SACRAMENTO—When more than 350 Armenian-American activists converged on the California State Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, April 7 for the ANCA Western Region’s 7th Annual Advocacy Day, their experience was made all the more special due to the efforts of incoming Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and his staff.
As preparations for this year’s Advocacy Day commenced several months ago, the ANCA-WR decided to request that the annual resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide be more strongly worded than it had been in previous years. This call to action was heeded by Senator de Leon, who took on the responsibility of personally introducing the resolution in the State Senate, all the while working closely with the ANCA-WR. The result was SJR 21, which is one of the strongest ArmenianGenocide resolutions ever adopted by a state legislative body.
The Senate session was opened with a moving invocation and prayer by Father Vahan Gosdanian of Fresno’s Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church, followed by the flag presentation by the Santa Clara Homenetmen Ani Scouts. As Senator de Leon rose to introduce the resolution, he acknowledged the gallery full of Advocacy Day participants and thanked the ANCA-WR for its presence and participation. In his remarks urging support for SJR 21, Senator de Leon eloquently described that the violence against the Armenians was inhumane, but “now they would be made to bear a second inhumanity of violence against their memory.” He proclaimed that “the Great State of California will not let their history vanish and will not let their demand for justice to go unheeded.”
Strong words of support were also voiced by Senator Ricardo Lara, who also co-authored the resolution and chairs the Legislative Latino Caucus, Senator Holly Mitchell as Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, Senator Mark Wyland who described Turkish lobbyists as “absolute deniers,” Senator Marty Block as Chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, Senator Carol Liu who represents a large Armenian-American constituency, Senator Tom Berryhill who drew parallels with displacement of Armenians during the Genocide and now again in Kessab, and Senator Jim Nielsen who called for Genocide education of California’s youth and justice for the Armenian people.
Glendale City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian was invited by the ANCA-WR to address the Senate on behalf of the community in support of the resolution. He passionately called upon California’s political leaders “to have the courage to speak truth to power” by recognizing the Armenian Genocide and its present-day consequences, securing just reparations for a crime that continues to be denied, and learning the lessons of history as we face the current crisis in Kessab and guard the future for generations to come.
At the end, a unanimous vote of 35-0 passed the resolution, as Senator de Leon presented the ANCA-WR with a commemorative framed copy of it for display.
“We’d like to thank Senator de Leon and his staff for the extraordinary work he did to make sure that this annual event at the State Capitol would be a success,” said ANCA-WR Executive Director Elen Asatryan. “In particular, we’d like to acknowledge the assistance provided by his deputy district director Baydsar Thomasian. She went above and beyond the call of duty by also lending a hand with the organization of the rotunda exhibit featuring Near East Relief efforts in California, as well as the luncheon reception where several legislators were able to interact with Advocacy Day participants in a more casual setting.”
ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq., echoed these sentiments, adding that “the ANCA-WR is grateful to Senator Kevin de Leon for his support and leadership on issues of concern to the Armenian-American community. We look forward to continuing to work closely with him as he assumes the role of Senate President Pro Tem not only on the issue of the Armenian Genocide, but also in continuing efforts to secure California’s recognition of the independence of the Republic of Artsakh, securing mandates for Armenian Genocide education in public schools, preparing for next year’s Genocide Centennial, and acknowledging California’s contribution to the Near East Relief effort which saved the Armenian Nation from total annihilation.”