ENCINO, CA – At a debate organized by the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region (ANCA-WR), Congressman Howard Berman and Congressman Brad Sherman battled each other for the Armenian-American vote in the San Fernando Valley. With the occasional fireworks, the congressmen held little back as they vied for the crucial swing vote a little over a month before Election Day on November 6.
Over three-hundred community members, many of them undecided voters, packed Avedissian Hall at Ferrahian Armenian School in Encino, California, on Saturday evening to hear the positions and proposals of the two well-respected congressmen pitted against each other in the most closely watched congressional race in the United States. The energetic debate, which became heated a number of times as the congressmen rebutted and refuted each other’s arguments, evinced the highly emotional, and oft-contentious, atmosphere of the race.
The debate featured as moderator Zanku Armenian, a columnist with the Glendale News-Press and public relations executive and, as panelists, Harut Sassounian, publisher of the California Courier newspaper and well-known columnist, and Ara Khachatourian, editor of Asbarez English and the immensely popular Asbarez Post and Asbarez.com.
Numerous topics were broached by the panelists including student fee increases in the California university system, recognition of the Armenian Genocide and Genocide-era insurance claims, appropriation of aid to Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and its use, the extradition of convicted axe-murderer Ramil Safarov by the government of Hungary to Azerbaijan, trade agreements between the United States and Armenia, and the condition of Armenians in Javakhk in the Republic of Georgia and aid to that region. Written questions were also taken from the audience.
Both candidates stressed the importance of leadership in realizing any of the issues discussed, regularly citing their own history of leadership over the years. While Sherman highlighted his lead in recent polls and his local-level endorsements, Berman pointed to his seniority and long list of endorsements from Members of Congress. Both referenced their strong relationship with the ANCA and recognized its leading role in bring Armenian-American issues to the fore in Washington and locally.
Although there was expected disagreement about who was better for the job and about approach, the congressmen generally agreed about the importance of the issues presented by the panelists and the need to have them addressed by the U.S. Congress.
Nora Hovsepian, co-chair of the ANCA-WR, aptly noted in her opening remarks the role the Armenian-American community is slated to play as a “swing vote” in the close race between the two incumbent congressmen.
“It is hard to overestimate the importance of this race to our community and, in turn, the importance of our community to this race,” said Hovsepian. “The participation of the congressmen, the outpouring of interest from our community, and the presence of national and local media were testament to the significance of both this race and to ensuring that every voter is educated about the candidates and gets out to vote on Election Day – that’s why we organized this debate and that’s why we initiated the Hye Votes project.”
The ANCA-WR continues to encourage community members to register to vote and cast their ballots on Election Day, November 6, as part of its Hye Votes initiative which has already registered thousands of voters. More information can be found at www.hyevotes.org or by calling 818-533-8683.
The Armenian National Committee of America-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 ANCA-WR advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.