By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
The Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region, honored Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on October 28 with the organization’s highest and most prestigious "Freedom Award."
Regrettably, Sen. Reid could not attend ANCA’s annual banquet because of a car accident two days earlier. The Senator’s motorcade was involved in a six-car pile-up on Interstate 15, in Las Vegas. Fortunately, Sen. Reid escaped serious injury, but suffered some bruised ribs.
In my introductory remarks at the banquet, I noted that the ANCA was honoring one of America’s most powerful legislators for his outstanding service to the nation and his longstanding support for the aspirations of the Armenian people.
I observed that “the Majority Leader has diligently worked, often quietly, at the highest echelons of the US government to defend Armenian-American issues and values. He has cosponsored every Senate resolution to reaffirm the Armenian Genocide.”
Due to Sen. Reid’s understandable absence from the banquet, ANCA Chairman Ken Hachigian read the Senator’s prepared remarks and accepted the Freedom Award on his behalf. Here are highlights from Sen. Reid’s speech:
“I am disappointed that, because of an automobile accident, I can’t be with you tonight. I appreciate Harut Sassounian for his advocacy for these many years, and ultimately, his friendship.
“The Armenian National Committee has, of course, always been at the forefront of supporting Armenia and the causes that are important to the Armenian-American community.
“I have enjoyed my relationship with Armenian-Americans -- from my marathon training partner Art Dakesian to my friend and former law client, Kirk Kerkorian.
“Having been born in a home in Searchlight, Nevada, with no inside toilet, hot water or other modern conveniences was hard for me to accept. My parents were uneducated; my father didn’t graduate from the eighth grade and my mother didn’t graduate from high school. In most ways, things surrounding my youth were not exemplary.
“It took me many years to really accept who I was. But my youth -- the place and circumstances of my birth -- made me who I am. Once I personally accepted this, I became a better person, a better American.
“So, I say to each of you, no matter the circumstances of your upbringing -- accept it. Because in America, it doesn’t matter, and I testify to this. It doesn’t matter your economic circumstances, your religion, the education of your parents or your ethnicity. In America, we can all succeed. In short, be proud of who you are.
“I am pleased to accept this award and reaffirm my support for the Armenian-American community.
“I repeat, the Armenian National Committee of America has always been at the forefront of supporting Armenia and the causes important to the Armenian-American community.
“You have succeeded in bringing the true story of the Armenian Genocide to the attention of national policy leaders.
“As Majority Leader, I rarely cosponsor legislation. But I have traveled to Armenia; I know the story of the Genocide. Therefore, I have been a long-time cosponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution.
“To move forward, I believe we must acknowledge the past -- no matter how difficult or painful. We must honor the memory of those who lost their lives and pay tribute to those who survived.
“I am fortunate to represent a thriving and vibrant Armenian community in Nevada, which will soon complete a new church in Las Vegas. And while I was in Armenia, I visited the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and the Catholicos.
“The endurance and strength of the Armenian community in Nevada, and throughout the United States is a testament and an honor to those who were lost in the Genocide. We must always be vigilant to atrocities like the Armenian Genocide from occurring ever again -- in any part of the world.”
Sen. Reid then urged everyone to “honor and remember the loss of so many during the Armenian Genocide nearly 100 years ago.”
The Majority Leader also expressed his satisfaction that “the Obama Administration and a number of members of Congress strongly condemned Azerbaijan’s pardon of an Azeri military officer. The officer was released from prison despite being convicted of brutally murdering an Armenian military lieutenant with an ax as he slept. The two men were at a NATO training in Hungary when the murder occurred.”
Sen. Reid concluded his remarks urging Armenian-Americans to be “very proud of where you come from and of your Armenian heritage.”
Along with Sen. Reid, the ANCA honored entrepreneur Varant Melkonian, Rev. Joseph Matossian, Dr. Rubina Peroomian, and author Chris Bohjalian.