Los Angeles, CA – Members of the Armenian Student Association at UCLA (UCLA ASA) gathered this past Wednesday to learn more about life in politics from a panel of Armenian Americans involved in public service. The event was co-organized by the UCLA ASA, the Armenian National Committee – Western Region (ANC-WR), and the Armenian Assembly of America. Moderated by UCLA ASA President Iren Tatevosyan, the panel fielded questions from the audience and discussed a range of issues related to their jobs, how their interest in their careers developed, and challenges the Armenian American community faces today regarding public service.
Panelists Areen Ibranossian (Mayor Villaraigosa’s staff), Haig Kartounian (US Representative Adam Schiff’s staff), Glendale City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian, as well as California State Transportation Commissioner and former Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian mixed anecdotal stories about their experiences coming up in the public service sector with veteran advice to students considering following a similar career path. “We wanted to host this panel so that young Armenian Americans could put a face they could relate to on a career in public service,” said Tatevosyan. “Providing a range of experience across different sectors of the field, the panel was meant to encourage more students to consider pursuing such opportunities as careers and not just as part-time, volunteer side interests,” she added. During the course of the evening’s discussions it became apparent that there were many different paths to politics, but that an underlying passion for public service was a core common denominator. Ibranossian described how he first got involved by volunteering on the first election campaign of former Glendale Mayor Raffi Manoukian after hearing a presentation by Kassakhian. That volunteer opportunity quickly led to subsequent job opportunities on other campaigns and finally a staff position with then newly elected Los Angeles City Council Member Villaraigosa. Kassakhian reminisced about how the UCLA community rallied to confront the Turkish government’s efforts to establish a pseudo-academic chair in modern Ottoman history at UCLA when he was the UCLA ASA president. That experience, which involved raising awareness and advocating the issue among the student community and government as well as the university administration, led to the understanding of the importance of civic engagement. “Panelists highlighted the need for Armenian Americans to engage community leaders and become community leaders themselves,” noted Mariam Tsaturyan, the UCLA ASA’s Cultural Director. “Ardy’s experience with the UCLA ASA as a student himself shows that it is not just about presidential elections and international affairs, but that the issues that are most important to our community require public service at all levels starting with the campus and our local cities and towns,” she added. As a deputy director for US Representative Adam Schiff, Kartounian described the various policy issues he and the Congressman’s staff address. Kartounian noted that it usually takes months to years to see a policy agenda come to fruition and it is a great feeling when that happens, but taking care of constituent needs provides the day-to-day rewarding experience that is at the core of public service. Zarian was first elected to Glendale City Council in an environment quite different from today’s political scene in Glendale. While there remains a segment of the city that does not support Armenian American candidates due to bigotry, Zarian noted that his success in overcoming the bigotry of this small group was by being an actively engaged citizen within and beyond Armenian community circles. Like the other panelists, his interest in politics and public service started at a young age and he encouraged members of the audience to get involved in the community at large as well as getting experience with local campaigns. “Sometimes individuals in our community look at politics as a means to power,” remarked Lilit Azarian, Vice President of the UCLA ASA. “The next generation of aspiring leaders – be they prospective ASA leaders or City Council Members – needs to take Mayor Zarian’s message to heart and establish themselves as public servants through volunteerism to the community at large before qualifying themselves as candidates worthy of representing the Armenian American community,” she added.
For the Armenian National Committee, the event was the latest in its efforts to work with student groups throughout the region to help encourage greater civic engagement and provide educational forums for Armenian American youth. Earlier this year, the ANC Professional Network held the first of its professionals panel series with the Woodbury University ASA where the topic of discussion was careers in community media. On April 15th, the ANC-WR is co-hosting a workshop on confronting genocide denial on campus at the University of Southern California with the USC ASA. “I think the UCLA ASA did a wonderful job putting together this evening’s panel and it provides yet another means by which we can encourage more students to pursue careers beyond the traditional box,” said Haig Hovsepian, Community Relations Director with the ANC-WR. “The ANC looks forward to these opportunities to work with student groups to provide a greater awareness of the challenges confronting our community and how the youth can be part of the effort to address them,” he added.
Following up on this event’s look at public service and politics, in May, the ANC Professional Network will co-host its next professionals panel series event with the Glendale Community College ASA and the ANC Glendale to provide an in-depth look at election season political careers. The Armenian Students’ Association at UCLA was established in 1945 to promote and encourage a greater appreciation for Armenian culture and community life on campus through educational, philanthropic, and social activities. It serves the growing community of students, and works with faculty as well as staff to promote the growth of Armenian studies and campus life at UCLA. The Armenian National Committee – Western Region is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots advocacy organization in the Western United States. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the Western United States and affiliated organizations around the country, the ANC-WR promotes awareness of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.
Photo# 1: Panelists joined by representatives (top row) joined by the event organizers (flanking top row, seated)
Photo# 2: UCLA students discuss public service with Areen Ibranossian (left) and former Mayor Zarian (center).