September 29, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Over 150 Armenian American activists from across the United States converged on Washington D.C. between September 15th and 17th for the Armenian National Committee of America’s 2006 Leadership Conference – an intense, three day program of training, seminars, and advocacy workshops.

ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian opened the conference, entitled “Grassroots Makes the Difference,” by welcoming the diverse group of participants. He reviewed ANCA accomplishments over the past year and highlighted the weekend’s schedule, which featured meetings with Administration officials, Members of Congress, and dynamic presentations and educational programs.

Friday’s schedule began with a Capitol Hill briefing by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), a leading Congressional advocate for Armenian American issues. The California legislator spoke in detail about how the full range of Armenian issues are considered within the Congressional context, and offered practical advice to the conferees about how to effectively advance their issues in the nation’s capital. He followed his remarks with an extensive question and answer session.

“It was a thrill to meet so many vibrant and talented grassroots activists,” commented Congressman Schiff after the program. “The Armenian American community is known for its dedication and commitment to promoting important causes. The ANCA Leadership Conference has done an amazing job improving the effectiveness of an already strong grassroots network of Armenian Americans who meet with Congress regularly.” While on Capital Hill, many participants took the opportunity to visit the offices of their federal legislators.

“We would like to thank Congressman Schiff for providing his insights on how our community can further expand its grassroots outreach to Members of Congress in support of Armenian American concerns,” stated Pasadena resident and ANCA Western Region Board Member Aida Dimejian. “His remarks to the ANCA Leadership Conference attendees – both new and veteran activists — will help inspire a new level of participation in the American political process.”

Congressman Schiff’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion featuring two senior Congressional aides, Elise Aronson, Chief of Staff for Representative Jim Saxton (D-NJ) and Charles Yessaian, Jr., Legislative Director for Representative Joe Schwarz (R-MI). Both offered valuable insights and practical advice on effectively communicating with Members of Congress and their staffs. They also encouraged the conferees to consider exploring careers on Capitol Hill, including through the ANCA Capital Gateway Program. The Program, now in its third years, provides university students and recent graduates career advice, housing, and job placement assistance as they explore careers in government, media, and the broader Washington, DC public policy community.

The featured speaker of the day was Assistant Secretary of the State Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Dan Fried, who spoke in depth about the full range of Armenian American issues. His remarks were followed by an open question and answer session that lasted over an hour. The next speaker, also from the State Department, was Tom Adams, who serves as Coordinator for U.S. Assistance to Europe and Eurasia. He reviewed the history and current status of the full range of U.S. aid programs for Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh, including the $235 Million Challenge grant to Armenia. The day ended with a networking reception at the ANCA’s new headquarters in Washington D.C.

Saturday opened with an address delivered by ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian that outlined the future of the Armenian Cause in America. His remarks were followed by a seminar conducted by ANCA Eastern Region Board Member George Aghjayan, who focused on responding effectively to biased media, particularly concerning the denial of the Armenian Genocide. The next speaker, Vartan Djihanian, press secretary for Representative Rick Renzi (R-AZ), offered a compelling presentation on communicating Armenian American issues through the media.

The keynote address of the conference was delivered by Charles Mahtesian, Editor of the Almanac of American Politics. Mahtesian provided the conferees with a comprehensive overview of the political landscape heading into the 2006 general elections. During the extensive question and answer session he fielded a diverse range of questions on races across the American political spectrum. Following Mahtesian, Dro Abrahamian, President of Development Service Associates, and ANCA Western Region Board Member Souzi Zerounian-Khanzadian shared with the conferees a practical guide on fundraising strategy and tactics. This presentation was followed by break-out sessions addressing issues of special concern to Eastern Region, facilitated by ANCA Eastern Region Board Member Aram Sarafian and Executive Director Karine Birazian, and and Western Region, led by ANCA National Board member Raffi Hamparian. A third session, dealing with youth advocacy, was facilitated by former ANCA Western Region Executive Director and current City Clerk of Glendale, California, Ardashes Kassakhian. He was joined by former Western Region staffer and current public relations specialist at Baker, Inc., Angineh Babooian, who spoke about the ANCA’s Capital Gateway Program.

“Mr. Kassakhian’s presentation reminded us that, as students, we have the ability and the responsibility to advance issues of concern to us within our universities,” said Teresa Petrosyan, an undergraduate International Development Studies student at UCLA. Commenting on the vigorous exchange of ideas during the session, Kassaskhian noted that, “I was particularly encouraged by the number of young Armenian Americans from diverse backgrounds and locations who are eager and willing to take up the cause and become advocates for human rights and justice,” commented Kassakhian.

The evening came to a close with a special reception at the Armenian Embassy. Conference participants, many visiting for the first time, had an opportunity to tour the grounds and were treated to a question and answer session led by the Embassy’s Counselor, Arman Israelian.

Ending the conference on a strong note, Sunday featured presentations on the Genocide Education Project and a workshop on effective grassroots advocacy. Opening the morning session, Rafi Momjian, Executive Director of Genocide Education Project gave an overview of the organization’s history and recent activities. He was joined in his presentation by Karine Birazian of the ANCA Eastern Region, who, before assuming her current position, had worked extensively on Armenian Genocide-related education efforts in Illinois. ANCA Eastern Region Board Member Aram Sarafian, along with Ardashes Kassakhian, delivered an insightful workshop on effective local grassroots mobilization and government affairs strategies. Sarafian, drawing on his extensive experience in North Carolina, offered a goal-oriented, strategic approach to Armenian Genocide recognition and justice measures at the state level. Together, Sarafian and Kassakhian, provided a practical blueprint for activists across the United States, leading a lengthy question and answer session.

Aram Hamparian delivered the conference’s closing remarks and conveyed the ANCA’s optimism for even greater Armenian American community activism in the future.

The attendees were very enthused and were looking forward to returning home to put what they have learned into practice,” said the ANCA Western Region’s Zerounian-Khanzadian. “Given the program and the diverse cross-section of the Armenian American community that joined us in Washington, D.C. this weekend, I am certain that this conference will bring many positive results for Hai Tahd.”

“The conference was good experience to network with other activists, to learn about our operations in Washington D.C., and to involve some of our young activist in the Hai Tahd experience,” said Ralph Kourtjian of the Armenian National Committee of Michigan.


For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
Email / Tel: (202) 775-1918 / (703) 585-8254 cell
Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 775-1918 * Fax. (202) 775-5648 *
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