LOWELL, Mass.—Hundreds of supporters of the Armenian National Committee of America-Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) honored community leaders and grassroots activists whose tireless efforts led to this month’s House passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.296) at its 13th annual banquet.
“This is a game we are going to win,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian during his remarks at the University of Massachusetts Lowell Inn and Conference Center on Saturday evening. “You will know that we have won the end of this battle when it is inconceivable that an American president or even a member of Congress will engage in genocide denial.” Hamparian declared that the ANCA’s next course of action is delivering a genocide resolution to the Senate floor for a vote.
ANCA Leo Sarkisian summer intern Mary Galstian opened the program with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and the Armenian national anthem. Galstian was then joined by four of her colleagues on-stage for their work with the ANCA leading up to H.Res.296. “During the internship, the interns passed four pro-Armenia, anti-Azerbaijan amendments,” explained ANCA Program Director Sipan Ohannesian, adding that the interns returned to Washington, DC to support the delivery of the resolution to the House floor. “We were all in the US Capitol three days days in a row, knocked on every single office, visited them three times and got the Resolution passed,” recalled Ohannesian. The interns are among hundreds who have advanced their careers through the ANCA’s leadership programs; currently, 60 alumni are staffers on Capitol Hill working for members of Congress. Even Mistress of Ceremonies Heather Krafian was a former ANCA intern and fondly recalled her experiences on the hill during her formal remarks.
This banquet is one of the largest events of the year for the ANCA-ER. This year, the organization honored Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Dr. Taner Akcam with the Freedom Award and brothers Aram, Armen and Ara Jeknavorian with the Vahan Cardashian Award.
“Not recognizing the Armenian Genocide is a stain on our human rights record,” said Congressman Jim McGovern after being presented with the Freedom Award and greeted with roaring applause from the crowd. “If we’re going to sacrifice the truth and turn our back on a human rights atrocity because there’s business to be had or there’s some strategic military consideration that we want from another country, then we lose all moral authority to speak about human rights wherever they exist,” said the Congressman, hinting at US-Turkey relations. McGovern affirmed the meaning behind this resolution as being one step closer to preventing the cyclical crime of genocide.
As a native of the first Armenian community in the US, McGovern reminisced about being sworn into Congress in 1997 and attending the 82nd genocide commemoration at the Armenian Church of Our Savior in Worcester. “I remember that commemoration because the first several pews of the church were filled with survivors.” He described the harrowing childhood story of the last late genocide survivor, Rose Der Sahagian, who was trapped in a prison camp, forced to flee her homeland and escape to Russia before making her way across the world to Worcester, Massachusetts. He expressed his frustration with colleagues elected for office who based their campaigns on empty promises of justice for people like Rose. “If it weren’t for your constant lobbying and constant appeals, I don’t think Congress would’ve done the right thing,” said Rep. McGovern, commending the devoted ANCA team. “My only regret is that we should’ve done it a long, long time ago.”
Dr. Taner Akcam began his speech with a letter from an Armenian who addressed him as a brother. “We love you so much,” he read to a captive audience, “please don’t forget that your name will be engraved in the hearts of Armenians.” Sincerely apologizing on behalf of the Turkish people he earnestly expressed, “Every time you look at me and I see the love in your eyes and you open your hearts to me, I almost die of embarrassment. I am so ashamed,” to which the ballroom answered with thunderous applause.
“It’s humbling, but at the same time it’s embarrassing because what I’m doing is not something extraordinary…We should really try to create the conditions where truth telling is not something prize-worthy,” said Dr. Akcam in an interview with the Weekly. Born, raised and educated in Turkey, Dr. Akcam explained his internal battle as a “self-critical process” when speaking about his initial acceptance of the Genocide. There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude from members of the Armenian community on Saturday night, many of whom waited in line to shake his hand and personally thank him for speaking out against his native government and its continuing denialist campaign.
Muriel “Mimi” Parseghian, chair of the Silent Auction committee, emotionally introduced and recognized the Jeknavorian brothers for their staunch commitment to their service to Hai Tad. Following in their parents’ footsteps, the brothers have actively served as longtime members of organizations including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), ANC Merrimack Valley, the Armenian church and numerous genocide and veterans committees. They are also alumni of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). Together, the Jeknavorians reflected on their experiences in the community with a photo presentation, featuring old family photographs.
Throughout the evening, an overall sense of responsibility was instilled among attendees, many of whom are descendants of genocide survivors. “We turned the page on this,” said Hamparian to a roaring, inspired room. “We’re not going back. We’re going forward. We do not bow. We do not bend. We do not break.”