A Letter to a Friend – Why the Silence and Inactivity?

Dikran Abrahamian MD, Ontario, 10 November 2008

 

From the moment that the present rulers came to power in Armenia there were reservations and critical appraisals. Initially that involved the fraudulent presidential election, then the brutal way of silencing the opposition. The most serious matter was yet to come – a course of diplomacy that is at high gears to implement what some call a sell out, including but not limited to lethally compromising decades’ long struggle of the Diaspora for recognition of the Genocide of the Armenians and the security of Artsakh.

Dikran Abrahamian MD, Ontario, 10 November 2008

 

From the moment that the present rulers came to power in Armenia there were reservations and critical appraisals. Initially that involved the fraudulent presidential election, then the brutal way of silencing the opposition. The most serious matter was yet to come – a course of diplomacy that is at high gears to implement what some call a sell out, including but not limited to lethally compromising decades’ long struggle of the Diaspora for recognition of the Genocide of the Armenians and the security of Artsakh.

Recently, during a personal visit to Southern California, the above topics were the subject of discussions with many that I met: editors, writers, activists, party officials and ordinary folks of various affiliations and persuasions. Some had praiseworthy remarks about our community. Indeed a very well respected individual made the following observation, "we have seen the Canadian Armenian community being more active in the past couple of years." On the other hand, I heard some veiled critical remarks too, primarily related to the apparent silence of the community about the usurped power, ongoing violations of human and civil rights, the predicament of the political prisoners, and inactivity of the community regarding recent diplomatic initiatives of Armenia.

 

While thanking for the positive remarks, I’ll attempt to address the issues of silence and inactivity pointed out by many related to the above concerns. To avoid hurting the sensitivities of people involved in the affairs of our community in Canada, I’ll describe the situation in as mundane and neutral terms as possible. That may not be always possible; for the sake of keeping good relations, covering realities is not an option – particularly at this juncture when so much is at stake.

 

AWA, The Armenian World Alliance in Toronto, comprises Henchags, Ramgavars and individuals who are ideologically oriented but not members of political parties. Up to recently ADL, the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party was a constituent of the formation. It’s no longer the case, because the ADL leadership in Toronto opted out. Subsequently, to the chagrin of several sympathizers of AWA, it joined CCA – the Congress of Armenian Canadians based in Montreal.

 

CCA, despite being cognizant of the fact that the presidential election was anything but fair, did not hesitate to congratulate the new president, and simply made lukewarm remarks about the March First tragedy. ADL did the same along with AGBU and others, such as the Armenian Assembly in USA. It’s worth noting that the Armenian Diocese of Canada is part of CCA, and the Primate ex-officio has to follow instructions from the Catholicosate in Etchmiadzin. Understandably, that leads to limited independent local actions critical of many societal flaws in Armenia.

 

Of late some sympathizers of CCA were privately questioned why the silence about what has happened and what is evolving. The answers have been less than satisfactory. It seems that CCA concerns itself only with matters of the Genocide of the Armenians and recognition of the Genocide – a very convenient non-answer.  Others have just shaken their heads without providing a straight-forward reply.

 

ANCC, the Armenian National Committee of Canada, deplored and condemned the use of violence in Tibet. However, it seems the binoculars were set to see the higher elevations of the "Roof of the World" bypassing regions around Ararat. Flip-flopping between opposition and coalition in Armenia, the ARF – the overseer of ANCs worldwide – set the tone for the rest of the chapters in the Diaspora including Canada. Of course, once the agenda of his Excellency the President of Armenia became more obvious, it felt uneasy to say the least. How to handle the inconsistencies between goals that are held dear and reality? There have been news items circulating in the ARF affiliated media elsewhere, but nothing substantial in Canada.

 

As in other Armenian communities, independent individuals, intellectuals who for one reason or another have apathy towards recognized organizations, tried to break the silence. They wrote open letters, participated in various petitions, initiated public and on-line discussions, and posted articles in websites. The number of people involved in such activities is impressive; but due to the lack of coordination between individuals it did not materialize into a unified voice asserting itself in Canada, let alone be adequately heard in the motherland.

 

Is it time for action? Probably yes; but given the realities that a primate effectively sets the trend of what’s to be done in one of the organizations and dichotomy characterizes a coalition partner in Armenia, it’s hard to expect anything substantive yet. Independents are silenced, and sometimes – deliberately or inadvertently – their initiatives are undermined.

 

Will the Canadian Armenian community be more active and be heard? It’s argued that such a flow is tantamount to interference in the affairs of Armenia. Nevertheless, equally valid is the argument that highest officials of Armenia have already hampered the efforts of the Diaspora. They have provided invaluable opportunities to the Turkish state controlled propaganda machine. That  colossal institution disseminates misinformation through the media and spreads confusion through delegations and various councils. It has become all the more difficult to expand the circle of jurisdictions that have recognized the Genocide – that horrible traumatic communal experience that kept and keeps the Diaspora together – a pathological phenomenon, yet very real.

