ANCA Eastern Region celebrates 15th annual gala in Philadelphia

Nearly 200 activists gather in-person to celebrate the region’s accomplishments, issue a call for justice

2021 ANCA-ER Gala, Philadelphia, Penn.

Photos by Alec Balian

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. – Hundreds of community leaders and grassroots advocates from throughout the eastern United States gathered together at the 15th annual Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region (ANCA-ER) gala on Saturday, October 23, 2021, at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel to celebrate the year’s progress and honor those whose work significantly impacts the Armenian Cause.  

Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian presided over the gala which featured a cocktail reception, a silent auction, dinner and an awards program. The region honored longtime ANC of Pennsylvania activist Andrew Kzirian with the ANCA-ER Vahan Cardashian Award, as well as internationally recognized human rights attorney Siranush Sahakyan and Conan O’Brien’s executive assistant Sona Movsesian with ANCA-ER Freedom Awards. Other honorees included Philadelphia 6abc Action News reporter Katie Katro with the inaugural Excellence In Media Award; the region’s summer interns Lori Baronian (New Jersey), Tvene Baronian (New Jersey) and Aram Brunson (Massachusetts) who participated in the regional internship program; and the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program participants Mari Bijimenian (New York), Anais Boyajian (New Jersey) and Garen Meguerditchian (Massachusetts) in Washington, DC.

Raffi Hamparian, Chairman ANCA National Board; John Mkrtschjan, ARF ER Central Committee; Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishyan, Vicar General of Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church; Aram Kaloustian, ARF Bureau; Steve Mesrobian, ARF Central Committee and ANCA ER Board; and George Aghjayan, ARF Central Committee Chairman

Special guests, aside from the honorees, included Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishyan, Vicar General, Armenian Prelacy, Artsakh Representative Robert Avetisyan, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Bureau representative Aram Kaloustian, ARF Central Committee members George Aghjayan, Valod Atakhanian, Paulie Haroian, Steve Mesrobian, John Mkrtschjan, Sevag Shirozian and Ani Tchaghlasian, as well as ARF Central Committee executive director Maral Choloyan. Members of the Armenian National Committee were in attendance including ANCA National chairman Raffi Hamparian, ANCA National board members Ani Tchaghlasian and Dr. Ara Chalian, as well as ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian, ANCA communications director Elizabeth Chouldjian, ANCA Government Relations director Tereza Yerimyan, ANCA IT director Nerses Semerjian, ANCA program director Alex Manoukian and members of the ANC of Pennsylvania – Nora Kzirian, Lorig Baronian and Alidz Oshagan. 

Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian

During her opening and welcome remarks, Rep. Manoogian highlighted that in addition to celebrating the honorees’ contributions to Hai Tahd, the evening was dedicated to the activists whose work propels the Eastern Region forward. She spoke about her own experience as she worked to author, sponsor and pass Michigan House Resolution 319 which condemned Azerbaijan and Turkey’s attacks on Artsakh and Armenia. 

“The truth of what our people have gone through, the suffering, was heard on the house floor at the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing that evening, just as it was in the United States Congress and when President Biden finally told the truth about the Genocide. But we all know that we have much work to do, and we must absolutely keep the pressure on Washington politicians to ensure that we hold Turkey and Azerbaijan accountable,” she concluded. 

Following Rep. Manoogian’s welcome, Philadelphia resident Emily Terjimanian sang both the Armenian and US national anthems. Very Rev. Fr. Yemishyan, Vicar General, Armenian Prelacy led an invocation and provided remarks about the importance of Hai Tahd.

ANCA-ER Endowment Fund treasurer and ANCA-ER board member Steve Mesrobian

ANCA-ER Endowment Fund treasurer and ANCA-ER board member Steve Mesrobian then addressed the crowd, highlighting the region’s work during 2020 and 2021, which included a commitment to calling attention to the brutal Turkish and Azeri attacks on the Armenian nation during and after the 2020 Artsakh War by encouraging congressional members to co-sponsor H.Res.240 – calling on Congress to pressure Azerbaijan to release Armenian prisoners of war (POWs) and fostering support for the nine amendments offered up to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022.

“As last year’s 44-day war shows, Armenia today is at a crossroads. The Turkish and Azeri governments will not stop until they have overrun Artsakh and Armenia. It seems that we lose a little more each day. Make no mistake, their actions are by design and carefully planned to cause despair in our people, a sense of hopelessness so that we abandon our lands so they can just walk in and take them over, or even worse, that Armenia’s current leadership will cavalierly trade our lands for undefined commitments from our enemies to open their borders. Therefore, we must continue to remain vigilant, remain committed to our homeland and actively support her in any and all ways that we can. We have to ensure there will be an Artsakh and an Armenia for our children, grandchildren and future generations,” said Mesrobian. 

Mesrobian underscored the importance of training the next generation of activists, including the ANCA Eastern Region LSI Endowment Fund that the region established in 2019, before he introduced the region’s interns as well as those who participated in the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship Program in Washington, DC.  

