Rising Leaders: Hope for the Future

Members of the New Jersey AYF “Arsen” Chapter. The author is the gentleman in the top row on the left.

My anxiety had suddenly made its reappearance and so had the rain, which was accompanied by violent gales of wind battering the van from its periphery. I was unsure of the journey that was ahead of me. I made the decision to brave my fears regardless of the doubts cast in my mind. The unsettling emotions were soon replaced by curiosity as I saw familiar faces which soon formed a line to stow their belongings onto our means of transportation on the road to justice. Soon after, I was surrounded by the laughs and nostalgic tales of my seniors, who had previously taken the same steps I would find myself climbing a few hours later. As the road was getting shorter and our destination– Washington, DC– was beckoning us, we began proudly singing patriotic Armenian songs. I drew the image of a brother far away, across many seas and oceans making a similar trek to the frontline, except his journey wasn’t a happy one. He would be forced to fight and play his role in a prevailing conflict, a struggle lasting many generations, which always kept the fate of the Armenian people swinging on the pendulum of the globe’s selfish indifference.

As the van pulled into the tree-lined concrete jungle of the nation’s capital, the group found itself standing before the enlightened letters forming the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), the structure of an institution created by our forefathers to not only bring, but to advocate for justice. The departure from the heated van was unwelcome. Washington’s merciless frost had penetrated the very air we breathed and had stirred a glacial rime deep beneath our skin. My experience with near-frostbite was soon replaced with warm welcomes inside long and unfamiliar halls that would soon feel like home.

The following day, I met my peers in the lobby for our collective march into the office. Greeted by the smiling faces of ANCA staff and other professionals, we felt better prepared to start the day. Our first activity was listening to the wise and inspiring remarks of Alex Manoukian, the young, yet experienced ANCA Programs director who introduced our first keynote speaker Zanku Armenian (yes, that’s his last name) for discussion on the importance of civic engagement. His words were complemented by a series of workshops conducted by Areni Margossian, Tadeh Issakhanian and Maria Martirosyan who lectured and worked together with the group on elevator pitches, networking and resume building, respectively. We then had a small breakout session to practice our newly learned skills and had the rest of the night to ourselves, where we explored the National Mall.

ANCA LSI participants with Zanku Armenian

The following days were also of great importance as we learned about the careers of Mannik Sakayan, Greg Aftandilian, Aram Hamparian and Taleen Mekhdjavakian who delved into their own professional experiences about consulting, foreign policy, the ANCA’s importance and the lobbying that runs Washington, respectively. My favorite activity was an advocacy simulation during which we met with ‘Congressmen’ and ‘Congresswomen’ and presented two of our most pressing issues: humanitarian aid to Artsakh and the rescinding of the Section 907 waiver of the Freedom Support Act. This activity helped us learn how to address and discuss relevant matters with our elected officials.

Our last day tested our abilities as representatives of the ANCA when we learned about Representative Linda Sanchez (D-CA), who was receptive and on-board with our plea for aid to Artsakh. Interestingly, we also attended a conference in which former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke about Greece’s strategic partnership with NATO. We also met with Charles Mahtesian, the senior politics editor at Politico. The day was truly rewarding.

Our discussions on the importance of advocacy centered on protests and the intelligent usage of our social media platforms, which were increasingly emphasized along with the addition of newer and more effective ways to advocate, such as personally calling congressional representatives. Although it may stir feelings of doubt and uncertainty, explaining the importance of a certain piece of legislation and its effects on Armenia and Artsakh to a member of Congress does make an impact. They are human after all. 

The legislation in question specifically refers to granting much-needed humanitarian aid to Artsakh and Armenia. The former is heavily dependent on the good-natured will of others, as the humanitarian crises can worsen with the passing days. The main focus of the ANCA is to ensure the rehabilitation of refugees on their indigenous lands, water security and medical assistance, among many other needs. Another important piece of legislation concerning Armenians today is the removal of the Section 907 waiver, which grants unfiltered US military assistance to Azerbaijan under the guise of creating a bulwark against Iran. Instead, surveillance weaponry and other resources which were intended to protect Azerbaijan’s borders against drug smuggling are allocated to the destructive and genocidal capabilities fostered by the Aliyev regime, the inverse effects of which are being paid by thousands of innocent civilians, whose sole crime is living with their identityon their ancestral and rightful land. 

With this in mind, the battle for the Armenian nation is one that is yet to restif it ever can. I encourage all readers to harvest the fruits of advocacy presented by the ANCA, which tirelessly works to ensure that our borders and our people across the sea are secure against the colonial intentions of our neighbors. Keeping our unnamed brother on the frontline in mind (who is representative of both several thousand brave men and women, and also a multi-generational struggle), let us in the diaspora, those with a voice and with the ability to make a change, not fall behind and become a bystander in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the homeland. Take action. Become a Rapid Responder. Stay updated on ongoings. And above all, never lose your faith for a free, independent and united Armenia.

Author’s note: If you were inspired by my experiences and are of age, I highly encourage you to take part in the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship and other programs and opportunities offered by the ANCA that give participants the tools to effectively advance the Armenian Cause on the federal, state and local level.

ANCA LSI participants and ANCA staff
Nareg Kassardjian

Nareg Kassardjian

Nareg Kassardjian is a senior at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey. He chairs the debate and multicultural clubs at his high school. He is also an member of the National Honor Society. Nareg is also a published author, having received recognition from the US President, State Senators, and Congressmen for his contributions to “The Class of Covid-19: the Second Wave.” Currently, Nareg spends his weekends in the halls of Sts. Vartanantz in Ridgefield, New Jersey, where he holds various positions within the Nareg Armenian School, the Homenetmen Scouting Organization, the Sunday School and the church itself. Nareg is also a member of the AYF New Jersey "Arsen" Chapter. He is optimistic for his future and has an unwavering faith to pursue greater leaps for his community and culture.
Nareg Kassardjian

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