By: Maria Martirosyan
A pleasant surprised awaited all of the ANCA-WR Executive Intern’s when we took the Hye Votes project to the streets of Little Armenia. The Hye Votes project, which was launched with the goals of getting all eligible Armenian-Americans to become registered voters and participate in elections, has been one of the main focuses of the summer 2012 Executive Interns class. Since the commencement of the internship, all of the interns have put in much effort and work into coordinating and organizing different strategies and methods of registering Armenian individuals of all ages.
However, nothing comes as easy as planned on paper. Attending all 5 days of the Navasartian Games and Festival, the interns expected to register a lot of people, but as it turned out, our optimism was faced with a setback. Going into the event, we all were enthused, and had every reason to be. We would have the chance to try to convince thousands of unregistered voters to register. A goal of a few hundred seemed somewhat humble. However, competing with the blaring music and frenzy of the event, we faced a greater amount of voter apathy then we could have ever expected. Every turn down was a blow to our psyche, but if you were to ask any person we approached, they would have said we seemed unphased. Despite the great voter apathy that we faced, we all were able to keep ourselves level headed enough to continue trying to approach as many people as we could and ultimately registering a good amount of people.
Nevertheless, following such an event, we were hesitant toward starting the next project and worried we would get the same responses. However, despite the fact that we had been discouraged and heartbroken, we were still able to muster the courage to go door to door in Little Armenia. Lucky for us, the effort we put forth was not lost, instead we were pleasantly surprised at the responses we received from the people in Little Armenia. More often than not, most people were very happy to see us as they immediately invited us inside their home to take a seat as they and other family members filled out the voter registration forms. As Armenians are known for their hospitality and their love for Armenian coffee, every house we entered people would offer us Armenian coffee, sweets, fruits, pastries, and even full meals. Naturally, we tried to be as professional as possible in accepting to take a break sometimes, yet each family insists that we eat at least one candy bar and drink a cup of juice and take one more candy bar to go. The interns and I are certain that by the end of this internship, we will have gained at least 15 pounds if not more. In addition, at the end of each visit, people applaud us for our work, express their gratitude, wish us luck, and pass upon us their blessings commending us on our work for the Armenian community.
Going to multiple houses, we had the opportunity to meet and register many different people. We met families and individuals of all walks of life – families who just migrated to the United States, families who have lived and worked for the Armenian Cause, individuals who wanted to get involved, elderly couples, and ill people who nevertheless were willing to register to vote. Among our time canvassing, we had the honor of meeting some very interesting individuals, one of which was a 93-year-old Armenian veteran who fought on 3 different fronts including WWII and the Polish-Soviet war. During our time in his home, he told us of his past and he shared with us his medals and awards as proof of all he has done. This was a very humbling moment for me, as I met someone who had done so much for his people.
Going out and meeting the people in our community reminded us the importance of what we do and working towards the greater good for the Armenian diaspora. Going door to door and educating people on the importance of voting and the process of doing so, is rewarding knowing that they now have the opportunity to participate in the civic duty of voting. The positive feedback we receive from the people is what makes our efforts worthwhile. Our faith was restored in ourselves and our goals following the pleasantly surprising results of our work in Little Armenia. The interns will continue knocking on each door in the Little Armenia making sure every eligible Armenian-American is registered to vote, because your vote is the voice of your community.
Learn more about the Hye Votes initiative!
Register to vote, today!
By: Janet Shamilian
Each of us is rightfully entitled to our own assessment of what the Armenian Cause means. Some of us may feel a stronger connection with a certain issue than another and others may weigh in most, if not all issues involving Armenians. However, to assume that the Armenian Cause is only confined to the acceptance and recognition of the Armenian Genocide is blindly neglecting the truth, history, and facts – and as a people, we have had our overdosed and prolonged encounter with negligence.
Being Armenian is not an obligation we fulfill 1 out of the 365 days in the year. It is not only about how dedicated we are to our people each year, solely on the 24th of April. It surely is not about how many Armenian flags we display in just about every single size and how often we drive around the consulate, encircling the protest. Rather, being a faithful Armenian is defined by the work and time we contribute to our cause, not just on the 24th of April, but on every single day of the year. I commend those Armenians who have dedicated their lives to our cause. I applaud those Armenians who have sacrificed their vocation in order to help their people.
