Category: Press Releases

06 Jul 2017
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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
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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.”

View the photo gallery by clicking here.

View the meeting video and panel discussions by clicking here.

24 Mar 2017
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Formation of Judicial Evaluation Committee

The Armenian Bar Association has assembled a team of accomplished and highly-reputed trial attorneys from across California to serve as members of the organization’s newly-established Judicial Evaluation Committee (JEC).

Spearheading the sizable efforts of the JEC are its two esteemed co-chairpersons, Garo Ghazarian and Lucy Varpetian.  Mr. Ghazarian is a powerhouse criminal defense attorney and a former two-time chair of the Armenian Bar.  Ms. Varpetian is a seasoned Glendale Senior Assistant City Attorney and a former Armenian Bar Executive Director. The committee’s mission is to evaluate applicants and potential appointees to the California judicial bench and to make recommendations to the Governor and the Appointments Secretary for those candidates who are deemed to be well-qualified.

“Advancing the rule of law, protecting rights, and enforcing responsibilities are the enduring touchstones of the Armenian Bar Association.  Those objectives are best met with an independent, unbiased and irreproachable judiciary. We believe that the Governor and the State of California will benefit from our recommendations as to the best and brightest candidates that our community has to offer,” said Garo Ghazarian, who also serves as the co-chair of the Association’s dynamic Armenian Rights Watch Committee.

The framework for the committee’s calling and charge was developed with the strategic guidance and worldly-wise advice of recently-retired California Supreme Court Justice and Honorary Armenian Bar Lifetime Member, Marvin Baxter. For several years before his own appointment to the bench, Justice Baxter served as Appointments Secretary to California Governor George Deukmejian.

“We were most fortunate to have in our corner the inimitable Justice Baxter and to be able to draw deeply from his incomparable experience and insights as Governor Deukmejian’s Appointments Secretary,” said Lucy Varpetian, who currently and for many years has served as a member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Judicial Election Evaluation Committee.

In a recent interview, Armenian Bar Chairman Saro Kerkonian stated, “We are very excited to embark on this new mission for the Armenian Bar Association and believe that, through our efforts, we will soon see the appointment of a growing number of highly well-qualified attorneys of Armenian descent making the ranks of California’s distinguished judiciary.”

The organizing body recognized that to have an effective voice in the judicial appointment process, it would be necessary that the recommendations be made by those with proven talent and relevant experience as trial attorneys.  JEC’s membership is comprised of the following Armenian Bar members, in alphabetical order, with only introductory notes of their storied and celebrated careers.

JEC Co-Chairs:

fe3f936f-3269-41a6-aa36-23dc39393f59Garo B. Ghazarian – Encino, CA—Mr. Ghazarian is the chief litigation attorney and principal of his own criminal defense firm, handling complex white collar crime cases in federal courts nationwide and serious felony and misdemeanor matters in California state courts.  For more than twenty years, he has served as the Dean and Professor of Law at Peoples College of Law and is also a Civil Service Commissioner in the City of Glendale.  Mr. Ghazarian appears regularly as a legal commentator on many national and worldwide television news programs.

 

 

e073b086-79e2-47fa-9043-ba57c412ab9dLucy Varpetian – Glendale, CA- Ms. Varpetian, a Senior Assistant City Attorney in the Glendale City Attorney’s Office, has extensive experience in all aspects of city government including advising the municipality’s City Council and its Civil Service Commission.  For nearly 10 years, she has been a leading member of the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Judicial Election Evaluation Committee, implementing judicial evaluation protocols and interviewing and deliberating on the qualifications of hundreds of candidates.   Ms. Varpetian has also served as Trustee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Chairperson of the Glendale Bar Association, and a Board Member of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council.

