No Farmed Armenians

The subject of this article was inspired by a friend who called to convey concerns about it, just as I was wondering what the heck I would write about this week.

The issue is the paucity of Armenians who have been elected to federal office who are products of our ‘farm team”, to borrow a term from baseball. The term refers to a lesser team (associated with a well-known team) where players get exposure and an opportunity to test and prove their mettle. Our farm team consists of those who have gone through the various Armenian-organized programs available in Washington, DC.

It is easily possible to expand this to high appointed offices, but let’s stick to the legislature, the House of Representatives and Senate. There have been ZERO Armenians elected to the Senate, and only six to the House, four of them only half-Armenian (two of whom were half Assyrian, interestingly enough). They are, chronologically Steven Derounian (NY-R, 1953-1963), Adam Benjamin (IN-R, 1977-1982), Chip Pashayan (CA-R, 1979-1991), Anna Eshoo (CA-D, 1993-present), John Sweeney (NY-R, 1999-2007), and Jackie Speier (CA-D, 2008-present).

This may seem like a lot, but it is not, considering we have had significant Armenian settlement in the U.S. for something like a century and a half. But it’s not even a matter of simple numbers, but the routes to office these people took. It has been over four decades since the first Armenian internship program in Washington, DC. was established. More programs have appeared since then. Yet, not one of those who have gone through these programs has been elected to the House or Senate. I’m not even aware of any of them running.

This is not to say that the programs our community has put in place to help our youth become involved in D.C. are bad. Quite the contrary, they are excellent. But somehow, we have not generated electeds. Even the numbers of Armenian congressional staffers are miniscule. I went through a directory of House staffers with more than 9200 listings. I found roughly 0.3% Armenian names, plus an additional, again roughly, 0.25% that MIGHT be Armenian names. So I can’t make the argument that our DC participants are still making their way through the pipeline, earning their stripes and getting exposure and training, especially since I don’t know what percent of these staffers are products of our programs.

This is also not to say that we haven’t had success at lower levels of government – state legislatures and city councils, especially in California and Massachusetts. We have also done fairly well in Rhode Island. At one point, we had four Armenians in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, if I remember correctly. But that legislative body, of a relatively small-population state, has 400 members! So four members is not such a big deal. There have also been other Armenians elected to office from Arizona to Florida. Efforts are also in place to build political teams, often referred to as machines, which “reproduce” younger office holders. But again, these very positive activities have not been products of community’s political-electoral infrastructure, rather the efforts of individuals acting alone or as groups.

This is not even to say that individual Armenians haven’t made occasional, and often quite valiant efforts to get elected to congress, e.g. David Krikorian battles again Jean Schmidt in Ohio. Then there are those who have run on minor-party tickets, which have almost no chance of success. In addition, many quixotic, and often embarrassing, runs for office are in evidence.

So what’s missing?

Why haven’t the people we’ve been training been aspiring to elective office? Or are they trying and we’re not aware or helping enough, financially or otherwise?

Are we reaching out to and managing to recruit the “wrong” type of person for this field of endeavor, i.e. electoral politics?

Is it a cultural/parental/social problem we confront? Are we still brainwashing our community’s youth to believe that only “professionals” (doctors/engineers/lawyers/pharmacists and more recently technology, meaning the internet/software universe, etc.) and “businessmen/entrepreneurs” (shopkeepers, artisans/tradespeople, merchants, and wheeler-dealers) can make a decent living? That these are only the worthwhile fields to enter? That service (to nation, country, community, church, etc.) is for suckers and fools?

I suspect the biggest culprit is the last one. Someone else has observed that this factor might be behind the disproportionate number of electeds our community has who are children of mixed, Armenian and non-Armenian, parents.

What do you think? Are you guilty of perpetuating this problem? Are you ready to change your tune and encourage future generations to enter fields such as acting, the arts, news reporting, politics, public policy, teaching, etc.?

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

Latest posts by Garen Yegparian (see all)


  1. A well-researched and fascinating piece. On November 6, 2018, I look forward to seeing Danny Tarkanian make the list of Armenian-Americans, who have served in congress. Danny is in a tight race in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. He can win. So let’s encourage our community, which has helped him already, to help some more. Tarkanian would be the third congressmen [with an Armenian name] in U.S. history and the only one, with such a name, under the dome in our nation’s capitol in 2019.

  2. As a non Armenian interested in Armenian perspective. Does it matter which party’s flag an Armenian is running under or merely the fact that he/she is an Armenian is enough reason for support from the community?

    • Hi Mike. Armenian raised outside NYC here. It does matter to a point. For example I defend Chuck Schumer on the reg because he has regularly spoke at the genocide rally. Please also note I detest the victim culture many LA Armenians live by. I’d vote either party including Trump. Happy to answer all questions you may since you time to post on this forum.