The genocide does not only revolve around the recognition of the crimes committed against humanity almost a century ago. We often forget that recognition is only a step and not the destination. As we advocate for justice, we must not disregard other necessities that come along with the acceptance of our history – such as the need to demand for restitution. Restitution, the act of returning something lost or stolen to its rightful owner, should be the next step. In the 1990’s, groups of Holocaust survivors established reparation programs in countries that were both directly and indirectly affected as a result of the Nazi regime. On October 3, 2010, Germany paid off the last installment of interest, finally settling its World War I accounts. After Finland sustained its independence during World War II, it had to pay huge war reparations to the Soviet Union along with Hungary, former Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. Similarly, after World War II, Italy and Germany had borrowed a great sum of money from Greece and ended up repaying Greece for war reparations. Following these few examples from history, we must be mindful that advocating for the acceptance of the genocide is not enough. We cannot forget our geographic soul.
The Armenian Genocide is not the only issue Armenians face in the United States or internationally. A prevailing issue that is taking place right now is the breach of ceasefire between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Despite peace talks and agreed ceasefire in May 1994, periodic shootouts on the borderline have taken place for the past 18 years. This “frozen conflict” has led to the killings of soldiers in times of these sporadic infringements of ceasefire. The autonomy and sovereignty of Armenians in Karabakh will be at risk if the international community and we, the members of our community, remain dormant and uneducated about these acts of hostility. Thankfully, by finally addressing the serious violations of the Azeris, the United States Department of Defense blocked Azerbaijan from purchasing U.S. military equipment. Azerbaijan’s aggressiveness and disrespect towards calls to settle the Karabakh issue peacefully should ignite and activate members of the Armenian community. This focus on present day issues is imperative in steps towards understanding the Armenian Cause.
Other prevailing contemporary issues include the bipartisan measure regarding Turkey’s stolen Christian church properties and the resistance and discrimination Turkey bears towards freedom of faith for religious minorities. This measure calls upon Turkey to return all confiscated Christian church properties along with various affiliated artifacts. Turkey threatens the survival and longevity of religious minorities when showing resistance to religious freedom.The Churches Resolution is aligned with American’s beliefs of religious freedom and practice. It would be hypocritical for this superpower to not intervene and pressure respective parties to return religious sights to their rightful owners.
By providing foreign aid, the United States is able to promote and stabilize healthier democracies, ensure a favorable environment for American products, strengthen national security, and defend its global leadership. In May 2012, United States House of Representatives panel for foreign affairs proposed increasing foreign aid to Karabakh from $2 million to $5 million. This proposal results in a 150% increase of aid to Karabakh while preserving aid to Armenia.
Another pressing issue is the assimilation of our culture and people. Rather than retaining our cultural identity, we are bidding farewell to our near 5,000-year history. Nothing is worth such an unfair and parasitic trade-off. Adapting to our environment is integral, but being absorbed by our surroundings is unacceptable. Assimilation inevitably leads to a loss of identity, thereby demonstrating detriment in the already microscopic Armenian community.
The abovementioned problems are rooted in our history but are problems taking place in modern society. Though the recognition of the Armenian Genocide should be at the top of our political agenda, we cannot abandon the current occurrences involving our homeland and our people. It is important to place a fair balance on the past and present together, since both the past and present largely impact our future. Other than educating ourselves regarding the issues mentioned above, the first step towards helping our community is by calling our local Senators and U.S. Representatives and urging and encouraging them to vote for pro-Armenian issues. If you are already represented by individuals who are supportive of these issues, the power of “thank you” notes goes a long way…
The Armenian Cause is not a subjective field, dependent on each individual. It is a series of causes and issues that together comprise the Armenian fight to overcome our lingering battles. We are the soldiers in this battle. Just as in any successful strategy of war, while we can prioritize, we cannot direct all our attention towards just one issue. Failure to disperse our attention and magnify all the issues will not only make us seem unknowledgeable, and even worse, vulnerable and blindsided. The Armenian Cause is the overarching theme of the Armenian struggle, respective of ALL issues taking place within the Armenian community.
By: Vahe Assarian
Many people ask me, “Why did you major in Political Science?” Well, the answer may surprise you – politics runs in my blood. My father’s side has always been actively involved in the Armenian community, especially when it involves aspects of what Armenia needs to do to improve the nation political and economically. My family is also involved with a number of Armenian organizations including, but not limited to the Armenian Youth Federation, Armenian National Committee of America, and Homenetmen. Growing up in this family and having connections with Armenian organizations I developed an interest. My father’s side is strongly connected with the Armenian community because they want to see justice for the Armenian Cause. Both my grandmother and grandfather survived the Armenian Genocide and their stories of how they survived were told to my father and consequently, to me. After hearing these stories, I decided that I needed to go into politics to fight for justice in memory of my grandparents and the Armenian people.
It’s one thing to discuss politics but it’s another to actually study it. I graduated California State University Northridge (CSUN), where I studied Political Science for the past two years. I began my career in Fall 2010 and completed my Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Government on May 23, 2012. I am the first person from both my mother’s and father’s side to get a degree in this field.
