16 Oct 2017

Meeting Armenians in Armenia

By Collins T. Fitzpatrick,
Circuit Executive
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

 

I am indebted to the Armenian Bar Association and Federal Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan for making my trip to Yerevan possible.  I had a two day scheduled meeting of a nongovernmental organization  in Prague so I thought that while I was in “the neighborhood,” I would see if there was interest in having me speak to Armenian lawyers and judges as I have done in other foreign countries as well as in America.

Judge Der-Yeghiayan arranged for me to be hosted by Armine and Raffi Hovannisian who were wonderful hosts.  Armine picked me up at the airport at 1 a.m. and we sat around the kitchen with Raffi  until 3 in the morning having a wonderful conversation.  I mention them as they are not only both American lawyers, but Raffi was the first President of the Armenian Bar Association and the first foreign minister of Armenia.   I was only in Armenia for two days, but I got to see and do a lot. On the first day I had a lengthy conversation with Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan and several members of his staff about the backlog of cases in the courts and the problems of corruption.  I mentioned that corruption is in many countries and I pointed out that In Chicago, we had about 30 state judges as well as lawyers and court officials who were convicted of corruption.   I gave some ideas on how to deal with backlog and pointed out that the most effective way to deal with case backlog is to take the time to investigate applicants before appointing them to the bench. I subsequently forwarded to them materials which we utilize in selecting judges and considering their reappointment.  I also provided the name of a federal judge who has vast experience as a state and federal trial judge and who is willing to travel to Armenia to help them.

The following day I spoke to about 40 soon to be judges and prosecutors at the Academy of Justice.  I spoke on the need for judges and prosecutors to be independent in making decisions, how you foster that independence, and how you preserve that independence. We talked about the importance of ruling on the basis of the law and the evidence. They wondered about what a judge should do when the lawful decision favored only one person as opposed to the 1500 on the other side.  I explained that judges needed to follow the law. I gave as an example a recent decision by a Chicago federal judge that went against the municipal authorities and a large and influential part of the establishment to stop construction of a museum on land that was dedicated to being open park space.  I mentioned that there may come a time when they as judges and prosecutors need to not enforce a law that is unjust. I gave as an example the Nazi laws discriminating against Jews. I said judges and prosecutors need to be willing to resign if the law is unjust. I mentioned that I have friends who are Turkish prosecutors and judges who have been jailed for being independent. From the questions that I received, I connected with the audience even though I was using a translator.

It was not all work as Armine took me to see the first century temple at Garni and the monastery at Geghard with its 12th century chapel.  I also visited the Cascades, an outstanding modern art museum with outside fountain galleries.  Armine also showed me around Orran which she established to provide homeless and other poor children a place to come after school and for poor seniors to get a hot meal.  Orran has expanded and now has two locations.  Armine took me on a walking tour from the Ministry of Justice through Republic Square to the Opera House where her husband Raffi had a 15 day hunger strike to protest government corruption. That first evening we went to the Ararat Golf Club (the first golf course in Armenia) for dinner with “another couple.”   It was an Armenian version of the Gospel story of the loaves and fishes as the couple expanded to about 30 persons for a wonderful dinner. It was much like our American Thanksgiving with family and friends and lots of food, drink, music, singing, and wonderful toasts.

The next day I went to the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin where I visited Mayr Tachar, the main cathedral, and the newest church, Holy Archangels, and the beautiful grounds. After that we went to the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum, a very sobering and reflective place, much like our Holocaust Museum in Washington.  I am not the first person to think that if the world knew more about the Armenian genocide when it happened, maybe more persons would have resisted the Nazi genocide.  The lawyer came out in me when I suggested to Armine and Raffi that the museum should post some of the original Turkish government documents trying to justify the Armenian removal and the eyewitness accounts of third party observers of the atrocities committed on the Armenian people.  Having seen the movie The Promise (which I highly recommend) was helpful in following the detailed presentation in the Museum.

That night, again thanks to my hosts, I was invited to the Independence Day Party at the American Embassy.  Armine and Raffi seem to know everyone from high level government officials to the wait staff.  They introduced me to the Director of the Genocide Museum and his wife who designed it.  So it was an opportunity for me to go right to the top with my suggestions for the museum.

