The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) celebrated its milestone 50th anniversary at the downtown Los Angeles Jonathan Club’s outdoor «Great Lawn» on Sunday evening, June 5, 2022, where Professors Richard Hovannisian and Dennis Papazian, two prominent leaders of the Assembly, received the Distinguished Humanitarian Award, and Los Angeles’s first Deputy Mayor of International Affairs, Ambassador Nina Hachigian, received the Assembly’s Governor George Deukmejian Award for Public Service.
The spirited event, which highlighted five decades of the Assembly’s influential achievements in advocacy, education, and awareness on Armenian issues, was attended by special guests, longtime Assembly supporters, and Assembly intern alumni, and was ably led by Mistress of Ceremonies Anita Vogel, a national news correspondent and anchor for FOX News.
During the invocation, His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, highlighted the Assembly’s «tireless efforts, dedicated service, perseverance and stamina.»
«This legacy will certainly continue to grow and impact the lives of Armenians here in the U.S. and the motherland of Armenia,» said Archbishop Derderian, who congratulated the evening’s honorees and their «invaluable contributions.»
Assembly Board of Trustees member Lisa Kalustian shed light on the history of the Assembly and its «half-century of activism and support of Armenia and Armenian issues,» by recalling the group of dedicated Armenians who came together «with a vision for a new, nonpartisan umbrella organization that would encompass the Armenian community’s various and diverse community with the common goal of advancing Armenian issues in America.»
Kalustian emphasized the Assembly’s key strength of «working quietly behind the scenes to achieve positive results, and to mitigate negative impacts to the Armenian community and our homeland.»
She honored the service of the individuals actively involved in the establishment of the Assembly a half century ago, and its visionary programs, such as the Assembly’s Terjenian-Thomas Internship Program that now boasts multi-generational family alumni, where Armenian Americans have honed their advocacy skills in the U.S. and Armenia, and have advanced to become leaders in business, academia, government, and in the Armenian community.
Introducing Dr. Hovannisian, the first holder of the Armenian Educational Foundation Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History at UCLA and as a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, Assembly President Carolyn Mugar said he is the «preeminent teacher of our community» and his teachings have not only educated the public, but given opportunities for Armenian Americans to become more involved in their communities.
«He has been educating generations of scholars who now specialize in the history and culture of Armenia, about the importance of human rights, and he informs public officials about their responsibilities to strengthen ethical norms,» said Mugar. A member of the UCLA faculty since the 1960s, Dr. Hovannisian organized both undergraduate and graduate programs in Armenian History and has published more than 30 books.
Reflecting on Dr. Hovannisian’s efforts in forming the Assembly, in which he was a member of the initial steering committee, Mugar noted how he traveled around the country, from one Armenian center to another, to «persuade individuals that an organization like the Armenian Assembly of America was needed.»
«You and your generation planted a flag that we continue to fly proudly,» she continued. «You taught them that our voices should be heard by our nation’s political leaders, and that our story, unique as it is, is also part of the American story.»
In his remarks, Dr. Hovannisian recalled the founding days of the Assembly, when he and a group of seven individuals «had a dream to bring together our very divided community, all of whom were dedicated, but none of whom knew each other.»
He noted that when they all convened, they realized they had the same objectives and goals. They soon embarked on the «difficult task of bringing together our diverse community» and although there were obstacles from both inside and outside the community, such as battling genocide denial, he noted that their «objectives were furthered through the Assembly.»
«What the Assembly brought to American politics was to bring in individuals who had never belonged to an Armenian political party or an Armenian organization, but who had done well personally and wanted to do something for the cause, without necessarily being activists themselves, but being satisfied that there were activists moving on their behalf,» he concluded.
Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny highlighted documents from the Assembly’s historical files when introducing Dr. Dennis Papazian, the founding director of the Armenian Research Center (ARC) at the University of Michigan, Dearborn, and who served as Co-Chair and Executive Director of the Assembly during its formative years.
Ardouny cited letters and memos dated from the 1970s, outlining key priorities from aid to Lebanon, the internship program, confronting Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide, and the building of a professional network on Capitol Hill, among other pertinent issues.
«That’s the type of work we started 50 years ago, and that is the foundation on which I stand here today,» said Ardouny.
In accepting his award, Dr. Papazian, who built the ARC’s rich depository of documentation, publications, periodicals, audio-visual collections, and oral histories of Armenian Genocide survivors, where it now serves as an international center for scholars and students, looked back on his tenure as Director of the Assembly and noted that «a couple of months turned into three years,» namely because of the «enthusiasm of the Steering Committee to make the organization work.»
Despite the difference in backgrounds of the supporters, Dr. Papazian taught people how to work together.
«What I discovered back then was if you want to be successful, you can’t worry about who gets credit,» he said. «By working together, we all succeed and can lead Armenians onto a more glorious future.»
In addition to honoring Dr. Hovanissian and Dr. Papazian, the Assembly recognized the distinguished service of former U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and current City of Los Angeles Deputy Mayor of International Affairs, the Honorable Nina L. Hachigian, with the Assembly’s Governor George Deukmejian Award for Public Service, named in honor of the late California Governor George Deukmejian.
