By: Katy Simonian
This year, the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region will shine a spotlight on a group of extraordinary individuals at both the 2022 Grassroots Conference and Awards Gala, who have dedicated their lives to public service, using their voices to amplify the collective voice of the Armenian people.
The 2022 banquet Honorees and participants in the Grassroots Conference bring together people from across multiple generations of the Armenian community who continue to make an impact within their fields. From humanitarian work and policy making to sportsmanship and the power of storytelling through film, the 2022 Honorees embody the many facets of the Armenian community and the beauty of the Armenian spirit.
ANCA-WR’s signature Conference/banquet weekend, devoted to advocacy, is a tradition that has endured years of political challenges as well as the hardships of the recent pandemic. This year, Hye Tahd Weekend will kick off with the 2022 Grassroots Conference on Artsakh on Saturday, September 24 at The Sheraton Universal Hotel. Panels will include discussions of preventing cultural genocide, human rights and international justice. The program will also feature a luncheon, with Keynote Speaker and Freedom Award Honoree, Foreign Minister of Artsakh Davit Babayan and a Q & A with former Human Rights Defender, Arman Tatoyan, Ombudsman of the Republic of Armenia.
The goal of every Conference is to create an outlet that welcomes members of the Armenian American community to contribute their perspectives to the ongoing discourse on issues of great importance to the Armenian community. It is important to note that this is the first Grassroots Conference and Gala to convene since the pandemic, following President Biden’s historic recognition of the Armenian Genocide which came in April of 2021 after years of fierce advocacy and the commitment leaders such as 2022 Advocate for Justice Award Honoree, Congressman Adam Schiff, whose grit and grace were matched only by his unwavering commitment to stand with the Armenian people on the long path to justice.
It is also the first time our community has come together on this scale since the atrocity of the 44 Day War against the Armenians of Artsakh. The trauma and pain of the past three years is difficult to measure. Yet, through it all, the Armenian American community remains steadfast in our pursuit of justice, motivated by the needs of Armenians everywhere and inspired by the victories we have achieved, against all odds, as one global community of Armenians.
The words, “Grow Together, Rise as One” are far more than a slogan etched across flyers to promote an event. They serve as a reminder of what we can accomplish when we as Armenians apply our unique brand of empathy, extending a hand to our Armenian brothers and sisters around the world and to all who toil in the pursuit of freedom. For the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region, these words are a symbol of the power of the Armenian spirit, a testament to our survival and a declaration of truth that unites our past, present, and future in our commitment to justice and peace.
The 2022 Honorees offer insight into the complex tapestry of our past and the love that drives our community forward. Khrimian Hayrig Award Honoree, Rev. Berdj Djambazian is the son of Armenian Genocide survivors, who went on to offer humanitarian aid to Genocide survivors in Darfur – an act of love with a haunting poignance that is eclipsed only by his selfless ability to move others to do the same. Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree, Congresswoman Jackie Speier also shares a strong connection to our history, as both sides of her family were affected by genocide – her mother lost most of her extended family in the Genocide of 1915 and her paternal Grandfather was held in a concentration camp during World War II. Rather than cowering under a mood of disillusion, she harnessed her family’s experiences and channeled her energy to give back in the form of public service. She has made an impact in the House of Representatives, as the Co-Chair of the Armenian Caucus – a powerful example of leading from the heart – a heart full of courage that comes from the beauty of the Armenian spirit.
Champions of International Justice Honorees, the brace legal team that represented Armenia at the International Court of Justice, show us all what it means to speak truth to power under the scrutiny of an international community misguided in its refusal to acknowledge crimes against humanity in the name of genocide prevention. Their combined efforts made a difference in recognizing the truth on record in the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Legislator of the Year Honoree, CA State Senator Scott Wilk has built a career of public service rooted in his immense integrity, demonstrating the good that can come from principled leadership. His support of spearheading divestment policies in Turkey sets an example for his colleagues and shows us that thoughtful legislation is the key to a prosperous and peaceful future for all.
Of course, the path toward justice is not always found in the courts or political institutions. Sometimes the most powerful political act is the art of storytelling. There are few forces in this world more powerful than the act of writing – inviting people into history through the lenses of those who lived it, can build bridges between people across cultures, as we share the heartache and glory of the human experience. Global Impact Award Honoree, Eric Esrailian, brought the story of the Armenian Genocide to life through his film, The Promise, the first major motion picture about the Armenian Genocide. A scholar of the arts and sciences, he continues to embrace filmmaking as a force for good, sharing the story of the Armenian people in a way that both educates and activates new generations of Armenians to contribute to positive change. His fellow Global Impact Award Honoree, Kim Kardashian has used her platform across social media and television to convey the crucial need for Armenian Genocide Recognition to billions of people around the world.
It is fitting that this year’s Gala will also feature a leader from the world of sports, as the endurance, perseverance and determination of athletes can teach us all a lesson in humility. Coach Rex Kalamian of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons captured the hearts and minds of Armenians everywhere when he led the Armenian National Basketball Team to victory in the FIBA European Championship. Sports carry an inherent democratic power, as they transcend race, ethnicity and political ideology in a way that allows all people to find the strength of our humanity. Sports, like the arts, allow us to see the best of who we are and the best in others, to inspire us to pursue a better future for all.
Years ago, when the film, The Promise, was released, Global Impact Award Honoree Eric Esrailian reached out to many of the most influential voices in Hollywood to support what became known as the #KeepThePromise campaign. One of the first actors to lend his support was the legendary Sylvester Stallone. In the immortal words of his iconic Rocky Balboa, “It’s not about how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” The ability to face challenges and keep moving forward with the same passion, dedication and love for helping others is one of the greatest hallmarks of the Armenian people. The Armenian people have faced many obstacles and yet, we walk through this new era of uncertainty with a resolve that has never been stronger. Inspired by the strength of our ancestors and the dreams of our young children, we move forward with hope, knowing that we will again achieve justice. When athletics and art meet at the intersection of social justice, when faith stands at the core of humanitarianism, when those in office honor their oath through thought and action with political courage, we as Armenians show the world that when we grow together, we will always rise as one.
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.
Katy Simonian is a member of the 2022 ANCA-WR banquet Committee.