(Beverly Hills, California)–The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR) hosted a sold-out crowd in a historic show of support for Armenia and Artsakh in the wake of recent attacks by Azerbaijan against the sovereignty of the Armenian Nation. The Gala, which took place on Sunday, September 25 at The Beverly Hilton, marked a much-welcomed showcase of solidarity in support of the Armenian Homeland, as representatives from Armenia and Artsakh joined the largest and most organized community in the Armenian Diaspora to highlight the need for a unified front as the Nation faces an existential threat from Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Representatives and leaders from virtually every Armenian community organization attended and supported this year’s ANCA-WR Gala, including the Western Diocese, Western Prelacy, Armenian Evangelical Union of North America, the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, Western U.S.A., the Armenian Democratic League (Ramgavar Party), the Armenian Cultural Foundation, Homenetmen Western US, Hamazkayin, the Armenian Missionary Association of America, the Armenian Educational Foundation, AGBU, Tekeyan Cultural Association, the Armenian American Museum, the Pan Armenian Council, the Armenian Assembly of America, the Unified Young Armenians, ANCA-Professional Network, several local ANCA-WR and ACF chapters, several Armenian media outlets, and coalition partners including the Assyrian American Association of Southern California and Asian-American National Committee.
The program started with a traditional flag ceremony by the Homenetmen Scouts followed by tenor Berj Karazian’s moving rendition of the American, Armenian and Artsakh National Anthems – a moment made all the more poignant by the ongoing invasion and attacks that threaten Armenia’s sovereignty and democratic future. After dozens of elected officials from federal, state, county and city offices and dignitaries were introduced, opening remarks were made by Gala Committee Co-Chairs, Lina Davidian, Esq. and Christine Magarian, Esq., followed by the invocation jointly delivered by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Bishop Torkom Donoyan, and Reverend Hendrik Shanazarian. In memory of those who have been lost in defense of the Homeland, to show solidarity with those who defend its borders, and to send a message of strength and love to compatriots living there, the capacity crowd of more than 800 attendees stood together in a moment of silence and reflection.
The ANCA-WR showcased its ongoing work before, during and after the 2020 war in Artsakh despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic in its Year in Review video. The community was called to action to protect the Armenian Homeland in a second video.
Highlights of the program included the presentation of the Advocate for Justice Award to Congressman Adam Schiff for his unwavering devotion to the Armenian American community. Schiff, who took immediate action in the wake of the attacks against Armenia by drafting a resolution to suspend all U.S. aid to Azerbaijan, held a meeting with Artsakh Foreign Minister and Freedom Award Honoree Davit Babayan before the ceremony to discuss the ongoing attacks against Armenians both in Artsakh and in the Republic of Armenia.
Accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award for decades of dedication and service to the Armenian American community and Cause, Congresswoman Jackie Speier moved the crowd with her stirring speech about her recent visit to Armenia with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which garnered international attention for its historic show of support from the U.S. delegation to affirm America’s commitment to safeguarding Armenia’s security. Speier held a press conference earlier in the afternoon to brief the media on her newly proposed resolution to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its war crimes against the people of Armenia. One of the most touching moments of the night came when she shared a deeply meaningful experience from her trip to Armenia, when she brought back flowers that were given to her by the people of her Motherland, which she will place on her mother’s grave in honor of her Armenian heritage and her commitment to saving Armenia from further violence in the name of freedom, justice and peace for Armenia.
In accepting the prestigious ANCA-WR Freedom Award, Foreign Minister of Artsakh Dr. David Babayan emphasized the imperative of uniting the three components of the Armenian Nation – Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora – and especially the largest organized Diaspora community here in California, into one collective voice to protect and defend the security and sovereignty of the Armenian Homeland, expressing gratitude on behalf of the people of Artsakh for the Diaspora’s unwavering support and solidarity.
One of the surprises of the evening came with the announcement that Global Impact Award Honorees Dr. Eric Esrailian and Kim Kardashian jointly made a historic contribution to the efforts of the ANCA-WR. Their generous donation along with the contributions of many loyal benefactors and supporters across the community, brought the total raised to an impressive and record-breaking sum of $1.1 million for the Armenian Cause. In his speech, Dr. Esrailian encouraged the community to remain vigilant, stating that “Every day, I thank God for making me Armenian. I believe we can all find great purpose in our ability to contribute to the Armenian Cause in a way that makes a difference for our country and our community,” said Esrailian, who also taped a special video message alongside Kardashian.