JEC Members:

Armen K. Hovannisian – Los Angeles, CA – Mr. Hovannisian is the longest-serving member and executive officer of the Armenian Bar Association, serving continuously since the organization’s inception in 1989, including three terms as the Armenian Bar’s Chairman. Mr. Hovannisian is a premier litigator within the major claims legal office of industry-leader CHUBB, registering successes and containing critical risks in high-stakes environmental and product liability-related cases.  Previously, Mr. Hovannisian worked for more than a decade at an international law firm as a member of its acclaimed insurance coverage litigation department, appearing before state and federal trial and appellate courts, and led the firm’s award-winning pro-bono program.

Ara Jabagchourian – San Mateo, CA – Mr. Jabagchourian is a civil trial lawyer handling cases in numerous areas.  He was formerly with the Federal Trade Commission – Bureau of Competition in Washington D.C. handling antitrust conduct and merger matters.  In private practice, Mr. Jabagchourian secured the largest wrongful death jury verdict in San Diego County history and has obtained a nine- figure class action verdict that was upheld on appeal.  He has also published over two dozen articles on various topics of the law, including three law review articles, and was nominated as a finalist for the Consumer Attorneys of California, Trial Attorney of the Year Award in both 2011 and 2012.

Alexandra Kazarian – Los Angeles, CA-As a top criminal defense and trial attorney, Ms. Kazarian has handled thousands of criminal cases and conducted hundreds of preliminary hearings. She has taken over 35 cases to jury verdict, defending clients against every kind of misdemeanor and felony, including charges of murder, attempted murder, robbery, burglary, fraud, embezzlement, sex offenses, domestic violence, child abuse, drug possession and sales, DUI, and more.   In recognition of her courtroom prowess, Ms. Kazarian has been named to the “Top 20 under 40” by the National Trial Lawyers Bar.

Saro Kerkonian – Los Angeles, CA – Mr. Kerkonian, Chairman of the Armenian Bar Association, is a workers’ compensation law specialist certified by the State Bar of California, Board of Legal Specialization.  Mr. Kerkonian has been in practice for 29 years and is a Senior Trial Attorney as house-counsel for Farmers Insurance Company in defense of workers’ compensation claims.  He is the author of the California Paralegal Manual, Workers’ Compensation, published by The Rutter Group, a division of Thomson Reuters.

Edvin Minassian – Mr. Minassian, the managing partner of Tennenhouse, Minassian & Adham, has been involved as trial and appellate counsel of several landmark decisions of the California Workers’ Compensation system.  For approximately two decades, he has served as counsel for the County of Los Angeles, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.   He is a past, two-term chairman of the Armenian Bar.

Tina Odjaghian – Woodland Hills, CA-Ms. Odjaghian is considered one of the most experienced workers’ compensation practitioners and successful applicants’ attorney in California today.  Specializing in brain injury cases, she has registered record-breaking multi-million dollar settlements which are uncommon in California’s Workers’ Compensation system.  In addition, Ms. Odjaghian defends some of the largest corporations in America in their workers’ compensation matters, including Macy’s Corporate Services.

Warren Paboojian – Fresno, CA-Mr. Paboojian is a founding partner of Baradat & Paboojian, handling a wide range of cases from personal and catastrophic injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and wrongful termination.  He has litigated over 55 jury trials to verdict in Fresno County and throughout the state of California. Mr. Paboojian has recently been selected as the 2017 CAL-ABOTA Trial Lawyer of the Year. In addition to being very active in ABOTA (American Board of Trial Advocates) and a Life Fellow of the ABOTA Foundation, Mr. Paboojian is a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Society of Barristers, and the International Academy of Trial Attorneys. His honors and achievements include: 2008 Trial Lawyer of the Year for the State of California by the Consumer Attorneys of California, Super Lawyers’ Top 100 Lawyers in Northern California for 5 consecutive years, and Central California Trial Lawyers’ President’s Award for Outstanding Advocacy for Consumer Rights.

Dickran Semerdjian – San Diego, CA-Besides having tried numerous cases over his 32 years of practice, Mr. Semerdjian is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), American Civil Roundtable, the current Chair of the State Court Sub-Committee of the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee of the American Justice System, and past Chair of the ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS).  He is on the Board of the ABOTA/TIPS National Trial Academy. Mr. Semerdjian has been on the Board of Governors of the San Diego Bar Association and is the current Chairman of the San Diego Sports Alliance.

