California lawmakers kick off recess with trip to Armenia
September 24, 2013 - By John Hrabe
Summer may be over, but the California Legislature’s travel season is just getting started.
This week, a group of current and former state lawmakers, led by Speaker of the Assembly John Perez, D-Los Angeles, returns to the state following a 10-day trip to Armenia. According to multiple Armenian news outlets, the trip is intended to strengthen ties between the country and California, the “motherland” of the largest Armenian diaspora community in the United States.
“We are hopeful that this first in kind mission would leave a lasting impact and contribute to strengthening political contacts between the Republic of Armenia and the great State of California – home to hundreds of thousands of compatriots,” Grigor Hovhannissian, the former Consul General of Armenia, said in advance of the trip.
In addition to Perez, the legislative delegation to Armenia includes Assembly members Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo; Cheryl R. Brown, D-San Bernardino; Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks; Scott Wilk, R- Santa Clarita; and Nazarian’s chief of staff, Dan Savage. Former state lawmakers and current Los Angeles City Councilmen Bob Blumenfield and Paul Krekorian, along with several of Krekorian’s staff members, also joined the delegation that was organized in conjunction with the Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region.
Trip to strengthen diplomatic ties
The trip, which began on September 15, included meetings with the President of Armenia, dinner with the Speaker of the Armenian National Assembly, a visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial and several festivities in conjunction with the Armenian Independence Day celebration.
“The President of Armenia noted with satisfaction that the Armenian-American relations are currently at the highest level,” reports the Times.am, an Armenian news site.
Nazarian echoed the Armenian president’s sentiments.
“I look forward to continue working with the ANCA in building a greater relationship between the Republic of Armenia, the California State Assembly and the Armenian American Diaspora,” said Nazarian, who was the only legislator to be accompanied by staff. “Promoting further awareness of issues pertinent to Armenia is an integral part of my responsibility as both a State Assemblyman and as an Armenian-American.”
California officials won’t talk publicly about Armenian trip
Yet, if the trip’s purpose was to strengthen ties between government officials, the California delegation has a funny way of showing it. Neither Speaker Perez’s office nor Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, the most senior Republican lawmaker on the trip, would respond to repeated requests for comment about the trip.
It’s not clear why the Speaker’s office did not respond to press inquiries about the trip. Perhaps the speaker felt the Armenian press, which ranks 74th in Reporters Without Borders 2013 World Press Freedom Index, was up to the task.
One report in the Armenian press described the delegation’s visit to the Dzidzernagapert memorial monument, which honors the victims of the Armenian Genocide. Perez, according to Yerkir Media, said it was a “very emotional” experience.
“This trip, especially this pilgrimage to Dzidzernagapert is very emotional for me,” Perez said. “My colleague is Armenian and his family is from Kharpert. When we saw the Kharpert emblem (on the map in the museum), we became very emotional. It is important for the all countries of the world to recognize the Genocide and find the way to justice.”
Speaker of the Armenian Parliament Hovik Abrahamyan awarded Perez the National Assembly’s Medal of Honor “for the development of the inter-parliamentary relations … as well as for big contribution in strengthening of Armenian-American relations.”
Perez pledged to continue “fighting for historic justice and truth, revealing them to the world.” Public Radio of Armenia reports, “He presented his impressions of the meetings and visits conducted in the framework of his pretty heavy agenda and underscored that the California State Assembly is faithful to its values and pledges to continue its efforts in fighting for historic justice and truth, revealing them to the world and promoting peace and stability, strengthening and developing also our biliateral relations.
Just don’t expect the speaker to reveal much to the world about the trip itself.
Wilk open about trip
Not every legislator on the trip has declined to share information about the trip. Wilk, whose district includes a large Armenian-American community, has openly shared updates about the trip on his Facebook page. Wilk’s frequent updates referred to his visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial, dinner with government officials and the Armenian Independence Day celebration in Republic Square.
“What a night Vanessa and I had tonight in the Capitol of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic,” Wilk posted in a Facebook status update about a dinner with the president and members of parliament. “Vanessa kept insisting that the gentleman at the other table was Seal,” a singer. “I pooh poohed her until he was introduced!”
“What an incredible trip we’ve been on,” Wilk wrote.
The fall trip to Armenia is the fourth international junket by California lawmakers this year. During the legislature’s spring break, 15 legislators participated in fact-finding trips to Poland and Taiwan, according to the Los Angeles Times.