From AYF Simon Zavarian to ANCA Leo Sarkisian

By Artur Shekyan, ANCA Leo Sarkisian Summer Intern 2023

As a child, I always believed I would devote my time and energy to sports. I even envisioned a future career in the sports industry. But as I grew older, I realized that I had a far more significant passion: Armenia and Artsakh. This devotion became even stronger after the war broke out in Artsakh in September 2020. I recall gathering with my ungers at the Armenian Youth Federation of Canada (AYF Canada) Toronto Simon Zavarian chapter, planning protests, and painting banners that were later hung on overpasses and bridges in Toronto to raise greater public awareness about the war. It is not an exaggeration to say that the war in Artsakh consumed us, and we wholeheartedly strived to do whatever we could to spread awareness and help alleviate the suffering of our people besieged by war.

The horror hit even closer to home when I learned that my dear friend’s uncle, Christapor Artin, died while defending our homeland. This tragic event changed me in ways I could never have imagined, and it was then that I decided to dedicate my future career to preserving Armenia and Artsakh. I don’t think the Armenian community has been the same since the end of the war in Artsakh. I know I haven’t been the same.

It was also around this time that I first heard about the ANCA Leo Sarkisian Internship (LSI) program. Initially, I was very nervous about applying to the program because I didn’t fully believe I could do it. After all, it involved living in a different country for six weeks, interacting with new people, and working harder than I had ever worked before.

Looking back now, I can safely say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. The experiences, insights, and friendships I have gained from this internship program are almost indescribable. Over the years, the program has attracted many interns from Toronto and Montreal, but more of us, especially young people, should become involved. I firmly believe that as Armenian-Canadians, we must seize every opportunity to learn how to best help and support our homeland and contribute to Hai Tahd.

My favorite parts of the program were the working visits to Capitol Hill and the networking opportunities. Since I live in Toronto, I didn’t think I would network as much, but to the contrary, I have found myself making connections every single day with people in different fields who might help me down the road when I start pursuing my career.

The visits to Capitol Hill have also been extraordinary. Talking with elected officials and their teams has significantly improved my communication skills. It has allowed me to witness how they operate, what their daily routine looks like, and most importantly, given me a sense of what I should emulate and what I would change if I one day decide to seek elected office.

The program also allowed us to engage in meaningful conversations with Hai Tahd advocates like Elizabeth Chouldjian, Aram Hamparian, Alex Galitsky, and Tereza Yerimyan—to understand the strategy behind pro-Artsakh/Armenia legislation we advocate for and effective ways to advance our cause. After completing the ANCA LSI program, regardless of the country where life takes program alumni – whether it is Canada, the United States, France, Lebanon, or the Armenian homeland—the lessons learned can be used to advocate for our issues in those communities. Finally, on a personal note, the LSI program has affected me more than I can adequately put into words, and I shall be forever grateful for the experience.