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Melkonian and Setrakian: Matching Our Civic Voice to Our Economic Muscle

By Varant Melkonian and Robert H. Setrakian

We have, as a community of Americans of Armenian heritage, done great things.

We have survived genocide, crossed the ocean, and settled here on America’s shores.

With the blessings of American liberty and opportunity, first, second, third, fourth, and now even fifth-generation Armenians have prospered and contributed to nearly every sphere of American life: business, medicine, education, and the arts.

Our level of achievement is matched only by our ambition to accomplish, strive, and succeed at all we set our minds to. Few can match us.

We have also made our voice heard loud and clear in the civic arena, but not yet, we must admit, at a level truly commensurate with our community’s social and financial success.

It’s true that we have, through decades of hard work, earned a reputation as the powerful “Armenian lobby,” tackling some of the toughest interests in Washington. We have organized ourselves effectively in Washington and as a far-reaching public policy network.

Each November, we are courted for our votes and campaign support.

But, as we saw in April, even after all we have accomplished, we are still a community that can be crossed, a constituency that can be sacrificed to foreign and financial pressures.

Why?

The easy answer is because our system of government, with all its profound strengths, is sometimes slow and not always fair. As American history has shown repeatedly, it often takes considerable time and effort to align our public policies with our values as a nation. All true, but that’s only part of the answer.

The tougher answer and the one that matters to us is that we simply need to grow stronger.

Our civic voice must match our economic muscle.

As has been noted by the ANCA before, if the Armenian American community were a corporation, the annual revenue we generate would rank us #65 on the Fortune 500. This is a point of great pride for a community that only a short while ago was largely made up of penniless refugees who dreamed of something better for themselves and the Armenian nation.

We can realize this dream by beginning to harness the vast wealth amassed by generations of Armenian families to the noble cause of strengthening our rightful role as full citizen stakeholders in shaping America’s policies at home and abroad.

These resources will take us to a new level in terms of influence and impact in the halls of power and beyond, forcing our elected officials to deliver real results and raising awareness of our cause far beyond the Capital Beltway, in communities, schoolrooms, and civic arenas across America.

To get this job done, we’ll need to start by helping hundreds of young Armenian Americans find government, media, and public policy jobs in Washington, and we’ll have to dramatically expand our outreach to U.S. and international media, especially television, a time-consuming but essential effort that delivers a tremendous return on investment. Out in the field, new funding will allow us to send fieldworkers to communities and campuses to train activists to be effective advocates for the Armenian Cause. Where that’s not possible, we need to use cutting edge remote-learning and other technology-based programs to provide local leaders with powerful tools of civic activism. And this is just the start.

We need to do all this, and more, but we can only grow with the support of our community.

Only with this support will we have the power, respect, and influence to never be crossed again.

Let us all do our part to make this a reality by spreading the word to family and friends about the ANCA Telethon on May 31st:

For more information, visit www.2009telethon.org.

Varant Melkonian is chairman and CEO of Closet World, Inc. Robert H. Setrakian is managing director of the The Helios Group.

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