ANCA-WR Summer 2021: Week 7

Sarineh Khatchikian

We began Week 6 with a lecture by Shaunt Kevork, the Co-chair of the ANCA Professional Network. As a UCLA graduate with a background in chemical engineering, Shaunt shared with us his experiences with and recommendations for professional networking. The interns were first presented with an introduction on the importance of networking, which included a discussion on “hidden” job opportunities. These positions– although shared with the general public– are often created and reserved specifically for individuals who have an existing relationship with a company; for this reason, it is incredibly helpful to maintain contact with professionals within your field, because doing so ensures that you remain a step ahead in the game. Aside from its benefits for employment opportunities, networking is also helpful within the academic sphere; for example, Shaunt mentioned the grad school application process, which entails obtaining strong letters of recommendation from your connections. 

Shaunt proceeded to discuss two methods of networking. First, individuals should start by networking within their comfort zones; oftentimes, this means attending virtual career fairs and information sessions– both of which are structured and therefore easy to navigate through. Second, individuals should push themselves to step out of their comfort zones– to attend mixers, fundraisers, banquets, and speed networking sessions. Regardless of what step you are in your networking journey, however, Shaunt emphasized the importance of having a LinkedIn profile, since this is where most job recruiters examine their applicants.

Finally, Shaunt reminded interns that they should always be networking– whether that be with colleagues, friends, or even family members. Indeed, anybody you meet and build a relationship with can help you somewhere down the line in your professional journey. For this reason, it is wise to take advantage of all opportunities presented to you. Shaunt recommended narrowing down your options by joining organizations that align with your unique niche; one example is the Armenian Bar Association, which caters to Armenians in the legal field. Shaunt closed our lecture by answering a series of questions raised by interns, touching upon topics including how to maintain contact with our connections, and what sort of information to include in our LinkedIn profiles.  

On Tuesday, the interns had the pleasure of sharing a candid discussion with Senator Anthony Portantino, a champion of education, public health, and Armenian-American issues. Senator Portantino began his presentation with a story about one of his three visits to Artsakh, during which an Armenian soldier gave him a handful of dirt, professing “This is our land, we will stand on it, fight on it, and die on it.” A true portrayal of the Armenian spirit, this anecdote reminded interns of their homeland and Senator Portantino’s personal connection to it.  

When asked to name three of his achievements that he is most proud of, the Senator pointed to his late start initiative, California’s umbilical cord blood collection program, and the entertainment tax credit. An embodiment of his commitment to mental health, Senator Portantino’s work on moving middle school and high school start times back has highlighted the intersection of psychology and academic performance. At the core of this initiative is the recognition that mental health is just as pressing of a concern as physical health, and should therefore be acknowledged within the academic sphere. Inspired by the birth of his daughter twenty years ago, the Senator’s blood collection program has established an organized public infrastructure for donating cord blood; since its inception, the program has saved twenty eight lives. Finally, the entertainment tax credit– which entails the development of more sound stages— has contributed to the building of more job opportunities. In doing so, the legislation has highlighted Senator Portantino’s commitment to supporting the middle class and bridging the wealth gap.

On Wednesday, the interns were welcomed by Ambassador Armen Baibourtian at the Consul General of Armenia. The Ambassador shared with interns a thorough background on the Armenian crisis, offering historical context to the current state of the situation; he discussed the implications of past peace agreements as well as the history of international relations with Armenia. When asked about his opinion on the future of Armenia and the threat of Azerbaijani aggression, the Ambassador predicted that a large-scale war would likely not erupt again, as it would not be in the interests of major powers like Russia and Turkey.

Ambassador Baibourtian also shared with interns his own professional journey, eventually transitioning into a discussion about the responsibilities of a diplomat. Central to a diplomat’s duties are political, economic, and social obligations– all of which the Ambassador explained are deeply intertwined. According to the Ambassador, many of the projects he works on within the United States involve promoting community engagement, supporting Armenian businesses, arts, and culture, and pushing Congress to recognize Armenian issues. Importantly, he is currently working alongside Pasadena Community College in order to create university study abroad programs located in Armenia. Ambassador Baibourtian is confident that such programs will not only encourage Armenians to connect with their homeland, but non-Armenians as well. The interns are very grateful to have shared this enlightening and unique experience with the Ambassador. 

Importantly, during our meeting with Ambassador Baibourtian, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the ANCA-backed Pallone Amendment, which cuts U.S. military financing and training aid to Azerbaijan. This important step follows the interns’ efforts of putting in phone calls into the U.S. House on Wednesday morning, pushing for the Amendment’s passage. 

On Thursday, interns had the opportunity to speak with Robert Avetisyan, the Permanent Representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic to the United States. Representative Avetisyan’s outlook on the future of Artsakh was optimistic and hopeful, despite the many challenges the region must still overcome following the losses of the war. Avetisyan began by distinguishing “pre-2020 war” from “post-2020 war,” noting that the rhetoric has substantially shifted between the two time periods. Although Artsakh has experienced aggression in the past, it is important to recognize that the 2020 war marks a new threat– one of unprecedented scale and scope. Most memorable was the Representative’s intimate connection with Artsakh, as he reminisced its beauty, economic prosperity, unity, and culture prior to the war. Avetisyan proceeded to discuss the responsibilities of his position, describing the relationship between the foreign ministry and the American government. His discussion of this relationship was important, because it underscored the need for diaspora communities such as our own to offer our support to Artsakh. Indeed, as Avetisyan pointed out, in order for Artsakh to be perceived seriously by the rest of the world, it must work on its domestic development– including its democracy, open society, military, and economy.  

The remainder of our lecture consisted of a Q&A session, during which the Representative spoke very openly and candidly about the situation and his predictions for the future of Artsakh. Among the topics touched upon were the preconditions to the war, whether or not the war could have been anticipated, and the POW situation. Taking into account the complex history of Artsakh, Avetisyan offered a very telling statement about the reality of the region: “If you want peace, you have to prepare for war.” His hopeful perspective extended into his advice for the interns– and diasporans, more generally– as he urged us to never give up and always stick together. 

On Friday, interns reflected upon their experiences throughout the week, noting their favorite aspects of different presentations. We also discussed the passing of the Pallone Amendment, its implications, and the changes we should expect to see as a result of it.