By: Katy Simonian
The Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR) will bestow the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award to the honorable Ambassador (Ret.) Edward P. Djerejian for his years of service as a diplomat across the international stage. His work and continued efforts to educate, inspire and promote peace will be in the spotlight at the 2023 Annual Awards event which will take place on Sunday, November 12th at The Omni Hotel.
Following nearly ten months of Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade of Artsakh and its military onslaught which resulted in the forced depopulation of Artsakh, the ANCA-WR Board seriously considered canceling this year’s Awards Gala. However, remembering the inspiring words of Artsakh Foreign Minister and last year’s Freedom Award honoree David Babayan, who is currently unlawfully imprisoned in Baku, the ANCA-WR Board decided that it must not cower in the face of Azeri aggression and that it must forge ahead in a show of unity and resilience against the injustices inflicted on our people, pledging to donate a portion of the proceeds toward humanitarian assistance for Artsakh genocide survivors.
“I believe in an America that is on the march. An America respected by all nations, friends and foes alike; an America that is moving, doing, working, trying; a strong America in a world of peace.” President Kennedy’s immortal words echo through a new century and express a vision that continues to inspire generations of Americans. It is poignant to think that the storied 32- year diplomatic career of Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian began during President Kennedy’s administration in 1962, when he served as a staff assistant to Under Secretary George W. Ball.
Following his graduation from Georgetown University in 1960, his time in the State Department inspired him to remain devoted to President Kennedy’s vision, as he began serving his country as a diplomat throughout Europe and the Middle East. Djerejian, who speaks five languages – English, Armenian, Arabic, French and Russian – went on to serve as a political officer in Beirut, Lebanon from 1966 to 1969 and Casablanca, Morocco from 1969 to 1972. Between 1975 and 1977, he was named Consul General in Bordeaux, France. He was later assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow from 1979 to 1981, where he led the political section during the critical period in U.S.-Soviet relations marked by the invasion of Afghanistan.
Born in New York in 1939, Djerejian, who served honorably in the Korean War, was inspired to participate in public service at a young age, after hearing stories about the Armenian Genocide from his father Bedros, whose parents were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks. After losing both of his parents, Bedros was forced into the horrific death march into Deir-ez-Zor through the Syrian deserts. Against all odds, Bedros survived and ran away in Aleppo, where he began a long, extraordinary journey that brought him to the East Coast of the United States where he settled and eventually married a young woman, Mary Yazudjian, who had also escaped the death march. Their harrowing stories summoned a sense of purpose and duty in their son’s heart to, in his words, “honor those who were not as lucky as I, and to give back to the United States, the great country that gave my parents political refuge.”
Djerejian, a leading expert on national security, foreign policy, public diplomacy, and the complex political, security, economic, religious, and ethnic issues of the broader Middle East, has played key roles in the Arab-Israeli peace process and regional conflict resolution. He remains a prominent voice, educating people on the nuances of public service in areas of conflict, authoring Danger and Opportunity: An American Ambassador’s Journey Through the Middle East.
His expertise in diplomatic relations in the Middle East made him uniquely suited for representing the United States for the next two decades in different parts of the region. Djerejian served as Deputy Chief of the U.S. Mission to the Kingdom of Jordan from 1981 to 1984.
One of the highlights of Djerejian’s tenure in the diplomatic service came when he was assigned to the White House in 1985 as Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and Deputy Press Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He was made Deputy Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs from 1986 to 1988. Djerejian served both President Reagan and President Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic from 1988 to 1991, playing a vital role for both administrations in preserving America’s position and influence in the tense environment produced by conflicts within and between Middle Eastern countries. It was his post in Damascus that proved to be deeply meaningful, as it was in Aleppo, located in Northern Syria, that his father Bedros escaped death and found hope for a better future. During this period, Djerejian built a strong relationship with Syria’s then leader, Hafez al-Assad who was moved by his family’s endearing connection to the country and the harrowing story of his father Bedros as a genocide survivor.
