05 Dec 2017

Message from the Chair

The Հայ Կամաւոր, the “Armenian volunteer,” is a figure rightfully revered through the annals of Armenian history and celebrated in our national songs and literature.

Whether on the plains of Avarayr, the shores of Lake Van, the juggernaut of Sardarabad or the cliffs of Shushi, the indelible spirit of the Armenian volunteer has been one of true service—service not for the sake of being liked, rewarded or acknowledged but an unshakable commitment to the idea that our people’s way of life, our culture, our faith and our right to live together as a community on our ancestral lands is a fundamental right worth risking life and treasure, even against seemingly insurmountable odds.

It is this spirit of the Armenian volunteer that propels members of the Armenian Bar Association from every segment of Armenian community and life to carry out the good work of Armenian Bar.  Whether it is providing scholarships to worthy students who have demonstrated service to the community or the establishment of a pro bono legal clinic in Stepanakert or our singular voice advocating for basic due process of an accused in Armenia, the work of the Armenian Bar Association is accomplished by nothing less than the committed, tireless efforts of our volunteer attorneys, professors, judges and law students.  These are volunteers who fiercely believe in defending the rights of Armenians everywhere and in taking those meaningful steps that will assist Armenia and Artsakh in developing a civil society governed by the rule of law in order to enhance the strength of our nation and people.

In fact, it is this very spirit that draws the Armenian Bar Association to Armenia and to Artsakh this May 2018.  There, we will gather to remember and celebrate, with our brothers and sisters, the victories and heroism of the Armenian Volunteer, at an Annual Meeting that promises to again imprint the work of this Association into the history of our people.

To be clear, it is this volunteer spirit that has been building tremendous momentum for our organization in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut region where our members are holding joint events with sister Armenian organizations such as the Armenians In Banking and Finance.  It is this volunteer spirit that has motivated our organization to create a Young Lawyers Committee dedicated to serving the needs of the hundreds of young Armenian members of the bar across the nation so that they, too, can thrive and professionally develop and, in turn, leverage their own knowledge and expertise to serve the needs of our community for decades to come.

And it is this Armenian volunteer spirit that enabled our members to assemble with over 50 members of the California judiciary at a sold-out Annual Judges’ Night event in Glendale, California to honor Judge Victor Chavez, Judge Huey Cotton and Judge Holly Fujie for their commitment to advancing the cause of inclusion, diversity and the independence of the California and Federal Judiciary.

Our work—actually, the inspiring work of our members on behalf of our Armenian Bar Association—is sheer inspiration and purpose.  We acknowledge and hold in the highest regard the very fact that, in pursuit of its defense of the rights of the Armenian people and the Armenian Cause, time and again, it is the Armenian volunteer who has risen to the challenge.  The Armenian Bar Member is indeed a true Hye Gamavor.

And the value of our work is literally sewn into the fabric of our people’s history.  The flags of two of the largest, historic Armenian political parties brandish not only the sword—but also the pen.  We, the members of the Armenian Bar Association, recognize the importance of that pen and, since our very founding, have toiled proudly and commitedly to writing the story of justice, of fairness and of rights into the hearts, minds and future of the Armenian people.  With pen in hand, and our return to the Homeland on our horizon, we stand unwaveringly united with the Armenian people—and we push forward.

We push forward with the continued commitment that—with all of our collective strength and without rest—we will volunteer the service of our legal expertise, our assembled resources and the unrelenting spirit of our unbreakable Armenian Gamavor to the pursuit of the Armenian Cause, to the security of the Armenian people and, of course, to the promise of justice that is the very root of our Armenian story.

05 Dec 2017

Armenian Bar Starts Thanksgiving Week Early with Spectacular Judges’ Night Gala

On November 16, 2017, members and friends of the Armenian Bar Association gathered at the landmark Glen Arden Club in Glendale, California to celebrate and honor the best of California’s judiciary during the Annual Judges’ Night Dinner.  Nearly 50 judges of the state and federal court systems turned out to rejoice as three prominent jurists of the Los Angeles Superior Court were honored—Judges Victor Chavez, Holly Fujie and Huey Cotton.

The Annual Judges’ Night has fast become the Association’s signature celebration, drawing hundreds of attendees from all walks of the legal profession in the most convivial and interactive of atmospheres.  The Association honors those jurists who have distinguished themselves beyond the laudable lines of high intellect, efficiency and consistency.  The Armenian Bar singles out for distinction those who have opened broadly the public’s access to justice, advanced the precepts of the rule of law, incorporated compassion into the fabric of their characters, and guided others in profession and in life.