I also took the occasion to talk to Deborah Grieser, the Director of the Agency for International Development at the American Embassy, to tell her about my conversation with Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan and his interest in getting help to analyze and offer solutions to the growing backlog problem in the courts as well as the issues of corruption.

After the band’s last song, and the fireworks, I thought that we were headed back to the Hovannisians’ home as Raffi and I had 4:30 am flights.  They had a better plan to join others at Dolmama Restaurant for desserts and more wine toasting with friends and new acquaintances who happened to be in the restaurant. Back to the house at 1, quick packing, and a 20 minute nap before Raffi and I leave for the airport at 2 a.m.

Many people there and here have asked me what I liked best from my quick trip to Armenia.  The answer is easy; it is the people. We all know people who served in the Peace Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Teach for America or similar programs.  We have had older children who went on service projects for two week periods here or abroad. But it all pales in comparison to the Hovannisians who went to Armenia when Armenia got its independence more than 25 years ago with Armine helping the poor and Raffi trying to bring integrity to the Armenian government.  They have given up much to help others and it was a privilege to get to know them and the other Armenians whom I met.

Attached photo is of Armine and Raffi Hovanisian with Ambassador Richard Mills, Jr. and Collins T. Fitzpatrick.

21 Sep 2017

ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION STATEMENT ON THE 26TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE REPUBLIC

ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION STATEMENT ON THE 26TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE REPUBLIC

ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆԻ ՀԱՆՐԱՊԵՏՈՒԹՅԱՆ 26-ՐԴ ՏԱՐԵԴԱՐՁԻՆ ՆՎԻՐՎԱԾ ՀԱՅՏԱՐԱՐՈՒԹՅՈՒՆ

— September 21, 2017

The sovereignty of a democratic republic is not measured by its age.

True sovereignty is measured by the fidelity of institutions to the rule of law. It is measured by the noble restraint of leaders who refuse to leverage such institutions to silence political dissent. It is measured by a foundation built on socio-economic models favoring merit, opportunity and upward mobility and not cronyism and nepotism. It is measured by an enlightened leadership’s trust in civil society, not the subjugation of that civil society for the benefit of that the leadership. You see, sovereignty is a much more noble and deliberate endeavor than is mere survival.

We congratulate the Republic on the 26th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union. We remember well the promise of that day.

More importantly, we wish the Armenian people the continued strength to insist on a homeland free of political prisoners, to demand always a government of laws and not of men and to never fear to teach our children to reach beyond mere survival to touch the dignity of true sovereignty.

CONGRATULATIONS.

🇦🇲 🇦🇲 🇦🇲

ՀԱՅԱՍՏԱՆԻ ՀԱՆՐԱՊԵՏՈՒԹՅԱՆ 26-ՐԴ ՏԱՐԵԴԱՐՁԻՆ ՆՎԻՐՎԱԾ ՀԱՅՏԱՐԱՐՈՒԹՅՈՒՆ

Դեմոկրատական երկրի անկախությունը չի չափվում իր տարիքով:

Իրական անկախությունը չափվում է օրենքի գերակայությանը` երկրի հաստատությունների հավատարմությամբ: Այն չափվում է իր առաջնորդների ազնվագույն զսպվածությամբ, ովքեր հրաժարվում են օգտագործել այդ կառույցները քաղաքական տարաձայնությունները լռեցնելու համար: Այն չափվում է երկրի այնպիսի հիմքով, որի սոցիալ-տնտեսական կառույցը հիմնված է մարդկանց արժանիքների, հնարավորությունների և առաջխաղացման, և ո՛չ թե ծանոթության կամ խնամիության վրա: Այն չափվում է քաղաքացիական հասարակության նկատմամբ ղեկավարության հարգանքով, և ո՛չ թե այդ հասարակությանը ղեկավարության շահերի համար ստրկացնելով: Անկախությունը շատ ավելի ազնիվ և գիտակցված ջանք է, քան պարզապես գոյատևումը:

Մենք շնորհավորում ենք Խորհրդային Միությունից Հայաստանի Հանրապետության
անկախության 26-րդ տարեդարձը: Մենք դեռ հիշում ենք այդ օրվա խոստումը:

Ավելին, մենք ուզում ենք որ հայ ժողովրդը հարատև ուժ ունենա կառուցելու քաղբանտարկյալներից զուրկ հայրենիք, մշտապես պահանջելու օրենքի, և ո՛չ թե անհատների վրա հիմնված կառավարություն, և երբեք չվախենալու մեր զավակներին սովորեցնել ո՛չ միայն գոյատևել, այլ հասնել իրական արժանապատիվ անկախության:

