ANCA-WR Summer 2020 Internship Program: Weeks 1 and 2

By: Arthur Sefayan

Glendale Community College (GCC), Political Science

ANCA-WR 2020 Summer Intern

Our virtual internship began on June 8, 2020, over Zoom, with a welcoming message from Verginie Touloumian, which was then followed by an ice breaker activity where we learned about all the other interns and surprisingly found out that we had students from Arizona and Nevada, and an LA-native that goes to school in Washington, DC. After getting to know each other, Verginie continued to explain the logistical details about the internship and how we can best work through the virtual program. We were then assigned to specific teams, where either with partners or individually, we learned about our projects and learned from our mentors.

Our first lecturer was Nora Hovsepian, Chair of the ANCA-WR, who spoke to us regarding the ANCA’s objectives, mission, and goals. She started off by providing a brief history into the Armenian Cause. A few important historical facts worth mentioning are efforts like The Near East Relief, which was the first philanthropic effort by the U.S. to aid foreign countries. In response to the genocide of 1915, Americans quickly responded by sending aid to people in need. These efforts resulted in the construction of refugee processing centers, and sent 1,000 volunteers to aid overseas. In terms of more contemporary efforts organized by the ANCA, she also provided ongoing projects of the ANCA that included advocating for direct US aid, the Double Tax Treaty, Direct Flights from LAX to Yerevan, etc. She then provided a bit of important background information regarding Artsakh and the Royce-Engel Peace Proposals. 

Nora Hovsepian, ANCA-WR Chair, with the Inters

The following day, Elizabeth Chouldjian, Communications Director of ANCA, joined our conversation from our nation’s capital and spoke to us about community efforts and outreach campaigns that the ANCA takes great effort to conceive. Initiatives such as HyeVotes, Rapid Responder Program, and other similar programs allow the Armenian community to remain united and work together to achieve mutual goals. She even highlighted some recent achievements including the legislation passed in Colorado that mandates the education of the Armenian Genocide within schools. Without a doubt, programs such as the ANCA Action Alerts, and the Grassroots Conferences and a plethora of other campaigns undertaken by individuals within the ranks of ANCA make it possible for important legislation to be implemented. Later on, Tereza Yerimyan, Government Affairs Director of ANCA, highlighted the importance of working to counter Azerbaijani and Turkish propaganda, and how she advocates for Armenian-American policy priorities in the halls of Congress. 

Elizabeth Chouldjian, ANCA Communications Director, with the Interns
Tereza Yerimyan, Government Affairs Director, with the Interns

On Wednesday, Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA, delved into the importance of ANCA’s constant efforts of lobbying, creating coalitions, and advocating in Congress. He discussed the evolution of the Armenian Cause and the Armenian Diaspora by highlighting the challenges and opportunities that each decade brought. He specifically walked us through the protests that began to sprout all over the world, in order to educate the global audiences, awaken the call of duty in fellow Armenians, and achieve justice for our cause.

Following this presentation, Raffi Hamparian, Chairperson of the ANCA, highlighted many ongoing Armenian-American policy issues, such as US Aid to Artsakh, COVID-19 Relief, Double Tax Treaty, Social Security agreement, and other national and international goals that the ANCA pursues. It was interesting to learn about the Social Security agreement, which would allow diasporan Armenians working in the US to retire in Armenia, while receiving their Social Security paychecks.

On Thursday, June 11, 2020, Leeza Arakelian, Assistant Editor of the Armenian Weekly, joined the interns to talk about the importance of community reporting and journalism. She began by giving an overview of the history of the 86-year old newspaper and how it’s been an honor for her to continue its mission. Working adjacent to the archives room that holds newspapers from the Armenian Weekly and its counterpart, the Hairenik, gives her the courage she needs to continue reporting the news of the community, homeland, and the world, to its readers. She also trained the interns on how to write press releases, a skill that we will be able to use in our academic, professional, and organizational careers. 

Leeza Arakelian, Assistant Editor of the Armenian Weekly, with the Interns

At the culmination of the first week, interns had a check-in meeting where we provided individual insight as to what was learned, how we are able to contribute, and the effectiveness of week 1. Overall, every intern shared the mutual feeling of excitement and eagerness to continue their educational journey. Over the first week, every intern showed great concern with the political issues that were brought to light by many keynote speakers. These speakers allowed us to get a glimpse of the various issues that many Armenian communities face, whether diaspora or domestic, how to take action, and provided innumerable connections and valuable information that will carry onto the next 11 weeks. 

On June 16, our group convened again to hear a lecture from Ara Khatchadourian, long-time editor of LA-based newspaper, Asbarez. He spoke about the humble beginnings of the newspaper in Fresno and how back then many advertisements were surrounding agriculture, an industry which Armenians were involved in. He reminisced about his days of reporting during the Artsakh Liberation movement and the red and black marker he used to mark the laminated map that indicated which territories were liberated.

On Wednesday, digital news producer at KTLA and former ANCA-WR intern, Sareen Habeshian, joined the interns to discuss her academic and professional journey. Sareen’s visceral presentation of the ongoing issues in Artsakh, as well as domestic issues within Armenia provided tremendous insight into the seemingly distant home country. By interviewing many of the locals and listening to them speak about their experiences, we can understand how different parts of the country are doing on a micro level. For example, in Artsakh, the HALO Trust – which is a non-profit organization that trains local individuals to be able to demine and make use of land which was once a warzone – is making efforts to begin rebuilding and revitalizing the land. In an area that was once a minefield, lies a garden that bears fruit for the villagers. Efforts like these allow for locals to return to normal life, as well as broadcast the issues going on within Armenia.

Thursday came as a great relief to a busy week. We were quizzed on facts about Armenia. Toward the end, it was no surprise that Martin was crowned the champion. It’s almost like he lived in Armenia! 

The weekly check-in started with each intern giving a brief description of how they were doing on their group project, also talking about their favorite presentation. Overall, there was a shared sense of pride that followed in completing the second week, and it’s fair to say we’re ecstatic to see what next weeks will bring.