Category: Uncategorized

16 Oct 2017

Meeting Armenians in Armenia

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06 Jul 2017

MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIRMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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