Ready, Set, Hai Tahd. . .

Reflections from Washington DC by Rita Astoor U.C. Berkeley – Class of 2010

June 26, 2008

I arrived at Washington D.C. — the nation’s throbbing heartbeat and the center of the political world — on Saturday June 14th. I meekly, but excitedly, dropped my bags off in a dark and still empty bedroom, and nervously went to meet and greet my fellow ANCA Leo Sarkisian housemates, as well as the staff and the dedicated individuals of the ANCA office.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

Were they going to judge me?

Was I going to get along with them?

Did I fit the part?

Despite these reservations and this inner turmoil, what I encountered was not frightening bosses and awkward interns, but rather smiling, friendly and engaging people who were happy to talk, interact, have meaningful discussions, and a good time.

On Monday morning, these same people were also ready to get to work — and to put the interns to work. From the very first week, the offices were in overdrive, working fervently to prepare for two upcoming hearings on Armenia.

So for hours upon hours, we were on the phones making calls to constituents from all over the country, asking them to take a minute out of their day to make important calls to their Senators and Representatives and become activists from the comforts of their own homes. These phone calls built up our enthusiasm and anticipation to go to Capitol Hill and see the hearings — to watch the Members of Congress, and hear their speeches live. The people we spoke to on the phone were, for the most part, very receptive and positive, and it was inspiring and encouraging to be in contact with so many individuals who were so eager to lend a hand in moving our Cause forward. (One actually offered their hand in marriage, but I digress…)

Wednesday came around sooner than we expected, and before we knew it we were sitting in the House Foreign Affairs Committee room listening to Chairman Howard Berman gavel the Committee hearing to order. In the hot seat that day was Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, feeling the pressure from representative after representative about Turkey’s blockade of Armenia, the Administration’s complicity in Turkey’s Genocide denial, U.S. policy on Artsakh, and many other topics.

Before this experience could fully sink in, the following day we were back on the Hill — this time on the Senate side — watching U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Designate Marie Yovanovitch being grilled by New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez about the Bush Administration’s policy on the Armenian Genocide. This is when you realize that all of the work behind the scenes — on the phones, sending webfaxes and emails — all pay off. It is when you see these Members of Congress exacting accountability from the Executive branch and fighting for change that you realize that all of the small moments of activism really result in a much larger movement.

But it didn’t just stop with the hearings. The interns are lucky because we have the opportunity to hear a lecture series throughout the course of our eight week stay here. Various individuals, including executive director Aram Hamparian, take personal time out of their days, and shed some light on their own experiences and observations in the community, the work that still needs to be done, and how to accomplish those tasks. And, being in Washington, DC, we have access to the folks who make policy for Armenia and in Armenia.

Among our first lecturers was Ara Hovsepian, the CEO of the Millennium Challenge Account for Armenia, who explained to us the process Armenia had to undergo in order to receive the MCC funding — the way in which the money is being apportioned to build a new irrigation infrastructure and roads, the merit system to which Armenia must adhere to, and its goals for the future. It was great to hear Mr. Hovsepian speak, and see how such undertakings inspire and create a growing positive atmosphere in Armenia. These projects positively affect so many individuals and create numerous new opportunities. To hear that the Armenian population is receptive to these changes and working concurrently with these administrators in order to learn new farming techniques, water management skills, and help build Armenia’s infrastructure is a feat we should all be proud of.

So I ask myself again, what can I possibly accomplish here?

After coming to Washington D.C. and seeing for myself all the work and sweat that gets poured into every undertaking, it is not hard to answer that question. Any individual, who is ready to roll up their sleeves, work hard, and put the time and effort, can accomplish a great deal.

All that in just two weeks of being in Washington DC. I can only imagine what the rest of my time here will bring.


Photo Caption: ANCA Leo Sarkisian intern Razmik Tchakmakian and featured columnist Rita Astoor.

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