Horizon Armenian Television’s Manoug Seraydarian speaks with ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian about the ANCA’s efforts to overcome obstacles to organizing a balanced and representative Armenian American community meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Click here to watch the second part of the interview.
The Armenian National Committee of America stands for open and inclusive community representation.
It is in this spirit that the ANCA has consistently worked to foster direct Armenian American dialogue with America’s leaders, not simply for ourselves or for those who share our perspectives, but for all the leading organizations that, together, represent the rich fabric of our community.
Such an approach reflects both our deep respect for our community’s diversity and our equally profound belief in our community’s unity of purpose on the central challenges facing the Armenian nation. Unfortunately, recent developments – related to a proposed community meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – have shown, that some others who strive to speak in our community’s name do not share this faith in our community’s basic decency, devotion, and common sense.
The controversy surrounding this meeting, while unnecessary and counterproductive, has, at the very least, served some useful purpose in providing our community with new insights into the significant distinctions between the ANCA and the Armenian Assembly – distinctions that reflect fundamentally different approaches to advocacy.
The ANCA operates as an inclusive organization, reaching deep into our community, building consensus around shared values, and bringing people together across all of our geographic, demographic, religious, and civic affiliations. The Assembly, by way of contrast, operates in an exclusive manner, representing a small and increasingly isolated circle, largely gathered around a single major benefactor.
These differences matter. They impact how our two groups work and the results that we achieve on issues ranging from our core advocacy agenda to the waiver of Section 907, the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission, the Hoagland nomination and the Turkey-Armenia Protocols. Nowhere are these differences more evident today than in how the ANCA and Assembly, with the support of leaders of the Armenian General Benevolent Union, have handled the proposed meeting with Secretary Clinton.
While the Armenian Assembly has, throughout this process, coveted its access to the powerful by seeking to control and limit participation in this meeting, the ANCA has eagerly offered to share its place at the table with all our community partners. We understand, as a grassroots group, that our community grows stronger by opening doors to dialogue, not by closing them. We add to our power, respect and influence, not by who we exclude, but by broadening the scope and depth of civic engagement by all aspects of our community.
Provided below are the facts of this matter, all drawn from the ANCA’s public record of advocacy on behalf of Armenian Americans:
The ANCA has, since the days leading up to President Barack Obama’s inauguration, openly and consistently sought to schedule opportunities for a broad representation of the Armenian American community to meet personally with the President and also with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss issues of concern to Armenian American voters.
The Armenian Assembly, by way of contrast, refused to take part in the community-wide inaugural letter to President Obama, signed by over 20 leadership organizations, and has, since then, only requested meetings for itself, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Diocese of the Armenian Church, and the Knights of Vartan. Each of these organizations represents a vital and valued voice, but they clearly do not represent a full cross-section of our community. Among the groups excluded by the Assembly and the AGBU were the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic and Evangelical communities, the Armenian Relief Society, and other grassroots membership organizations.
On August 20, 2009, the ANCA, in a letter that was subsequently released to the public, requested that Secretary Clinton schedule a “personal meeting between you and the Armenian American community’s civic, religious, and charitable leaders.” This request was restated in an ANCA letter to the Secretary, dated September 30, 2009, and in a series of subsequent ANCA meetings with senior Administration officials. The ANCA’s efforts to secure a community-wide leadership meeting with the Secretary was also supported by several members of Congress, most notably Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who, in an October 20, 2009 letter, specifically called upon Secretary Clinton “to meet directly with Armenian American groups” to discuss the “serious nature of the community’s concerns” about the Turkey-Armenia Protocols.
On November 17, 2009, the ANCA, upon learning from Administration officials that a meeting with Secretary Clinton was in the process of being arranged, sent letters to a broad-based group of more than 20 Armenian American leadership organizations – including the Armenian Assembly and the AGBU – alerting them to this development and recommending that “we coordinate among ourselves, in the days leading up to such a meeting, to ensure that our community delivers a unified message and establishes a clear and commonly-held set of expectations for Secretary Clinton and the Obama-Biden Administration.” The letter also suggested that the groups “meet together prior to any such meeting to make arrangements for a productive exchange with the Secretary.”
On January 8, 2010, the ANCA was formally invited to meet with Secretary Clinton and was informed that the four other groups invited to this consultation were the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern and Western U.S.), and the Knights of Vartan.
On January 11, 2010, the ANCA wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton, the contents of which we immediately shared publicly with the Armenian American community, calling upon her to broaden her initial round of five invitations in order to ensure an open and inclusive meeting that allowed for full expression of the Armenian American perspective.
In this letter, the ANCA made the following points:
— The ANCA has long sought to arrange meetings for the community’s traditional leadership with the Secretary of State, consistent with the President’s campaign pledge to lead an Administration that actively engages Armenian American leaders.
— The ANCA’s aim in seeking such meetings is to help ensure that America’s leaders benefit from an open dialogue with our community regarding U.S. policy on Armenian issues, particularly those, such as the Protocols, that directly impact the rights of U.S. citizens of Armenian heritage.
— The ANCA believes that meetings of this nature should include the community’s broad-based advocacy, civic, religious, and charitable leadership, not simply those that hold a particular point of view – on the Protocols, or any other issue.
— The exclusion of many important groups in the Secretary’s initial round of invitations, including a large number aligned against the State Department-supported Protocols, sets a dangerous precedent that, in the future, invitations for such meetings will be, in large part, reserved for those who endorse the Administration’s policies.
— The five organizations in the Secretary’s first round of invitations represent a partial and unrepresentative sample of the Armenian American community’s traditional leadership. This broader group, comprised of advocacy, civic, religious, charitable, and other organizations, met with President Clinton in 1994 and has, collectively, signed a series of letters to the White House over the past two decades, including as recently as President Obama’s inauguration.
In the days and weeks since the Secretary’s invitation, the ANCA has sought, both publicly and privately, to work with the Department of State and with our community partners to reach a fair, inclusive, and workable solution. We have, in these efforts, faced considerable interference and opposition from the Assembly and leaders of the AGBU, but remain confident that we will succeed in ensuring that the Armenian American community’s views are accurately and assertively represented to Secretary Clinton and the entire U.S. government.