By Olivia Klein
Anoush Baghdassarian ’22 is the recipient of the 2022 Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Award. Graduating with an unprecedented 4,000 pro bono hours during her time at Harvard Law School, Baghdassarian is a stand-out student in the clinical and pro bono community. Having participated in a variety of clinics spanning international human rights to government lawyering, Baghdassarian’s résumé is a model of devotion to knowledge, advocacy, and selflessness.
The Andrew L. Kaufman Pro Bono Award is granted each year in honor of Professor Andrew Kaufman ’54, who has been instrumental in creating and supporting the Pro Bono Service Program at Harvard Law School. The award is given to a J.D. student in the graduating class who exemplifies the pro bono public spirit and an extraordinary commitment to improving and delivering high quality volunteer legal services to disadvantaged communities.
“Anoush never stops,” says fellow HLS Advocates for Human Rights leader Emma Svoboda ’23. “She is always looking to the next thing she can do to improve human rights. Anoush doesn’t seem to get paralyzed by any problems, but rather immediately turns to the question of: ‘what can we do to fix it?’”
This personal drive began long before arriving at Harvard Law; growing up, Baghdassarian’s connection to her Armenian heritage sparked her mission to address and prevent human rights violations. She founded Rerooted Archive, an archive collecting the testimonies of Syrian-Armenians to document the Armenian community of Syria before, during, and after the Syrian conflict. “It has been a 100-year open wound that I felt so intensely that I began doing what I could to close it, and importantly, what I could to prevent other communities from suffering from the same affliction, the same impunity, the same ethical loneliness,” says Baghdassarian. “The intrinsic motivation to help heal these wounds has been my guiding star in each endeavor I have undertaken.”
Baghdassarian’s dedication to human rights work has been fostered through her participation in the HLS Advocates student practice organization, of which she has been a leader since her 1L year. In Advocates, Baghdassarian found new ways to foster community among students and alumni, organizing a series of coffee chats and an alumni network that will launch later this year. She has also initiated several substantive projects for the organization, including a collaboration with Human Rights First in response to events in Armenia and writing an international accountability report jointly with students at Yale University.
As a 2L, Baghdassarian began the first of her many clinical experiences with the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC). “Anoush’s passion for service and her tireless commitment to the communities she has been working with to advance justice is so apparent to everyone she meets,” said Clinical Professor and Co-Director of IHRC Tyler Giannini. “What’s all the more impressive is how she motivates and engages others to join her efforts, amplifying her pro bono work by creating a community of students to serve others. That’s what the Kaufman Pro Bono Award is all about, and it is wonderful to see her receive this recognition for all she has done for human rights and justice during her time in law school.”
During the spring of 2021, Baghdassarian joined the Government Lawyer: U.S. Attorney Clinic, followed by the Criminal Prosecution Clinic during her 3L year. “My clinical and pro bono experience at HLS taught me that the law is not a passive tool, but that it is actively wielded by an agent, the lawyer,” reflects Baghdassarian. “Most importantly, it taught me through countless examples and practice how to be a responsible, ethical, innovative, and kind lawyer, an invaluable and necessary complement to learning the law in the classroom.”
Baghdassarian has also been a member of two student practice organizations, Harvard Mediation Program and Prison Legal Assistance Project, and she completed an independent clinical with the Center for Justice and Accountability. She has been a pro bono volunteer at the Armenian Bar Association, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Access to Justice Lab, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Counterterrorism Section. On campus, she has served as the executive online editor of the Harvard Human Rights Journal, a research assistant for several human rights clinicians, and an article editor for the International Law Journal, in addition to being involved with La Alianza and Parody.
“She is always lifting other people up with her,” says Svoboda. “Anoush tirelessly tries to find ways she can use her boundless energy and the knowledge she is gaining in her legal career to facilitate good.”
“I have heard from others that if you do what you love, then you never work a day in your life,” reflects Baghdassarian. “I have found that to be exceptionally true. It has never felt like I was doing work; rather, it’s always felt as if there was so much more I could be doing, and so many more causes I could be helping. And there are. And likely always will be. This award signifies to me that this work will always be necessary and that others who have come before me have set the path forward for a career dedicated to using this degree to help others; it is a privilege to be honored amongst them and a responsibility I plan to take on with great care.”
After graduation, Baghdassarian will work at the International Criminal Court as a visiting professional through the support of the International Legal Studies fellowship. In January 2024, she will return for a clerkship on the Second Circuit. “To both those experiences and beyond,” she says, “I take with me a newfound appreciation and recognition of not just the law, but my role as a lawyer with the agency to use the law in ways that match and reflect the significance of the responsibility bestowed upon us to do good in this world, close wounds, and alleviate the sense of ethical loneliness afflicting too many communities today.”