“If anyone had told that young Armenian boy who had just lost his parents in the Genocide that one day, his son would come to Damascus as the American ambassador, he would have said ‘You’re out of your mind.’ But it happened,” says Djerejian, marveling at the convergence of his family’s past and his powerful influence as an Armenian American diplomat.
His post as Ambassador to Syria was followed by his service under President Bush and President Clinton as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 1991 to 1993.
His years of service culminated in 1993 when he was named United States Ambassador to Israel by President Clinton. As Ambassador, he presided over the Arab-Israeli peace process, the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, successful efforts to end the civil war in Lebanon, the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon, and the establishment of collective and bilateral security agreements in the Persian Gulf.
One of the constants of his life and political career has been his unwavering commitment to creating strong foundations for democracy in Armenia to safeguard the country’s future. “The best legacy we can leave to those who perished during the Genocide is to work seriously for a prosperous, secure, peaceful Armenia,” says Djerejian. “We must do everything we can as the Diaspora to help Armenia become stable and to deal with the dangerous and isolated neighborhood in which it is located.” Djerejian continues to be a formidable voice for encouraging new generations of Armenians to contribute to the peace and safety of Armenia in a way that honors our rich cultural history, recognizes the crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Armenian Nation throughout the twentieth century, and embraces hope, which is a virtue innately embedded into the fabric of Armenian culture. For Djerejian, his family’s survival and our collective growth as a people, must inspire us to meet today’s challenges and rise to fulfill our greatest goals as a people and a nation.
After his highly lauded career as a diplomat and thirty-year tenure as Founding Director of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Foreign Policy, Djerejian joined Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative where he now serves as a Senior Fellow.
“Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian’s lifetime of diplomatic service is virtually unparalleled. He has served eight presidential administrations and remains a prominent voice of international relations,” says ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. “We salute his contributions to diplomatic relations and education which have enriched the landscape of political policies in the United States and across the international community. His devotion to contributing to the enrichment of the Armenian Nation and protection of our rights is a testament to the Armenian spirit and the bravery of his parents who were Armenian Genocide survivors. We should learn from the example he has set, as we seek to embrace his energy and dedication to improving policies for the good of people everywhere.”
Djerejian has been awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the Department of State’s Distinguished Honor Award, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and the Anti-Defamation League’s Moral Statesman Award. Throughout the past twenty years he has received numerous honors including the Award for Humanitarian Diplomacy from Netanya Academic College in Israel, the National Order of the Cedar, bestowed by President Émile Lahoud of Lebanon, the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, bestowed by King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and the Order of Honor, bestowed by President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia. He is also a recipient of the Association of Rice Alumni’s Gold Medal for his service to Rice University and is a Lifetime Member of the Baker Institute Board of Advisors.
Djerejian received his Honorary Doctorate from his Alma Mater, Georgetown University, in 1992 and Doctor of Law from Middlebury College. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and independent policy research centers. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Djerejian has also served on numerous corporate boards including Global Industries, Inc., Occidental Petroleum Corporation where he was Chairman of the Board from 2013 to 2015, Baker Hughes Company, and is currently with The Mexico Fund and Magnolia Oil & Gas Operating LLC, where he applies his vast knowledge of international relations to building effective policies for growth and development.
It is said, that a life devoted to serving the good of others, is a life well lived. Ambassador Djerejian’s lifetime of service is an inspiration and has provided a blueprint of the highest standards for new generations to emulate in their entry into diplomatic service. His life’s work in the field of international diplomacy is an indelible part of American history and he has represented both the Armenian people and the American people with integrity and the utmost respect for duty, promoting a strong America in a world of peace. At a time when the Armenian community of Southern California stands in solidarity with all across the Armenian Diaspora in support of the people of Artsakh and defending the Armenian homeland, Ambassador Djerejian’s commitment to creating impactful change across international affairs in the name of democracy shines a light on the value and significance of public service.
For more information about Ambassador Djerejian’s storied career in the diplomatic service, and to purchase tickets for the 2023 ANCA-Western Region Awards Gala, please click here. A portion of the proceeds from this year’s gala will be donated to support Artsakh Genocide survivors.
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 2023 ANCA-WR Gala Committee.