Շնորհավո՜ր:

ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION

12 Sep 2017

LAWYERS ARE “OFFICERS OF THE COURT” IRRESPECTIVE OF WHICH SIDE OF THE AISLE THEY CARRY OUT THEIR DUTIES: PROSECUTION OR DEFENSE, PLAINTIFF OR DEFENDANT — ԻՐԱՒԱԲԱՆՆԵՐԸ ԴԱՏԱՐԱՆԻ ՍՊԱՆԵՐ ԵՆ

The Armenian Rights Watch Committee (ARWC) of the Armenian Bar Association is greatly concerned by the intention to go on strike recently announced by a group of attorneys in Armenia. We find this a regrettable turn of events based on the facts as we understand them.

First, we note that courtroom security personnel throughout Armenia, tasked with the responsibility of keeping chambers of justice safe, have a number of appropriate tools at their disposal in undertaking their important duties.

That said, when confronting members of the bar at the gates of justice, it should be appreciated that lawyers are “officers of the court” irrespective of the side of the aisle from which they carry out their duties: prosecution or defense, plaintiff or defendant. The role of security personnel in courthouses is to promote respect for the administration of justice and uphold the respect that officers of the court and the court itself deserve. This role is a fundamental tenet of any modern, functioning justice system.

We understand, of course, that there should be reasonable safeguards to promote security. With respect to courtroom access, we do note that in most countries all persons entering courthouse facilities, along with all items carried by them, are subject to appropriate screening and search by security personnel. Certainly, persons may be requested to provide identification and to state the nature of their business in the courthouse. Anyone refusing to cooperate with these security measures is understandably denied entrance to the courthouse.

However, the ARWC cautions that the practices of police in courthouses across Armenia must be executed with access to justice in mind—and should be weary of overreaching under color of law. Security measures must respect an uninterrupted “right to counsel” of incarcerated citizens of Armenia who, of course, remain innocent until proven guilty. It is undeniable that, for attorneys to provide “effective assistance of counsel,” they often must move back and forth between the jails and the courts. To be fair, the onus to provide such facility to legal counsel—without unreasonable hindrance—falls squarely on the shoulders of law enforcement, whether courtroom security personnel and/or jailhouse staff.

The possibility of overplaying the security card is real, even where it may not be intentional: it is easy to understand how a lawyer may be hindered by security personnel who, while implementing courtroom security measures, unknowingly or unwittingly circumvent a litigant’s access to counsel and, in doing so, oppress justice. We think the time is ripe for relevant policies to be reviewed with serious consideration of this tenuous balance and, upon such assessment, clear direction be provided to all parties involved and engaged in the process.

This said, we are concerned about representations made by some of the lawyers who have declared an intention to go on strike. These attorneys, for some time now, have alleged that some of the criminal cases currently pending in Yerevan courthouses have become an excuse to clamp down on lawyers who are entering the courthouse and to subject them to unreasonably invasive searches.

Of course, the ARWC is concerned with any measure that constitutes an unreasonable search of lawyers as they enter a courthouse. To be clear, the protection of confidential client information and the fundamental nature of the attorney-client privilege is seriously compromised when courthouse security is given permission to rummage through attorneys’ case files, for example. There is an important, meaningful balance here—one which many societies governed by the rule of law have been able to embrace and implement in the modern era of heightened security risks. There is surely room to provide safety and protection in the judicial process while not trampling the very legal privileges and principles for which the judicial process stands. And, surely still, we are confident that such balance can be struck not only in Armenia’s legal code—but implemented at the doors of its courthouses and jails as well.

The ARWC remains concerned that the recent turn of events may paint a rather bleak picture: that there is a growing lack of respect for the role of the practicing bar in the justice system. We do hope that the impasse remains an isolated instance which can be addressed and remedied timely by the Chamber of Advocates of the Republic, comprised of well over 1800 Armenian lawyers. Certainly, should we be called upon, we stand ready to assist.

14 Jul 2017

THE SAGA OF AN AMERICAN CITIZEN ABROAD: ABANDONED BY JUSTICE IN ARMENIA?

