NEW YORK, NY—Marking a century of Armenian-American political advocacy, the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) just celebrated and honored visionaries whose work has significantly impacted the Armenian Cause.
Hundreds of community leaders and grassroots advocates from throughout the Eastern United States gathered at the ANCA’s 12th annual gala on Saturday, October 13, 2018 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. This year’s honorees included Oscar-winning director Terry George and producer Dr. Eric Esrailian for their film “The Promise.” Community activist and educator Kenneth Sarajian was also honored for tirelessly incorporating Hai Tahd into every aspect of his life. Three future Armenian leaders—the 2018 ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship participants—were recognized as well.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Division for Human Rights Watch, served as master of ceremonies. Following the national anthems of the United States and Armenia by Hooshere Bezdikian and the invocation by His Grace Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate, Whitson reflected on this year’s 100th anniversary of the formation of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia, the forerunner of the ANCA. She highlighted that among the ANCA’s strengths today was the broad diversity of its supporters; its ability to unify people across multiple generations, from varied geographic and professional backgrounds, and from across the political spectrum to work for Hai Tahd, the Armenian Cause.
In her welcome address, ANCA Eastern Region board member Audrey Mardoian said, “We were heartened by the large number of youth who attended, and we are confident that the future of Hai Tahd work is in good hands.”
Every year during the gala, the ANCA-ER honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward issues relevant to Armenian-Americans with the Freedom Award. This year, the ANCA-ER honored Terry George, writer and director of “The Promise” and Dr. Eric Esrailian, producer of “The Promise.” Presenting the awards was Consolee Nishimwe, author, human rights advocate and survivor of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
George and Dr. Esrailian helped fulfill the vision of the late Kirk Kerkorian – educating the public about the perseverance of the Armenian nation through the internationally recognized film “The Promise.” Furthering their initiative, the proceeds of the film were used to establish The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law. In their remarks, both George and Dr. Esrailian commended the ANCA on its help in promoting the film.
George said, “We have endured so much together… the Irish, the Rwandans, the Armenians…That suffering defined our people and it defined us as we traveled around the world. And you look now and the diaspora of the Irish and the diaspora of the Armenians are some of the strongest cultures and people around the world… That feeling of community is what drove me, along with Eric and all of our crew to make this film. We created something that is a learning tool that is eternal… it’s there to teach our children and to teach people who don’t know. One of the most gratifying things about making this film is when people come up afterwards and say I didn’t know this happened… because we are spreading the word… about what happened in the past, but what can’t happen again in the future.”
In his videotaped message accepting the award, Dr. Esrailian discussed the pressure and obstacles involved during the filming of “The Promise.” He commended his team and reflected on the man who inspired the effort—Kerkorian. He called him the “dearest hero of the Armenian nation.”
“The film has truly exceeded our expectations. There has been an overwhelming amount of attention and awareness of the Armenian Genocide since the launch of the film. And we were able to create a movement to keep the promise, to never forget the Armenian Genocide and to hopefully shine a light and prevent future atrocities,” said Dr. Esrailian.
The Vahan Cardashian Award is given annually to an ANCA-ER activist or supporter who demonstrates longstanding accomplishments on behalf of the Armenian Cause. This year, the ANCA-ER honored Ken Sarajian, an educator and lifelong Hai Tahd activist. Along with building key congressional relationships throughout the years, he most recently joined Shant Mardirossian to promote a new Armenian Genocide curriculum at the New Jersey Council of Social Studies, educating teachers on the life-saving efforts of Near East Relief during the Armenian Genocide. Sarajian continues to work diligently within the Armenian community and in his chosen field of public education to promote civic activism and awareness.
In his acceptance speech, Sarajian recognized activists of the past such as Leo Sarkisian and those of the present saying, “This is us doing this stuff together. It is about the people we meet. If we ever think it’s about what we do, we’re wrong. It’s about why we do it. This is us. It’s not just me. It’s what you guys do. So this is my journey. I am a storyteller who tells our story now. Whether it’s in the classroom, Congress or the state legislature, the story is not just about what happened 100 years ago, it’s about what’s happening today as the genocide continues…”
Mardoian returned to the stage to deliver the ANCA Eastern Region’s message. She invited everyone to join her in a moment of silence in memory of 27-year-old ANCA activist Movses Ter-Oganesyan, who passed away earlier in the week, and for 2016 Cardashian Award recipient Levon Palian, who passed away in September.
Then Mardoian discussed many of the ANCA’s accomplishments; she highlighted the work of local ANC’s such as Merrimack Valley’s Armenian Genocide education program, which was implemented at 50 area high schools. She also reminded the audience of the upcoming elections in November, urging them to vote for ANCA-endorsed candidates.
Mardoian then introduced Victoria Messikian, who spoke on behalf of the 2018 Leo Sarkisian summer interns: Boston University junior Antranig Kechejian, Fordham University junior Victoria Messikian, and Indiana University senior Adrienne Tazian-Schwartz. Messikian thanked the ANCA for having the opportunity to learn about the many facets of Hai Tahd during the Washington, D.C-based internship, pledging that the next generation of ANCA activists is ready for the challenge. Shortly after, Tereza Yerimyan, Director of the ANCA Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program and Leo Sarkisian Summer Internship Program, presented awards to the interns recognizing their participation in the program.
In his remarks, George Aghjayan, Chair of the ANCA Eastern Region Endowment Fund, stressed the importance of ANCA programs such as the Leo Sarkisian and Capitol Gateway, its expanding genocide education efforts and numerous other ANCA initiatives. He noted how the ANCA is preparing the next generation of ANC activists and urged generous donors to expand their support by contributing to the endowment fund.
The final speaker of the evening was ANCA National Board Chair Raffi Hamparian. Hamparian reflected on the impact that Cardashian honoree Sarajian had on his own life as a young man in New Jersey, inspiring him to become a Hai Tahd activist. He outlined numerous important initiatives currently being pursued in Washington, D.C., including support for demining efforts and a rehabilitation center in Artsakh, implementing stronger peacekeeping measures along the Line of Contact in Artsakh, increased U.S. funding for schools in Armenia, support for reforestation in Armenia, and pursuit of justice for the Armenian Genocide.
Special guests included H.E. Mher Margaryan, Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mr. Robert Avetisyan, Republic of Artsakh’s Permanent Representative to the United States and Dr. Khatchig Mouradian, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Bureau Member.
The evening also featured a silent auction, featuring numerous items donated from local Armenian and non-Armenian businesses and individuals, as well as organizations such as AYF Camp Haiastan and the ACAA Cruise Committee. Included in the items was a signed original script of the film “The Promise,” items autographed by Serj Tankian, sports memorabilia and many more.
For more information about this year’s gala, please visit www.ancaef.org/gala.