Interview with ANCA Chairman, Ken Hachikian -
By Tina Soulahian
The Armenian National Committee of America is one of the key players on an international level to push forward the Armenian cause. A quick visit to their website will fast prove that they the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots political organization.
We had a chance to catch up with the ANCA’s Chairman, Kenneth Hachikian, during the International Armenian National Committee Conference that took place in Montreal over the weekend of November16 and 17, 2013. Some of the ANC Committees who participated included regional and national branches from Canada, the United States, Australia and South America.
Below is a glimpse into some of the work the ANCA is currently undertaking, the state of the Turkish and Azeri lobby groups in the United States. They are also getting ready, like many of the ANCs across the world, to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in a broad scale of educational, cultural, political and religious events across the country.
T.S. What is the current mandate of the ANCA ?
K.H. Our current mandate isn’t different than any of the Hay Tad committees around the world. Our core issues are advancing the issue of genocide recognition. In recent years, we’ve put further emphasis on reparations. We started advancing a resolution in 2011, which actually passed in the House of Representatives, calling upon Turkey to return confiscated church properties. We advanced it under the characterization of church properties for two reasons:
One is because, you know, 90-100 years ago, church properties were community properties. They encompassed schools, hospitals, cemeteries, community centres, and so forth… For an elected official to support returning church properties to their rightful owners is very easy. But obviously our ultimate goal here is not just church properties, but to establish the precedence of reparations, starting with the return of properties and to build upon that.
A propos that, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sent us a letter in response to a letter we had sent her, saying that the United States supported the return of confiscated properties. …In a prior part of the letter, she had referenced church and in that particular sentence, she said confiscated properties, which is exactly our goal. We are attempting to build upon that now, in this Congress, by introducing a resolution that will call upon the State.
Right now, the State department issues a religious freedom report on a variety of countries around the world. We’re calling upon them to issue a report that speaks to Turkey’s progress and efforts in returning properties, including citing the properties that haven’t been returned. So, reparations are an important part of our current efforts.
We continue to focus on what I call the economic wellbeing of Armenia: to provide foreign aid to Armenian and Karabagh. But we are also putting greater effort on trade to push the United States to enter into various economic and trade agreements with Armenia for a healthier economy, to break down the barriers of corruption and to try to increase Armenia’s ties to the West.
We are also focusing on the Karabagh negotiations and self-determination for Karabagh. We make it clear to the United States Ambassador who participates in the MINSK group discussions that Armenians will never, ever agree to put their fate back into the hands of the Azeris and that any settlement which falls short of that, will simply not be acceptable and won’t be agreed to. We actually do it in a way if we can, by speaking on behalf of the Armenians in Karabagh, but we also make it clear that Diaspora Armenians will not settle for that. As you know, the first president of Armenia, Levon Ter Petrossian, lost his job over this very issue and it’s not an issue that anybody should take for granted…
There are also a variety of other issues we address such as the plight of Syrian Armenians, obviously being a very important one right now, in terms of economic and humanitarian assistance to them. But also, pushing in particularly the United States, to ensure that the rights of Christian minorities are respected by both sides and that those communities stop being further endangered.
We also had the initiative to try to bring some USAID funds for the economic development within Javakhk, which is a project we’ve been working on for two years. We’ve been making progress, slower than I would like, but we’ve been making progress and trying to attract some private investments along with USAID money into opening some factories in Javakhk hopefully by the middle of next year.
T.S. What about the Turkish and Azeri Lobbies, are they as strong as they used to be?
K.H. The Turkish Lobby is primarily based on a significant expenditure of money to hire lobbyists within the United States. That effort has continued, has not changed and is quite significant.
The Azeri lobby however has significantly grown in presence and effectiveness. Both with the expenditure of considerable money in hiring lobbyists, but also through a meaningful grassroots effort… The reality is that they’ve created a very significant local presence in congressional districts. Their efforts have become a meaningful obstacle to our efforts to advance our grassroots capabilities.