Political Notebook

Costa makes Armenia trek, meets with president, Catholicos Karekin II

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, meeting Republic of Armenia President Serzh Sargsyan.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, meeting Republic of Armenia President Serzh Sargsyan.

Rep. Jim Costa said he’s always wanted to visit Armenia. Fresno has a huge Armenian population, and he grew up around lots of prominent Armenian families at his family’s home near Kearney Park.

Now, he has.

The Fresno Democrat left for Armenia on July 18 and returned on July 23, spending four full days in the country. Costa joked that it “seemed as good a time as any” for the trip because it coincided with the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Costa paid for the flight. The money was his own and did not come from taxpayer or campaign money, spokeswoman Kristina Solberg said.

“I’ve wanted to go for probably 10 years,” Costa said.

Berj Apkarian, the honorary consul of the Republic of Armenia in Fresno, accompanied Costa. Apkarian has long encouraged Costa to make the trip. Costa had also talked with leaders at Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church and St. Paul Armenian Church as well as the Armenian National Committee of America about making the trip. Still, it didn’t happen.

When it finally did, Costa made his four days in country count.

Among other things, he visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex and the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute, met Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, visited the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin and met with His Holiness Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He also stopped in at the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan and chatted with Ambassador Richard M. Mills, Jr. and lectured at the American University of Armenia.

“He gave me a blessing,” Costa said of his meeting with Karekin II, and the two talked of Armenians in California and had a “long conversation about Pope Francis.”

As for President Sargsyan and the nation’s foreign minister, Eduard Nalbandyan, Costa said he got the “distinct impression” that they preferred Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over Trump.

Costa had told Apkarian ahead of the trip that he “wanted to meet with as many of the country’s leaders as I could.”

Apkarian, the trip planner, seemingly made that happen.

“Congressman Costa’s visit to Armenia was historic and a unique experience,” Apkarian said in a statement put out by Costa’s office. “The visit provided the opportunity to strengthen the economic, academic and cultural ties between the Valley and the Republic of Armenia.”

Costa also raved about Yerevan, the Armenian capital, its European feel and its nightlight, as well as the food all across the country.

The highlight, however, was probably his visit to the genocide memorial.

“I grew up hearing stories of the Armenian genocide,” Costa said. “Laying flowers at the eternal flame was a very moving, remarkable experience that I’ll never forget. I thought of the lives of the families of my neighbors and my friends growing up.”