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.