Nairi Diratsouian, Aram Brunson, Garen Meguerditchian, Mari Bijimenian, Anais Boyajian, Steve Mesrobian

After recognizing the interns alongside ANCA-ER communications specialist Nairi Diratsouian, Meguerditchian, an ANCA 2021 LSI intern, provided an overview of his experience in the nation’s capital.

Following dinner, the program resumed with Manoogian introducing ANC of Pennsylvania and ANCA-ER Gala Committee member Nora Kzirian to speak on behalf of the ANC of Pennsylvania which is comprised of a team of dedicated leaders including Lorig Baronian, Karine Shamlian and Alidz Oshagan, who have helped manage to gain the support of the majority of the state’s 18 congressional members.

ANC-PA members Lorig Baronian, Nora Kzirian, Alidz Oshagan

“This time last year our world as Armenians was turned upside down when we were at war. But as often is the case, when there is darkness, there is always light. Hope and comfort always manage to find a way through. For the Philadelphia community, the light shined as we came together. Our light showed up in how we fundraised, how we protested and how we were represented by our government and in the media. But tonight is not just about celebration, it’s also about reflection. Our work did not end when the war did. Grassroots activism works and we can do great things if we all act together. Silence means injustice wins,” Kzirian stated.

Kzirian then spoke about the work that the community has done to bring awareness of Hai Tahd to the broader community. Their efforts included their work with journalist Katie Katro, who was honored with the inaugural Excellence In Media Award.  

Coverage of Katro’s acceptance of the award aired on 6ABC Action News on Sunday, October 24 during the morning broadcast. She dedicated the award to the community and discussed the Armenian community’s parallels to her own Albanian community. She also spoke about her work in getting to tell the Armenians’ story to the larger audience in Philadelphia.

Inaugural Excellence in Media award recipient Katie Katro, 6ABC Action News reporter

“It is an honor to be here to tell your stories and share your stories. I want to say I see you, I hear you, and I am so glad that the Delaware Valley also gets to see you as well,” said Katro. 

In the second half of the program, Rep. Manoogian spoke about the region honoring individuals who have made extraordinary contributions toward issues that concern Armenian-Americans with the Freedom Award. This year, the ANCA-ER honored international human rights attorney and president of Yerevan’s International Comparative Law Center’s Siranush Sahakyan and media personality Sona Movsesian with the ANCA-ER Freedom Award.

Sahakyan not only serves as the president of the ICLaw, but is also the co-founder of Path of Law NGO and an adjunct lecturer at the American University of Armenia where she also serves as the coordinator of the MA program in human rights and social justice. Through her work with the ICLaw, she is currently working in partnership with the Armenian Legal Center for Justice and Human Rights (ALC) on gathering evidence, witness testimony and preparing legal dossiers to file with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), as well as other international bodies responsible for such cases, on behalf of the families of POWs and those who are illegally detained by the Azerbaijani government.

Chairman of Armenian Legal Center Kenneth Hachikian

ALC board chairman Kenneth Hachikian spoke about Sahakyan and the importance of the work she is doing in conjunction with the ALC and its impact on Hai Tahd.

Hachikian, who served as the past chairman of the ANCA for decades, spoke about Sahakyan’s work in gathering and preparing evidence, witness testimony and legal dossiers to file with the ECHR and other international bodies. In partnership with her work with the ALC, several POWs have been released to date. 

Sahakyan, who was unable to attend at the last minute, submitted a video accepting her award in which she spoke about the common, united cause that she shares with the ANCA-ER and its steadfast advocates.   

The family of Siranush Sahakyan

“I’m so proud to be with you tonight, maybe not physically, but definitely with my entire heart and soul,” Sahakyan began. “At this moment, although I don’t share a common space with you, my heart rejoices, because I have a belief that we share more powerful things. We share the great devotion to the Armenian Cause, and we share the moral courage to strive for justice and freedom. I felt terribly humbled to receive this award, and I am grateful to the Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region for honoring me and recognizing the accomplishments for bringing justice for many innocent Armenian victims. I also feel wholehearted appreciation to the ANCA for its long run contribution to the Armenian cause filled with wisdom, courage and faith. This vision inspires all Armenian Americans who love their identity, our land and our common virtues. This vision inspires me,” said Sahakyan. 

ANCA-ER Gala chair Anthony Deese, PhD, spoke on behalf of the gala and silent auction committee who have worked hard over the past year and a half on preparations for the in-person gala. He then moved on to introduce the next ANCA-ER Freedom Award recipient Sona Movsesian, who is best known as Conan O’Brien’s executive assistant and also submitted a video message accepting her award.

Movsesian has used her platform to raise awareness of the Armenian Cause for years and call attention to the Azeri and Turkish attacks on the Armenians of Armenia and Artsakh during last year’s 44-day war. 

