THRIVE is an AIWA-SF April project dedicated to highlighting Armenians who are doing amazing things in their personal and professional lives to better themselves and those around them. These individuals are inspiring, dynamic, innovative and interesting. Today, we feature Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte.
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte is an author, lecturer, business woman and a human rights advocate. She is an Armenian refugee from Baku, Azerbaijan. After fleeing Baku in the fall of 1989 due to ethnic cleansing of Armenians, Anna and her family spent three years in Armenia as refugees before coming to United States in 1992.
Anna received Bachelor of Arts degrees in English & Literature and Philosophy & Religion, a minor in Russian Language & Literature from the University of North Dakota. She received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Maine School of Law. As a law student Anna received an Outstanding Law Student of the Year by Who’s Who American Law Students. In 2004 Anna was one of the first Americans to clerk at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands after working toward and observing the ICC’s creation at the United Nations in New York.
In 2012 Anna published her book, titled Nowhere, a Story of Exile, which she wrote at the age of 14 as her family settled in North Dakota as refugees. The book is based on the childhood diaries she kept as her family was fleeing Baku, Azerbaijan and during the years as refugees in Armenia. In April, 2013 Anna successfully spearheaded the recognition efforts of Nagorno-Karabakh independence at the State of Maine House of Representatives. In November, 2015 she was elected to the Westbrook Maine City Council by a 64% landslide. In 2017 the Russian translation of Anna’s book was published. In 2018 Anna was re-elected to Westbrook City Council and elected as Council’s Vice President.
Anna is the recipient of Mkhitar Gosh Medal, Republic of Armenia’s highest civilian honor awarded by President Serge Sargsyan for exceptional achievements in the political-social spheres, as well as outstanding efforts in the fields of diplomacy, law, and political science. Anna also received a Gratitude Medal from the President of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Bako Sahakyan, Vahan Cardashian award for her contributions within the Armenian Diaspora from ANCA-WR and Activism Award from ANCA-ER for enhancement of human rights, democracy, truth and justice. Anna serves on the Boards of Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) and Americans for Artsakh.
Aside from speaking worldwide on genocide prevention, refugee issues, international law and human rights, Anna has a 15 year career in banking regulatory compliance and risk management, currently as a Vice President, Senior Risk Manager at Androscoggin Bank. Anna lives in Westbrook, Maine with her husband John and their son and daughter.
Question: What is your life philosophy?
My life philosophy. I don’t really know if I have one. Maybe it’s – make things happen. I’ve had a lot of debilitating things happen to me in my 40 years on this planet. From escaping atrocities in Baku, to living 3 years as a refugee with nothing in a blockaded Yerevan, to adjusting to a new country in US and putting myself financially through university and law school , to spinal cord injury that left me paralyzed at 25 with irreparable nerve damage and so much more. Sometimes I don’t know how I am standing, literally and figuratively. Every time life happens, my initial reaction is always – it could be worse. Perhaps gratitude is what makes me move forward, deep humility in wake of a life changing event that our ancestors thousands years ago suffered far worse and they made us happen and they created beautiful music and art, and they built churches on rocky mountaintops. So I make things happen. I don’t like to sit on the sidelines of life. I take ownership of things inside and outside of my immediate bubble. Yes, we all have bills and health problems, and families, and work and life, but if you don’t reach out of your bubble to change a life or make things better for your people, be it your community in US or your ancestral homeland, then what have you really contributed? And perhaps that’s my fear, to live life only for myself and not leave something behind. And the road to hell is built with good intentions, so I’m very aware of that in everything that I do.
Question: What is your hope for the future?
My hope for the future. My hope is always improvement or progress, connection and understanding. I pray and work on many projects daily for the safety of Artsakh people and the border villages in Armenia. My hope is that we are strong at the negotiation table and don’t forget the sacrifices our soldiers and Artsakhtsis made, the sacrifices the 350,000 Armenians of Azerbaijan made in this movement of liberating Artsakh. I hope that in the coming years the bullet holes are remnants of the past and Artsakh children feel safe. I also always hope for the diaspora and Armenia to understand each other and many times I feel like I’m a child of both sides and for the most part both sides accept me as their own. That is possible to achieve, whoever you are and wherever you are born, and I truly hope the recent revolution brought diaspora closer to Armenia and Artsakh.
Question: What’s your favorite thing about being Armenian?
My favorite thing about being an Armenian. Our history and our longevity. We are resilient, we are survivors, we are creators. We go back thousands of years and we will go on for thousands more. Our diversity is our strength. We are not followers; we are people with a streak of independence and that can be seen as a negative in certain situations but that is the reason we haven’t been destroyed over and over again. Yes, we have a tendency to push each other away at the slightest sense of “other.” But when you take a step back – there are so many similarities between us and it’s beautiful to observe when we come together and make things happen. I see that a lot when I get invited to speak across the world. The Armenians of the planet are so similar despite the language or dialect they speak and the food they call Armenian. We are that something that is hard for the enemy to destroy and assimilate. And boy have they tried.
Question: How as the Armenian culture influenced/shaped you?
Since the day I was born in Baku my ethnicity and culture shaped me. My family named me Anna instead of Anush for both of my great grandmothers because I would stand out as an Armenian and that was never a good thing in Azerbaijan no matter when and no matter what anyone says. Being “overly Armenian” in Baku in the 70s was considered nationalistic and threatening and my family was keenly aware of that so they named me a safer name. It was a “multicultural” city we were told and being a Bakintsi was an ethnicity in itself. But in my home we were Armenian. We identified ourselves as Armenians in every way and the fact that we spoke Russian to each other doesn’t change that fact of how we identified. My parents talked to me about the ancestral lands and our history since I was toddler. It was written in my birth certificate that I was Armenian. I was identified an Armenian in the classroom in 1st grade. That’s why when my own people state that what kind of an Armenian am I that I don’t speak the language, I am not too shy to push back. Blame the oppression Baku Armenians suffered at the hands of Azerbaijani and Soviet government to lose that part of us, don’t blame us. Language is just a piece to the multifaceted puzzle of who we are. It is not the major piece. And it is insulting to my community to be questioned about our ethnicity because of the amount of loss we’ve suffered for the “kind of Armenians” that we are. They didn’t care if we spoke Armenian, Russian or Chinese; they killed us for being Armenian. Our own people should acknowledge that too. And now as a member of diaspora I am working primarily on the Artsakh conflict. In that capacity the Armenian culture is part of my message – we are alive, we are here and we will not let anyone forget it.
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