In his introduction, Assembly Co-Chair Anthony Barsamian elaborated on the mission of the Assembly and how it strives to bring Armenian Americans to Washington to train them through the Assembly’s Internship Program.
«We appreciate each of you supporting the Assembly’s great work, which gives us a voice in Washington for Armenia, Armenia’s security, Armenia’s future, and for the children of Armenia,» said Barsamian.
The culmination of the Assembly’s achievements is work done behind the scenes, noted Barsamian.
«That work is done by individuals like Ambassador Hachigian, who helped change U.S. policy on issues like U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide,» he said, emphasizing that Ambassador Hachigian has assisted in the advancement of U.S.-Armenia and U.S.-Artsakh relations to qualitatively higher levels.
Ambassador Hachigian shared that her professional life and her Armenian identity merged in the last few years due to her current role as the City of Los Angeles» first Deputy Mayor of International Affairs, the tragic war in Artsakh, and the Armenian Assembly of America.
«The leadership at the Assembly made me realize I may be able to play a small role,» she said. «The American people elected a president who finally stated the truth about the Armenian Genocide and his staff remains deeply engaged in Armenia.»
Ambassador Hachigian conveyed that multiple generations worked hard to establish a foundation for the Assembly and looked towards the future as Armenia continues to face its fair share of challenges.
«We should never take the existence of a homeland for granted,» she noted. «The work of the diaspora is to strengthen the homeland as much as possible, and while the transition to democracy is not easy, the main task is to keep looking out for the future of our motherland, and no group is better placed to do that than the Armenian Assembly of America.»
Special guest speaker Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán, introduced by Assembly Board of Trustees member Talin Yacoubian, is a career diplomat who served as Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, and who currently serves as a Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution, Ambassador in Residence at American University’s School of International Service, adjunct professor at The George Washington University, distinguished visiting professor at the Annenberg School of Public Diplomacy at the University of Southern California, Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, and as an Associate Fellow at The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in the UK.
Tracing his family history to the Armenian Genocide, Ambassador Sarukhán said he is the «grandson and son of genocide and exile of refugees fleeing and leaving everything and everyone on both my father and mother’s side.»
«My story is the story of so many of us, and being here tonight as a collective are a reminder of what Armenia and the Armenian people have gone through. It’s why we consistently say «never forget» and «never again».»
Ambassador Sarukhán underscored the resilience of Armenians, and the significance of historical collective memory to rebut denial.
«We are the retribution of those who were lost to genocide, and we shall never stop fighting for the whole world to acknowledge and recognize what was done to the Armenians by a putrefying Ottoman Empire,» he said.
Ambassador Sarukhán urged the audience to continue supporting Armenia, Artsakh, and the Armenian people.
«Armenia and the Armenian diaspora need to be a beacon of light, and we need to recommit to the purpose of fighting injustice where we see it, of helping refugees, and encouraging democratic values, whether it’s here, in Armenia, or elsewhere around the world,» he concluded.
In closing remarks and while reflecting on the organization’s successes, Assembly Co-Chair Van Krikorian acknowledged failures as well, including the 44-day War on Artsakh, and the importance of «having the political strength and persuasiveness to stop the bloodshed and to stop the loss of so many innocent lives.» «We are truly fortunate to be here in the U.S., and we don’t forget those who aren’t living here and whose lives are in danger, no matter where they are, just by virtue of being Armenian,» he continued. He appreciated everyone in the audience for supporting the Assembly during the last 50 years and those who will help shape the next 50 years. In a symbolic gesture, he welcomed to the stage Arman Agbabian, whose mother Valina is an Assembly Board of Trustees member, and whose grandfather Dr. Mihran Agbabian was influential in helping to establish the Assembly, to say closing words.
Very Rev. Fr. Zareh Sarkissian delivered the benediction on behalf of His Grace Bishop Torkom Donoyan, Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The evening’s Armenian music and entertainment were provided by Greg Hosharian and the Armenian Pops Ensemble, and the American and Armenian anthems were sung by Alene Aroustamian. The Assembly wishes to express its gratitude to its 50th Anniversary Gala’s generous sponsors and donors, as well as to the volunteer members of the Host Committee including: Margaret Mgrublian, Elizabeth Agbabian, Valina Agbabian, Jacklin Ajemian, Roupen Avsharian, Lily Ring Balian, Diane Barsam, Albert and Diane Cabraloff, Flora Dunaians+, Nicole Felikian, Sosy Hachigian, Helen Haig, Hermine Janoyan, Naz Jansezian, Lisa Kalustian, Michelle Kezirian, Arthur Kokozian, Michele Malkasian, James Melikian, Richard Mushegain, Nicole Nishanian, Joyce Stein, Aline Toujian, Tamar Tujian, Talin Yacoubian, and Zhelbert Zohrabian. To view more photos from the Assembly’s 50th Anniversary Gala in Los Angeles, please click here.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.