Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region Board chair Nora Hovsepian delivered a powerful message on Sunday, November 21, at the ANCA Grassroots luncheon, during which the organization honored Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Dr. Arman Tatoyan with the “Human Rights Champion” award.
Below is the full text of Hovsepian’s speech.
Distinguished Guests, Reverend Clergy, Dear Friends,
On behalf of the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region Board, I want to thank you for joining us and supporting this first event that we have been able to have in the last two years. It’s so gratifying to see you all here.
2020 was a very tough year for all of us, from the COVID pandemic to the devastating war in Artsakh, and 2021 has brought new challenges which we never would have imagined facing, as the consequences of the war have led to an existential threat not only against Artsakh, but now even to Armenia itself. In the midst of this crisis, one thing has become crystal clear: the very same pan-Turkic ideology which was the driving force for the Armenian Genocide over a century ago continues today with the genocidal intent of Turkey and Azerbaijan on full display for all the world to see, and there can be no doubt that they will continue until they either achieve their goal, or they are stopped.
What remains is the question of how we are going to fight against this onslaught so that our Armenian nation, with its rich and storied history, can survive and thrive.
On the heels of a victory we fought decades to achieve with both Houses of Congress formally recognizing the Armenian Genocide, the dark days of the COVID pandemic set upon us before we even had a chance to celebrate. At that time, we had no idea of what was coming just six months later.
As you’ve undoubtedly seen in the media and in the video we just showed, our projects continued despite the pandemic, and while we would normally take this opportunity to report on our activities, I want to avoid redundancy and focus on the crisis currently facing us.
First, though, allow me to express thanks to each of you. Although we had to cancel our much-anticipated Annual Gala Banquet two years in a row due to COVID restrictions, we decided to have this event in a new outdoor setting, unsure of how it would go. But we were pleasantly surprised to see how the event sold out so quickly, and even more gratified by the fact that this smaller event has raised nearly the same amount in donations as our Gala Banquets typically raise with 1000 attendees.
And that, dear friends, is thanks to each of you and your unwavering commitment to our Cause during both good times and hard times. Over the past two years, we lost so many strong ANCA supporters and pillars of our community: Manas Boujikian, Khajag Sarkissian, Satig Der Ohanessian, Lisa Gaboudian, Khajag Dikijian, Vazken Madenlian, Savey Tufenkian, and of course, former State Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian. We miss them all and cherish their memories as we try to emulate their lifelong service to the Armenian Cause.
We are exceedingly grateful to our event sponsors and stalwart supporters Varant & Hoori Melkonian, who were unable to attend due to a prior family commitment, and to each of our generous donors ranging from the Sepetjians to the Karapetians, from the McKenzies to the Manjikians, the Akians, DerOhanessians, Eshgians, Fermanians, Ghailians, Ourfalians, Petrossians, Sarians, Sinanians, and every single donor who has shown confidence and trust in our work year after year. I also want to thank Dr. Eric Esrailian who is here with us today and has stood behind us every step of the way, and congratulate him for recently receiving a well-deserved medal from Pope Francis who honored him for his philanthropic work in advancing awareness of the Armenian Genocide. We are so proud.
Now, allow me to set the stage for how we got here. Last year, after we had to cancel our Gala Banquet due to COVID restrictions, our Board pulled out all the stops to create a unique visual experience for our supporters to feel as though they were participating in the banquet from home.
On Saturday night, September 26, 2020, as we were all putting our finishing touches on speeches and award presentations to be taped in studio the next morning, the devastating news came that Artsakh was under attack by Azerbaijan.
Faced with this new crisis, our Board and Staff immediately canceled the taping and sprung into action. Over the ensuing 44 days, we all witnessed with horror the onslaught that was being inflicted upon our Homeland not only by Azerbaijan but also by Turkey with its drones and mercenaries, as we faced a modern era genocidal campaign against our People.
We moved into red alert, high gear, working 24/7, engaging daily, both publicly and behind the scenes, with policy makers and elected officials, coalition partners, national, international and local media, foreign diplomats and the general public.
We hired PR firms and other professionals to help us navigate these unprecedented turbulent waters and quickly open doors to think tanks and people of influence.
We launched campaigns to identify American lobbying and defense manufacturing firms hired by the Turkish and Azeri governments and, using our influence, pressured them to terminate those contracts.
We continued to find ways to divest public funds from Turkey because the thought of our tax dollars going to fund Turkey’s attacks against our soldiers and civilians is just too much to bear.
We disseminated and highlighted reports from the ground by our distinguished honoree and champion Dr. Arman Tatoyan, who we are so proud and grateful to have with us here, and whose research and real time investigations continue to document and reveal unspeakable war crimes and human rights violations against our People.
We collaborated with community partners to mobilize our people for a mass protest from the Turkish consulate to the Azeri consulate where 150,000 of us marched to support our compatriots in the Homeland and call attention to the aggression by our enemies.
We launched the D2P Duty to Prevent initiative to counter the rising wave of anti-Armenian and Armenophobic hate crimes by building anti-hate coalitions with Jewish, Hindu, Asian-American, Serbian, Assyrian, Hellenic and other ethnic and racial groups.
And to find further areas of common ground and create opportunities for collaboration and communication, we recently launched AJAC, the Armenian Jewish Advisory Council, as an extension of our successful work with Jewish community organizations on Genocide and Holocaust education and ethnic studies.
