World of Annie Totah…

World of Annie Totah…

by guest contributor Joe David
Photo credit: Armenian Assembly of America

With a little glitter and lots of style and elegance, the Armenian Assembly of America hosted a star-studded awards dinner last week for over 300 guests at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Washington, DC to honor one of the city’s most respected leaders, Philanthropist and Humanitarian Annie Simonian Totah, a lady with a powerful voice for Armenia.

Annie Totah

The gala evening, which culminated an advocacy conference for Armenians, was a spectacular celebration honoring a woman who gave most of her life to the Armenian cause. For the Armenians who came from across the country to attend the conference, it was an opportunity to give praise and support to one of Armenia’s most ardent champions. For the political leaders on the Hill who worked with her on different initiatives, it was an opportunity to praise her for all she has done and is doing to help Armenia become a secure and prosperous democracy.

Congressman John Sarbanes and Annie Totah

Although Ms. Totah has always been a proud representative of the Armenian culture, in the past 40 years, since joining forces with the Armenian Assembly, she has significantly distinguished herself by becoming the first and only woman to Chair its Board of Directors, a position which she has used to reach out and develop powerful friendships for Armenia on the Hill and in the Oval Office. These friendships, along with her unbreakable determination, enabled her over the years to help raise more than $3 billion in foreign aid for her ancestral Homeland of Armenia. “I am determined to live up to what my holocaust-victim mother instilled in me from early childhood – to be the best that I can be and make this world a better place,” Ms. Totah said. “My raison d’être has been and will always be to exceed the possibilities and become the very best.”

Congressman Steny Hoyer

Former Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD, Minority Whip) referred to her as a passionate and committed advocate for the Armenian Diaspora in America. “Her tireless efforts have promoted a broad range of Armenian interests and pushed for the long-overdue recognition of the Armenian Genocide – which has earned her widespread respect on Capitol Hill.”

Congressman Frank Pallone

Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) was equally as complimentary. “Many of us who have worked on key issues of Armenian interest have come to know Annie as the unofficial Ambassador of Armenia who has demonstrated a tireless effort to help her Homeland, an effort equal to that of any member of Congress.”

The gala evening was a night of nights for Ms. Totah with all the stars from her past, which included friends and family, Congress and Embassy Row, shining their special light on her many achievements. It was a moment of pause in which each one had an opportunity to show their appreciation for an extraordinary woman.

Nicole Totah and Aram Gavoor   Photo credit: Nicole d’Amecourt

“She was once a prima ballerina who has danced her way into our hearts.” (Senator Edward Markey, D-MA)

“The Armenian diaspora should not be defined by subjugation, but achievement, as best exemplified by the hard work of Ms. Totah,” (Co-Chairman Van Krikorian, the Armenian Assembly Board of Trustees)

“She has brought more attention to the Armenian cause than the Kardashians.” (Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)

“She has never let go of anything that she was working on. You can always count on her to do the right thing with spirit and grace.” (President Carolyn Mugar, Armenian Assembly)

“She is not only a survivor, but someone who thrives while surviving.” (Karina Totah, her youngest daughter)

“She has always led the family by her example and in the process strived to exceed the expected limits.” (Elliott Totah, her son)

“She is a beauty, but her real beauty is in her heart.” (Nicole Totah, her second daughter)

Ambassador Grigor Hovhannissian and Annie Totah

The high note of the evening was summed up by the Armenia’s Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Grigor Hovhannissian: “She transcends nations, she is a queen who has always been an exuberant and dedicated supporter of everything Armenian.” He then presented Ms. Totah with two congratulatory letters, one from the President of Armenia, the other from the Prime Minister of Armenia, before giving her the highest medal awarded to Diaspora Armenians, the Medal of Movses Khorenatzi.

Anthony Barsamian, Carolyn Mugar, Annie Totah, and Van Krikorian

“I feel honored and humbled to receive the Medal of Movses Khorenatzi and the Assembly’s Humanitarian Award and to have had the opportunity to advocate and work with the Armenian Assembly for the past 40 years,” Ms. Totah said. “It is imperative to protect our heritage, as Armenians, that we recruit friends and family members to advocate on a regular basis for Armenia. We need to have Advocacy Conferences regularly and strive together to imitate the lobbying efforts of the Jewish people. When the Jews come to Washington, they come not in the hundreds as we have, but in the thousands to take their stance on the Hill for Israel. Like the Jews, we must connect with our Congressional leaders and inform and seek their help on crucial issues.”

Steven Keytanjian, Elvina Avetisyan, and Halle Butvin  Photo credit: Nicole d’Amecourt

“As exemplified by the recent Velvet Revolution in Armenia and the selection of the country’s new Prime Minister, the will of the Armenians has been to create a more democratic nation by ending corruption, by protecting investments, by supporting the business community, and by reforming tax legislation and the public administration. It is only by achieving such focused ends that we will impact and improve the course of history for Armenia and, of course, Armenians. We must always remember,” Ms. Totah added in conclusion, “that, as Armenians, we are united by history and destiny because we are of one Nation.”

Zhanet and Kirk Kaprelian    Photo credit: Nicole d’Amecourt

The Armenian Assembly of America, founded in 1972, has become the largest, non-partisan Washington-based group promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. During the past 46 years, it has played a leading role in accelerating Armenia’s democratic development and economic prosperity through research, education, and advocacy.

Annie Totah and Senator Chris Van Hollen  Photo credit: Nicole d’Amecourt

Some of the attendees included: Senator. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD); Senator Ed Markey (D-MA); Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Minority Whip; Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ); Former Congresswoman Constance Morella (R-MD); H.E. Ambassador and Mrs. John Evans, former US Ambassador to Armenia; H.E. Ambassador of Armenia and Mrs. Grigor Hovhannissian; Permanent Representative and Mrs. Robert Avetisyan of Artsakh (Republic of Nagorno Karabagh); Ambassador Peter Rosenblatt, the American Jewish Committee; Mrs. Ike Leggett, wife of Montgomery County Executive; Dr. Susan Blumenthal, Former Assistant Surgeon General, Retired Rear Admiral, and wife of Senator Ed Markey (D-MA); Jack Evans, Washington DC Council Member; plus, the heads of several Washington DC based non-profit organizations, the new Consul and the new DCM of the Republic of Armenia, and many honored guests and friends from across the USA.