Experiencing politics first hand has been quite the experience. Working for the Armenian National Committee of America -Western Region (ANCA-WR), I have learned that politics is not an easy subject to deal with – especially out on the field. While at California State University Northridge, I thought politics was hard to research and study but to actually be involved with a political group makes my studies seem far too easy. Since this is my first job,I have had a rough transition between school and work but hopefully soon I’ll get the hang of it!
I hope to still be working for the Armenian Cause in my future. My family would be very happy to see me continuing my work within the Armenian community, here in the United States. Working for the Armenian community takes a great deal of time and effort but as long as I stay strong, I know I will better my community and myself. Unfortunately, I can’t predict where my future will take me but I know that expanding my education hasn’t come to an end just yet.
By: Janet Shamilian
It’s not about how you start, but rather how you finish. Success, growth, and development are measured both throughout and especially towards the end of the journey. For this reason, I plan to work every day as if it is my last day on the job. Though this is just the beginning, I am ready to embrace the difficulties and challenges that await in the next few weeks. I am incredibly excited for the knowledge, opportunities, and experiences I am going to gain by interning as an Executive Intern for the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR).
Ever since my freshman year at Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School, I vividly remember the efforts and involvement of the ANCA in the community. I knew then that volunteering for the ANCA was something that I would pursue in the future. Now, I am granted the opportunity to intern for this active and influential organization. I firmly believe that this internship will better acquaint me with international relations and domestic politics. Moreover, I am excited about participating in the American electoral process and witnessing the hard-work that goes behind representing the collective Armenian American community.
Other than pursuing an adolescent dream of mine, I decided to intern for the ANCA because of the respect I have for this organization. Furthermore, I realize that it is imperative for the youth to be active and involved in our community. We cannot simply rely on others to carry out our work. We should not let time pass us by. There is strength in numbers and together, we can progress towards making a difference. We can close the disconnect between our generation and past generations by uniting under common interests and similar goals – advocating for our motherland, our people, and bringing justice to the Armenian Cause. Կեցցեք։
As I document my experience throughout the internship, I invite all members of the community to gain insight on this experience. As members of the diaspora, it is our obligation and duty to help our motherland by advocating for her freedom, rights, and reunion with her children. We are far away – distant from our beautiful Արարատ Լեռ (Mt. Ararat), away from our breathtaking churches, deprived of the sweetness of our apricots, and cold because we are away from the eternal fire of Ծիծեռնակաբերդ (Tsitsernakaberd). However, we are distant for a reason. This distance should draw us closer to the Armenian Cause. Being away from our homeland can only be justified if and when we take steps towards justice.
Ironically, because of my involvement, I view this distance as a means of unification with my people. I do not know when we will get back our loaned lands, when justice will be served, but I do know that through our collective efforts, the gaps that form this distance will close. Join me. Join us. Join the cause. Կեցցեք։
I was always very excited about turning 18 years old for many reasons. The first one is obviously the “entrance into adulthood.” The second reason for me was voting, even though when I turned 18 there were no elections happening. This year I will be able to vote. To me, it has always been a very important part of being American, and I feel that each vote does make a difference. In my family, my mom recently got her citizenship so she has not been able to vote for the last few elections. But she will probably come with me to vote this year. My father has never really cared, so I don’t think he will be coming with me ever to vote for anyone. In a way, that is the typical response I get from people who live around me when I ask them if they are planning on voting for the elections. Many Armenians believe that it does not matter if we vote and that we shouldn’t even care what is going on in American politics.
This way of thinking always frustrated me because we live in America. We cannot just ignore what goes on in a country that we live in. I participated in Hye Votes last Sunday, which was a way of getting Armenians involved in voting for elections. I had many responses from people, but the one that I cannot forget was of this woman who was probably in her 30s. We asked if she was registered to vote and she said she was not. We then asked if she would want to register to vote and she replied, “No, I don’t care for things like that.” In a way, I understand that she does not want to get involved, but I also feel that because people have this theory that ‘it does not matter,’ they can get away with not voting.
Coming from Armenia, a country that has democracy to an extent, I have learned that America gives people many opportunities to participate in ‘civic engagement.’ I think that we should all be open to that and use that for our own benefit. Our best way is to learn about the country we chose to come and live in. We have to be able to get nominated officials to help the Armenian Cause. Turkey has to pay people for them to try to stop America from making the Armenian Genocide official. If more Armenians were politically involved and researched about candidates, we could get a lot more across. A cause is nothing without followers, and no cause will have achievements from government without followers.