To what extent is the Armenian community engaged in political life of the country?
The extent to which Armenian Americans are engaged in the political life of the country mirrors that of the general population. We’re not very different from the rest of the Americans. There are Armenian Americans very active in the conservative movements as well as the progressive movements of the country.
There is more enthusiasm and activism by those Armenians who are active in community life. The primary reasons are, one: the disappointment with President Obama for not honoring his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide and the more pro-Turkish leaning policies. The present administration pressures on Armenia to make concessions or accept terms which are not necessarily favorable to Armenia. So issues related to the Genocide and Armenia are the cause for disappointment with Obama and his Administration.
The second reason for the enthusiasm, I would say, is to protect and help preserve the re-election of friends of the Armenian cause in Congress, such as Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Reid or the election of individuals such as Congressman Mark Kirk running for the US Senate in Illinois.
Can the votes of the Armenian community be decisive during elections in California?
In California in particular, yes, there are. There are over 150 thousand registered voters in California who are of Armenian descent. In elections where the margin is expected to be only a few hundred thousand votes, they will make a decisive difference.
Do Republicans or Democrats enjoy stronger support of the community?
As I said, Armenian Americans are very active in conservative movements, the Republican Party, the Tea Party, as well as progressive movements, Democratic Party, the Green Party. When you look at the registration of Armenians in California, it is almost evenly divided between those who are registered Republican and registered Democrat. A larger percentage of Armenians than the entire population are registered “Decline to State”, they don’t indicate a preference for one political party or another. This probably comes from the fact that many of them do not really identify themselves with those political parties. They are probably more recent immigrants to the U.S. They’ve come in the last twenty years and haven’t yet decided which party to identify with.
Could you comment on percentage of supporters?
Support seems to vary from candidate to candidate. We’re seeing Senator Barbara Boxer, the democratic nominee in California, enjoy well over 70% support in the Armenian community, because a lot of people know that she’s been a loyal supporter of the issues that we care about, she shares our values. She put a block, along with senator Menendez, on the confirmation of Matthew Bryza as an Ambassador to Azerbaijan, and she’s always been there whenever there’s been an issue regarding Armenia, Artsakh or Genocide recognition. So you will see that individuals like her have a very large percentage of support that crosses political party registration. We can say the same about Republican Congressman Mark Kirk form Illinois. We tend to see democratic Armenians supporting him even though he’s a Republican, because of his strong stances on issues that concern us.
How important is participation of the Armenian community in elections?
I would say that it is extremely important. We are a small number of people and can’t claim to be 10 percent or 20 percent of the voters of the country. Every single one of us who actively participates in elections, whether it is through contributions to candidates, through volunteering in their campaigns or in terms of convincing others to go out and vote can make our presence more significant and more important. You see areas where there might be a few number of Armenians. There is a gentleman here in California running for State Assembly. He’s of Armenian descent, his name is Khachik Achadjian and he very much identifies as an Armenian and Armenians are helping him to get elected. In several other districts where there are no Armenians running for office, we are very active in campaigns to elect individuals with good records on issues that concern us. For example, in Oregon there are a few Armenian-Americans that are helping their local congressman win re-election. It’s a small number but they are very active. You don’t need large numbers to make a difference, you need to be active, whether it’s contributing financially or contributing your time being involved in the election process.
Do this year's Congressional elections have a greater significance to the Armenian-American community?
Everybody that is looking at the 2010 congressional elections (mid-term elections) there is a sentiment that the majority party (the majority party with the most seats in the House and Senate) will lose seats. So there is an anticipation that democrats are going to lose their majority in the House and in the Senate. There’s a sense of disappointment by the population in over the performance and the way the President has handled certain things so they’re going to take it out on the Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives. It’s extremely important to the Armenian Community that we re-elect those that have been with us on issues related to the Genocide, Armenia and Artsakh.
It’s an extremely important year – during this turbulent time of elections we don’t want our friends to decrease in number. We don’t want to see Senators Barbara Boxer or Harry Reid lose their seats. We don’t want to see members of Congress like Howard Berman, Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff and dozens of others who have been strong supporters lose their seats because we value their friendship and we know they’re with us. The other concern is that some of the Chairmen are very strong friends. If the majority changes in the House we don’t know how the new Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, how the Chairman of the Appropriations Sub-Committee will look at Armenia and the Armenian Genocide issues. If it wasn’t for Howard Berman (the Chairman from the Foreign Affairs Committee) the Genocide resolution wouldn’t make it as far as it did. The Armenian National Committee recognizes these things and that’s why we’re very much active in helping re-elect our friends.
