A Promising Dual Effort

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 29 November 2011

It took almost 20 years following the tragic events of the ’50s (particularly in Lebanon) for Diaspora Armenians to finally see eye-to-eye and start thinking about Pan-Armenianism in practice. Probably the establishment of the Association of the Armenian University Graduates in Beirut in the ’70s was that concrete example of the trend which heralded the start of the healing process of our self-inflicted wounds. Several conventions, held in Paris and elsewhere, initiated by Rev. James Karnusian were a search for a formula around which Armenians could gather together. Then, of course, the policy of “positive neutrality” during the civil war in Lebanon helped solidify the trend. In recent years the announcement of the infamous Protocols provided an impetus to carry forward the task of organizing the Diaspora in a manner that would reflect its priorities and assert itself on the international scene. Lastly, the forthcoming 100th Anniversary of the Genocide of the Armenians has subconsciously imparted urgency to activities aimed at unity, if not in organization in principles.

Overall  while Diaspora wants to move forward and meet the challenges of today and tomorrow in a unified manner, there still persists a sector which harps on divisions, enumerates failed attempts and shortfalls in technicalities as arguments, and thus hinders progress. Excuses abound why unity cannot be achieved. In most cases these are symptomatic of a predisposition to inaction. Fortunately, there is no scarcity of people who, despite being skeptic, are willing to share their experiences with well-documented discourses, pointing out the pitfalls and what to look for when establishing an entity manifesting unity of purpose.

In recent years Keghart.com has devoted many words to the subject of unity and about recent initiatives, singling out Harut Sassounian’s proposal of “an Elective Democratic Diaspora Structure” (EDDS) and the “Western Armenian National Congress” (WAN-C). These earnest activities, representing two concepts, almost coincided and led to confusion among some readers.

The “Elective Democratic Diaspora Structure” refers strictly to Armenians living in the Diaspora. It plans to create an entity from bottom up through ballot–on the one person one vote principle. It proposes to deal with all the problems that the Diaspora faces, including but not limited, to social, educational, political and genocide issues along with HAI TAD. There is no illusion among adherents that such a task is not of Herculean proportions. However, it is heartening to hear from Sassounian himself: “I am continuing my private discussions with all sorts of people, including heads of Armenian organizations. Recently, I made important headway with the leader of a major organization. I will continue my efforts in this regard, until the worldwide structure becomes a reality.”

Meanwhile, in less than two weeks, a group of Ottoman-Armenian survivors’ descendants will convene in Sèvres, the famed suburb of Paris, to lay the cornerstone of the “Western Armenian National Congress.” Attendees will come from the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, and Australia, in addition to representatives from Armenia, Artsakh and the Russian Federation descended from Genocide survivors. Ostensibly the primary goal of WAN-C is to be “a legitimate representational institution that can negotiate for the rights of the victims of genocide and their descendants” in international institutions. Unlike EDDS, the promoters are intellectuals, diplomats, politicians, historians, journalists, businessmen and activists.

Obviously, in contrast to EDDS the “Congress” has an “elitist” approach at least in its initial formative phase of establishment, but it is proposed that delegates will be “elected” by communities in the future. In June of this year an attempt was made to create such a possible prototype, based on democratic principles. 120 people, some representing various compatriotic associations, convened in Moscow and elected 40 delegates by secret ballot. They were from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Doni Rostov, Vladikavkaz, Sochi, Adler, Krasnodar, Omsk, Petrozavodsk, Vladivostok, Crimea and Abkhazia.

Keghart.com team and its friends welcome both above initiatives despite several reservations we have aired about WAN-C. Ultimately, one has to “work in the garden.” Only by getting involved and exchanging opinion can change occur. The sidelines are a dead end. A number of close friends have pointed out that these may lead to “two divergent, separate efforts” implying that supporting one or the other may be perceived as being pro or anti the other. We prefer to look at it differently. Yes, they are “separate efforts” and there are dissimilarities, but the two are not mutually exclusive. Dissimilarities emanate from the goals that each supports and the composition of membership.

1.EDDS ideally would like to be a representative body of Diaspora Armenians, as pointed out above; WAN-C proposes to represent only the descendants of Genocide survivors wherever they are.

