WASHINGTON, DC – Ten university students from across the US and United Kingdom, who each started the summer of 2021 with a commitment to work with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) to strengthen ties with Armenia and defend Artsakh’s freedom, left the nation’s capital with the training to more effectively educate, motivate and activate their campuses and communities to promote pro-Armenian policies.
“In the 35 years since we started the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Summer Internship, alumni have become a central element of community-wide efforts to expand pro-Artsakh/Armenia advocacy in support of an independent Artsakh, a strong Armenia, and justice for the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA Programs Director Alex Manoukian. “Over the years, with the additions of the Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway interns and Maral Melkonian Avetisyan fellows, we’ve provided more resources and more hands-on training, while remaining true to our core youth empowerment mission.”
ANCA summer interns participated in the eight week program – half remote and half in-person – with the primary policy focus of zeroing-out US arms and aid to Azerbaijan. Working with the ANCA’s regional and local chapters, the summer intern team played a key role in the passage of the bipartisan Pallone Amendment to the US House fiscal year 2022 foreign aid bill, preparing advocacy videos with ANCA IT Director Nerses Semerjian to promote broader community input through letters, calls and tweets to educate legislators regarding Azerbaijan’s ongoing attacks against Artsakh and Armenia. Interns emailed with and called pro-Armenian advocates across the US as the ANCA embarked on its annual effort to connect constituents and Congressional representatives through August recess meetings. Over 100 meetings were coordinated in less than two months, with still more to take place in the coming weeks. Through it all, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan and Communications Director Elizabeth Chouldjian worked one-on-one with interns on advocacy messaging, best practices for Congressional meetings and effectively communicating our community’s concerns.
In addition to advocacy efforts, interns participated in an interactive speakers’ series with legislators, diplomats, academics and Armenian American professionals to develop a stronger understanding of geopolitical challenges in Armenia and Artsakh as well as explore career opportunities in policy, politics and media. On the diplomatic front, the program included discussions with former US Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, Artsakh Representative to the US Robert Avetisyan and representatives of the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia. Prof. Greg Aftandilian shared insights from his career at the State Department and later on Capitol Hill and how both offered opportunities to share new perspectives on community concerns with decision-makers. A historical and present-day overview of Armenia’s geopolitics was once again shared by ANCA Chairman Emeritus Garo Armenian – a favorite of ANCA summer interns for decades – who challenges youth to explore concrete ways to help the Armenian homeland amid ever-changing regional dynamics.
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian and Maryland State Representative Lorig Charkoudian – all Americans of Armenian heritage – shared their personal stories on what led them to seek elected office and the importance of raising Armenian American voices on the federal, state and local level. On Capitol Hill, interns met with John Brodtke from Rep. Brad Sherman’s office as part of a broader ANCA discussion on potential amendments to the FY2022 foreign aid bill.
Armenian Legal Center Founding Executive Director Kate Nahapetian reviewed legal avenues for securing justice for the Armenian Genocide and legal aspects of Artsakh’s international recognition efforts. Library of Congress Armenian and Georgian area specialist Dr. Khatchig Mouradian’s two presentations on the over 55,000 piece Armenian holdings at the Library were covered in their “Off the Shelf” publication. Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Eastern Region chair George Aghjayan hosted a seminar on combatting Genocide denial and offered insight on connecting diasporans with their roots in Western Armenia.
On the communication front, POLITICO’s senior politics editor Charlie Mahtesian offered insights on successful careers in journalism. Armenian Weekly assistant editor Leeza Arakelian offered a workshop on writing an effective op-ed, while ANCA national board member Ani Tchaghlasian focused on the importance of communicating effectively with local communities to advance our collective priorities. ANCA Eastern Region executive director Tamar Gregorian helped strengthen personal communication skills by offering a workshop on resume and cover letter preparation. Former ANCA Capital Gateway Program advisory committee chair Ara Sarajian offered insights on the best use of LinkedIn and other professional platforms to secure career advantages.
On the public policy careers front, Sam Tatevosyan, the Director of Government Relations at McDonald’s Corporation, offered behind-the-scenes insights into the world of lobbying while veteran International Development specialist Nina Etyemezian discussed careers at USAID.
The Leo Sarkisian Internship – named after the late ANCA Eastern US community leader and Hai Tahd advocate – empowers dedicated Armenians in their efforts to achieve justice for the Armenian Genocide, freedom for Artsakh, and a secure and prosperous Armenian homeland. The LSI was established in 1986 and now has hundreds of alumni across the world. For the third year, LSI is running concurrently with the Maral Melkonian Avetisyan Fellowship, named after the devoted youth advocate who dedicated her life to helping the Armenian homeland. The ANCA’s signature Capital Gateway Program – named in memory of inspirational Armenian Youth Federation leader Hovig Apo Saghdejian – has a summer focus on internships, transitioning to career development programs throughout the rest of the year.
ANCA summer interns are selected through a highly competitive application process with acceptance based on academic excellence and demonstrated capacity for community leadership. While in Washington, DC, summer interns stayed at The Aramian House, an eight-bedroom former bed and breakfast located in Washington, DC’s historic Dupont Circle neighborhood, just a short walk from the ANCA headquarters. The Aramian House was established through a generous donation by sisters Sue, the late Margo, and the late Martha Aramian, who have long been among the most generous benefactors of ANCA programs as well as of charitable projects in the Armenian homeland and the Diaspora.