“Obviously my love for my community comes from home. My parents are a big reason that I am being honored tonight… my new family – my husband and babies… and last but absolutely not least a very tall Irish man named Conan O’Brien… who is the reason I went to Armenia for the very first time. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to work for someone who doesn’t have a connection to our community but respects it and loves it… and is happy to accept me for who I am,” Movsesian said. 

Manoogian then introduced the last award of the evening – the ANCA-ER’s Vahan Cardashian Award, which is given annually to an activist or supporter who demonstrates longstanding accomplishments on behalf of the Armenian Cause. This year, the region honored Andrew Kzirian, a lifelong Hai Tahd activist and active member of the ANC of Philadelphia community.

A native of Philadelphia, Kzirian has been a lifelong activist in the Armenian community wherever he has lived. He started his career as an educator and then went on to pursue a successful career in sales for the next 40 years, including Interstate Lift, the family business.

In his community, Kzirian has served in multiple positions spanning over 50 years. He was the chairman of the Philadelphia Armenian Intercommunal Committee, a proud member and leader of Hai Tahd activities for the Philadelphia ARF Gomideh, a member of the St. Gregory Armenian Church Board of Trustees and a National Representative Assembly delegate for Philadelphia. He also spent a memorable summer as the director of Camp Haiastan, where his children followed in his footsteps as counselors many years later. 

Jim Kzirian; Nora Kzirian; Andrew Kzirian, 2021 Vahan Cardashian Award recipient; Madonna Kzirian; Lianna Kzirian; Antranig Kzirian

In a touching tribute and introduction, Kzirian’s son Antranig talked about his father’s activism and dedication to his community and family. The 2021 ANCA-ER Vahan Cardashian Award recipient took the audience through the stages in his life where he not only worked to advance Hai Tahd, but also how he laid the foundation of Hai Tahd in his family – with his sons – who are in turn laying the foundation and passing on their father’s legacy to their own children.

ANCA-ER Vahan Cardashian Award recipient Andrew Kzirian

“The last few years have been extremely difficult for Armenia, Artsakh and the Armenians in Lebanon. Between the recent Artsakh War, the divisive national election in Armenia, the unforgivable, devastating  explosion in Beirut and the pandemic, our people have suffered immeasurably. We must do everything within our power to help alleviate the dire conditions in both Beirut and Artsakh, as well as in Armenia itself, for our compatriots. The work continues, until the final realization of true and lasting justice for the Armenian people and the Armenian nation. The day when we shall see our historic homeland, western and eastern Armenia, liberated, united, free and independent. Karounuh mod eh,” Kzirian said. 

Closing out the evening’s program, ANCA National chairman Raffi Hamparian inspired the audience to renew their commitment and faith in the Hai Tahd movement. He provided examples from the past and present and offered the following thoughts. 

Chairman of the ANCA National Board Raffi Hamparian

“This evening has been inspiring because we have recognized inspirational individuals – people who elevate our community, make us better, remind us where our North Star is, what the cause represents, and what it takes to advance it,” said Hamparian, who issued a rallying cry to the audience.  

“We are in a dark era – an era where light is in short supply and darkness prevails over 75 percent of Artsakh. It will be us, us in this room, with the cooperation of our heroic compatriots in Armenia and Artsakh, who will force a new spring to cast light into the darkness. In that effort, I want there to be no doubt – to any person in this room and to any Armenian American –  in this fight we are engaging, we will not bend, we will not break, we will not bow until Artsakh is free again.” 

Robert Avetisyan, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Artsakh to the USA; Elvina Azaryan; filmmaker Jivan Avetisyan

“In the darkness, we will bring light. And, we will do it all together, because this is what we owe the heroes who came before us. We owe them nothing less than to give ourselves to this great, noble and just cause. And in that fight, I am proud and honored to fight every step of the way with you,” concluded Hamparian.

The evening also featured a silent auction, including numerous items donated from local Armenian and non-Armenian businesses and individuals. For more information about this year’s gala or to make a donation, please visit

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“Thank you to the Gala committee, the silent auction committee and the other volunteers who helped make this night a success. The gala is a time for us to gather, reflect and raise the necessary funds to continue the integral advocacy work that this region does on a daily basis. We need to stay unwavering and steadfast in our commitment. I urge you to join us in doing whatever we have in our power to help amplify our voices to members of the US government to call for a stop to Azerbaijani and Turkish aggression, stopping military aid to Azerbaijan, sanctioning Turkey and Azerbaijan for their war crimes against the Armenian nation and increasing recognition of Artsakh,” said ANCA National board member and ANCA-ER board chair Ani Tchaghlasian.

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ANCA-Eastern Region
The Armenian National Committee of America Eastern Region is part of the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots organization, the ANCA. Working in coordination with the ANCA in Washington, DC, and a network of chapters and supporters throughout the Eastern United States, the ANCA-ER actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

1 Comment

  1. On behalf of my family and myself, I want to thank the ANCA for its ongoing and devoted work in pursuing justice for the Armenian people. The struggle continues until we see the true and meaningful resolution of Armenian demands for historic Western Armenia and reparations to the survivors of the Genocide and their survivors.

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