Carney Shegerian – Santa Monica, CA- Mr. Shegerian is seen by many as the pre-eminent employment law trial attorney in the United States.  He has received among the largest jury verdicts ever recorded in Los Angeles County history in the field of employee rights.  He has been recognized as Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Consumer Attorneys of Los Angeles County. His record of success for his clients, whether via substantial settlements or in a trial jury scenario, is unparalleled. Mr. Shegerian has made it his life’s mission to help those who have been wronged in the workplace and has won over 75 jury trials, including 32 seven-figure verdicts as a plaintiff’s attorney.

To learn more about the Judicial Evaluation Committee, please email: JEC@ArmenianBar.com

03 Feb 2017
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Become an Election Monitor in Armenia

Paying It Forward:  Armenian Bar Association Calls for Volunteers to Join Election Monitoring Team for Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in Armenia
Armenia is both home and away.  Above all else and at our core, we root for it, we engage with it, we champion it, and we go to the wall for it.  For its own part, during the past 25 years, the Republic has pivoted on the axis of our unflagging commitment and our tough-love admonitions.
It is on the hinge of that balance that the Armenian Bar Association invites you to become one of our goodwill ambassadors to Armenia for a short stretch of time in late March/early April, culminating with your mission as a parliamentary election monitor on April 2, 2017.    There are so many reasons to say “yes,” ranging from the professional to the personal to the patriotic.
These types of special opportunities don’t come around too often in life, and we know that it will require you both to juggle and to sacrifice in order to make it all work, but stop and think about it for a second and then don’t hesitate.  Jump to join our monitoring task force and let’s step together into this most meaningful trip to the homeland!
The training (online) and coordination (on the ground) will be conducted by Transparency International/Citizen Observer Initiative which is the leading local organization with a proven track record of observing, auditing and analyzing Armenia’s past and planned elections.
As a monitor during the April 2nd National Assembly elections, you will fulfill a critical role in strengthening the country’s democratic institutions and its rule of law, with the hope of bringing light and honor to future of our nation and people.
To become a part of the Armenian Bar’s monitoring contingent or for more information, please write to  info@armenianbar.com or call Armenian Bar Board Member Armen K. Hovannisian at (818) 645-2811.
25 Apr 2015
forget-me-not

April 25, 2015: The Morning After

By Karnig Kerkonian

(This article first appeared in the Association’s Newsletter, Winter 2015, Volume 26, Number 1)

Law is the business of social ordering. So it is particularly fitting, on the eve of the Genocide Centennial, for Armenian lawyers to give some thought as to the state of our present social order. This is a complicated undertaking for a number of reasons, as such consideration necessarily touches on our history, on our politics, on our pride and, of course, on our very insecurities as a people. But it is further complicated by something monumentally deeper—something not necessarily easily articulable: the inescapable reality that our nation’s historic disenfranchisement has left none of us untouched, has left none of us unscathed and has left none of us able to deny that the very blood flowing through our veins today, which we pass to our children and theirs, stained desert sand just a century ago for no justifiable reason. For lawyers trained to value reason over emotion, the challenge is clear.

The Genocide was a national trauma of unspeakable proportion; and our nation today still lives in a post-traumatic period. We cannot underestimate the impact on the psychology of our identity; on our own self-perception of who we are. We cannot pretend that the last century’s discourse of disenfranchisement has not utterly consumed, and perhaps even confused, our view of our own identity today. It is axiomatic that we are more than the Genocide— but trauma skews perspective, it blurs the horizon and it renders the future a mirage. You see, this is the purpose of Genocide itself—to erase the people, to erase the nation in the minds of the people who remain, and to erase everything else from the identity of the rest of us. It is a disgusting truth; but it is precisely what Genocide is.

