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ANCA-ER Celebrates Grassroots Advocacy at Sold-Out Banquet in Detroit

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The Armenian Weekly

Hundreds of advocates from the Midwest and around the U.S. came together at the historic Westin Book Cadillac hotel to celebrate the accomplishments of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) in the past year and to chart the way forward. The banquet, sponsored by the ANCA Eastern Region Endowment Fund, began with an elegant cocktail reception and silent auction accompanied by a live violin trio, followed by dinner and enthralling awards ceremony on Sat., Nov. 14.

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“After eight years of successful events hosted in our East Coast communities, we continue the record in the Midwest. The banquet spotlighted our grassroots activism and the expansion of a broad range of ANCA-ER projects throughout the region and especially in the Midwest,” said ANCA Eastern Region Chairman Stephen Mesrobian. “Our banquet committee and subcommittees worked hard to organize an unforgettable evening dedicated to the committed and passionate community advocates who work tirelessly day and night organizing Armenian Genocide Centennial commemorations, Baku and Sumgait pogrom vigils, fighting for Artsakh’s freedom, and much more.”

The theme for this year’s banquet was recognizing the accomplishments of the Armenian community in 2015 and moving beyond the Centennial commemoration of the Armenian Genocide with the motto of “Yesterday, today, and beyond… the work of Hai Tahd continues.”

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‘This Is a New Beginning’

ANCA-ER Banquet Committee Co-Chair Ani Boghikian-Kasparian took the podium first welcoming the guests and introducing the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, filmmaker and director Eric Nazarian. In her speech, Kasparian also touched upon the central role of the Midwest community, saying, “The Detroit Armenian American community has a long history of passionate activism in driving forward the Armenian agenda for justice. It is evident by the attendance tonight that this tradition will continue… beyond 2015.”

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The event then continued with a beautiful performance of national anthems of the United States and Armenia by Helena Bardakjian and Araxie Tossounian, followed by an invocation prayer by H.E. Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. In his message, Archbishop Choloyan noted, “We can and should be proud of our accomplishments this year in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in ways that captured the hearts and minds not only of Armenians, but the entire world. However, we cannot look back and rest upon the successes of this year… Our eyes must look forward in pursuit of justice. We now have new responsibilities—we must continue to work together to strengthen the Homeland and the Diaspora and to seek justice in a united way. This is a new beginning for new generations of Armenians who will continue the legacy of our survivors whose sacrifice and devotion brought us to this crossroad.”

Immediately after those powerful remarks, the attendees watched a special video prepared by the Banquet Committee for the occasion, titled “The Work of Hai Tahd Continues.”

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Our Work Continues

ANCA-ER Banquet Committee Co-Chair and ANCA-ER Board Member Hovig Kouyoumdjian offered remarks highlighting the accomplishments of the organization in the past year and spoke about a vision moving forward. “The question isn’t so much what will happen on the Centennial, but what we are going to do after it,” he said, further adding, “This year Armenians all over the world marched, raised their voices to bring awareness and demand justice. Yet, the deniers of the genocide placed their bets that our voices will fade and we will forget. But the truth never dies.” Kouyoumdjian also touched upon other priority issues and ongoing activities of the ANCA, such as the economic development of Armenia, the safety and security of Armenians in the Middle East, the self-determination of Artsakh, justice for the victims of Baku and Sumgait massacres, and the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery by Azerbaijan, as well as the protection of the rights of Armenians in Javakhk.

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Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of ANCA, took the floor next talking about the importance of grassroots efforts in driving the Armenian Cause forward all across the globe. He characterized the worldwide network of ANCs as the “Second Army of the Armenian Nation,” which aims to ensure the future viability and progress of the nation and homeland. “We bring to that effort a 360 degree view,” he said. “Strengthening Armenia, countering Azerbaijan’s aggression against Artsakh, ensuring truth and justice to the Armenian Genocide, investing in youth and other initiatives that are all elements of viability we need to survive.”

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Following his speech, Hamparian introduced a video message from Congressman Dave Trott (Mich.-11) a friend and supporter of the local Armenian-American community as well as Representative Klint Kesto from the Michigan House of Representatives, who is one of the leaders in the state legislature working for the inclusion of a mandatory education curriculum of the Armenian Genocide and other genocides, in the state of Michigan.

Other dignitaries invited to the event included Permanent Representative of NKR to the United States Robert Avetisyan, Congressman Sander Levin, State Senator Marty Knollenberg, and State Representative Christine Greig.

Keeping Vahan Cardashian’s Spirit Alive

This year Armen Topouzian received the ANCA-ER Vahan Cardashian Award, which is given annually to an ANCA supporter who demonstrates longstanding dedication and active involvement in the Armenian-American community and its issues. The award is named for Yale-educated lawyer Vahan Cardashian, who set aside his successful New York practice to dedicate himself to the establishment of the American Committee for the Independence of Armenia (ACIA), the predecessor organization to the Armenian National Committee, and to advocate for the plight of the Armenian nation.