Indeed, these are certainly dark days in the 4000-year history of the Armenian People, but history has shown that the light will shine again so long as we remain vigilant, engaged and proactive. It is this light, perhaps distant but still there, that keeps us here fighting for our Cause because we don’t have the luxury of just giving up, and because our People need us now more than ever.
The current geopolitical reality has Armenia and Artsakh at the mercy of regional actors, each pursuing agendas anchored in their own interests, very few of which coincide with our own. This is a crucial time where Homeland and Diaspora must collectively harness their respective resources and expertise toward the protection, preservation and advancement of our national rights. This is the time for all hands on deck, coming together to formulate and implement a pan-national agenda. This is not a time to be divisive, dismissive, or self-destructive.
As Armenians in the Diaspora, and more specifically as Armenian-Americans, it is up to us to identify areas where we have the power and influence to effectuate U.S. policy changes to favor our rights and interests over those of our enemies. On a mass scale, this is what we can and must do. This is what the ANCA strives to do each and every day.
So how do we accomplish this?
We support and elect allies in the public sector who have the ability, understanding and commitment to promote our pro-Armenian legislative and policy priorities and to hold Turkey and Azerbaijan accountable.
By drawing attention to war crimes, human rights violations, illegal detention of our POW’s, cultural genocide, border incursions, and violent rhetoric by Azeri and Turkish leaders and military, we increase pressure on them rather than allow them to act with impunity.
And as the most important focal point, we highlight the same Pan-Turkic aspirations that led first to the Armenian Genocide a century ago and now continue to threaten our sovereignty and borders with the same genocidal intent.
Just as we fought for decades for official US recognition of the Armenian Genocide, culminating in President Biden’s unequivocal proclamation this year, we will continue to fight for increased US aid to Armenia and Artsakh, increased US engagement in the OSCE Minsk Group peace process for Artsakh, sanctions against Turkey, and an end to waivers of Section 907 so we can stop all US military aid to Azerbaijan. As American citizens, we must exercise our right to demand that our tax dollars stop funding these genocidal autocratic regimes.
Yes, these are tall orders; and yes, many in our community lament that we are weak because Armenia seemingly has nothing to offer to the United States. But in the face of these challenges, we must continue to focus on four undeniable facts:
First, Armenia is the only democracy in the region and thus it is in the US interest to support it;
Second, Armenia is the only country in the region with a vocal and organized Diaspora that has significant potential to exert pressure in favor of Armenia and Artsakh;
Third, for its own security and survival, Armenia must be given viable options so that it is not monopolized by any single regional power which takes advantage of its intense vulnerability; and
Fourth, while Armenia may appear to be alone and abandoned by its supposed allies, there remains one strong ally whose commitment and loyalty are unwavering and whose vast potential remains mostly untapped – and that is the Armenian Diaspora.
It is precisely for these reasons that we have succeeded in keeping the Armenian Cause alive on the US foreign policy agenda. Rest assured and take pride in the fact that if it weren’t for the civic engagement of the Armenian-American community, your continued support and the work of the ANCA nationwide from Los Angeles to Washington DC and everywhere in between, US policy makers would hear only from the well-funded Turkish and Azeri lobbies and would have no reason or understanding to support Armenia and Artsakh.
And let me just briefly address the elephant in the room, in case anyone is wondering: no matter who is governing Armenia or Artsakh, no matter who has governed the independent Armenian republics for the past thirty years, our purpose has always been to promote and protect Armenia, Artsakh and the rights of the Armenian people. We must stay laser focused on this mission because regimes have come and gone and will continue to do so, but our commitment as Armenian-Americans and as the ANCA is and must remain unequivocally to the Armenian nation. That is what we have always done, and that is what we must continue to do now.
Of course we all have our own opinions about internal politics in Armenia, and we realize and respect the fact that other political actors have different priorities, but we must focus on the fact that it is outside of the ANCA’s charter to take political positions on such matters. During these devastating times when post-war policy decisions in Armenia have sharply divided our People, we must continue to advocate for Armenia as a nation-state on the world stage, and steer clear of allowing our individual opinions to distract us from our mission. Believe me, this is extremely challenging and difficult, but it is the best and most effective way to reach our goals.
We are living through increasingly turbulent and seemingly hopeless times, but we must realize that we are not helpless, and this is no time for despair or complacency. We’ve all got a lot of work to do, every single one of us. We need to amplify our voices, knock on political doors and demand support for our Cause, engage the media to cover what is happening, spread the word everywhere, respond to ANCA Action Alerts, seek and create viable alternative solutions, pool our resources, educate the public sector to not be fooled into believing the false narrative being peddled by our enemies, and do everything, everything within our power to come to Armenia’s rescue.
We are all traumatized now with the war and its ongoing horrible consequences; our national pride is understandably wounded, and many of us feel paralyzed. But we must rise from these ashes just as our grandparents rose from the ashes of the Genocide, and we must continue our fight until victory is achieved, no matter how long it might take, for it is during the darkest of days that we must focus to see the light.
So as we continue to forge our path ahead, we look forward to seeing you all in the trenches, where the work of this mission has always gotten done, and where I assure you it will get done, one step at a time.