The Armenian Bar Association and the National Armenian Law Students Association have added another important dimension to their public outreach and pro bono platforms. This time, on February 3, 2018, volunteer lawyers and students will provide an opportunity for a segment of the Armenian community to pursue reducing and erasing their non-violent and non-serious criminal records.
Entitled “New Beginnings: A Guide to Clearing Criminal Records,” the February 3rd free clinic is designed to serve an often-overlooked and routinely-shunned section of the community. Some individuals who are stigmatized by their seemingly permanent and encumbering criminal records will be given a fresh chance to regain control over their lives, opening the way to potential qualification for housing, employment, residency, and public benefits. Although Proposition 47 and Expungements are offered county-wide by other groups, this initiative is focused on reaching Armenians in a less-intimidating setting with bilingual staff.
Proposition 47 was passed by California voters in 2014. The law not only reclassified certain low-level felonies as a misdemeanor, but it gave qualified candidates the ability to revisit their old criminal convictions and petition for resentencing. Low-level crimes include certain theft and drug possession offenses. Some benefits of reducing felonies to misdemeanors include aiding in the immigration process, pursuing higher education, and the ability to seek meaningful employment.
An expungement, on the other hand, is a more traditional and absolute type of remedy, resulting in the ultimate dismissal of a prior conviction. California’s expungement law permits qualified candidates convicted of a crime to file a petition for dismissal. The process includes re-opening the case, setting aside the plea, and ultimately dismissing the case “in the interests of justice.” Qualifying candidates cannot currently be on probation, parole, or facing new charges. The benefits align with Proposition 47 – but expungements do more than just reclassify convictions: they wipe clean a successful applicant’s criminal record.
The clinic is scheduled to take place on February 3rd at the Glendale Adult Recreation Center – 201 E. Colorado St., Glendale, CA 91205. Individuals are required to: (1) call 818-937-3152 or email ArmenianClinic@gmail.com to schedule an appointment and (2) obtain a copy of their court docket from an L.A. County courthouse. Attorney and law student volunteers will screen the client for qualification purposes and assist with the numerous court documents necessary to perform either Proposition 47 or Expungement relief.
Sitting here at the computer in the deep hours of night, with the work day done and my children tucked warmly into bed, I hear the echoes of the prophetic words of the great Armenian poet and patriot Yeghishe Charents:
“Oh, Armenian people, your only salvation lies in the power of your unity.”
He wrote that hidden, visionary message while enduring the consequences of his idealism as a victim of Stalin’s repressive purges in Soviet Armenia in the 1930’s. And how telling were those words when they rang true in 1975, in and around the Bourj Hamoud district of Beirut, Lebanon! The harmonious mosaic of people, cultures and religions that made up this city endearingly dubbed, “The Paris of the Middle East,” was fracturing at all its seams, plunging this tiny nation-state, head-first, into a 15 year anarchic crisis, which saw disputes among neighbors no longer resolved by the rule of law, but rather at the unforgiving end of a Kalashnikov.
Having found a welcoming haven in idyllic Lebanon from the cataclysm of the Armenian Genocide 60 years earlier, by 1975, the Armenian community of Lebanon became the largest center of diasporan Armenian life, where our cultural and political institutions thrived, our people prospered, and our future looked promising.
Then, as if plagued by a Sisyphean destiny, in 1975, the Armenians of the Bourj Hamoud district of Beirut, Lebanon faced yet another defining moment. Surrounded and pressured by a multitude of factions which were supported by outside powers who had the destruction of Lebanon in mind, the leadership of the Armenian community of Lebanon had an existential choice in front of it. Does the Armenian community take sides in this destructive campaign that surely has no victory in store for the Lebanese? Or, do we lay down our historic differences, band together in solidarity, remain neutral, and pledge to each other that our collective well-being as Armenians, as Lebanese-Armenians, will be paramount against all else?
Possibly guided by the teaching of some of our heroic leaders from the First Republic of Armenia who made Lebanon their home, such as Simon Vratsian and Levon Shant, and possibly heeding the glorious words of Yeghishe Charents, the leadership of the Tashnagtstyoun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation-ARF), the Ramgavars (Armenian Liberal Democratic Party) and the Hnchakians (Armenian Social Democratic Hnchakian Party) came together and chose the path of unity, a collective self-defense of their lives, rights and property. In so doing, the words of Charents rang prophetic, as this unified Armenian effort was the salvation for our community.
