By Lucine Poturyan
ANCA Maral Melkonian Avetisyan Fellowship 2019
Wesleyan University – Class of 2020
Only three days into my time in Washington, DC with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), and I experienced a whirlwind of activity that was fit to last me the whole summer. That eventful start set the tone for a productive and engaging summer in the hotbed of American politics, hosted by a dedicated organization fired up to mobilize its Armenian-American youth.
Let me begin by saying that I’m honored to be the inaugural Maral Melkonian Avetisyan Fellow. Her dedication to the Armenian cause inspired me in my work here with the ANCA in ways I wouldn’t realize until I completed the program. But, I’ll get back to this.
The first day of this internship was marked by a workday-long crash course on the Armenian issues being voted on in Congress during this week. Be alert: if you’re sitting in your chair trying to rub the jet-lagged sleep out of your eyes, the ANCA staff are the abrupt awakening you didn’t know you needed: we’re going to Capitol Hill tomorrow.
That’s right. On just the second day of the internship, my ANCA Leo Sarkisian Summer Internship teammates and I found ourselves navigating the halls of the Rayburn, Longworth and Cannon office buildings, pitching for the House of Representatives’ support for our foreign aid amendments granting $40 million to Armenia to aid with democracy development and $1.5 million in demining and rehabilitation aid to Artsakh. After spending the day visiting 439 congressional offices, we retired to the ANCA headquarters to watch the results of our efforts in real-time, over pizza. The air in the room was steeped in anticipation, hope and exhaustion. We had barely gotten to know each other, let alone get settled into the city when we were exclaiming and hugging in sheer joy: we’d come together to a complicated city new to us and made a tangible change on our second day.
The thrill of the internship didn’t stop there. I was excited to learn that the delegation of interns from California would be sitting in on a meeting with the ANCA staff and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). I remember asking myself, a newcomer to this tempestuous city, if any of these events were happening in my conscious state. We had the opportunity to sit down with the Senator and speak to her about garnering senatorial support for Armenia and Artsakh related priorities. At the end of the meeting, Senator Feinstein requested for the women in the group to sit in the front for our photograph, female powerhouses flanking her. As I left her office, I didn’t think the day could get better.
Then the midday humidity welcomed itself to the city. However, Washington’s humid streets didn’t stop the women in our office from attending Politico’s Third Annual Salute to the Female Chiefs of Staff in the Capitol building. Listening to the advice of these women was inspiring for me both personally and professionally, and while I was still taking in the experience of that event, our tenacious Governmental Affairs director Tereza Yerimyan led us on our way to another event that night. As we were walking out of the Capitol, we did a double take upon seeing Speaker Nancy Pelosi walking through the Capitol with her entourage and headed right on over for a quick chat about the Armenian Genocide resolution.
And that was just the first week. I will let the rest of the ANCA Leo Sarkisian team discuss the other seven weeks, but in short, it included work on passing four pro-Armenian amendments, constant meetings with members of Congress, grassroots mobilization calls to Armenian Americans across the U.S., meetings with current and former Ambassadors, career exploration lectures, extracurricular expeditions around the capital city’s museums, ice cream socials and a truckload of excitement and passion on the road to #HaiTahd.
All of which brings me back to Maral Melkonian Avetisyan. When I started this program, I was handed a poem— When I Wake Up —that Maral had written back when she was 13 years old. She wrote about starting each day committed to fighting for a brighter future for Armenia and its children. And, with her inspiration and the ANCA’s guidance, that’s just what we did during this internship – and what I hope to continue moving forward.