The United States Constitution guarantees to American citizens certain inalienable rights. Foremost among these is the right of Americans to be “free and safe.”

These rights, the very bedrock of American ideals, do not end the moment an American citizen crosses the United States border to enter another land. In fact, the United States Department of State stipulates that it is charged with the responsibility of protecting and assisting United States citizens living or traveling abroad.

Garo Yegnukian is a United States citizen who for the past year has been held in an Armenian prison.

The Armenian Rights Watch Committee of the Armenian Bar Association (ARWC) is concerned at the reported lack of adequate measures being taken by the United States to protect and assist one of its own citizens — Mr. Yegnukian.

In 2009, driven by a passion to help the fledgling homeland of his Armenian heritage, Yegnukian and his family took up residence in Armenia. This move was both a dream and an aspiration to put his vast experience to use in Armenia and to use his entrepreneurial skills to create business opportunities.

In July 2016, when widespread protests were taking place in Armenia, Mr. Yegnukian, among others, was arrested in the aftermath of the peaceful demonstrations. Mr. Yegnukian was accused of what the Armenian government alleged was aiding and abetting militants who had taken over a Yerevan police compound.

The charges against Mr. Yegnukian stem from alleged telephone conversations he had with the Sasna Dzrer (Daredevils of Sassoon) attempting, according to him and his counsel, to de-escalate the crisis in a responsible manner, to prevent further police brutality and to protect lives. These endeavors, the political activism and his support of the protest movement are, it appears, what led him to prison.

The prosecution and court have joined Yegnukian’s case with 13 other defendants and the court has thus far denied 3 different motions to separate his case. With this bundled prosecution, Mr. Yegnukian’s trial will now be tied up for over many years. A request for bail, even for an unprecedented amount, was also denied without articulated reasons for his detention, pending a lengthy multi-defendant trial.

The ARWC hereby calls upon the US State Department and the US Embassy to fulfill their obligations and intervene more directly, proactively and more intently on behalf of its citizen, whose rights have been imperiled if not compromised, as it has done in other similar past cases*.

We call upon Armenia to respect rights protected by constitutional guarantees, freedom of assembly, peaceful protest and free expression. The right to a speedy trial and the dismissal of illegally-gathered evidence or politically-motivated charges are the hallmarks of a true democracy.

Local and foreign observers should attend and report on all pre-trial proceedings and the trial, and by their presence and subsequent reporting, encourage Armenia and the Armenian judiciary to treat fairly and justly US citizens and indeed all people, according to precepts of national and international law.

The ARWC continues to monitor this case and urges its membership and all freedom-loving and rights-respecting people to remain vigilant, to be engaged and rise in support of the human and civil rights of Garo Yegnukian, Esq.

Armenian Rights Watch Committee—ARWC
ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION

*
a) Afgan Mukhtarli https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2017/06/271551.htm
b) Aya Hijazi https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/us/politics/american-aid-worker-released-egypt-trump.html

06 Jul 2017

MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIRMAN

For nearly three decades now, the Armenian Bar Association has strived to fulfill the mission that was set for this organization by its founder, Raffi Hovannisian.

Our committees, through the outstanding leadership of their chairpersons, have worked tirelessly, united in our common cause to defend the rights of the Armenian people, help develop a rule of law society for Armenia, assist the Republic of Artsakh to achieve statehood, foster professional development of our members and guide our students to attain their goal of entering the ranks of the legal profession.

All of these objectives seamlessly came together during the weekend of June 9-10, 2017, when our Association met for its 28th Annual Meeting in the beauty that is the city of Huntington Beach, California.  (Click here to see a summary record of all the good things that happened that weekend.)

Following on the heels of our successful Annual Meeting, I look forward with great anticipation to the coming year for our organization.   I welcome and invite you to participate as the Armenian Bar Association sets new milestones in the 2017-2018 year.  Our year is starting off with a roaring start when, on July 19, we will be simultaneously hosting events on both coasts:  the Inaugural Launch of our NY/NJ/CT chapter committee with its first ever event in New Jersey at the Pilsener Haus and Biergarten located in Hoboken, and on the west coast our first ever joint event with the Italian American Lawyers Association, the Glendale, Pasadena and San Fernando Bar Associations at the always-fun and iconic Casa Italiana in Los Angeles.

