, Daoud Hari, is a refugee of the Darfur region who is one of the very few refugees that the US has granted sanctuary to. He has written a book on his experiences, The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur. His testimony was so moving and vivid; to see someone in person who has endured such hardship, and to hear them speak of their experiences is an emotional experience and it really makes you think hard about what you know. It could have been easy to delude myself into thinking Mr. Hari was just fine because he was sitting before me well dressed in a Senate committee chamber, but in truth, he has been through things that are just as bad as anything an Armenian Genocide survivor may have gone through.
The same day, Zori and I had our meetings with our congressmen, Reps. Nadler and McCotter respectively. On my second trip into the Capitol on that day, accompanied by Kate Nahapetian, the ANCA’s Government Affairs Director, and Zori, we made our way through the House Rayburn building to the office of Representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan’s 11th district. Rep. McCotter is from my hometown of Livonia, so right away I had something to talk about. Raised in Michigan, this was the first time I was meeting my congressman, and it really meant a lot to me that my meeting to discuss Armenian-American political concerns was largely a matter of reassurance on his part that he will continue to be supportive of them. He has, since that meeting, become a cosponsor of HR 6079, a bill to end the blockade on Armenia by Turkey.
Besides our duties and forays into the Capitol, we have other opportunities to learn from lecturers. One that especially stands out in mind is the lecture given to us by Mr. George Aghjayan, a native of Worcester, MA. He spoke to us about combating genocide denial. He came armed with a battery of information on the possible attacks we may encounter and intelligent ways to respond to them. He then challenged each of us to give a speech which would urge the listener not to deny the genocide or delay the acceptance of it by America. Each of us was to speak for a few minutes on whatever anti-genocide argument caught our fancy and as resources, we used the information he gave us. It was an enlightening experience for all of us since we were videotaped and had the opportunity to watch our performances afterwards. We learned our strengths and flaws and probably all of us will be better public speakers for being conscious of what we do wrong.
On top of everything that we have been busy with, we have finally been joined by our 6th intern, Razmig Nalpantian, from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Now, when people ask us how many we are, we won’t have to say, “five for now, but we’re being joined by one more.” We are finally complete and have a taste of what the rest of the summer will really be like. We have a good hard-working, fun group, and I personally am really excited to see what the summer, will bring. Being in Washington, DC is amazing and with Independence Day coming up soon, who knows what we’ll experience next!