ANCA-WR Summer 2021: Week 5

Areen Tazian

To start off the fourth week of the program, on Monday, June 12, interns met with Board Member and Treasurer of the ANCA Western Region, Hermineh Pakhanians, who lectured about the incredible efforts of Near East Relief over the course of the Armenian Genocide, and the ANCA’s subsequent movement for the centennial, “America We Thank You: An Armenian Tribute to Near East Relief.” In September of 1915, approximately five months after the onset of the Genocide, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, expressed his concern to the United States about the plight of the Armenian people in the Near East. Soon thereafter, prominent individuals such as Cleveland H. Dodge, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s Advisor, and Missionary James L. Barton came together to form the “American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR).” 

From 1915 through 1930 the ACASR, now regarded as Near East Relief (NER) or the Near East Foundation, launched large-scale PR campaigns across all fifty U.S. states, that later spread internationally, resulting in $117 million being raised for the purpose of providing humanitarian aid to countless orphans and refugees in the Near East. Campaigns were launched, funds were raised, and innocent human beings received the care, aid, and relief that they needed and deserved. On a micro level, individual lives were saved; on a macro level, Near East Relief contributed immensely to the preservation of the Armenian nation. Mirroring the words of the Armenian orphans of Alexandrapol, and of the ANCA’s tribute for the centennial of the Genocide, “America, We Thank You.”

On Tuesday, July 13, interns had the privilege of meeting with Leeza Arakelian, Assistant Editor of The Armenian Weekly, who imparted an informative presentation on the history and structure of the newspaper, along with advice on how to write an insightful and engaging op-ed piece. While Arakelian has only been part of this newspaper’s editorial staff for the past three years, she has had experience working with, and writing for, news sources such as Boston 25 and Al Jazeera America. 

The Armenian Weekly, originally named Hairenik Weekly, was founded in 1934 by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) as the English-language equivalent to The Hairenik newspaper, which was established in 1899 as an Armenian-language newspaper. The earlier Hairenik Weekly served mainly as a space for the actions and initiatives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) to be communicated. Since the paper’s rebranding in 1969 as The Armenian Weekly, this “weekly” newspaper has grown to be a more formal and reliable news source that covers a number of topics, ranging from top global news stories to op-ed pieces written by community members, which keep Armenians both inside and outside of the Motherland informed.

After receiving background on the newspaper, we were educated on the writing process of a successful op-ed. Among numerous other detailed components, it is crucial that the piece be centered around a single persuasive argument, cover a topic that the individual can write about passionately, and should be engaging to potential readers. There was one thing that Arakelian stressed: “Raise YOUR voice.” Going to protests and marches and participating in relief efforts are usually moving, eye-opening, and emotional experiences. By reflecting on those very experiences, and putting thoughts on paper, in a space with a diverse audience, it not only allows the individual to express themselves and their opinions, but also affords readers the opportunity to hear the differing perspectives behind our community’s most pressing and controversial issues.

Wednesday, July 14, was the weekly office day, or the day that interns go to the ANCA-WR office in-person, to work on projects and interact with each other outside of Zoom. Rather than a usual lecture, we spent time playing “The Mercury Game”, a negotiation simulation. Each intern was assigned a country or non-governmental organization to represent at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council meeting, for the purpose of debating how to handle the issue of mercury, considering its significant negative impacts on human beings and the environment.

Although we were aware of the countries and NGOs that our fellow interns were assigned, we were not aware of their position on the mercury issue; once we began the negotiation process, however, each country’s interests became apparent. Even through a simulation, it was interesting to experience the dynamics behind such a high stakes meeting, and how countries interact with each other in order to push their own agendas. After much debate, negotiation, and compromise, the representatives of voting countries successfully formulated agreements for the key issues that were addressed. 

Not only was this negotiation simulation educational in terms of the subject matter being discussed, but it was also rewarding to be engaging in an activity that reflects the behavior of actual countries and organizations on the international stage.

On Thursday, July 15, interns were invited to the ANCA-WR office to have a brainstorming session with staff members. During this meeting, we covered three main areas in relation to the efforts of the ANCA: constructive feedback, top priorities, and potential projects. Some topics we touched on included potential online Armenian language and history classes, the political involvement and advocacy of Armenian Student Associations (ASAs) on college campuses, and greater community outreach to publicize Armenia and the Armenian Cause to an even greater extent.

Hearing everyone’s stories about their identities as Armenian-Americans, along with their opinions and perspectives on Armenian issues was extremely compelling. Seeing the passion in every single intern and staff member when discussing the future of our diasporan communities and Homeland makes me certain that despite all of the adversity our people have faced, and continue to face, we will continue to persevere and flourish, generation after generation.

One Friday, July 16, we began the day by surprising Melanie for her birthday – Happy Birthday Melanie! Following some festivities, the interns and staff members made their way to downtown Los Angeles to visit the Natural History Museum, where we viewed fascinating exhibits such as those containing millions of years old dinosaur skeletons, the nature garden outside of the museum, and an altar dedicated to Los Angeles which highlights the city’s large Armenian community.

After leaving the museum, the interns decided to go out to dinner together, which served as a great end to a busy week.