As if a prelude to the acts of self-determination that were to come in about 15 years in Armenia and Artsakh, the Armenian community of Lebanon in 1975 and the years that followed was a beacon of self-governance in a sea of lawlessness: where a commonality of purpose, of self-preservation, took its rightful precedence over political and religious differences.
We, at the Armenian Bar Association, take example from this era in recent Armenian history. Some of our leaders and members participated in the self-defense of the Armenian community of Lebanon. We, as an organization, take pride in being a truly independent, all-encompassing, all-inclusive organization. Every segment and dimension of the Armenian community is represented among the ranks of our membership. We believe that this unity of Armenian community is the very essence of our strength.
As we begin 2018, we look forward to a new year that will continue to emphasize the unified pursuit of the Armenian Cause, the defense of the rights of all Armenians, anywhere and everywhere, regardless of their religious, political or social background. Through our Armenian Rights Watch Committee, we have already spoken out against the abhorrent use of anti-Armenian racial epithets as the butt of a crude joke on national television. Our Armenian Genocide Reparations Committee is engaged in efforts designed to restore the rights of all Armenians in their historic homeland. In addition, we have a robust agenda of events and activities to promote Artsakh’s statehood and provide legal assistance to its citizens, to help the elderly here in the United States, to assist Armenian law students through scholarships, mentoring and judicial clerkships, to honor our legal educators and to foster the professional development of our membership. Here is a list of just a few of our upcoming activities that we have planned:
February 3, 2018, the Armenian Bar Association and the National Armenian Law Students Association are hosting a pro-bono clinic aimed at helping non-violent, non-serious offenders clear their criminal records. The clinic will be held at the Glendale Adult Recreation Center, 201 E. Colorado St., Glendale, CA 91205
February 8, 2018, 10:30 a.m., the Armenian Bar Association and the City of Glendale have partnered to present this second installment of a two-part public forum on the Early Warning Signs of Elder Abuse and Financial Scams. The forum will be presented in English by LA Deputy District Attorney and ArmenBar member, Amy Ashvanian. It will take place at the Sparr Heights Community Center, 1613 Glencoe Way, Glendale, CA 91208.
February 12, 2018, Armenian Bar Association’s Internship Program with the Artsakh Ombudsman’s. Applications must be filed by this date.
February 24, 2018, 9:00 a.m., Southwestern University School of Law, 7th Annual Networking and Information Event where many of our members will give insights into their practice areas and offer advice to aspiring students. This event is co-sponsored by the Armenian Bar Association.
March 3, 2018, 11:00 a.m., Brookside Golf Course, Pasadena, CA–Vicken Ishkhan Simonian Memorial Legal Scholarship Golf Event. All proceeds to go to the Armenian Bar’s general scholarship fund which is named after our dearly-departed former chairman and best friend, Vicken Simonian.
March 5, 2018, Southwestern University School of Law, Southwestern University’s Armenian Law Students Association and Southwestern University are holding a career development day. Active Armenian Bar Members Raffi Zerounian and Chris Saffarian will be speaking.
March 29, 2018, Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA—The Armenian Bar Association joins with the Arab-American Bar Association, the Eastern European Bar Association and the Iranian American Lawyers Association for Continuing Legal Education presentations and a grand soiree for networking and professional development.
April 7, 2018, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Chicago, Illinois, Vicken Ishkhan Simonian Memorial Legal Scholarship Reception and Fundraising Event. Event will be held at the Oscar Isberian Rug Gallery in the historic core of downtown Chicago.
April 15, 2018, Armenian Bar Association Scholarship Programs applicants must file their applications by this date.
April 21, 2018, 2:00 p.m., United Armenian Council of Los Angeles, 103rd Armenian Genocide Commemoration + 50th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Armenian Martyrs Monument, Armenian Martyrs Monument, Bicknell Park Montebello.
April 22, 2018, Times Square, New York, 103rd Armenian Genocide Commemoration.
April 24, 2018, Pan Pacific Park and Turkish Consulate, Los Angeles, Armenian Genocide Committee (AGC), 103rd Armenian Genocide Commemoration. March and Rally for Justice.
May 21-30, 2018, Annual Meeting, Artsakh and Armenia.
For more information and to register for these events, you may visit our website at www.armenianbar.org or our Facebook page.
On behalf of the Board of Governors of the Armenian Bar Association, I wish you a Happy New Year and welcome your participation in the activities of our organization as we strive, in solidarity of purpose and determination, to fulfill the mission of the Armenian Bar Association.
