Editor’s Note: The following keynote remarks were offered by Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) executive director Aram Hamparian at the ANCA San Francisco-Bay Area Hye Tahd evening on March 11, 2023.
Forgive me today for starting with some philosophy. A favorite quote: “If you have a ‘why’ in your life, you can bear almost any ‘how.’” Friedrich Nietzsche – Twilight of the Gods.
From 130 years ago. Still true today. Certainly for us Armenians. Facing realities that are almost too much to bear.
Thankfully, each of us has a “why.” Why we are who we are. Why we do what we do. Why we are here today.
Each of us has a story. Some you have shared, well-known to family and friends. Others you’ve kept in your heart. Let me tell you part of mine, one that I have never shared.
About three years ago, I got a call from Bege Koroghlian – a dear family friend – asking if I was going to the AYF Olympics in Providence. I said I was.
Her husband was my AYF “Arsen” chapter advisor – a humble and selfless servant, a respected mentor to a generation of New Jersey youth. A good man. Good father. Good Armenian. An inspirational leader – through his work, his example. I remember him driving us to countless meetings, games and seminars. A dozen kids bouncing around his Lincoln Continental like marbles in a cigar box.
He arrived early, stayed late – and in the days before cell phones – never left our hall, our church, our practices until each and every junior was safely on their way home. He died at 41, leaving behind his wife and their four children.
At AYF Olympics, Bege came to me and said: “Aram, I’ve kept something for 40 years, and I want to give it to you.”
And she took from her pocket this ring – her husband’s ring, with the seal of the Tashnagtsoutioun – a party both Vaghinag and I swore our lives to – and she handed it to me. It’s been with me ever since. That’s part of my “why.”
All of our “whys” – in this room, this community, this country, our diaspora, and our homeland – add up to who we are. Why you are here tonight and present in the life of our people. Not just as consumers of Armenian culture, but producers of Armenian identity. Not just in the wagon, enjoying the ride. But out front – charting our path – shoulder to the wheel.
Authors of Armenia’s future.
This is true today – here, around the world and across generations. As a second army of the Armenian nation. Now – in many ways – as a foreign ministry for the Armenian people. For diplomacy is more than accepting terms of surrender.
We must forthrightly tackle the concrete realities of our situation, but NOT from our back foot – relentlessly appeasing and conceding. Playing the transactional “game” when our enemies are waging existential war against our very place on the planet.
If “land for peace” worked, the loss of Western Armenia, Nakhichevan, three-quarters of Artsakh, and now sovereign Armenian soil would surely have met this test. Delivered peace for our time – for all time. But it hasn’t. Because each loss – each surrender – has only encouraged our enemies to press for more.
In this dangerous environment, our North Star remains the survival, the security and viability of our nation.
All our actions align with this single purpose. With our dedication to the proposition that our generation will not witness, will not permit the loss of Artsakh. Of Syunik. Of Armenia.
For it is a fiction to believe Artsakh can be surrendered to save Armenia. That Syunik can be ceded to save Yerevan. Today, the frontlines of the Armenian Cause stretch around the world.
A few weeks ago in LA, I gave a thematic speech about the inner struggle for the soul of our nation. Today, I will offer more programmatic remarks about the political battles we are waging to protect our homeland and heritage.
In Washington, the “how” is as challenging as it’s ever been. We are facing the fundamental fact that US policymakers, all their talk aside, are losing no sleep over our loss of Artsakh.
In the context of the Ukraine war – Russia, Iran, NATO, Caspian oil and all the rest – the general direction of developments in the South Caucasus align with the interests and ambitions, however misguided, of our foreign policy establishment, in government, think tanks and among their media allies. We see this, most fundamentally, in America’s artificial parity, which is, in actuality, a pro-Azerbaijani policy
This is nothing new to us. In many ways it mirrors our Armenian Genocide struggle. Outright hostility disguised as neutrality. Pro-Turkish apologists and Caspian oil profiteers parading as honest brokers. This flawed policy cascades down, informing practices across American government agencies, from diplomacy and defense to humanitarian aid.
The evidence is clear: Countless Azerbaijani acts of aggression over a quarter century that have been answered with generic US calls on all sides to refrain from violence. It’s a free pass for Azerbaijani aggression. Worse, it’s a green light for Azerbaijani escalation.
We are swimming upstream against policies that need to be fundamentally reversed. This is not a time for fine-tuning. What we need is a turning of the tide.
On all of these fronts – from stopping US military aid to Azerbaijan to sending US humanitarian aid to Artsakh – we may not get everything we work for, but we will surely have to work for everything we get.
What we do get will be earned – out in the open. Not in the shadows – behind closed doors at State, NSC, Defense. But under the bright light of public scrutiny.
Working with our community, Congress and our coalition partners.
– Breaking Azerbaijan’s 90-day blockade of Artsakh.
– Enforcing Section 907 and stopping all US military assistance to Azerbaijan.
– Sending desperately needed US humanitarian and development assistance to Artsakh.
– Blocking US rifle sales to Azerbaijan, rejecting F-16 transfers to Turkey and investigating Azerbaijani war crimes.
– Elevating Armenia’s security to the very top of the US-Armenia bilateral agenda.
These are our hard challenges – there are no shortcuts or quick fixes. That work takes place here – in the Bay Area – and across America. City by city, district by district, state by state. We must act with confidence and courage, passion and persistence.
I told the KZV Armenian School kids yesterday. We are hosts, not guests in this house. Owners, not tenants, of America. Fully American. Fully Armenian.
And we follow our own moral compass. Consistent with our Armenian national aspirations and the very best of our American democratic traditions. No one – foreign or domestic – sets a ceiling on our advocacy. No one waters down, or walks back our aspirations.
There were times when Yerevan backed off of Armenian Genocide recognition, baited by false Turkish promises, but we never did. And we were right.
Today, Artsakh’s independent status is not at the top of Yerevan’s agenda – but it remains on ours. And this will never change. For we are not asking America for favors. We’re Americans exercising our Constitutional rights.
Folks ask, what side are you on? East or West? Left or right? Democratic or Republican? I confess. We do take sides: the Armenian side. We’re not the DNC or the RNC. We are the ANC.
It took far too long, but we finally put America on the right side of the Armenian Genocide. We must now do the same on Artsakh. This is a battle for our time and for coming generations.
And so, as I close, I want to underscore for you how seriously we take our many investments in that future. The trees we plant, knowing we will not be around to sit in their shade.
– Rising Leaders
– Leo Sarkisian Summer Internship
– Haroutioun & Elizabeth Kasparian Summer Academy
– Year-round fellowships
– Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway
The Aramian House – our landmark eight-bedroom property – which houses all these programs – a second home for young Armenians in our nation’s capital.
We make these long-term investments because the battles we wage today, as urgent as they are, will not be our last.
I started with a quote, and I’ll end with one by one of my favorite Americans – A. Philip Randolph:
“At the banquet table of nature, there are no reserved seats.
You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold.
If you can’t take anything, you won’t get anything, and if you can’t hold anything, you won’t keep anything.
And you can’t take anything without organization.”
For us – as Armenians – that organization is the Armenian National Committee of America.