Last year, our Mentorship Program, led by the tremendous will and work of Lucy Varpetian, Armen Hovannisian, and Aleksan Giragosian, without question was the greatest source of new members and served as an important bridge between our organization and students and new lawyers.  This year, Aleksan has taken over the helm of the Mentorship Program and this one of our organization’s rising stars is already hard at work matching our students with their volunteer mentors.

Our Armenian Rights Watch Committee, through the leadership of our dynamic duo of Garo Ghazarian and Karnig Kerkonian, have enabled us to rocket to international prominence as one of the leading – and sometimes only – voice on matters concerning the defense of Armenian rights.  They are battle-tested warriors of the Armenian Cause and they are being recognized as such globally for their work on issues of the rights of the disabled, the rights of women, political prisoners, and so much more.

Three years ago, we established the Armenian Genocide Reparations Committee, with the purpose of attaining restorative justice for the horrific wrongs committed against our ancestors. At its core, the committee is driven by the motivation that restitution for the great national dispossession of the Armenian people may be realized in courts of justice.  The AGRC is led by Armen K. Hovannisian, who notes that preparations are underway for the commencement of relevant legal actions.  It is anticipated that the first of these claims will be brought in the 2017-2018 term.

This year, we also look forward to holding a series of events in Chicago, Los Angeles and the East Coast, all designed to support the Armenian Bar Association’s scholarship programs and to recognize a legal educator of the year.  Through these events, I am confident that we will achieve the goal of making the Vicken I. Simonian Memorial Legal Scholarship an endowment which will guarantee in perpetuity that each year worthy Armenian students will be assisted with the tremendous cost of a legal education.

2017-2018 will also see the return of our most popular event, the Southern California Judge’s Night Dinner.   Presently, it is being planned for early November, 2017.  We are also planning to see the return of our successful 20 Under 40 event after the New Year.

At our Annual Meeting, our three-term former Chairwoman, Professor Ann Lousin, called on us to bring back the Newsletter.   This is the first edition of our revamped Newsletter and we hope you will find that it lives up to the high standards that our Chairman Emeritus, Vicken Simonian, had set.  I want to thank our veteran Editor, Armen K. Hovannisian, and all-dash purpose Board Member, Lucy Varpetian, for designing and publishing the new Newsletter.  We are introducing an online, easy-to-use format that we hope you will enjoy on a regular basis.

In closing, I want to thank my colleagues on the Board of Governors who bestowed upon me a professional and personal highlight by electing me to a second term as Chairman of the Board of Governors.    I look forward to working with my fellow board members shoulder-to-shoulder as we continue our efforts to achieve the mission of the Armenian Bar Association.  I know that each of them joins me in extending a welcome invitation to you to partake in the good work of our organization and attend our events throughout the year.

06 Jul 2017

Pro-Bono Alliance Links the Armenian Bar, Southwestern Law School’s ALSA and Neighborhood Legal Services

With the guidance and support of the Armenian Bar Association, the Armenian Law Students’ Association of Southwestern Law School (“ALSA”) has partnered with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (“NLSLA”) to provide pro bono services to indigent clients.  During the past year, the three organizations have met and conferred on several occasions to map out effective ways to meet the legal needs of the most vulnerable members of the community.  Brigitte Malatjalian, a third-year law student and leader at Southwestern, recognized the benefit of bridging the gap and offering this type of service in the Armenian Community and initiated the joint discussions with NLSLA.

On June 24, 2017, the first pilot clinic from this collaboration took place at the NLSLA Glendale branch. With the aim of expanding access to justice, the inaugural event focused on Expungement and Proposition 47 relief.  Volunteers – including ALSA members from Southwestern Law School, practicing attorneys including Armenian Bar members, and other community advocates – committed their respective synergies to complete several Expungement petitions.

Under the California Penal Code and Proposition 47, certain low-level, nonviolent felonies can be reclassified to misdemeanors on old criminal records or, alternatively, expunged entirely.  For many people, old criminal records that contain convictions for low-level, nonviolent crimes have created barriers to stability. Many find it difficult to secure jobs, housing, student loans and other opportunities for economic security and family stability.