“We are fortunate to have so many distinguished members of the California judiciary join us this evening.  We thank them for their devoted public service,” said Mistress of Ceremonies, Vanna Kitsinian, member of the Executive Board of Governors of the Armenian Bar Association.

The evening began with a high-octane reception where guests networked and socialized before advancing into the grand ballroom for dinner and presentation of the awards. There, solo artist Toukhman Khachatourian began the program with a stirring rendition of the national anthems of the United States of America and Armenia. Next, Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, Prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, delivered an inspiring invocation and asked for the Lord’s  blessings to confer on the judges the strength and wisdom to carry on their good work.  The Archbishop’s invocation was followed by a dinner of delicious Armenian cuisine.

Chairman of the Board, Saro Kerkonian, assumed the podium amidst great fanfare and thanked the honorary guests and their fellow judges for their outstanding contributions in furtherance of the independence of the judicial branch of government. Mr.  Kerkonian paid eloquent homage to the judges’ professional examples of instilling in the public the trust that California’s courts are bastions where the rule of law reigns supreme.  With flags of country, state and organization adorning the stage in the background, he offered reflections into the work of the Association as it relates to the United States, Armenia, the Artsakh Republic and the State of California.

Board member and Association Treasurer Gerard Kassabian introduced the first honoree, Judge Victor Chavez.  Mr. Kassabian greeted the guests with a “hello and welcome” in ten different languages and spoke of the 30-year career of Judge Chavez on the bench.  In a moving tribute, Mr. Kassabian endearingly Armenianized Judge Chavez’s name by adding an “ian” to the end and presented him with a beautiful photograph of the honoree, daughter California Appellate Justice Victoria Chavez and Governor George Deukmejian, on the occasion of Judge Chavez’s swearing-in to the bench by his daughter.  Judge Chavez fondly recalled as a child how his mother read to him the famed book by Franz Werfel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, recalling the heroic self-defense of the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.  He explained how the book left a lasting impression on his life.

The next honoree was former California State Bar President, Judge Holly Fujie.  Judge Fujie was introduced by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Amy Ashvanian.  Ms. Ashvanian shared with the audience the tremendous career Judge Fujie has had and the countless bar activities she has initiated and led.  Judge Fujie congratulated the Armenian Bar Association on its work in the field of mentorship and judicial evaluations.  She urged collaboration between the Armenian Bar and the California State Bar with respect to their respective mentorship programs.

The third honoree of the evening was Supervising Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, Northwest District, Judge Huey Cotton.  He was introduced by noted criminal defense attorney and member of the Armenian Bar’s Judicial Evaluations Committee, Alexandra Kazarian.  Ms. Kazarian praised the evening’s final honoree for his leadership on the bench, his activism and his compassion for litigants and young and learning lawyers.  Judge Cotton passionately told inspiring stories of Armenians in his life and courtroom.

Judges Chavez, Fujie and Cotton were each presented with a beautiful work of classical art prepared by renowned artist Seroon Yeretsian, each with an original inscription of praise and honor.  The program concluded with a moving benediction by Reverend Father Vazken Movsesian of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.

Following the official program, many stayed on and maintained the high-energy levels that lasted throughout the night.  Valerie Dean, co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association, called the evening “One of the best, diverse, Judges’ Nights I have ever been to.”

“We are thrilled we could once again showcase the great talent, intellect and diversity that is the strength of the California Judicial System at our annual Judges’ Night,” said the the Association’s Judicial Evaluations Committee Co-Chair Lucy Varpetian.  “We look forward to continuing this tradition for years to come,” said Garo Ghazarian, organizing committee chair and former two-term chairman of the Armenian Bar Association.

Judges’ Night 2017

30 Nov 2017

Washington, D.C. Midyear Meeting A Success

Historic Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., was the setting as members and guests of the Armenian Bar Association gathered for its 2017 Mid-Year meeting. The event featured an outstanding blend of keynote speakers, continuing legal education by top scholars in the field of reparations law and social justice and fun-filled professional development and networking opportunities.

“We were thrilled to see such a great turnout of members and guests to the conference that far exceeded our expectations,” said Armen Hovannisian, three-term chairman and lead organizer of the weekend’s events.

The festivities began on Friday, October 13, as the Board of Governors held their Mid-Year meeting. Several important matters were disussed including the adoption of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Armenian Bar Association, Artsakh University and Yerevan State University to establish an Armenian Bar Association legal clinic in Stepanagerd. In addition, the Board discussed the implementation of the newly-created Young Lawyers Committee for lawyers under 5 years of practice or 40 years of age. Furthermore, the board members unanimously approved that the 2018 Annual Meeting shall be held in Yerevan and Stepanagerd in conjunction with the celebrations taking place in Armenia and Artsakh to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the independence of the First Republic of Armenia in 1918.