What this election means for American Armenians in their everyday life?
In every day life it will affect different Armenian Americans in different ways. There are Armenian Americans that are very wealthy and who believe that the government should be smaller and taxes should be less. There are a large number of Armenians who are less affluent, mainly seniors, newcomers, the immigrant generation who are much more dependent on government programs to be able to adjust to this country and make their way to be productive citizens of this country. They don’t want to see the government size decreased or programs cut, so again we cover the spectrum, and to us it will make a difference depending on where we are in our personal economic and social status in this country.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) last week released its report card on the record of House of Representative members and Senators. It also announced its endorsements. Can you please share with our readers what is the significance of the report cards and endorsements?
Anyone who wants to see what the score cards were or the grades that we gave candidates and elected officials can go to www.anca.org, grades and endorsements are publicized posted on-line. The ANCA bases its decisions on past performance. We’re looking at how the persons in question voted on issues that affect Armenia or US policy towards Artsakh, and the Armenian Genocide, so these are the primary areas on which we evaluate them and then announce endorsements they will receive. It serves as a guide to political action committees and individuals on deciding how to prioritize their contributions and support to candidates.
Does the ANCA only guide Armenian American votes through the report cards and endorsements? What are some other ways that the ANCA gets involved in electing members of Congress?
ANCA mostly does it through report cards and endorsements. We then see the political action committees organize fundraisers for candidates, make contributions, and appeal for donations to candidates with high grades. Individuals who organize, volunteer, makes phone calls on behalf of the candidates that are endorsed by the ANCA.
What do you think about involving former Soviet Union immigrants into voting process?
Whether it is Armenians from Armenia or other parts of Soviet Union as well as non-Armenians from the former Soviet Union, they need to get more involved. There are a lot of collaborative efforts that happened between Californians of Armenian and non-Armenian descent from the former Soviet Union working together on issues of mutual interest. I was born in Armenia, so there are many of us who are active in the U.S. We encourage more and more younger generation people to get involved in the government and elections.
What are other organisations besides ANCA helping immigrants get involved in voting process and protect their rights?
In terms of political activity there are governmental or public affairs organizations like the ANCA affiliated with the Dashanktsutiun, the Armenian Rights Council of America affiliated with the Ramgavar Azatakan Political Party, and the Armenian Council of America affiliated with the Hnchakian political party. These organizations are political leaning organizations that are trying to encourage more Armenian community involvement. Armenian Council of America and ANCA have both endorsed Senator Barbara Boxer. At times we endorse the same individuals, at times we endorse different candidates, but in the end it benefits the community, because it encourages more people to be involved.
Are you placing special emphasis on helping certain Senate and House of Representatives candidates this year?
As I said earlier, we are placing emphasis on helping those that are in office and have a good record on our issues and we help them get re-elected. In other words, we call them the champions or the captains of the issues that relate to Armenia, Artsakh and the Genocide. We want to see them re-elected in the Senate and the House of Representatives. We’re very much working on this whether it’s in Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, California or Oregon. In Nevada, the community is helping re-elect House Representative Dina Titus because of the strong support she has shown on our issues. So, we’re active in many races throughout the country and several of them here in California.
How do you find time for yourself and family doing all this work?
I think family always comes first and we believe in Armenian Cause. It’s something that comes from seeing the injustice which was perpetrated against our grandparents and unjust way Armenia has been treated by neighbours and other major powers. We are, therefore, motivated to do our parts in helping Armenia and Artsakh.
Is your family involved in campaign?
We speak so much about it at home, that our 7-year-old answered the phone and was asked “Will your family be supporting Carly Fiorina for Senate? Can we talk to your parents?” he said “No, no. They’re going to vote for Senator Barbara Boxer”.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
I’d like to use this opportunity to thank you for taking the time to ask me these questions. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for each one of us to be engaged, because we can make a difference. We don’t necessarily need to reach out to Armenians. We can involve our non-Armenian friends throughout the U.S. in our just causes, because standing up for truth is of value to all of us. Just policies that are bringing balance to the way things are treated in the Caucasus are beneficial to the U.S. So involving non-Armenian friends is important. Get involved, otherwise the train will pass. We see how the Jewish community is active in making a huge difference for Israel, so we can do the same thing here as Armenians in the US.