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Introduced by Nerses Guedikian, Topouzian talked about his activities and travels throughout Armenia and Artsakh. “You did what you thought was the right thing,” he said referring to his extensive activities over the years. Since 1975, Topouzian has been active in raising funds and providing medical care and hospital equipment to the Armenian people. In 1997, he took his first trip to Armenia. When he returned, his work began in both raising funds and sponsoring the Armenian Relief Society’s (ARS) “Soseh Mangabardez” (Soseh Kindergarten) program in the Republic of Artsakh. From 2000-2005, he also sponsored 12 children (Armenia and Karabagh) from the ARS of Eastern USA. Since that initial trip, Topouzian has taken over 30 trips to Armenia and Artsakh.

Philanthropy and Patriotism Live On

This year ANCA-ER honored the late John Warushan Kchikian with the ANCA-ER Legacy Award, which is presented to individuals who have left a lasting legacy on issues important to the Armenian-American community, Armenia, Artsakh, and beyond.

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Paul Bardizbanian presented the posthumous award to John W. Kchikian accepted by the Kchikian family, remembering his generosity and the legacy he left behind for generations to come. John Kchikian focused on Humanitarian relief efforts for Nagorno Karabagh where he founded the Armenian Children’s Fund. Some of the accomplishments were bringing drinking water to villages and building schools. In addition, John also provided medical and financial assistance to sick children, so the children can get the best medical treatment. He also was instrumental in helping the Armenians in Spitak and Gyumri with his generous donations and help when a devastating earthquake hit the country in 1988.

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True Friends Never Forget

Former House Majority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) was honored with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Eastern Region’s highest honor—the prestigious ANCA-ER Freedom Award—for his quarter century of outstanding leadership on Armenian Genocide reaffirmation and Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh) independence. Although Bonior was unable to attend the ceremony, he sent a video message to all attendees.

In his remarks, Bonior noted, “We need genocide [reaffirmation] resolutions, because the world needs to know the truth. It’s been a century since 1.5 million Armenians were murdered. So we must continue to raise our voices and rejoice when leaders like Pope Francis and the Peruvian Senate raise their voices and condemn the actions of Turks as genocide.”

While in office, Bonior was a leading force behind passage of Armenian Genocide legislation, co-authoring, co-sponsoring, and repeatedly calling for a full House vote on successive resolutions. In 1988, following the devastating Armenian earthquake, he was instrumental in supporting relief efforts. Later, as Azerbaijan mounted its attack against Armenia and Artsakh, Bonior became a staunch advocate for Karabagh freedom and U.S. assistance to the fledgling state.

A Light in the Darkness

In addition to David Bonior, ANCA-ER also honored renowned lawyer, writer, and human rights activist Fethiye Cetin with the Freedom Award, which is presented to individuals who have made tremendous contributions toward recognition of the genocide and who have pursued other issues of importance to the Armenian American community.

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As a lawyer, Cetin has been representing the family of the murdered Agos newspaper editor Hrant Dink. After discovering her Armenian roots in 2008, she published a book titled My Grandmother: A Memoir, which touches upon important topics such as the history of genocide denial, nationalism, and fears of political consequences in Turkey. It is a personal narrative of her discovering her grandmother’s Armenian identity and confronting her own. With her book, she raised awareness of millions of Islamized or hidden Armenians living throughout Turkey, of whom many have come forward. In 2014, she published The Grandchildren, co-edited with Ayse Gul Altinay, as a follow-up to My Grandmother, which is a collection of testimonies by grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the hidden Armenians.

She ended her powerful remarks with the following words, “Feeling the shame of being a citizen of a country that still denies the genocide and not only builds mausoleums in the middle of Istanbul for the bloodthirsty murderers but also names the place as “Freedom Monument” (Abide-i Hürriyet). I dedicate this award to all victims of the genocide, with respect to our grandfathers and grandmothers who lost their lives during the genocide; and with admiration for the courage, resilience and strength of the survivors.”

‘We Are Here… We Will Always Be Here…We Are Not Finished’

Master of Ceremonies Eric Nazarian also introduced Sayat Tekir who travelled to Detroit to accept the ANCA-ER Activism Award on behalf of the Nor Zartonk Movement. The Activism Award is presented to individuals and organizations who work towards enhancement of human rights, democracy, truth, and justice in the United States, Armenia, Artsakh, Turkey, and beyond.

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“Today a ghost is present in Turkey going around murderers, standing against them, and making them shiver. Today, Armenian ghosts are all around them in Turkey. Every day more Turks wonder and research what happened. They protest the denial, commemorate the victims, and demand justice in Turkey,” he said as part of his remarks.

Nor Zartonk (New Awakening) is a human rights group based in Turkey that contributes to the social and cultural development of the society and plays an active role in achieving peace and welfare. The organization assists individuals to recognize equality, justice, democracy, and peace as fundamental values and contributes the understanding of human rights as a whole without any kind of discrimination.

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Moving Forward

Closing the gala, ANCA Eastern Region Endowment Fund Chairperson Hayg Oshagan reiterated the importance of grassroots activism and the need to further strengthen and empower our communities for the work that still lies ahead of us.

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