From Baku Pogroms to Elected Office in Maine

Turcotte Speaks to the Weekly about Her Win, Election Campaign, and Journey

WESTBROOK CITY, Maine (A.W.)—“Coming to the United States as a refugee in 1992, I was always fascinated with the electoral process, the judicial system, and the way of life here. I love this country. I voted the minute I could vote after getting my citizenship at 19,” says Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, who became Westbrook City’s youngest and only female city councillor on Nov. 3, with 64 percent of the vote.

Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte

Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1978, Turcotte fled to the United States with her family after a wave of Azerbaijani aggression towards Armenians in 1990. “I never thought I would run for any office, but what’s amazing about this country is that anyone can, and anyone who wants to should.” She explained that her first presidential election vote was absentee, and that she still has the little pencil they sent in with the ballot packet.

Turcotte’s background is in legal and risk management, and she had no real political experience or knowledge of what running a campaign involved. But with guidance from her friends and help from her family, she ran successfully for the position against an incumbent and another candidate. Running as a Democrat, she beat out long-time city councillor Paul Emery and Republican Susan Rossignol in a landslide victory in Westbrook City’s Ward 3. She secured 308 votes to Emery’s 88 and to Rossignol’s 83.

“I ran the textbook grassroots campaign,” she says. Turcotte went to City Hall, obtained a map of her ward, and knocked on the door of every house of her section of the city with her kids after work and school. “They were on bikes and scooters, and I was with a stack of palm cards knocking on doors and describing my qualifications, my family background, and my vision for the city’s future. On weekends, my husband joined us. We met many wonderful people along the way…and got some exercise too.”

Turcotte credits the success of her campaign to face-to-face interactions. “Yes, sure, they can see my interview in the local paper, but they get to see much more when they meet me and know that I’m a real person with a real family in this city. And we are all in it together. We had fun as a family doing it for about five to six weeks,” she says. “I am terrified of dogs, and it seems everyone has a dog, so it was not easy for me on many different levels, but so rewarding.”

Having children has prompted Turcotte to become more invested in the success of Westbrook City. “I believe the success of the city directly contributes to the success of my children and their friends. I am not the type of person who can comfortable sit back and observe things from the sidelines,” she says.

Turcotte has been volunteering with various organizations and has been a tireless voice advocating for increased U.S. aid for Nagorno-Karabagh. She also recently published her memoirs, titled Nowhere, a Story of Exile, which tells the story of her life in Baku and the Azerbaijani brutality that shattered her childhood.

Recently, Anna’s husband John suggested that she should run for public office. “I thought he was crazy, but he is my biggest fan and supporter, always believing in me,” she says.

Turcotte believes the election results reflect the people’s need for a change in the city and their trust in her. “I encourage fellow Armenians to become more politically active in their communities. And on a personal note, I want my daughter and son to see their mama succeed in various aspects of life, whether it’s the kitchen, the business, writing and publishing books, or running for office. Children need more examples of women being out in the world, making their own way, just as they want it.”

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Rupen Janbazian

Rupen Janbazian is the editor of the Armenian Weekly. His writings primarily focus on politics, human rights, community, literature, and Armenian culture. He has reported from Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), Turkey, Canada, the United States, and Western Armenia. He has served on the local and national executives of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) of Canada and Hamazkayin Toronto, and served as the administrator of the Armenian National Committee (ANC) of Toronto. Janbazian also taught Armenian History and Creative Writing at the ARS Armenian Private School of Toronto, and has worked on several translations.

11 Comments

  1. Congratulations Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte.

    What a journey (!).

    State Senator or Rep next.
    Governor after that.
    US Senator soon after.

    We need more like Anna in elected office.
    Godspeed.

  2. Congratulations and best wishes for a long and productive political career as a representative of your community. I served as alderman for the city of Edwardsville, IL for 18 years and loved every minute of my community service. I started on boards and commissions prior to serving an elected office and continue today to represent the city on two boards. My children grew up attending meetings with me and later watching the council proceedings on tv.(They learned a lot about growth, infrastructure and commitment from discussing what was happening in their hometown.) You do not need political experience to serve at the grassroots level….only care and concern for your community and the people you serve.

  3. Bravo, Anna! You will succeed in all you do because you work hard and know your mind; no doubt this is a result of what you endured during your long journey from Baku to America. I am in awe of your successes!!!

  4. How many more and more years we need to learn that we are all together are Armenians. That’s really a BIG shame that until now we didn’t learn it. I feel very bad and disappointed.
    CONGRATULATIONS Anna, thanks for your mission, God bless you and your Dear family. Amen.

  5. What a thrill! When I read such success stories, I feel proud being Armenian. May the Armenian youth take notice and follow in your steps, and may the elderly hand the reign for the next generation so that we continue to grow, to multiply and to reach for the stars. Amen.

  6. I personally know Anna Turcotte and she is a very smart and decent person. I am so happy that she been appointed to an elected office. She has been through a very turbulent childhood and has experienced life on many levels. The Armenian people should be very proud of her accomplishments. And I believe there will be more to come for Anna’s future.

  7. Dear Anna! On behalf of refugees from Baku, presently living in the US, I would like to say that we are very proud of you! It takes a lot of hard work and skills for the first generation immigrant to become a public person in the US. Congratulations!

  8. Congratulations to Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte on her winning as City Councilor in Westbrook, Maine. We thank her on her excellent book on her hardships in Baku on what the Armenian People went through under Azerbaijantsi rule. God Bless you Anna.

  9. As someone who is half-Armenian (my grandfather survived the Genocide and settled in Massachusetts), I am delighted to hear about another Armenian woman who serves in public office. I am on the School committee of Fitchburg, MA and am State Democratic Committeewoman for the 3rd Worcester District and feel that my strong family background — and ability to listen to everyone — has been crucial in political life. I am sure it is so for Anna and I’d love to meet her someday. Thanks for a great article!

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