“The board of governor members are excited to embark on these important initiatives for Armenia and Artsakh in pursuit of our organizational mjssion as well as support the legal careers of our young lawyer members which are a vital part of our organization, said Garo Ghazarian, two-term chairman and co-chairman of the Armenian Rights Watch Committee.

On Friday evening, members gathered at The Marvin, an iconic restaurant in the heart of Washington where the young Marvin Gaye, the gifted American singer often performed early in his career. Members were welcomed by organizing committee member Jacob Bournazian and Chairman Saro Kerkonian and everyone enjoyed a scrscrumptious dinner together.

On Saturday, October 14, the conference continued at the hallowed halls of Howard University School of Law, where US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall received his legal education. The conference featured an address by Richard Hartunian, the immediate past United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York. Mr. Hartunian, a third generation Armenian-American from Albany, New York and current partner at Manatt Phelps presented the audience with some intriguing insight into his experience at the US Attorney’s office.

Mr. Hartunian’s speech was followed by a panel on social and restorative justice moderated by Armenian Rights Watch Committee co-chair, Karnig Kerkonian. Mr. Kerkonian assembled a phenomenal panel which brought together Professor Darin Johnson of Howard University School of Law and attorney Dan Lewerenz, counsel at the Native American Rights Fund and former attorney at the Department of the Interior.

Mr. Kerkonian, who holds a post-doctoral diploma in international law from Cambridge University decisively set the tone for the panel by describing the trauma that consumes the Armenian nation following the Genocide and how reparations is a necessary pursuit to achieve social justice for the immense wrongs wrought upon the Armenians.

Professor Johnson presented a comprehensive analysis of the concept of restorative justice in the context of the African-American experience during and following slavery and drew relevant parallells to the crimes against humanity endured by the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide. He also provided guests with an eye-opening review of some of the significant cases iinvolving the quest for reparations for the wrongs suffered by African-Americans with the hope that these cases could provide examples that could be used in Armenian genocide related cases.

Mr. Johnson’s presentation was followed by an equally thought-provoking presentation by Dan Lewerenz, who drew on his experience in the field of the legal rights of native Americans. Mr. Lewerenz desribed various treaties which concern native Americans and some of the successes native Americans have achieved in courts of Law and through negotiations in the political process.

Both panelists fielded several questions from the guests at the conclusion of the presentation.

“It was a tremendous privilege to have Professor Johnson and Mr. Lewerenz grace our stage. Their scholarship and extensive experience as litigators in reparation cases provided valuable information which we intend to invoke as we seek to recover for the tremendous losses suffered during the Armenian Genocide,” said Mr. Kerkonian following the lecture.

 

Following the panel, guests were treated to two very special keynote speakers, His Excellency and Ambassador Plenipotentiary for the Republic of Armenia to the United States Grigor Hovhannissian and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Artsakh to the United States of America, Robert Avetisyan.

Ambassador Hovhannissian was introduced by Armenian Bar Association Tresurer, Gerard Kassabian who fondly recalled witnessing the Ambassador receiving his certification in Havana, Cuba when he became Ambassador to that nation as well as Mexico and several Central American countries. He also beautifully described Ambassador Hovhannissian’s diplomatic service as Consul General in Los Angeles, where the largest diasporan community of Armenians resides.

Ambassador Hovhannissian’s remarks were highlighted by a review of the present status in relations between the United States and Armenia. He mentioned that the relationship has now transitioned “from that of aid to one of trade.” In this regard, Ambassador Hovhannisaian explained that trade and economic treaties will be negotiated and invited the Armenian Bar Association to offer the expertise of its members to participate in the drafting of these treaties. Ambassador Hovhannissian also acknowledged the work of the Armenian Rights Watch Committee in issuing constructively critical statements on current issues facing the Republic. He said this is far more preferable to the alternative of staying silent.

Following Ambassador Hovhannisian’s remarks, Armenian Rights Watch Committee Co-Chair and two-term Chairman, Garo Ghazarian, introduced Permanent Representative Avetisyan. Mr. Ghazarian eloquently informed the audience of the great importance of Artsakh. He stated “Artsakh is to Hayastan and us, what Hayastan is to the Diaspora.” Mr. Ghazarian then described how Artsakh is a critical aspect of the Armenian Bar Association’s mission. He pronounced the decision of the board to adopt the memorandum of understanding to establish an Armenian Bar Association Legal Clinic in Stepanagerd. He praised Mr.Avetisyan for his devoted public service to the people of Artsakh and righteously called on everyone to no longer address Represetative Avetisyan as Permanent Representative, but rather as Ambassador.