Through the leadership of NLSLA supervising attorney, Kevin Reyes, participants engaged in a very smooth process where the clients were instructed to obtain their Court Dockets and DOJ Rap Sheets, then to call to make an appointment. In the meantime, NLSLA prepared folders for each anticipated client. On the day of the clinic, clients were checked in and welcomed into private rooms where they were assisted with the appropriate paperwork, including the preparation of motions, declarations, and next-step instructions.  Each consultation lasted more than an hour. Mr. Reyes stated, “As a result of all your hard work, we were able to help ten clients with 16 expungements. That’s ten people who are one step closer to breaking down the barriers they face to employment, housing, reunifying with their family, and restoring their civil rights. This work is helping people get a second chance at life and find employment that will allow them to better support themselves and their families.”

Future clinics are scheduled to take place the fourth Saturday of every month at the NLSLA Glendale location.   In order to promote these pro bono programs and to educate the public about the services being offered, ALSA and the Armenian Bar will access their contacts in the Armenian community, such as  English/Armenian newspapers, broadcast media, and various community centers, educational institutions, and churches.

Armenian Bar Association Student Affairs Committee Chairwoman, Lucy Varpetian, remarked, “The pilot clinic was successful in many immediate and impactful ways. Not only were clients provided with a second chance through the expungement program, but this clinic solidified ALSA’s, the Armenian Bar’s, and NLSLA’s alliance of public service to open and broaden the access to much-needed legal services in the Armenian community.”

For more information about the future clinics or for volunteer opportunities, please contact the Armenian Bar Association at ArmenianBar@ArmenianBar.org.

06 Jul 2017

STRONG TAILWINDS PROPEL ARMENIAN BAR’S 28TH ANNUAL MEETING IN IDYLLIC HUNTINGTON BEACH

The Armenian Bar Association celebrated its 28th year of service to the Armenian nation when its members congregated for the Annual Meeting in picturesque Huntington Beach, California on the weekend of June 9-11, 2017.

The gathering featured special guests of honor, California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Mr. Ruben Melikyan, the Ombudsman/Human Rights Defender for the Republic of Artsakh.  Organizing committee Chairwoman and Board member, Sara Bedirian, said in an interview at the start of the weekend’s activities:  “To have Justice Cuéllar address our members—and offer potential solutions—to the deepening divide which exacerbates the unequal access to justice is nothing short of a major milestone for the Armenian Bar.  And to have Mr. Melikyan present his views on the challenges facing the Armenians of Artsakh only strengthened our organization’s resolve to embrace and assist our brothers and sisters in the homeland.”

The annual event began with a meeting of the 17 members of the Board of Governors. Board members heard from veteran executive Gary Moomjian as he provided an update on the NY/NJ/CT Chapter committee’s activities. Treasurer Gerard Kassabian reported on the status of the organization’s finances and Student Affairs Committee Co-Chairwomen, Lucy Varpetian and Elizabeth Al-Dajani, presented on a proposed amendment to the by-laws to incorporate the National Armenian Law Students’ Association into the Armenian Bar Association and also addressed the groundbreaking work of the Mentor-Mentee Program.  Scholarship Committee Chairwoman Christine Engustian addressed the progress of the scholarship committee.

Following the Friday afternoon board meeting, members and guests enjoyed an outdoor/indoor gala reception in the beautiful Royal Tern Room at the Hyatt Regency.  Rev. Father Karekin Bedourian of Forty Martyrs Armenian Apostolic Church of Orange County offered an inspirational blessing and invocation, followed by welcoming remarks by Association Chairman Saro Kerkonian.  Guests partook in a deliciously abundant dinner and cocktails in the midst of a cool ocean breeze and an open view of the Pacific Ocean.

On Saturday, June 10, 2017, the meeting began with a comprehensive report from Karnig Kerkonian, Co-Chair of the Armenian Rights Watch Committee (ARWC).  Mr. Kerkonian explained that, with the leadership of Co-Chair Garo Ghazarian, “The ARWC is a grassroots initiative which identifies transgressions against fundamental rights and then acts promptly to protect and promote their positions in civil society.  Our mission is to stand and deliver a laser-like focus on human rights and civil rights violations in order to help ensure the enshrinement of a recognized and respected bill of rudimentary rights for our fellow citizens, both in Armenia and the Diaspora.”