Look around. Today, the Genocide may be our single most commonly shared trait of group identity, particularly outside of Armenia. Even a quick survey of those who we consider, or would consider themselves, Armenians quickly demonstrates that it is entirely possible that neither language, location, vocation, cuisine, culture, religion, nor even genetics links one Armenian to another to the extent the Genocide does. This should disturb us. It should frighten us that we are left holding more hands in our trauma than in our dances, left sharing more pride in our protests than in our literature and left embracing one another more in commemoration than in celebration. We are not historic artifacts; we are a living nation, surely with stories yet to tell and epics yet to write.

It is time to hand the evidence over to our lawyers and let them prosecute the crimes of inhumanity perpetrated on our people. And it is time for the rest of us to begin rebuilding our national consciousness, rediscovering our national identity and re-entrenching the value of that identity in our children, wherever on this earth they may sleep. It is time for us to champion our progress, not our perseverance. We must awake on April 25, 2015 with a national consciousness that rises above the Genocide, that embraces Armenians living in a Republic and an ever-growing Diaspora and that insists that we as Armenians forevermore define our identity by what we have done rather than what has been done to us.

The Republic of Armenia, in and of itself, is not the solution to defining a comprehensive national consciousness. Our nation is larger than the Republic of Armenia—we have to accept this and assume the responsibility it imposes. Of course, the Republic is of vital importance to us as Armenians, an integral element of the survival of the Armenian people, and we must do everything we can to support its development and ensure its stability. However, the Republic is neither the Armenian nation nor its savior.

I say this not to belittle the importance of an independent state, but we cannot pretend that its emergence was something different than it was. The Republic was not born as our Israel. The independence of the Republic of Armenia, as was the fall of the Soviet Union more generally, was an event which few—including the leading Western Soviet scholars at the time— came even close to predicting. The Republic was not the result of a national intellectual movement to save the Armenian nation and it was not the great white horse for ending the indignities against the Armenian people. Israel, on the other hand, was both for the Jews.

A cursory review of Theodore Herzl’s late-nineteenth century work, Judenstaat, immediately introduces the reader to a national agenda, a national plan to create a nation-state for Jews in either Palestine or Argentina for the purpose of saving the Jews from widespread and incessant persecution, particularly in Europe. Herzl’s intellectual seed sprouted nationalist sentiment among Jewish intellectuals throughout Europe and awakened a national consciousness that fueled an emerging Zionist platform. The lectures given at the various Jewish World Congresses, particularly the First Zionist Congress in 1897, only buttressed the intellectual foundation upon which the concept of a Jewish state was rooted. When the State of Israel emerged in 1948, thousands of Jews waiting aboard massive ships in coastal Mediterranean waters arrived on the new land fulfilling a political and intellectual agenda nearly a century in the making.

This type of nationalistic foundation is absent from the independence of the Republic of Armenia. The Republic gained its independence as a result of a political and economic implosion of the Soviet Union with which the rest of the Armenian nation, institutionally and particularly in the Diaspora, played at best a nominal role. As much as the demonstrations in Yerevan for unification of Karabagh with Armenia contributed to the world’s visual of the great Soviet collapse unfolding, it would not be accurate to claim that these demonstrations substantively caused the downfall of the Soviet Union and the independence of Armenia. The refusal to see the Republic in this context is escapist rhetoric that has led the Diaspora into a near complete abandonment of any vital Armenian issue outside of the Republic and beyond the Genocide.

We must be fair to ourselves. We must place our Republic in its fair context. We cannot coax ourselves into complacency believing that the work of building a national consciousness— one that exists beyond the Genocide and beyond the Republic—is something that the Republic will do for us. Did we really need to wait for the tragic suffering of the Armenians of Aleppo, the gutting of our historic presence in Kessab and the emptying of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem to realize that Yerevan is not our only home and that the Genocide, not our only travesty? We know better; but, the truth is, shaping a national consciousness that unifies us is not only physically, but intellectually, laboring work.

National identity is a product. It is the result of certain things that are, that occur and, sometimes, that people simply want. There are cultural factors, of course: language, art, music and others. And then there are the formative historical events: wars, calamities and prominent figures, for example. But sometimes, there is a third element— forces of engineering, of structuring and of teleology—moving with a predetermined resolve to shape a national identity.