Expecting the organizations to take the lead is to witness more of the same, for as long as individuals and coalitions in the organizations are worried about their own interests – personal or otherwise. The moment that their prerogatives get seriously curtailed they’ll raise their voice – an event that was observed during the first administration in Armenia. Meanwhile it’s up to the people who profess to be independents, up to the intellectuals and professionals who are concerned about the hazardous course that Armenia has taken, to coalesce and get the Canadian Armenian community into the national discourse that began with a rough ride.

Interview of President Serzh Sargsyan with the German Newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung"

11.11.2008

Mr. President, last week in Moscow you reached the agreement with the President of Azerbaijan regarding the resolution of the NK conflict – the cause of strained relations between the two countries for so long. What are the prospects?

The very fact that the signed document rules out the use of military force is very important for us. Of course, this is only a Declaration, and we would be happy to turn it into agreement. However, I don't wish to underestimate the significance of that document. I am also glad that Azerbaijan has signed a document which recognizes all the principles of international law as the basis for the resolution of the conflict and not only the principle of territorial integrity. I also assess positively the fact that despite some sharp comments regarding the activities of the Minsk Group, the MG format and the mediating role of the Co-Chairs – the US, Russia and France, have been highlighted.

Are you ready to withdraw forces from the NK adjacent seven territories as it is demanded?

The essential issue of this conflict is the status of Nagorno Karabakh. Azerbaijan must recognize the right of people of Nagorno Karabakh to exercise their right for self-determination. The resolution of this fundamental issue would bring about the solutions for all other issues. The control over these territories is not a self-serving purpose for us – its purpose is Karabakh's security. Today it is necessary for us to negotiate the principles of settlement which could be followed by the principal peace agreement. We have a long way to go.

You are a native of Karabakh yourself. Do you think Karabakh could remain an autonomous province of Azerbaijan?

The whole point is that the necessary conditions must be created for the safe and secure development of the NK population. History proves that it is impossible while remaining the part of Azerbaijan. For us Karabakh as a part of Azerbaijan in any status is not an option. 

Recently you visited Brussels. Do you think the EU has a role to play in the resolution of the conflict?

When one of the sides deviates from the course and violates the peaceful nature of the process, Europe should clearly state that. Besides, if an international organization emphasizes the importance of one principle for the resolution of the conflict over the other principle, it encourages the actions of that country on that direction and thus displays an unconstructive approach. The United States and some European nations in case of Kosovo applied the right of people for self-determination. When the same approach was applied by Russia, it's been rejected by the US and Europe. 

However, isn't it true that you have not recognized South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence?

You're right. We haven't recognized Kosovo's independence either. We cannot recognize independence of these countries as long as we don't recognize Karabakh's independence. Our people would not understand that. Now you may want to ask me why don't we recognize Karabakh's independence. We consider the recognition of Karabakh's independence the last step in this process. We are not strong enough to unilaterally recognize Karabakh's independence and thus bring the peace process to its end.

What geopolitical consequences had Georgia's war for you?

The events proved the vulnerability of the region. Georgia is very important for us since 70 per cent of our trade is conducted via this country. Besides, 350,000 Armenian reside in Georgia. At the same time, we are strategic partners with Russia. For us it is important to synchronize these two differing commitments, and I think we have succeeded. We have different approaches with Georgia on a number of principle issues, but we, naturally, avoid anything which could be deemed as hostile. And despite the numerous changes that have taken place in the region after the war, thanks God, I can tell you that the Armenian-Georgian relations and the Armenian-Russian relations have not been damaged. 

Armenia is also a member to the NATO Partnership Plan. Do you think that one of the lessons this war taught is that NATO should stay clear from this region?

I wouldn't say that. In that case future development of our relations with NATO would be impossible. We consider cooperation with NATO a component of our security structure. On the other hand, we are not aspiring to join NATO. Creation of new dividing lines in our region could be very dangerous. This is a lesson of the Georgian war. 

Should your neighbors abandon their efforts to join NATO?

I cannot speak for other countries. For the last ten years we have been trying to conduct a balanced policy which would not oppose the interests of the US, Russia, and NATO. It might be tempting to try to play on the contradictions of these powers, but at the same time, it is very dangerous. 

Recently you have invited the President of Turkey to Armenia, to watch a football game. The entire world welcomed your initiative. Today the Turks propose to establish a historians' commission to do research on the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Do you think it would be helpful?

There is no need for it whatsoever. We don't think it will get us anywhere. We wish to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries without preconditions, to open the borders, and after that we can discuss on the intergovernmental level the whole range of issues existing between neighbor states. We do not put the recognition of the Genocide by Turkey as a precondition for the establishment of bilateral relations. We wish to establish relations but not at any cost. In the past the European nations did not create any commissions for the establishment of normal relations either. Such a step could also mean an attempt to mislead the international community, especially when the process could last for years. 

Do you think Armenia could become a transit route like Georgia for the transportation of energy resource to Europe?

I don't think we should try to substitute anyone. However, we unequivocally strive to have a well-developed infrastructure, to supply alternative routes. We would like to see our communication lines with Azerbaijan and Turkey reopened. We also wish to build in Armenia a north-south railroad which can in future connect Armenia to Iran. The more developed and diversified our infrastructure is, the more attractive and secure Armenia would be. 

Interview conducted by Nicolas Boussen.

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