Following Mr. Kerkonian’s presentation, newly-appointed Mentor-Mentee Program director, Aleksan Giragosian, spoke of the success of the program and its goals for the future.   The Mentor-Mentee report was followed by an update from Membership Committee Chairwoman Lucy Varpetian, who spoke of plans to enliven membership in the Armenian Bar Association and a report on the use of social media to promote communication with the organization’s membership.    Association Treasurer Gerard Kassabian acknowledged and thanked the meeting’s sponsors:  Mesrop Khoudagoulian, Tina Odjaghian, Golden State Bank, Judicate West, SillyBeez and Keush Ranch and gave the general assembly a breakdown of the Association’s budget and assets.

The final report came from Armen K.  Hovannisian, Chairman of the Armenian Genocide Reparations Committee (AGRC).  Mr. Hovannisian shared that the AGRC committee members have been exploring and honing in on definitive stratagems involving an array of legal theories to address Genocide-related civil wrongs.  Mr. Hovannisian stated “From our perspective, monetary settlements will bring only fleeting gratification to our cause and will do little to help heal our people’s open wounds.    Our aim is to secure verdicts in courts of law against the Republic of Turkey and those who have profited from the great national dispossession of the Armenian homeland.”

The meeting of the general membership then continued with the election and re-election of six board members, including:  Christine Engustian, Garo Ghazarian, Armen K. Hovannisian, Vanna Kitsinian, Gary Moomjian and Lucy Varpetian.  There was also unanimous approval of the amendment to the by-laws which will formalize the incorporation of the National Armenian Law Students Association as part of the Armenian Bar Association.  The National ALSA will be given a representative seat on the board of governors.

Professor Jessica Peake of the UCLA Promise Institute for Human Rights, which recently received a significant grant from the late Kirk Kerkorian’s philanthropic legacy, educated the guests about the purpose of the Institute and asked for the Armenian Bar Association and other community organizations to participate in the Institute’s work.

The business meeting was followed by the first legal education panel on the current situation in the Republic of Artsakh and the work of its Human Rights Defender, Mr. Ruben Melikyan.  In addition to Mr. Melikyan, the panel featured the expertise of Nora Hovsepian, the Chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of America–Western Region and Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney Amy Ashvanian and was moderated by Asbarez English Editor Ara Khatchatourian.  Together the panelists and moderator unveiled and explained the intricate and uplifting work of the Artsakh Human Rights Defender, the fallout from the Four Day War of April 2016, and the current situation facing the Armenians of Artsakh.

Then came the Grand Luncheon.  With the cadence and aplomb of a seasoned toastmaster, Karnig Kerkonian provided an entertaining and engaging introduction of his undergraduate roommate at Harvard University, the Honorable Justice of the California Supreme Court Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar. Canvasing the crowd with soft and humorous touches of nostalgia set in Harvard Yard, Mr. Kerkonian reflected on their college days when Tino was introduced by Karnig to Armenian dance, music and other aspects of the Armenian culture.  Mr. Kerkonian lightheartedly emphasized that Justice Cuéllar’s years since graduating from Harvard have been a quest in search of his “inner Armenian-ness.”  Justice Cuéllar thanked Mr. Kerkonian for the best introduction he has ever had and provided the guests with a compelling address on the subject of the California courts and how it is incumbent on them to ensure that it is a judicial system that provides equal and unfettered access to justice for all.

In the afternoon, Armenian Bar members were given an eye-opening opportunity to inform their knowledge and sharpen their skills with a frank and free-flowing exchange of perspectives from those who serve from behind the bench.  Featured on the judicial panel were three highly-respected California jurists, Judge Andre Manssourian, Judge Maria Daghlian-Hernandez and Judge Gassia Apkarian.  With artful and insightful interlocution, San Francisco-area star litigator Ara Jabagchourian served as moderator.

The Executive Committee of the Board of Governors was selected at a Board Meeting on Saturday afternoon, during which the following officers were installed: Saro Kerkonian–Chairman, Kathy Ossian–Vice-Chairwoman, Gerard Kassabian–Treasurer, Vanna Kitsinian—Secretary, and Harry Dikranian of Montreal remains as Chairman Ex-Officio.

The weekend’s activities concluded with a Saturday night dinner with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean at the popular BLK Earth Sea Spirits.

At the conclusion of the conference, Armenian Bar Vice-Chairwoman, Kathy Ossian of Detroit, stated “Following on the heels of our successful Annual Meeting, we look forward with great anticipation to the coming year for our organization.   We welcome you and invite you to participate as the Armenian Bar Association sets new milestones in the 2017-2018 year.”

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