WASHINGTON—Provided below are the remarks offered by Armenian National Committee of America Chairman Ken Hachikian at the Armenian National Committee of Australia’s annual banquet in Sydney, Australia, on November 26, 2010.
Remarks of Armenian National Committee of America Chairman Ken Hachikian at the Armenian National Committee of Australia Annual Banquet Sydney, Australia November 26, 2010
As you all know, the front lines of the Armenian Cause stretch around the world.
From the Ararat plain to Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East, across the Atlantic to the Americas, and, right here in the great country of Australia.
I have, over the past week, learned a great deal from the impressive work of the Armenian National Committee of Australia, and so today – to help repay this debt – I will share with you some of our own lessons, the hard-won wisdom we have learned in America’s political trenches.
I’ll start with the obvious: What we want.
We seek nothing less than influencing the foreign policy of governments and, ultimately, to help shape the geopolitics of the world.
No small task. Do not doubt that for a second.
Difficult, first, because foreign policy is among the most insulated areas of government decision-making, and, secondly, because the interaction between states is nearly entirely interest-driven.
We are operating in an international system stacked in favor of the strong, one that subordinates the interests of weak countries, and is hardwired to downplay the role of non-state actors.
Nowhere is the gap between morality and policy greater than in the “might makes right world” of foreign affairs; yet it is on this very battlefield that we seek to make our case and advance our cause.
It’s a powerful challenge, but no greater than those faced by our forefathers.
We seek, in this difficult environment, nothing less than truth, justice, freedom and – ultimately, based on these foundations, a fair and lasting peace for the Armenian nation.
We seek the truth, justice and freedom:
* required for our sense of morality – as Armenians and as citizens of the world.
* required for justice – for the past wrongs committed against our nation.
And, most urgently . . .
* required for our future security and survival – the very ability of Armenians to join with other countries and cultures at the table of nations, so that we can bring our contribution to the peace and progress of mankind.
The work of bringing about this kind of change doesn’t start in the capitals of the world. It begins here, among us, in our community, at the grassroots level.
We are not in Washington, or Canberra or any other capital to simply buy a tax-break, an appropriation or a regulation. That’s the work of influence peddlers.
No. Our work is a world apart. We want real change, and that starts – especially on matters of foreign affairs – at the grassroots.
And it requires three basic ingredients, ones that I would like to review with you today:
1. The first is a community that cares.
A constituency of shared values and consensus around a common cause.
Thankfully – as a result of our community groups, churches, youth programs, and families – we are blessed with caring, devoted Armenians. And, for all our differences, we are remarkably united on the key issues facing our nation.
This reality represents, truly, our greatest resource.
We are today, in many ways, simply the political expression of the Armenian spirit – the very national capital that has been invested in countless generations of Armenian children – very likely including most of us in this room tonight – stretching back thousands of years.
For, through our long centuries of challenge and change, the Armenian spirit – the wellspring of all our power – has kept our national aspirations burning bright, our moral compass aligned toward justice, and our nation moving forward.
2. The second ingredient is a community that understands.
By this I mean, Armenians with a solid understanding of the political environment of their home countries – be that Australia or America – who can see the opportunities before them, and have the skills and knowledge to engage effectively and advance the Armenian Cause,
In this regard too, we are blessed with great strengths.
Our community members – especially our youth – are remarkably talented and well educated. We are fortunate to have so many among us who can see clearly what needs to be done, and who know how to get the job done.
Thankfully, our work is not rocket science.
— It’s government affairs – so that means writing, speaking, and meeting.
— It’s campaigns and elections – volunteering, fundraising, and voting.
— It’s coalition building – finding common ground with other groups.
Most of this is well within our capabilities today as a community.
What we don’t know can be readily taught, because, for those among us who have the passion but not the knowledge to make change, learning activism is relatively easy.
The basic principles of Hai Tahd 101 can be explained in a few hours. Experience and example, always the best teachers, can cover the rest.
And so, we are armed today, with not only a community that cares, but one that, in great measure, has a solid understanding of politics and how to advance the Armenian Cause.
3. The third ingredient is the most important one…
And yet the hardest to measure.
The first, caring, is in our hearts, the second, understanding, is in our minds.
The third is in our spirit.
It is the belief – the faith – that our actions will deliver results.
Will make a difference.
This simple idea goes against so much of our historical experience, against the cultural DNA of four thousand years, during which we learned, often the hard way to distrust authority and question the value of organized efforts to advance our rights.
But today we are not governed by:
— Romans or Russians
— Persians or Parthians
— Arabs or Ottomans
The accommodation and adaptations that may have served us well under these empires no long serve us today – particularly not in places like America and Australia.
Today we must, if we are to survive, think like citizens, not subjects.
Keeping our heads down doesn’t work in a world in which the “squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
Simply staying silent and hoping for the best, is often the surest path to disaster.
We must act as drivers of our destiny, not victims of history. This revolution begins in each of us.
It begins by leveraging the devotion in our Armenian hearts and the knowledge in our minds with the belief that we, as Armenians spread across the globe, not only can but must engage in civic life and pro-Armenia advocacy if we are to see the Armenian nation survive.