  3. Unfortunately because the ANC programs only mandate the giving aspect of becoming involved. They don’t care about the “whats in it for the interns” aspect of the whole program. If you want these interns to get into leadership positions, then you have to hand-hold them and baby-sit them to get to these positions. May require paying for their college education, and helping them with their campaigns, etc. which I am sure ANC/ARF are not interested in. I have proposed for decades to create a Leadership Educational Platform for our youth to prepare them for leadership positions in their careers (C-Suite level positions). If you do that, then these interns will give their life back to the community. It is not a one-way street my friend. ANC/ARF don’t have the vision of succession planning and leadership turnover. Very short sighted I might add.

  4. My theory is this: Armenians who migrated to America prior to WW2 were imbued with unusual character, integrity and dignity. The first generation of Armenians born here in America were programmed similarly. To our credit, we were not designed to run for elective office nor, for the most part, were our children. But that will change as the influence of environment informs our descendants more strongly than does that of heredity.

  5. As a non-Armenian living in Glendale, could it be that only the worst of your culture are elected? We currently have four ethnic Armenians on council who are less than shining examples of honest, forthright public servants. From a racist Mayor who just appointed the unqualified son of a bad developer (but major campaign supper) to the Planning Commission to a cable TV host who scares with his wild and illogical pronouncements. They are joined by another developer whose never seen any bad development and a shyster woman chasing lawyer. With all the smart and lovely Armenian neighbors (except the Russians mobsters) you’d think the community could do better.

    • I suspect you have an axe to grind against the Armenians of Glendale, either based on some bad encounter with an individual Armenians which may have jaundiced your view of the entire tribe, or perhaps you are pro-Turkish, pro-Azeri from personal or business motivations.
      How many shining examples of honest, forthright public servants can you name from whatever other background, be it Anglo, Mexican Hispanic, Italian, Indian, Arabic, without singling any ethnicity nor casting aspersions on any ethnicity, and certainly without making generalizing or tarring an entire culture or ethnicity with the same brush, as you seem to be doing. You, however, are ever so anxious to cast the woost possible aspersions on Armenians, whom you have singled out for your racist and hateful tirade.
      Are you by any chance a lobbyist or covert spokesperson for the Turkish/Azeri governments.
      You would not dare to make such hateful, racist and excluding generations against any powerful ethnicity, be it Jews, African-Americans, Hispanics, Moslems, Native Americans, Italians, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indo-Pakistanese, etc., because you know that dreadful consequences and recriminations would soon make your life unbearable. You know that those aforementioned ethnicities are extremely well-organized to mete out extremely painful consequences, so you choose to go after what you perceive to be a harmless ethnicity that is not in a position to make your life unbearable and make you regret every hate-filled, racist and unfounded accusations you spew out like vomit.

  6. Why would anyone, Armenian or not, run for public office today? The political atmosphere is toxic. There are no bounds. Media prints what it wants as long as it fits into any paper’s, channel’s view. There’s no objectivity.
    Media and other political rivals focus on digging up whatever dirt they can uncover. The office seeker’s family is treated as fair game, kids included. The office seeker and family receive threats from the lunatic fringe. They have to be careful opening envelopes in the mail. Who knows what the white powder may be.
    I cannot understand why anyone would subject herself/himself and their family to the garbage that is now American politics.

  7. Politicians are utter scum. The fewer Armenians go into electoral politics the better.
    And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of Garen’s articles that just view people as a means to an end. Young Armenians are more than just foot soldiers in the Armenian cause. They are individuals and are entitled to pursue fulfilling lives as they see fit. They do not exist just to pursue genocide recognition.

  8. I think Alex missed the point. BIG TIME. Since the genocide, Armenian-Americans have contributed greatly, considering their small numbers, to almost every American industry. Armenians, by and large, are a resourceful and/or educated bunch, with lots of energy to succeed in business, law, medicine, engineering, and science. It was a perfectly sage observation by Garen’s friend that only six Armenians have ever been elected to the U.S. Congress. That seems like a low number, especially compared to one or two other small ethnic groups that have a history of success in other fields. Most noteworthy, as Garen pointed out, is the fact that Armenian-Americans are very active in donating to candidates and educating officeholders. But, getting elected to serve in D.C. just doesn’t seem to be happening, even with the thousands of our best and brightest, who have interned in our nation’s capital, as college students. And, finally, this myth that the only thing that public-policy-minded Armenian-Americans care about is the genocid…is rubbish. YES, it is important. Very important. If you don’t think it is, you have no sense of history, humanity, or justice. But, in my Armenian-American life, there is sooooo much more going on than attempting the important work of getting justice for our forefathers. I suggest Alex pick-up an Armenian newspaper or go to the hundreds of websites of Armenian-American organizations that do so many fun and philanthropic things. So sad that the internet is, once again, the comfortable refuge for the uninformed critics among us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.