A Look Back at the ANCA Summer of 2021
The 2021 Leo Sarkisian interns are Antranig Asmarian, Mari Bijimenian, Nvard Chalabyan, Rita Cherchian, Shaunt Kludjian and Garen Meguerditchian. Joining them are ANCA Maral Melkonian Avetisyan Summer Fellow Anais Boyajian and Capital Gateway Program interns Alex Avanesyan, Alenoush Nahapetian Davis and Eric Nazarian. Participants shared impressions of their summer working with the ANCA in videos and statements, excerpts of which are provided below:
Antranig Asmarian: “Being a part of the Leo Sarkisian Internship felt surreal and transformative. Living at the Aramian House with a group of young, activated and passionate Armenians fulfilled my feelings of guilt and anger after the 2020 Artsakh War. I wanted to impact change and ensure that those who we lost during the war were not in vain. This internship equipped me with all the necessary tools and connected me with a vast network of powerful and influential politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs and ambassadors. After this internship, I will utilize my newly gained knowledge to advance Hai Tahd in communities at home and abroad. This is my way of paying tribute to our brave and honorable martyrs who did not hesitate to spill their blood on the soil we hold so sacred and dear to our hearts.”
Alex Avanesyan: “Participating in the Hovig Apo Saghdejian Capital Gateway Program has been an invaluable experience, having given me the opportunity to further our cause through work with legislative figures and outreach with constituents, as well as strengthen my connection to the Armenian community. Another great aspect of my time with the ANCA has been attending talks with many prominent Armenians working in an array of professions. However, my favorite part of participating in this program was working alongside a group of highly dedicated and motivated interns and collaborating on activities ranging from meetings with Senate staffers to writing fact sheets.”
Mari Bijimenian: “This internship program has provided me with the opportunity to help further Hai Tahd, and make a difference in aiding my homeland during the difficult times our country is facing. One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had was visiting the Library of Congress, where I was able to see some of the vast collection of Armenian literature and historical documents. Being a Leo Sarkisian Intern has given me the ability to fulfill my responsibility as an Armenian by advocating for the Armenian Cause.”
Anais Boyajian: “Being a Maral Melkonian Avetisyan Fellow has been one of the most amazing and inspiring experiences of my life. This opportunity has given me the chance to not only help my people but understand what goes on behind the scenes of Hai Tahd. Some of my favorite moments from it are going to the Library of Congress to learn more about our rich and ancient culture and getting to meet with Representative Speier on Capitol Hill. I have been blessed to get to know such an amazing group of people, and I cannot wait for our paths to cross again in the future!”
Nvard Chalabyan: “Not only did this internship open many new doors for me as a STEM major, but I am now also more involved in the ANC-UK branch, joining the mission on getting the Armenian Genocide recognized in the UK and getting aid to Artsakh. Whereas before I felt powerless to do anything, I now know what I can do for my community, family and friends in Armenia.”
Rita Cherchian: “Coming from the UK, the ANCA’s Leo Sarkisian internship has truly been an invaluable opportunity to learn about how the Armenian lobby functions within the greater context of the American political system. It was both exhilarating and rewarding knowing that I played a role in influencing Armenian-American policy from a grassroots level, enacting positive changes whose impacts will go on to improve Armenia’s future security and integrity. Most importantly, the friends I have made and the memories I have forged over these unforgettable two months will stay with me for life: thank you to everyone in DC!”
Shaunt Kludjian: “This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will always be remembered for the work for Hai Tahd, human rights, and the people surrounding me throughout my time there. The nervousness flying across the country with no one you know was instantly alleviated when I met the group of individuals I was going to be living and working with. I will dearly miss the little things, such as walking back home from the office with my peers talking about a successful vote in Congress or some immature inside joke we made. I would like to thank the speakers we met for giving us interns insights on their careers, politics and life lessons you learned on your journey to success. To my fellow interns… we did it and we did it the best way we could’ve.”
Garen Meguerditchian: “While being in DC and living in a house with new friends is a lot of fun, I think my favorite part of the internship has been getting the chance to discuss with really interesting and powerful people, from Turkish Parliamentarian of Armenian descent Garo Paylan to Michigan State Legislator Mari Manoogian. It has really helped me envision my own path for my future whether it be in politics or the private sector. No day is the same – sometimes you’ve got a presentation or an Op/Ed to write, other days you have to drop everything and work on urgent projects that need to be done ASAP before an important vote. It’s been exhilarating, productive, and meaningful and I got to do it with a group of people that at first were strangers and are now part of this passionate Hai Tahd family.”
Alenoush Nahapetian Davis: “During my time here at the ANCA, my schedule has been nothing but busy. Between all the research, writing emails and scheduling meetings there is really no time to do anything else but work. It has been such a productive and eye-opening experience, and I’m so glad that I did it. I have met people from all industries that work here in Washington including journalists, professors, and lawmakers themselves. I’m also glad that I was able to do this internship in-person with all the other interns. They’ve made this experience so much better than I could have ever imagined. I have learned so much at this internship and I’m going to be using all of these experiences in all of my future endeavors.”
Eric Nazarian: “My experience interning at the ANCA has been truly enlightening. From Capitol Hill to the Library of Congress, from prominent Armenian American figures to US Representatives, we continue to take part in promoting Armenian interests as well as connecting our community closer together. One of the most memorable and successful moments during the internship was working hard with the team to urge Congress to vote YES on banning arms sales to Azerbaijan. We continued on our aim to promote the cause and, as long as we all work together, there is nothing that can prevent us from reaching our goals.”