These three ingredients – caring, understanding, and believing – are essential to Armenia’s future and to our future as a nation.
Nowhere is the powerful combination of these three better illustrated than in our Capital Gateway Program, a seven-year old initiative that places qualified young Armenian Americans in key Washington, DC jobs.
We welcome recent university graduates – with a devotion to the Armenian Cause, a firm grasp of American politics, and a belief in their ability to bring about change – and help them – with housing, training, and contacts – to start careers in government, politics, and media.
We have helped dozens of talented Armenians while measurably expanding the presence of Armenian Americans in the halls of power and influence in Washington.
Harvesting this energy is the work of our community organizations. In the political field, it is the mission of the Armenian National Committee.
I am reminded, whenever speaking of organizing, of an expression by A. Philip Randolph.
“At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats. You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything, and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything. And you can’t take anything without organization.”
These words, spoken so many decades ago, are just as powerful today.
For all the criticism that organizations take – especially, it seems, in our community – they do represent our most effective way to advance our commonly held aims.
It is also, however, an encouraging measure of our collective growth and maturity, that the value of teamwork is, today, increasingly understood and appreciated.
Organization is the key to all our hopes and aspirations. But, this has not always been the case.
In the past, and today as well, there are many powerful interests – in Washington, Moscow, even in Ankara – who seek to speak in the name of the Armenians. Who, for their own interests, seek to redefine our rights, our views and our values.
TARC and the Protocols are two telling examples.
In both cases, third parties sought to foster the impression of divisions in the Armenian nation – in order to advance their own anti-Armenia agenda.
A third example is the Matthew Bryza nomination to be the US ambassador to Azerbaijan. The State Department – and its allies at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post – attacked the ANCA for allegedly representing only a radical fringe of our community that opposes President Obama’s candidate to serve as Ambassador to Azerbaijan. And yet – curiously – there is not one serious Armenian voice anywhere on the record defending this nomination.
This was a rather weak attempt at divide and conquer, but, nonetheless, typical of how those in power usually try to speak in our name. It’s clear that only Armenians can speak for Armenians.
We will never “outsource” the Armenian Cause.
In this regard, and in so many others, the Armenian National Committee of Australia has done a remarkable job.
Here and in communities around the world, we have carved out an authentic Armenian space, a real world and online civic arena in which we discuss, debate, and decide – building consensus and fostering cooperation on our shared goals as a community.
The test is not if we agree on 9 things and disagree on 1, we don’t work together. Just the opposite
If we find that we only agree on 1 thing, and disagree on 9, let’s cooperate on that one thing.
That’s thinking politically.
In a world of political Darwinism in which only the strong survive – political thinking is essential.
— First, in developing a strong civic culture in our communities, driven by our commitment to principle, and defined by an assertive, sophisticated, and effective brand of advocacy.
— Second, by building powerful organizations that enjoy the trust and participation of our community.
— Third, by remaining united in confronting our main challenges.
The nations and networks that meet these tests will survive, while others will be left behind.
In that context, the Armenian National Committee of Australia represents an All-Star in our Hai Tahd world.
Building upon years of tireless work by your community’s founders, a young generation has taken your work to new heights.
The results are clear:
You have secured recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the State Parliament of South Australia, through two separate resolutions in the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, and are pressing toward full national commemoration.
You have developed a strong media presence, as illustrated by interviews with ANC Australia Board members on ABC national radio and SBS, and coverage in countless other outlets.
You are effectively making the case for Nagorno Karabagh, as reflected by the speeches delivered by Jonathon O’Dea MP and Victor Dominello MP in the NSW State Parliament and just yesterday in the federal parliament by Paul Fletcher in support of self determination and independence.
You are active in academia, as demonstrated by the government funding you’ve helped arrange for Galstaun College, and by the establishment of an ANC Australia scholarship.
You are strengthening Australia-Armenia ties, including by promoting increased bilateral trade and reinforcing the ties between Australian Armenians and other Armenian communities around the world.
And, through all these and many other worthwhile undertakings, you are strengthening your community through voter registration and rallies, advocacy weeks, community education programs, and truly excellent online outreach via email, websites, and social media.
I could not be more proud of your work.
You are, here in Australia, at the cutting edge of the Armenian Cause.
And so, in closing, I will share with you what you already know:
The Armenian National Committee represents the best of our past, our traditions, our identity, and the core values that bind us together and have brought us this far.
And, just as importantly, the Armenian National Committee represents the best of our future – as we work with growing sophistication to adapt and reinvent ourselves and our cause for a new age.
The Hai Tahd movement, with the Armenian National Committee leading the way, is, in many ways, a second Armenian army – without, to be sure, the same sacrifice asked of soldiers on the battlefield, but every bit as necessary for the survival of the Armenian people.
For those of you who are already engaged, please add a measure of commitment to your contribution to this great and worthy organization, as together, we leverage the devotion of the Armenian nation, inspire ourselves to even greater heights, and direct our energies toward our common purpose.
For those of you who are new to the Armenian National Committee, I urge you to join with countless thousands of your fellow Armenians, in Australia and across the world, who, working as a team, represent an unmatched network of power, respect, and influence.
With your support, we shall persevere, we shall progress, and we shall prevail.