In her speech to the dedicated crowd of activists, community leaders and supporters, ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. shared that the ANCA-WR Board seriously considered canceling the Hye Tahd weekend when Armenia was invaded on September 13, but the honorees and Grassroots panelists comprising the delegations from both Armenia and Artsakh unanimously reaffirmed that there was no option but to proceed, since drawing attention to the plight of the Homeland is important now more than ever, showing strength and solidarity of our community with the Homeland is vital, and most importantly, we must not allow Azerbaijan or anyone else to stop us from continuing the important work of the Armenian Cause.
Hye Tahd weekend, which started on Saturday with a Grassroots Conference at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, covered a range of topics from preventing cultural genocide to measures within international law that can cultivate support from America and across the international community to ensure that ongoing threats against Armenia are stopped in order to secure and protect Armenia’s sovereignty. Expanded coverage of the Grassroots Conference is forthcoming.
This year’s Gala was sponsored by a magnanimous donation from Mr. & Mrs. Varant and Hoori Melkonian, and the Grassroots Conference was sponsored by the generosity of Mr. & Mrs. Sarkis and Nune Sepetjian, enabling the participation of 100 students from Armenian high schools alongside several hundred attendees.
For ANCA-WR, the Hye Tahd weekend was a chance to shine a spotlight on the Armenian Homeland by amplifying the voices of the many people who contribute each day to fulfilling the mission of the Armenian Cause. From the heart of the Republic of Armenia to the Republic of Artsakh and every corner of the Diaspora, the message is clear – when we grow together, we rise as one.
In the words of ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq., “We cannot afford to be complacent, defeatist, pessimistic, or divided. Our sole salvation will be in our unified front against all enemies based on a plan of national strategy where each component of our Nation, from Armenia to Artsakh to the Diaspora, plays an integral role. Here in the largest organized community of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora, we represent Armenia and Artsakh’s greatest weapon against Azerbaijan and Turkey. It is our community’s decades of activism, after all, which has kept the Armenian Cause on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. And make no mistake: when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, the number three highest official in the land, decides to go to Armenia, especially during war time, and publicly states that she is `leading a Congressional delegation to highlight the strong commitment of the United States to security, economic prosperity, and democratic governance in Armenia,’ we know that our collective voice has not fallen on deaf ears.”
All of the night’s honorees shared moving acceptance speeches, with thoughtful reflections on the need for unity and for all to take action in order to protect the Armenian Homeland. Rev. Berdj Djambazian who received the Khrimian Hayrig Award for his years of extraordinary humanitarian work, shared a warm message of hope rooted in the faith and strength of the Armenian people.
California State Senator Scott Wilk who was named Legislator of the Year for his promoting the Divest Turkey legislation, pledged his ongoing commitment to the Armenian American community in Southern California as well as the people of Armenia and Artsakh.
The legal team representing Armenia in the International Court of Justice was honored with the Champions of International Justice Award, with Dr. Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Dr. Levon Gevoryan and Karnig Kerkonian, Esq. accepting on behalf of the 23-member team. Their presence was most appreciated, as was their participation in the Grassroots Conference and their continued work representing Armenia in the international Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights.
NBA Coach Rex Kalamian, who was honored with the People’s Champion Award for leading the Armenian National Basketball Team to victory in the FIBA World Championships for Small Countries, sent a special video message of unity as the crowd delighted in seeing members of the National Team on stage to honor their coach by accepting the award on his behalf.
Special Recognition was also bestowed upon the largest ever cohort of ANCA-WR Interns, marking a new generation of Hye Tahd leaders, and the ANCA-WR Education Committee for its impactful work in promoting Armenian Genocide education, both of which stand as an inspiring source of pride for the Armenian American community.
On the matter of making necessary steps forward to secure Armenia’s future, perhaps Congressman Schiff said it best in an interview with ABC News ahead of the award ceremony. “We stand in solidarity with our Armenian brothers and sisters. We need to bring the full weight of the government behind the initiative to stop this fighting, to stop Azerbaijan, to call out their aggression, to stop using the language of false equivalence, when one side is the aggressor, and that work continues.”
The ANCA-WR moves forward with renewed hope and dedication to continue its work to advance the Armenian Cause, educate policymakers to support a peaceful future for the Armenian Nation, to protect the sovereignty of Armenia’s borders and to raise awareness about the need for U.S. engagement in the years to come.
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region is the largest and most influential nonpartisan 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 ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues in pursuit of the Armenian Cause.
For more information about the 2022 ANCA-WR Gala, please visit the website.