Keghart.com editorial, 18 August 2018
During the seventy years of Soviet rule in Armenia, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) pursued an anti-Soviet policy with remarkable single-mindedness. Sometimes the party honchos seemed to have forgotten that the enemy was west of Armenia. The ARF was so zealous in its hostility to the Soviets that some members joined the Nazi army to fight “godless Bolsheviks”. After the Second World War, “socialist” ARF went to bed with the U.S—the helmsman of the global capitalist camp. The latter’s State Department and CIA assistance, through King Hussein of Jordan and Camille Chamoun of Lebanon, the ARF-ruled Cilicia Catholicosate retrieved the “hand” (“ACH”) of St. Gregory the Illuminator which had been stolen from the Cilicia See in Antelias, Lebanon. The CIA bought printing presses for Beirut’s “Aztag” newspaper, the leading organ of the ARF. The Americans also helped with Antelias’ expansion into traditionally-Echmiadzin leaning communities such as Iran, Iraq, and Greece.
The ARF’s unwavering hostility towards Moscow didn’t go unnoticed in Soviet Armenia. Many in our homeland considered the ARF heroic and the genuine voice of the oft-dreamt “free and independent” Armenia. Thus when the Soviet Union collapsed, the ARF rushed to Armenia to claim its place in the sun. The party was welcomed with open arms. People had great expectations from the Armenian David who had “fought” the Soviet Goliath. However, the honeymoon was short-lived: people became disenchanted by ARF blunders, hunger for power, cynicism and elastic ideology. As a result, votes cast in support of the party shrank. The best results (2007) the ARF managed was the election of sixteen MPs in the 131-member National Assembly with a popular vote of 13.16%. A decade later (2017) the popularity was halved to 6.58% and seven MPs were elected in a downsized National Assembly of 105 members.
During the Kocharian and Sargsyan regimes, the ARF came to be known as the opportunist Diasporan political party. To taste power, the ARF was willing to be “flexible” and ally with the kleptocracy. So it was no surprise when the party announced a power-sharing deal with Serge Sargsyan’s Republican Party. In a demonstration of in-your-face cynicism, ARF leader Armen Rustamyan stated the party had developed close relations with the Republican Party because the ARF was “looking to change the quality, approach and policies of the government and to change the situation in this country.” Predictably, the statement became the laughing stock from Gyumri to Ghapan.
Despite the party’s unpopularity, Sargsyan awarded several leaders of the ARF diplomatic posts and ministries. Sargsyan’s doors were open to the ARF because the Armenian leadership knew the ARF is the strongest of the Diaspora political parties. When Turkey attacks Diaspora Armenians, its number one bête noire is the “fascist” and “terrorist” ARF. Sargsyan must have also remembered that years earlier the ARF organized demonstrations against him when he visited overseas Armenian communities during the Protocol controversy.
Although the Ramgavars and Hnchags are close to Echmiadzin rather than to Antelias, Armenia’s governments didn’t take the two Diaspora parties seriously. The Ramgavars are a much-weaker party in the Diaspora after they split into two because of disagreements about elections and succession. The commander of one faction is in his eighties and has been party leader for eons. The Hnchags, once serious rivals of the ARF, are ghosts with a flag, a negligible membership and activity. The Ramgavars and the Hnchags pout or snicker at the shenanigans of Teflon ARF. They watch with envy the fancy footwork of the chameleon ARF but don’t do more than snipe: the slippery ARF always has a justification for its unseemly acts. One of the games the Diaspora ARF is expert at is the disassociation game: when the Armenia ARF makes an unpopular decision or says the wrong thing, its Diaspora twin blandly claims the Armenia ARF is a separate entity and its decisions aren’t always seconded by the Diaspora ARF. Meanwhile, the two work together.
The Armenians in our homeland quickly got the measure of the ARF and rejected its lack of principles and its failed efforts to seem relevant. But the members of the “politically sophisticated” Diaspora ARF have chosen to remain blind to the shortcomings of the party.
Rather than snipe and gossip about the ARF follies, the Ramgavars and the Hnchags should invest their time to revive their organizations so as to become credible once again. Otherwise, the Diaspora will have a single voice—that of the ARF. The Ramgavars should end their personality clash and regroup. The Hnchags should either get their act together or end the farce that they’re a functioning party.
The situation is critical for the Ramgavar and Hnchag parties. As a result of Armenia ARF’s cynical games (with a nudge, nudge from its Diaspora counterpart), the ARF is vulnerable. No one—except the hardcore Tashnags–are buying the fairy tale that the Armenia and Diaspora ARFs are separate entities. If the Ramgavars and the Hnchags are serious about their mission, now is the time to become credible alternatives to the ARF. There’s a whole new generation in the Diaspora which has lost interest in Armenian politics mainly because of ARF’s authoritarian ways and the disappointing performance of the Ramgavars and the Hnchags. The two parties should demonstrate to the Diaspora that they are capable and willing to be the voice of the silent majority which has chaffed for too long subject to ARF’s conceit that it is the only voice of the Diaspora.