By Tamar Kanarian
Oct. 15 has come and gone, and for many of us Armenian Americans living in Massachusetts, it’s a tough day to put behind us. We all took our talents and abilities to help elect a fellow Armenian —a friend, a colleague, a good man—to the United States Congress. Peter Koutoujian had a very good chance to represent District 5 of Massachusetts, home to the largest Armenian population on the East Coast, in Washington D.C., but fell short. We all know these opportunities rarely present themselves, and when they do, it’s important to ask ourselves, “What is our role and how will we help?”
Now is not the time to say, “should have, could have, would have.” It is time to think about our individual and collective role in advancing Hai Tahd. It is time to examine our personal involvement in the American political system. We are on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the genocide and sitting idly must to come to an end.
Personally, this election was quite timely. I’ve been involved with the ANCA since college, and have stayed active as best as possible locally. Earlier this year I accepted a position on the ANCA Eastern Region Board and only months in did we learn Peter Koutoujian was going to run for Ed Markey’s long-occupied seat in the House of Representatives. I’ve known Peter for many years and this was a pleasant surprise. The opportunity to elect an individual with “ian” at the end of their name rarely presents itself. This was going to be a challenging project, but an exciting one. This campaign would require every single Armenian living in the district to phone bank, canvass homes, solicit funds, recruit volunteers, and more importantly, get out the vote.
It takes a lot to run a campaign. In addition to a candidate’s message and policies, you need the money, you need the bodies, you need the drive. You need the vote.
This special election witnessed a very low voter turnout, which was expected. Though Koutoujian won his home town of Waltham, he came up short throughout the district ultimately conceding to Katherine Clark, someone who, if she were to win the election in December, will need to become educated on Armenian issues. This will require the engagement of all us living in the district. We have a right that allows us to choose who we want to represent us, and it is important that candidates understand our concerns as Armenians fighting for genocide recognition, recognition of Nagorno-Karabagh as an independent state, as well as resolution and restitution for our ancestral homelands.
Volunteering with a campaign was a new experience and I’ve learned it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, not to mention a lot of bodies. It requires communication and engagement. It’s a great opportunity to involve the youth, as well as new activists, and introduce them to what a grassroots effort really means. To what Hai Tahd means, too.
Looking back, we were able to cultivate and engage new and old Hai Tahd activists, and I am confident they learned more about our political system than ever in these short three months. To those that volunteered their finances, time, and talents, I encourage you to build on that momentum. To those that were restricted in their involvement, I ask that you take the time and try to get involved…again.
There are many ways to participate. However, let’s use our knowledge and experience from the Koutoujian campaign to act on a few things. If you volunteered with the Koutoujian campaign, use the skills you acquired and apply them by volunteering with another campaign, and at the same time, bring along your friends and teach them. In November 2014, elections will be held for all 435 seats in the House of Representative representing the 50 U.S. states. Many of our friends in Congress will be running for re-election and we need to show them our appreciation for their support of Hai Tahd issues by supporting their campaign.
Let’s also think about those in our Armenian community who one day could run for Congress. They can start by running as a local city or town councilor. Down the line, they could run for state positions, and eventually for Congress.
We have a voice and it’s important that it is heard, and it’s not difficult to have it heard. Have you ever acted on an ANCA Action Alert? Ever sent a web-fax to your member of Congress? Better yet, ever met with your member of Congress? Believe it when I say those folks on Capitol Hill love it when they meet their constituents. I’ve sat in on a number of meetings and they all say the same thing: They want to meet with you. Be it an Armenian issue or not, they want to hear from you. I always look forward to traveling to Washington, D.C. for April 24, when I can meet with many Congressional offices. For those that might be interested in having that opportunity in D.C. or locally, I ask that you connect with the ANCA Eastern Region office by e-mailing [email protected] and we can make it happen.
I know this won’t be the last time I help Peter or any other hopeful who is a champion of our Cause. We should not take opportunities like this for granted and it is imperative that we all work together. The difference we can make as a people is tremendous and as we approach the 100th anniversary of the passing of our ancestors, there is no time like today.
Tamar Kanarian is a member of the ANCA Eastern Region board.