Modernist scholar of nations and nationalism, Benedict Anderson, spoke of the nation as something “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” He attributed national consciousness to, among other things, advances in communications which targeted people and martialed their interests toward a desired end. This analysis sees national consciousness as a product of a discourse that reaches, teaches and propels a people who may never meet one another toward a shared goal. National identity is not the simple byproduct of shared territory, it can be shaped through discourse and a unifying objective— particularly in this era where technological advances in communication have contributed to revolutions.

Understanding national consciousness in this context is important to us as Armenians. We have had the fortune of strong cultural forms and defining historical moments; yet the discourse of our national consciousness has not been comprehensive, progressive or teleological. In the Diaspora, it has been largely a singularly focused, retributive political agenda; in the Republic it has been a survivalist, economic one—both for good reason and both of necessity. But neither discourse has sufficiently espoused a whole of which it is only a part; neither has seriously defined the Armenian nation as existing beyond its own understanding. Without a national consciousness that rises above the passions de jure, we risk the unsharing of our national values, as what is valuable to one Armenian begins to be weighed differently by other Armenians and, ultimately, national identity diverges. This is not theory: it is happening today as Armenians weigh the role of the Genocide and the Republic in their own lives— and the conversations voice a divergence which decades ago would have been unspeakable.

Of course, to us as Americans, we think of this divergence as simply diversity within a national identity. But, you see, the American experience allows us to see divergence as diversity because the American identity is particularly defined to champion precisely this—whether in the 14th Amendment, high school textbooks teaching the civil rights movement, the very concept of the “melting pot” or, for that matter, the belief that everyone should share in the American Dream. Whether the dream has been achieved, of course, is the very beauty of the American experiment: that no matter where we are on the path, we know in principle the goals to which we are aspiring as a society. This is the benefit of a structured national identity, one reinforced through institutions and, in the American example, based on principles, the rule of law and certain concepts of social justice and equality.

The problem we face as Armenians is that divergence without structure is not diversity within the nation—it’s just plain divergence. It is separation, a parting of ways. It was easy to rally national consciousness by chanting “tebi yergir” when the idea of an actual Armenia was a pipe dream. It was easy to protest Genocide in those years when we were unschooled in international law and the law of reparations. And all of this was so massively important: we survived, we did so much to hold on to one another. But the greatest challenges to our survival as a nation may still lie ahead; dare I say that the “simpler” days are over. The challenge of defining a national consciousness that will shape, and with which we will survive, our next century together will be a sophisticated, tough and extraordinary undertaking.

With the Republic a reality, the Genocide Centennial upon us and a people strewn all over the globe, it is time for Armenian lawyers to think earnestly about our present social order and how we must structure, perhaps even govern, our nation in the years to come. We are at the threshold of something immensely precarious, yet unavoidable: to define who and what the Armenian nation is and who and what the Armenian nation will be. There is, I guess, an eerie simplicity to the whole thing: what will it mean to be an Armenian? But, mind you, it will not be a judge who will ask you the question…it will be your ten year old.

Karnig Kerkonian, of Chicago, Illinois, is a distinguished graduate magna cum laude of Harvard University who holds two law degrees—a Doctorate in Law from the University of Chicago and a post-doctoral Diploma in International Law from Cambridge University, England. Since 1999, Karnig has represented numerous U.S. companies and multinational entities in transactional matters as well as complex business litigation matters. He is well recognized for his work in international law, both public and private, and has been tapped as specialized counsel in cross-border matters as well as a leading speaker before law associations on various international legal issues.

24 Apr 2015
hovannisian

The Chairman’s Message on the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide

By Armen K. Hovannisian

(This article first appeared in the Association’s Newsletter, Winter 2015, Volume 26, Number 1)

The two girls were born three months and three hundred miles apart in 1909, one in Kharpert’s Kessrik village and the other in Ordu’s seaside hills and dales. Soon enough, my grandmothers as girls were to have little in common and were to become, by circumstance, distant strangers in fate and future.