Ambassador Avetisyan gave an outstanding and concise review of the history of Artsakh from ancient to modern times showing how the region has been nearly exclusively populated and governed by indigenous Armenians for millenia. He described the importance of Artsakh statehood being recognized in the international community and offered a persuasive legal analysis how that statehood exists for Artsakh under international law. He stressed that maintaining security is the top priority of the Artsakh government and that the Artsakh Army is strong.

“It was a great honor having the two esteemed diplomats of Armenia and Artsakh participate in our conference. We look forward to continuing our dialogue and work with Armenia and Artsakh,” said Garo Ghazarian, following the luncheon.

Immediately following the luncheon, guests were invited to a private screening of the critically-acclaimed doxumentary, Architects of Denial. With the permission of executive producer and fellow Armenian, David McKenzie, Garo Ghazarian introduced the film by reading a moving letter written by survivor of the Armenian Genocide to the grandchildren he had not met yet, one of whom, Armenian Bar member Meline Mkertchian, was in attendance at the conference. Mr. Ghazarian also introduced attorney Levon Grigorian from Spain. Mr. Grigorian is a survivor of the Baku pogroms against the Armenians in 1991. He gave a moving statement urging that the Genocide is not over, but that it is continuing through acts of aggression against Artsakh and the pograms in Sumgait and Baku.

The film Architects of Denial is a compelling documentary tying the Armenian Genocide and it’s denial to other modern acts of Genocide, from the Holocaust to Darfur, and persuasively showing how genocide denied is genocide continued. The film also links the Genocide of 1915 to the current conflict and human rights abuses in Artsakh.

The weekend was topped with a celebration of the 2999th anniversary of the City of Yerevan/Erebuni at the Armenian Embassy hosted by Ambassador Hovhannissian and the gracious Embassy staff.

“We were absolutely thrilled at the success of our Mid-Year Meeting” said Student Affairs Committee Chairwoman Lucy Varpetian. “It has inspired us to accomplish more than ever before in pursuit of the Armenian Cause and the protection of the civil and human rights of Armenians everywhere.”

 

Midyear Meeting 2017: Washington, D.C.

30 Nov 2017

ArmenBar Launches Pro Bono Clinic in Artsakh

On November 1, 2017, in the capital city of Stepanagert in the Artsakh Republic, the Armenian Bar Association in conjunction with Yerevan State University (YSU) and Artsakh State University (ArSU), teamed together to open the first of its kind, pro-bono legal clinic.

The establishment of the clinic came about through a memorandum of understanding developed by two-term Armenian Bar Chairman, Garo Ghazarian, Artsakh Human Rights Defender, Ombudsman, and Armenian Bar Association member, Ruben Melikyan, and representatives of YSU and ArSU, during Mr. Ghazarian’s recent trip to Artsakh in July of 2017.

“This pro-bono legal clinic brings much needed legal services to an underserved segment of Artsakh society.  We are thrilled that the Armenian Bar Association is a partner in this unique endeavor which seeks to better the lives of Artsakh citizens by promoting access to justice,” said Mr. Ghazarian in an interview following the grand opening of the event.

The clinic will primarily assist participants with legal questions in the field of administrative law, providing citizens with information to navigate through government, such as licensing, permits and regulatory compliance.   At its Mid-Year meeting in Washington, D.C., the Armenian Bar Association, upon the motion of Mr. Ghazarian, unanimously decided to approve both the provision of technical expertise as well as provide the monetary funds necessary  for the legal office to run efficiently.

At the ceremony celebrating the grand opening of the clinic,  Mr. Melikyan emphasized that, “This pro-bono clinic brings a constructive benefit to the citizens of Artsakh as well as providing an environment where Armenian law students and young lawyers can provide a vital public service to the community.”  The Armenian Bar Association will also be funding a six week internship program for Armenian law students from the United States to serve at the clinic in Artsakh.  “The pro-bono Legal Clinic and the Internship Program will be a win-win for all those involved, the citizen-participants, the law students and lawyers,” stated Lucy Varpetian, the Bar Association’s Chair of Student Affairs Committee.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to continue to be of service to our brothers and sisters in the Republic of Artsakh,” stated Saro Kerkonian, Chairman of the Armenian Bar Association.

“The Armenian Bar Association will continue to strive to take every necessary step to defend the right of self-determination of the Armenians of Artsakh fulfilling the promise of a free and independent Armenian Nation.  Building a stronger Artsakh is a critical step towards realizing that sacred promise.  It is our duty to our forefathers and to future generations of Armenians,” concluded Armen Hovannisian, founding member and three-term Chairman of the Armenian Bar Association.

