A 24/7 Hai Tad Whirlwind

By: | Posted on: 12.02.2014

I would like to start off by mentioning what an amazing experience my time at the Washington DC offices of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has been.

No sooner had I arrived from Montreal- after a fun-filled 16-hour train ride- that we went straight to the Father’s Day Soorp Khach Armenian Apostolic Church picnic, a great opportunity to meet with fellow interns. As an AYF Levon Shant/Pegor Ashod Chapter member, I was quickly recruited to help with the AYF Olympics, and donned the now famous Arpa the Eagle costume (in 90 degree heat and excruciating humidity) while two stepping with children and AYF supporters alike.

I knew then: this was going to be an unforgettable eight weeks.

The next day, my exciting journey in the ANCA office began. As the rest of my colleagues arrived, the work began. We started with the annual ANCA internship ritual – the newspaper project.  We reviewed a full year’s worth of Armenian American newspapers, clipped any mentions of Members of Congress, and distributed the articles, with personalized letters, to their respective offices.  In the meanwhile, the entire team was constantly bonding and we all became quite close, quite quickly.

My individual project was about the Syrian conflict’s impact on Christian and Armenian minorities living in the country.  It’s a tough project – both on a communal and personal level.  Certainly our community has been vicariously living through the tragedy of the civil unrest in Aleppo, and other cities – following the daily reports from our community on the ground – and are looking to assist in any way possible.  The project was even more poignant and personal for me – who like tens of thousands of Armenians in the U.S. and Canada have relatives personally affected by the tragedy.

I attended Congressional hearings on the topic, and was tasked to prepare a primer on the situation in the region. This was used to help ANCA and Armenian American groups around the country prepare for a State Department / USAID briefing on the topic. It was quite thrilling to realize the immediate impact of the work we were doing.

In addition to our main projects, we had a slew of additional shorter-term projects to complete, like helping our regional and local chapters rally support for pro-Armenian provisions of the 2014 Foreign Aid Bill.  That was an opportunity to speak with and get to know Armenian American activists from across the U.S. and encourage them to contact their legislators – an effort which really showed what a vast and committed community we are lucky to be part of.

Perhaps one of my favorite efforts this summer was working with our Executive Director Aram Hamparian and my fellow interns to strengthen the Armenian social network.  It started out with helping the ANCA team set up its first-ever LIVE Hangout on the ANCA’s Google Plus page.  Aram was a pro from day one – and by the second Hangout – we were ready to advertise to the world.

We followed that up with a promotional video that our ANCA intern team prepared, encouraging folks to participate in these live ANCA updates.

I truly feel like I have gained so many skills and have been able to develop in a variety of arenas. I have done research, video editing, have attended important meetings, and organized data and important talking points. Throughout this all, our input was always considered and we felt that we were all vital and contributing members of the team.

We had a chance to sit down and talk with Armenian Ambassador to the U.S. Tatoul Markarian, NKR Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (and a personal hero) John Evans, amongst others. I’ve met numerous Members of the Senate and House and have been given the opportunity to see “behind the scenes”. All of this played an important role in the growth of my Armenian identity. As we went deep into Armenian issues like Artsakh or the Genocide, I developed a better understanding of the obstacles facing our community and ways to effectively counter them.

Throughout it all, the local community has been extremely welcoming. On July 28th, we all celebrated Khanasor’s Expedition and our hosts made us feel right at home. We laughed, sang, and ate all day long, making it one of my most memorable “non-work” moments.

We were lucky enough to be exposed to an American education as well.  We had a 4th of July barbeque at the Hovig Saghejian Capital Gateway House – where all our summer interns were headquartered – with U. Yeghisapet and several locals joining in. That’s where I had my first US independence celebration and we had that right combination of barbecued ribs and chicken kebab: making it a truly American-Armenian experience.

Alongside the important fact gathering, presentations, food and festivities- it is truly the human connections that make this internship such a unique experience. The ANCA team, colleagues who I now have the honour and privilege to call close friends, are a collection of amazing people that I was lucky enough to work with. From Aram to Kate to Yeghisapet, Chris, Harout and – of course – our Legislative Director / Program coordinator Raffi Karakashian,  we were in a Hai Tad whirlwind 24/7 – one which I will cherish for a lifetime.

This is truly a unique experience and I encourage any college or university student to consider taking part. You, much like me, will have a truly unforgettable 8 weeks.

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