AAA: Assembly Hosts Pan-Armenian Advocacy Conference in Washington

Armenian Assembly of America
1140 19th Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-393-3434
Fax: 202-638-4904
Email: [email protected]

April 4, 2006
CONTACT: Christine Kojoian
E-mail: [email protected]

Conference Coincides with MCC Signing and Senate Introduction of Rail Bill

WASHINGTON, DC – Building on its strong record of educating and
empowering Armenian activists, the Armenian Assembly hosted a
pan-Armenian advocacy conference, March 26-28, 2006, in the nation’s
capital. Hundreds of activists – including more than 60 college and
high school students – participated in the event, which included major
speeches by Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried.

The National Conference and Banquet, co-hosted with the Armenian
General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and the Eastern and Western Dioceses
of the Armenian Church and coordinated with 15 partner organizations,
coincided with the signing of an historic five-year $235 million
Compact between Armenia and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)
and the introduction in the U.S. Senate of a critical measure
(S. 2461) that would bar assistance for a proposed railway that would
connect Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey while bypassing Armenia.

The three-day event, which builds on the success of the Assembly’s
2004 community-wide Conference and Banquet, is designed to better
prepare activists to promote community issues to Washington’s most
influential decision makers. In addition to Oskanian and Fried, other
special guests included NKR Deputy Foreign Minister Masis Mayilian,
Senator George Allen (R-VA), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
and U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans. The Banquet honored Senator
Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) for his dedicated leadership on Armenian-American
issues and paid special tribute to more than two-dozen
Armenian-American veterans.

“The Armenian Assembly is grateful for the public and active
cooperation of the AGBU and the Eastern and Western Dioceses of the
Armenian Church, as well as our partner organizations, benefactors,
patrons, sponsors, and activists from across the nation, who took part
in this Conference and Banquet,” said Assembly Board of Trustees
Chairman Hirair Hovnanian. “We were very happy to witness the signing
of the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Compact at the State
Department, which signifies the strong U.S.-Armenia partnership and
will help Armenia’s rural areas. The accomplishments, legislative and
otherwise, are a testament to the strength of our dedicated activists
and grassroots coalition.”


The Conference began with a warm welcome and overview from National
Conference Chair Lisa Esayian, followed by a speech by Armenia’s
longest serving Foreign Minister, Vartan Oskanian.

“What impresses me most is the unity you are projecting here today,”
the Foreign Minister told Armenian-Americans. “You are here to work
together, plan together and to register success together.”

Oskanian commended the Assembly for its continued efforts on behalf of
Armenia and Karabakh, saying, “Our relationship with the Assembly has
been wonderful these past 15 years. Every time we have called on them,
they have been there.”

The Foreign Minister, who joined Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
for the signing of the $235 million MCA Compact, told Conference
participants that Armenia is fortunate to receive the funding, which
will help the country reduce rural poverty. “Armenia needs the
generosity of the United States to help us move in the right
direction,” he said. Oskanian also recognized the work of
U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, who was present and received a
standing ovation.

Also, in a major announcement, Oskanian said that Armenia will launch
a rural poverty plan that builds on its partnership with the MCC. The
Foreign Minister urged the Armenian Diaspora to join this effort and
help eradicate poverty and rebuild Armenia’s villages.


Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, in his remarks, said, “I
value my years of cooperation with the Assembly and I appreciate its
leadership’s professionalism and their …commitment as Americans to
work with us to support a democratic and prosperous Armenia.”

Fried, who recently traveled to Yerevan for talks with President
Robert Kocharian and his administration, also stressed the importance
of the Millennium Compact. “[This] is new money for Armenia. It is a
testament to Armenia’s progress and its commitment to do more on good
governance, economic freedom, and investment in its people,” he said.

“The challenge….is allowing voters to independently and freely
choose their leaders through elections that meet international
democratic standards,” Fried continued. “We’re looking at the
parliamentary and presidential elections next year and in 2008 as key

Fried also said that the U.S. is closely monitoring the NK peace
process and remains hopeful that a resolution will be reached. He also
laid out the U.S. Administration’s position on the Armenian
Genocide. While avoiding the term genocide, Fried, like President
George W. Bush, employed a dictionary definition to characterize the
events: “murders on a mass scale, killings without justification,
deportations. Over 1.5 million people lost their lives, innocent
victims.” Fried also called on “Turkey to reflect more seriously about
subjects which have been taboo for generations in that country.”

“We do not support…export of denialist literature or positions. We
do support efforts by Turkey to deal with its history more seriously,”
Fried concluded.

A complete transcript of Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried’s
remarks may be viewed at:


House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) discussed efforts by Turkey and
Azerbaijan to further isolate Armenia by proposing an $800 million
railway that would bypass Armenia.

“The U.S. should not be involved in any way to facilitate its
construction,” Hoyer told the Conference. “We ought to support efforts
to foster cooperation and integration.”

