BY: SATENIK HARUTYUNYAN
University of California, San Diego – Class of 2011
To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this internship. I knew nothing of the East Coast, Washington, DC, or even the specifics of the work done by the ANCA DC office other than what I had read online and what my colleagues at the San Diego ANC had told me. I arrived here with a suitcase full of the most professional clothes I could conjure up, an open mind and an infinite amount to learn. In these two weeks, I’ve acquired more practical knowledge than the whole of my undergraduate education has provided me with in the past two years. After being thrown into the real world of the political game, the other interns and I quickly realized that we had to think fast, or drown in a sea of overwhelming work. The fact of the matter is that the ANCA is dealing with issues of tremendous importance to Armenia, Armenian Americans, as well as the rest of the Diaspora. And collectively, WE – here in the Washington DC and around the country – are the messengers of our community’s concerns to the elected officials who will be making decisions on these vital issues.
Being an intern here has given me a taste of what it means to work for something that matters. The Cause here is tangible; the goal is concrete (although sometimes it seems unattainable); and, the emotional compensation is invaluable.
My first few days on the job were exciting, to say the least. Little did I expect to meet with His Excellency Tatoul Markarian, the Ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to the U.S. – the senior diplomat representing Armenia’s interests in meetings at the White House, the State Department and all the other Government agencies that matter. As it turns out, he’s an incredibly down to earth individual. The Ambassador wanted us to have a conversation with our group as opposed to lecturing us, and encouraged us to ask questions regarding U.S- Armenia relations. We asked some tough questions, which he answered balance and poise. I was ridiculously impressed at his ability to never offend one point of view while presenting another. I suppose I really got to see diplomacy at work for the first time ever. Throughout the two hours we spent with him, he could tell I was visibly bothered by some of the less encouraging topics we were discussing. (Apparently I am not yet the consummate diplomat, able to hide concern or displeasure.) He kept reminding us not to get too upset or discouraged by the challenges we are facing. And, in fact, I did not leave the meeting discouraged at all – simply more determined to take action.
The Congressional Baseball game was another defining moment of the internship for me thus far. Although, this may sound like a bit of a spectacle, it was a learning experience for all of us. Essentially, the game consists of Members of Congress on opposing Republican and Democrat teams battling each other in a baseball game to raise funds for a local DC charity. In the end, the Democrats, who are usually the underdogs, defeated the Republicans with an unexpected score of 13 to 5. But, to be honest, for me the value of going to the baseball game didn’t rest entirely in the final score. That is to say, there was more to witness than politicians stealing bases and party rivalry at its best. Seated immediately in front of us was Rep. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara. She was incredibly generous with her time, giving us advice about our time in Washington, DC, and speaking with one of our interns, who earned his Bachelor’s Degree in her district, about the importance of staying involved in California politics. Besides Rep. Capps, we met House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson (D-CT) and several other Members who have stood strong on Armenian American concerns – with each happy to chat with us on issues from Armenian Genocide affirmation to foreign aid to Nagorno Karabagh. Who said baseball and politics don’t mix.
So just two weeks in, I’ve learned that Washington is really a small town filled with incredibly important people. And it is thanks to this internship that I have the chance to get my foot in the door to pursue something so close to my heart – the Armenian Cause. My journey has just begun, and I can only hope that it will remain so rewarding.
Editor’s note: You can follow Satenik Harutyunyan’s travels and travails in Washington DC on her newly established blog – http://satiharuty.blogspot.com/