27 Oct 2017

Women Leaders Of The Armenian Bar Board of Governors Support Domestic Violence Bill In Armenia

In 1915, the generation of our great-grandmothers was taken against their will as young girls, forcibly becoming child brides and sexual chattel of the enemy men.   So began the girls’ lifetimes of battery and bondage at the whim of the dirty hands and wanton bodies of the shameless perpetrator.  And now, in 2017, in our own homeland, a most disconcerting discussion is taking place in the context of the Republic of Armenia’s consideration of long-overdue legislation which would penalize the crime of domestic violence.  This is not the first time that the Armenian Bar Association has stood up for the rights and dignity of the women and girls of Armenia.[https://armenianbar.org/2016/10/26/arwc-urges-passage-of-domestic-violence-laws-in-armenia/]

In a twisted tangle of logic, public opposition to the proposed bill is bubbling up from a not-insignificant number of vocal female apologists who have derided the legislative initiative as a threat to traditional Armenian family values and as an attack on the cohesiveness of the time-honored family unit. They claim that the ruinous wrongs of their offending men should be relativized because prosecuting them would lead to the displacement of their children from the family hearth. They say that we should stay out of their business and keep our opinions to ourselves.

We say voch to the perpetuation of the vicious dehumanization of the Armenian woman, especially when the monstrous brutality is inflicted by members of the same family–father on daughter, husband on wife, uncle on niece.  Simply put, get off of our mothers, get off of our sisters, and get off of our daughters.  Enough is enough.

It is that we hold our families in the highest regard that the Armenian woman sacrificed and sometimes survived the death marches into the desert during the Genocide.  It is that we hold our families in the highest regard that we found temporary shelter in Europe and the Middle East only to repatriate to our homeland after World War II in order to instill and uplift our nation’s values.  It is in that same regard for family that we will not stand idly by and allow our children to learn violence from their fathers, or to live in an environment where beatings of their mothers are commonplace.

There is no room for criminal violence in an Armenian household—or any household– and, for this, we rise with our sisters, here, in Hayastan, and everywhere to demand that the National Assembly adopt legislation that protects the safety and security of the Armenian family.

24 Oct 2017

Gayane Khechoomian Appointed as Director of Operations

LOS ANGELES, CA – With great up-side implications, the Armenian Bar Association has announced the appointment of Los Angeles-based-attorney Gayane Khechoomian as its new Director of Operations. Gayane will occupy and build out the ground floor of the Association’s day-to-day administrative functions, lending support and spirit to the various standing committees in order to facilitate organizational activities and community events.

Chairman of the Board, Saro Kerkonian, offered the following observation about the recent appointment:  “Gayane comes to us fully-conscious of the critical issues facing our community, fully-committed to enhancing the relationships among our members and drawing in new ones, fully-devoted to endowing the Association’s future with passion and purpose, and fully-equipped with the tools to make all of that happen.”

 

The Director of Operations will tap into the multiple, positive platforms of the Armenian Bar Association, working closely with the Board of Governors and the nearly-dozen committees led by the nationwide membership’s attorneys and students. Each and every year for nearly 30 years, the organization has hosted a continuing series of timely and interesting programs as part of its advocacy of issues which stand at the crux of the Armenian cause.   Importantly, the Association fosters the exchange of ideas and communications among attorneys, judges and law students in different stages of their careers, in different parts of the world, including the Diaspora and the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh.

 

Gayane will assume the directorial role while continuing to serve as a volunteer coach in the Armenian Bar Association’s Mock Trial Program, which partners with Armenian secondary schools in the Los Angeles County area in a broad inter-scholastic moot court competition under the auspices of the Constitutional Rights Foundation. She has held the role of President of her alma mater’s Armenian Law Students Association and has chaired numerous non-profit organizations during her law school and undergraduate studies. 

 

“I am deeply honored for the opportunity to work with the Armenian legal community and look forward to serve the Armenian Bar Association in fulfilling our mission,” remarked Gayane, who graduated from Loyola Law School in 2013 with a concentration in international law.

 

Before joining the Armenian Bar Association, Gayane clerked at the United Nations criminal tribunal prosecuting genocide and crimes against humanity in Cambodia and working on an international case filed in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She has a background in civil litigation and experience working with start-ups and small businesses.  Prior to her legal career, Gayane worked as editor of Yerevan Magazine, and founded the student-run publication, Armenian Chronicles, based out of UCLA, where she also obtained her bachelor’s degree in History and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.