WASHINGTON—The 25th annual Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Leo Sarkisian Internship kicked off with a fast-paced and remarkable start this week as interns from across the United States gathered in Washington, D.C., to participate in this intensive, eight-week training program.
“The Leo Sarkisian Internship program is an Armenian American advocacy boot camp, training the next generation of activists to effectively promote our collective Cause,” said Leo Sarkisian Internship director Garo Manjikian. “Their work will not only directly impact Washington Hai Tahd efforts but, more importantly, will give them the skills to demonstrate grassroots leadership in their home towns.”
Each of the interns participated in an intensive application process in their respective ANCA regions and look forward to this hands-on educational experience, dreaming of coming from their local communities and making a difference on a national scale. The year’s intern class consists of university students from coast-to-coast, including Nareg Aghjayan, Sosse Beugekian, Hovanes Gasparian, Taleen Mekhdjavakian, Tatev Oganyan, Savada Simounian- Khygani, and Tamar Thomassian.
The interns are active members of Armenian American community life—from the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), to the Armenian Student Association (ASA), Armenian church youth groups, and of course their local ANCA chapters.
The intern team hit the ground running, their arrival coinciding with the House Appropriations Committee mark-up of the foreign aid bill. Since the mark-up, the group has spent extensive time focusing on Turkish government efforts to strong-arm legislators and U.S. firms alike in their support of the worldwide campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide.
Nineteen-year-old Suffolk University student Sosse Beugekian—a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, as well as the AYF and Homenetmen—explained what motivated her to participate in the Leo Sarkisian program this summer. “I’ve always heard and read about the ANCA’s work around the community and I have always been very interested. It is very exciting to be within the Washington, D.C. office and learn how the work is done first hand. The ANCA family is very welcoming and has already allowed me to learn so much that I could use within my own community later on.”
California State University Northridge marketing major Nareg Aghjayan agreed. “I have been very active in my community in California, and now while in D.C. I want to see how the work gets accomplished with a hands-on experience,” noted Aghjayan, who is a member of the Alpha Epsilon Omega fraternity and the AYF.
Taleen Mekhdjavakian, a pre-law student at the University of Central Florida, has seen the inner workings of Senate district offices—and now looked for a more hands-on advocacy perspective. “After working for Senator Bill Nelson I saw how useful lobbyists are to a Senator mainly because they don’t always fully understand the issues their constituents are facing and need to be better educated by community groups,” explained Mekhdjavakian, who is active with the AYF, as well as the American Red Cross and the campus Arab Student Organization. “Through this internship, I hope to gain enough skills in efficient lobbying so I can continue fighting for the Armenian cause both in Florida and nationwide.”
University of California Los Angeles political science and history major Tatev Oganyan, a graduate of the ANC Glendale internship program, saw the Leo Sarkisian program as the perfect way to build on her local training. “I will take the skills I acquire from this program and I apply it to my local Armenian American community as I plan to continue my grassroots activism, creating a connection between national and local Armenian American issues,” explained Oganyan, who in addition to her ANC involvement is in the National Academic Honor Society at UCLA and the UCLA Armenian Students Association.
University of California Berkeley political science and public policy major Tamar Thomasian explained, “It is an amazing opportunity for me to be in D.C. practicing all the skills that I obtained at the local level in the national office. The environment is everything I thought it would be and more. What’s better than spending the summer working for the Armenian Cause?” Thomasian’s activism extends to the ANC Glendale Chapter as well as the AYF “Roupen” Chapter, the Armenian Student Association, the League of Women Voters, and the United Human Rights Council.
Recent University of California graduates Savada Simounian-Khygani and Hovanes Gasparyan brought training from the ANC Western Region office. “I have never been to Washington, D.C. before and thus far I absolutely love it. I am excited to visit Capitol Hill and meet with Members of Congress on behalf of the ANCA and Armenian Americans nationwide,” explained Gasparyan, who received his BA in international political economy with a minor in city and regional planning. Gasparyan rounded out his education through volunteer work in the UC Berkeley ASA, San Francisco ANC, and Montebello’s Holy Cross Church.
“The ANCA Leo Sarkisian internship continues my personal journey of helping my community and Homeland. My interaction with the East Coast community has helped me better understand my Armenian identity,” noted Simounian-Khygani, a Middle East and North African studies double major who also minored in Armenian. He has been a member of the Alpha Epsilon Omega fraternity and remains active with the ANC Western Region.
This year’s group has been joined by high school junior Rose Pallone, a student of National Cathedral School in Washington, in a special program to promote student advocacy efforts in support of Armenian Genocide recognition.
The Leo Sarkisian Internship Program, now in its 25th year, is an integral part of a growing effort to provide Armenian Americans greater opportunities to explore careers on Capitol Hill, in the U.S. Foreign Service, and key Washington foreign policy think tanks. It is a part of the larger ANCA Capital Gateway Program, which is designed to help university students and graduates find internships and permanent positions in Congressional offices as well as a host of other government agencies and policy groups.
The interns, who participate in a wide variety of projects based on their individual interests, are given the opportunity to gain hands-on experience within the American political system. They participate in a bi-weekly lecture series featuring guest lecturers, including public officials and Armenian American leaders.