Thank you all for joining me tonight during this inspiring and historic week.
On Monday, we celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., who committed – and ultimately gave — his life to the struggle for justice, racial equality and human rights. On the same day, we remembered with sadness, the second anniversary of Hrant Dink’s untimely death, a man who followed Dr. King’s footsteps in fighting for justice, equality and freedom of speech.
On Tuesday, we watched the remarkable swearing in of Barack Obama, the first African American to be elected president of the United States.
President Obama’s road to the White House was paved – painstakingly — by the sacrifice and struggle of Dr. King and countless others in the civil rights movement. People who were determined, often in the face of hatred and violence, to persuade America to live up to our Constitution, our founding principles of freedom and equality.
Among the things I most admire about Dr. King is the depth of his faith, faith in non-violence, faith in the vindication of the democratic process, faith in the redeeming value of social commitment and action.
He believed in the moral imperative for people everywhere to speak out against injustice and on behalf of basic freedoms and human rights. When he won the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. King said “Injustice anywhere, threatens justice everywhere.”
Dr. King understood that every single person, each one of you, can and does make a difference.
Indeed, on August 28, 1963, over 250,000 Americans from all social classes, races, and creeds, marched peacefully in Washington, DC and heard Dr. King proclaim those now famous words, “I have a dream.”
And in one of those rare and fitting historical symmetries, it was 45 years to the day after Dr. King declared his dream that Barack Obama—whose campaign for change was built on grass-roots support from a broad array of individuals across the country—accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for President.
Dr. King’s struggle for justice and equality was not an easy one. Even in established democracies, there is frequently tension between governments and voices of dissent, between authority and those who represent the disenfranchised or oppressed. This is true in the United States today and in Dr. King’s time. There were those in government who saw Dr. King as a serious threat. He was under surveillance and his phones were tapped. He was frequently arrested, and he was beaten on more than one occasion.
But by arousing the conscience of a nation, Dr. King’s movement helped to convince Congress to pass civil rights and voting rights bills that allowed African Americans to more fully exercise their citizenship.
The United States is still not a perfect union, and continues to have failings in the areas of human rights, civil rights. But in our democracy, in any democracy, by and for the people, individuals and non-governmental organizations have a vital and legitimate role to speak up about our failures and champion the individuals and groups who have been unjustly treated by government or society.
This can be uncomfortable and is often perceived as threatening, but democracies are renewed and strengthened by challenges and questioning.
Here in Armenia, you, too, are fortunate to have passionate champions of fundamental human rights and human dignity.
One such person is Mikael Danielyan.
For Mikael, the principles of human rights do not depend on the party or person in power.
As founder and leader of the Armenian Helsinki Association, Mikael has fought for years for the rights of prisoners, military conscripts, and oppressed minorities.
After the March 1 political violence, Mikael and his staff investigated claims of police abuse, visited detainees, and worked to secure medical treatment for the injured. He provided a credible independent source of information about the facts of persons detained during and after those political events — at a time when many felt that they could not fully trust either government or opposition claims.
Over his years of dedicated work, Mikael has been shot at, beaten and harassed. His continued efforts on behalf of human rights in Armenia are an eloquent testimony to his tremendous courage and commitment.
And he does not work alone. In honoring him, we are also honoring all those who work for him and with him, all the individuals who support him, as well as other activists who work for protection of human rights in Armenia.
Mikael, his supporters and colleagues are inspiring examples of how individuals can make a difference.
He has shown us, especially the young people here tonight, that it is our civic duty to fight for our ideals and the principles on which our societies were founded.
I would like to close with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Mikael, we know where you stand!
Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice launched the Freedom Defender Award in recognition of the critical public role that human rights advocates play in advancing the cause of freedom and human dignity. Our nominee and winner of the Armenian award is Mikael Danielyan.
Let me read the citation on the award certificate.
For distinguished performance as an advocate for the human rights of all Armenians for many years, and especially during the tumultuous political events of 2008. Your service in upholding human rights and democratic values exemplifies the ideals set out by the Secretary of State in creating the Freedom Defender Award.
It gives me great pleasure and great pride to present you with the Armenian Freedom Defender Award.