January 9, 2018
After 1.5 million Armenians were murdered and hundreds of thousands of women and children were wasting away without food or water, unprecedented humanitarian relief efforts in the United States provided aid and sustenance to the survivors of the Armenian Genocide. It was not uncommon in those days to hear and even read in print the term “Starving Armenians” as a description of the physical condition of those who had miraculously escaped the Turkish atrocities.
And now, one hundred years after the Genocide and despite the welcome development of generations of enlightened people all around the world, the Daily Show and its Trevor Noah yesterday [see link below] turned back the clock to a dark age when such reprehensible racial epithets as “Dirty Jew” and “Lazy Ni**er” were shamefully uttered, even if in hushed tones. It unnerves and unsettles us deeply to regurgitate these despicable words, even if by way of comparison. They sicken us.
We do so only to illustrate the Daily Show’s and Trevor Noah’s cruel, crass, and callous stunt by referring to Armenians as “Filthy Armenians.” Mr. Noah would never have dared describe Jewish or Black Americans in such despicable and vile ways. Had he done so, Mr. Noah would now be looking for a new job and groaning under the weight of creditable and crushing lawsuits.
While the reproachful reference to Armenians may have been intended to coax a laugh from the audience by ridiculing President Trump’s self-proclaimed genius and tolerance, the Armenian Rights Watch Committee of the Armenian Bar Association condemns such affront and slander. To make matters worse, the Daily Show thought it would be neat to add a chirpy laugh track to accompany the scandalous expression.
The Daily Show and Trevor Noah would be wise to issue a retraction and an apology. It would be a good start but not nearly enough to unring the bell of hatred and insensitivity which tolled terribly last night.
The following is the Armenian Bar Association’s Letter to The Daily Show:
ARMENIAN RIGHTS WATCH COMMITTEE
ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION
In late 2017, the administration of a prominent Los Angeles-area Armenian high school alerted the public that a group of youths, pretending to be students from the school, had entered apartment buildings and approached homes with the intent to target and swindle the elderly. These young impostors claimed to be Armenian school students and concocted a scheme of abject dishonesty in which they fabricated a sales pitch that they were collecting much-need funds for the betterment of their school library.
Understandably, many elderly Armenians responded to what they believed to be genuine calls for financial assistance and handed over their money for what they thought was a good cause. To help bring these deceitful acts to an end, the Armenian Bar Association moved swiftly and contacted Onnig Bulanikian, Director of the City of Glendale’s Community Services and Parks Department. The Armenian Bar proposed partnering with the Department’s Senior Services Division to present to the senior-citizen community a series of “Know Your Rights” lectures so that they may be made aware of and in a better position to protect themselves from such and other deplorable attempts of abuse.
“The elderly members in our community are an especially vulnerable segment of the population who, unfortunately, sometimes find themselves to be the victims of abuse and financial scams designed to take advantage of them,” said Saro Kerkonian, Chairman of the Board of the Armenian Bar Association. “Working with Glendale city officials, we identified the areas of greatest need and developed a program to educate the elderly and their caretakers to heighten awareness of the issues and take steps which will protect them from falling prey to the unscrupulous who seek to take advantage of our senior citizens,” added Lucy Varpetian, Armenian Bar Association Member and Senior Assistant City Attorney for the City of Glendale.
To accomplish the goals of the partnership, two primary objectives were set into place: First, the City of Glendale’s Community Services and Parks Department translated into Armenian a detailed informational brochure, which explains the various forms of abuse that the elderly can be subjugated to, provides tested methods which the elderly can implement to avoid becoming victims of abuse, and also provides references to social service agencies which can assist once an act or acts of abuse take place. The brochure will be disseminated throughout the City of Glendale, at locations such as the public social service centers, libraries, City Hall, and other similar public-gathering venues.
The second manner in which the elderly will be served through this program is by way of public forums where noted experts in the field will speak about the subject of elder abuse and financial scams directed at the elderly. The first two presentations will be taking place on January 17, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. at the Adult Recreation Center located at 201 E. Colorado St., Glendale, CA 91205 (presented in Armenian). The second lecture which will be presented in English will be held on February 8, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. at the Sparr Heights Community Center located at 1613 Glencoe Way, Glendale, CA 91208.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney and active Armenian Bar member, Amy Ashvanian, who has successfully prosecuted numerous defendants accused of elder abuse, will impart her years of prosecutorial expertise to attendees at these first two events. Admission to the events are free of charge. For more information, please call (818) 548-3775. A copy of the brochure in Armenian may be found here: https://armenianbar.org/resources/
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.