The Congressman, who is a cosponsor of the Armenian Genocide
resolution (H.R. 316), also said he will continue to fight for
U.S. reaffirmation of the historical truth and said that he has asked
Turkish leaders why they cannot acknowledge their genocidal legacy.

“If they cannot admit [the Armenian Genocide], does it mean they are
sympathetic or might consider a similar event in the future?” Hoyer


Following the National Conference, California State Senator Charles
Poochigian (R-Fresno) presided over a Banquet featuring prominent
U.S. and Armenian officials, Armenian Assembly leaders, including
Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian and President Carolyn
Mugar, His Eminence Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese,
His Eminence Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese and AGBU
Central Board Member Carol Aslanian.

The evening began with a rousing speech by keynote speaker Senator
George Allen (R-VA). The Senator said that the Assembly has played an
“indispensable” role in strengthening the U.S.-Armenia relationship
and added, “I salute you all and I am proud to work with you to
confront key issues.” Turning to the key issues facing the Republic
of Armenia, Allen said that he strongly opposes efforts to marginalize
the country and called Turkey’s ongoing blockade of Armenia
“completely unacceptable.”

Allen also expressed his fierce opposition to the proposed
Kars-Tbilisi-Baku rail line threatening Armenia’s isolation, saying,
“There should not be a single penny that goes to this railroad that is
trying to bypass Armenia.”

The Senator closed his speech by reiterating his commitment to work
for reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide. “Next month, on April 24,
we will mark the 91st anniversary of the Armenian Genocide…One needs
to remember that we have an obligation to ourselves and we can’t
remain silent.”

“You can count on me to work on your side,” Allen concluded.

Participants also honored longtime Armenian issues supporter Senator
Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) with the Assembly’s Deukmejian Award for Public

Sarbanes, who was greeted with a standing ovation said, “I accept your
award tonight in recognition of all the years we have worked together
for our shared goals.”

The award, named after former California Governor George Deukmejian,
was created in 1997 and is given to those individuals who embody the
qualities of an exemplary public servant.

In his remarks, Sarbanes hailed the signing of the Armenia MCA Compact
as a “major achievement” in U.S.-Armenia relations and said the funds
will go a long way in reducing Armenia’s rural poverty.

The lawmaker, who is also a well-known champion of reaffirmation of
the Armenian Genocide, said that the Genocide resolution pending in
the Senate has his “vigorous support.”

“If other nations can speak the truth – so must ours. We must work to
set the historical record straight,” the senior Senator from Maryland


Like Sarbanes, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans was greeted with
a standing ovation from community members. Evans, who was appointed
Ambassador in 2004, also expressed his support for the signing of the
MCC grant.

“This has been a great day,” Evans said. “This is a very generous
program — it’s the biggest one that’s been approved.”

The Ambassador, however, added a caveat: “A country that is found
eligible for MCC must continue to remain eligible,” he said.

Evans explained that Armenia must do more to foster democratic reform
and stressed the importance of free and fair elections in
2007-2008. “Regimes that falsify their elections don’t fool the
public, they bring people to the streets,” Evans said. “If indicators
go steeply down, this grant could be lost to Armenia and that would be
a great shame,” he warned. 


Following Evans’ remarks, Assembly Board of Directors Chairman Anthony
Barsamian welcomed to the stage Major Timothy Stevens, on behalf of
Major General Todd M. Bunting, Adjutant General of Kansas. Major
Stevens spoke about the importance of the Kansas-Armenia State
Partnership Program and saluted the Armenian-American veterans in the
crowd, who attended the National Conference and Banquet at the special
invitation of the Assembly.

Barsamian, who led a fitting tribute for Armenian-American veterans at
the World War II Memorial earlier in the day, said that too often the
distinguished service of the men and women of the armed forces is
overlooked. During the Banquet, Barsamian specifically highlighted the
heroism of World War II veterans Mary Ashjian, who was Technical
Sergeant in the Women’s Army Corp., and Arpeni Mirigian, who served in
the U.S. Navy Waves.

The Banquet program also included a special performance by the
YerazArt Young Musicians from Armenia. The group, which included
singers and musicians ages 12 through 16, captivated guests with
Armenian melodies.


Following a full day of activities to better prepare activists for
their meetings with lawmakers, Armenian-Americans stormed Capitol Hill
to promote Armenian concerns. Activists met with more than 80
congressional offices representing the Armenian Caucus, the House and
Senate leadership, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the
House International Relations and Senate Foreign Relations Committees,
the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.


The National Conference opened on March 26 with a welcoming reception
at the U.S. Botanic Garden. The evening’s featured speaker, NKR Deputy
Foreign Minister Masis Mayilian, thanked the Armenian Diaspora for its
ongoing and critical support of Artsakh.

“My government deeply appreciates the tireless efforts of our
congressional friends and those of the Armenian-American community,
particularly the Armenian Assembly, to ensure continued U.S. support
of Nagorno Karabakh — through its balanced role in the Nagorno
Karabakh conflict resolution process and the ongoing assistance in the
post-war rehabilitation, economic recovery and development of Nagorno

Prior to the opening reception, National Banquet Chair and Armenia
Mission Leader Annie Totah welcomed more than 60 participants of the
Assembly’s annual Mission to Armenia and Karabakh to a special reunion
event at the Garden.