On Saturday morning, April 24, 1915, Siroon, who had quickly come to be known as Sarah and whose Nalbandian family had immigrated to the San Joaquin Valley just a few years earlier, was skipping rope, jumping hop-scotch and picking up jacks among friends from her first grade class at Cherry Avenue Elementary School.

She was to graduate from Tulare Union High School, marry early to larger-thanlife Kaspar, and name her four sons John, Ralph, Richard, and Vernon into whom she cemented security, confidence, America and the English language. She took the helm as naturally in the PTA and at the Emblem Club as she did the mantle in the Armenian Relief Society and the Ladies Guild at Holy Trinity. Her sprawling ranch house with the thick wood shingle roof looked onto the Sunnyside Country Club. She drove a white four-door Fleetwood Cadillac with a soft and purry velure interior. Khnguhi Kalyonchian, betraying the wistful black-and-white photograph on the credenza projecting a thousand yearold darling little girl sporting pigtails in her hair and a tennis racket in her hands, bid adieu to most of her family beginning on that day. Although she “survived” the Genocide, Khnguhi’s smile was turned down that day, at once and forever. In the years and decades to come, in picture after picture, it was one visual dirge, one unmitigated lament after another, a funeral procession that lasted for nearly all of her 91 years.

Fifty years in this country and she still spoke English in choppy sentences, misconjugated verbs and mixed-up tenses, outstretched arms and expressive eyes. She went to no schools in America, made no friends, played no games. She bent her back, swallowed her pride, and went to work in Fresno’s fields. She married the quiet and restrained strength of Hovakim and named her daughters Vartiter and Nazik. The son she lost was to be named Vrej, meaning Revenge. Maybe the boy died so that his name would live in us. Khnguhi’s matchbox-sized house with the thin decaying roof was similar to the hundreds of houses which Kaspar gathered. She never drove a car. Neither did Hovakim. As we mark the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I struggle to settle on a definition of the scope of what was lost, what was taken. Was it only the childhood of Khnguhi and the roots of Siroon? Were their sorrows and anguish really that much different from each other in the end? Were they not both disinherited of their provenance, dispossessed of their destinies, displaced even from themselves? This much I know; but for the Genocide, Siroon wouldn’t be playing hide-and-seek in Tulare and Khnguhi would have played a lot of tennis near the Black Sea. And I’d most likely be somewhere between Erzerum and Kharpert.

My grandmothers and yours shared a common fundamental characteristic: they faced the darkness and insisted on a future for their families, took silent oaths to not give up, to say yes to life, to believe in the possibility of justice. To our parents, we say thank you for living strong and for showing us the way. Because they did not give up, because they believed, then we will not give up and we will believe.

With the stories of these girls embedded in my life and the stories of your families engraved in yours, we must see to it that the chronic pain and continuing effects of the Genocide are not dehumanized, that they are not examined only analytically and scientifically, that their significance is never lost or forgotten. Though it is now a hardening scab, we cannot let the bleeding wound to be forgotten. Only when it is personalized will it be real enough to play a role in the decisions we make. These memories of hardship may test our hopes and try our conscience, but memory is our sacred duty, not simply to remember, however, but to act. Let us tell the world not only how our people died, but also how they lived, how they loved, how they hoped, how they dreamed.

The Armenian Bar Association is one of the places where those stories can come together to be shared and where the bleeding may finally find a way to stop. And although so much has already been written and spoken, mere words—mine and yours–somehow are not enough. Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing. “Never again” without follow-through means “Wait till next time.”

As we enter the second century after the Genocide, we are now poised and prepared to take care of ourselves. Perhaps it’s time that we should not coddle public officials so slavishly, we should not grovel to governments with upturned palms, we should not seek shallow solace in recognitions, splinters of victory in resolutions. We should not rely on someone else to make us whole. Because they can’t. They never could. From now on, let our redemption begin and end with us.