In her welcoming remarks, Totah extended her personal thanks to
everyone who has participated on the Mission, saying, “I believe you
have become even more dedicated members of the Assembly and have made
a huge difference in the lives of the people of Armenia and Karabakh.”
Totah also encouraged Mission participants to join the Assembly for
its next trip in late October.

Totah also hosted an elegant reception in recognition and appreciation
of Assembly Life Trustees, Endowment contributors, Board Members,
Legacy Society Members, corporate sponsors, benefactors and patrons of
the Assembly’s National Conference and Banquet. The reception, held
March 25 at the Totah residence in Potomac, Maryland, was followed by
a performance at the Strathmore Concert Hall that Totah organized.

On March 27, former Assembly interns and young professionals attended
a special gathering in downtown Washington following the Assembly
Banquet. More than 40 young adults came together to mix and mingle at
Lima, a popular downtown restaurant.

The National Conference was held in partnership with the following
Armenian-American organizations: Apostolic Exarchate for Armenian
Catholics, Armenia 2020, Armenia Tree Project, Armenian American
Chamber of Commerce, Armenian American Cultural Association, Inc.,
Armenian Church Youth Organization – Eastern Diocese, Armenian Church
Youth Organization – Western Diocese, Armenian High Tech Council of
America (Armentech), Armenian International Policy Research Group,
Armenian International Women’s Association, Armenian Missionary
Association of America, Inc., Armenian Network of America, Inc.,
Armenian Students’ Association of America, Inc., Birthright Armenia
and Knights of Vartan.

The National Conference officially closed with a farewell reception
and tour at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum on March

(All photos by Joyce Naltchayan and Neshan Naltchayan)

The Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based
nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness
of Armenian issues. It is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership



Photo graph available of the Assembly’s Web site at the following link:

Caption: Hundreds of Armenian-American activists gathered at the
historic Mayflower Hotel for the Monday night banquet featuring
prominent U.S. and Armenian officials.


Caption: Armenia’s Finance and Economy Minister Vardan Khachatryan and
MCC Chief Executive Officer John Danilovich signed the MCA Compact at
the U.S. State Department on March 27. Standing L to R: Chief Economic
Advisor to the President of Armenia Vahram Nercissiantz, Armenia’s
Ambassador to the U.S. Tatoul Markarian, Foreign Minister Vartan
Oskanian, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Ambassador to
Armenia John Evans and Members of the MCC Armenia Team Stephen Groff
and Alex Russin.


Caption: (L to R) Assembly Fellow Trustee E. James Keledjian,
Representative Danny Davis (D-IL), former Assembly intern Arpi Paylan
and National Conference Chair Lisa Esayian.


Caption: Students from the AGBU Alex-Marie Manoogian School in
Southfield, MI and local constituents discussed community issues with
Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI).


Caption: (L to R) ARAMAC State Chair for California Peter Kezirian
Jr., Azar Kayal, Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Board of Trustees
President Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director Bryan Ardouny and Board of
Directors Chairman Anthony Barsamian.


Caption: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) met with Armenian-American
activists from the Golden State on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.


Caption: Assembly Associate Trustee Jirair Hovnanian and New Jersey
activists met with Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) on Capitol Hill.


Caption: Assembly Life Trustees Joe and Joyce Stein flank Fellow
Trustee Andrew Torigian.


Caption: (L to R) Executive Director Bryan Ardouny, U.S. Ambassador to
Armenia John Evans, National Banquet Chair Annie Totah, House Minority
Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian,
Board of Trustees President Carolyn Mugar, Board of Directors Chairman
Anthony Barsamian.


Caption: (L to R) Assembly Board of Directors Chairman Anthony
Barsamian, Christine Sarbanes, Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), National
Banquet Chair Annie Totah and Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair
Hovnanian at the National Banquet.


Caption: (L to R) Assembly Board of Directors Member Lu Ann Ohanian,
Assembly Fellow Trustees Savey Tufenkian and Elizabeth Agbabian and
AGBU Central Board Member Carol Aslanian.


Caption: Assembly Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian, right,
with Senator George Allen (R-VA).


Caption: (L to R) Executive Director Bryan Ardouny, Diocesan Legate
Bishop Vicken Aykazian, Board of Trustees President Carolyn Mugar,
Archbishop Khajag Barsamian of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian
Church, Board of Trustees Chairman Hirair Hovnanian, Archbishop Hovnan
Derderian of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, AGBU Central
Board Member Carol Aslanian and Board of Directors Chairman Anthony


Caption: The Assembly saluted Armenian-American veterans at the
National Banquet and honored them with a tribute at the World War II


Caption: Participants of the Assembly’s Mission to Armenia and Nagorno
Karabakh reunited at a reception at the U.S. Botanic Garden on March