2.EDDS plans to deal with a whole array of issues that face the Armenian Diaspora, while WAN-C limits itself primarily to being an entity pursuing our rights beyond recognition of the Genocide.

3.EDDS is a populist democratic body that will involve people from all walks of life. Being a specialized entity WAN-C can’t claim the same membership numbers as EDDS, but may garner vast popular support provided it walks the talk.

An area where the two “efforts” may converge is in the most crucial matter–HAI TAD and all related issues. We hope WAN-C will be established as planned and over the coming years amass an invaluable experience for all concerned, not excluding RoA, the traditional Armenian political parties and EDDS when “it becomes a reality.” Supporting WAN-C does not exclude participation in EDDS and vice versa. WAN-C has the potential of acting as a complementary entity to already existing organizations or individuals who are pursuing HAI TAD, with the difference that the undertaking will be more specialized and focused.

No single existing or proposed organization can be without fault; the contemplated congress or EDDS will be far from being perfect. However, to limit failures and pitfalls it’s essential to participate in either initiative with an eye on “progressive democratization, transparency of efforts, focused approach to issues at hand” as a close friend of Keghart.com Viken L. Attarian of Montreal would say.

  1. Dual Organizations

    After such a long slumber, it’s good to have two serious organizations intent at obtaining justice for the Armenian nation. Let’s not criticize these nascent organizations. Let’s hope that in due course they will align their efforts and become the major representative of Diaspora Armenians. I also hope (a big hope) that our political parties do not sabotage the efforts of these two groups and instead support them.

    Our political organizations have done a tremendous job in Hayabahbanoom and in bringing the Genocide to the attention of the western world. It’s time to move to the second phase of our national struggle… through these two groups.

  2. “Dual Effort” Editorial

    Whenever an organization announces that it is seeking to form an organization to unite the Armenians and indicates in its announcment that it is inviting other Armenian organizations to come and join/talk, it is also saying, in effect. "we are also sowing the seeds of our destruction." History has shown that no Armenian organization that purports to "represent" the Armenians will ever support the creation of another organization "that represents" the Armenians.

    The organizer of any new group must invite individuals, not organizations, to talk/join. As soon as the invitee utters the words, "We believe. . . ." or "We want. . . ." the new organiztion is dead.

    Until it is admitted by all Armenians that the organizations still polluting the Diapora atmosphere did the Amenians no good in the 19th century, no good in the 20th century, and no good even now in the 21st century, accepting them as valid organizations to be invited to a "unity" meeting is, to put it simply, foolish.


    1. What Do You Propose?

      Dear Avedis,

      I enjoy reading your columns in Keghart. I too am skeptical like you about Armenian organizations. We hear lots of criticism about them, but aren’t they holding the community together?

      Let’s say they are doing a lousy job, but aren’t organizations reflections of people forming communities? Hypothetically, let’s say the organizations did not exist; then how do you think the community should handle its affairs–cultural, educational, social, political, etc? And let’s leave aside the holy sounding Hai Tad for a moment.

      Many people, the silent majority, if you prefer, are not happy with the way things are. What’s the solution? Shall we give up and one day wake up and find that there are no more people speaking Armenian, going to Armenian churches or clubs? Do you have a proposal?


    2. Negativism

      To think about ways to improve the lot of the Armenian Diaspora takes love, dedication, knowledge, brains, optimism, and willingness to devote unpaid time, and hope that a serious, genuine effort would make a difference.

      On the other hand, to sit on the sidelines, to carp, to say all efforts (even before they are made) are doomed is lazy and as easy as typing this sentence. It’s defeatism–a defeatism that can dig the grave of the Armenian nation and carve an RIP on it. Of course, some people confuse negativism with sophistication and realism.

      The negativism displayed in Mr. Kevorkian’s letter can be self-fulfilling prophecy. His "prediction" that esablished organizations would sabotage the two new entities could discourage Armenian masses from supporting the two new movements.

      I thought America was the "can do" country and fatalism was a Middle Eastern curse.


  3. Duel in Diaspora

    I take an exception to the title of this editorial that qualifies the efforts of these two groups “promising”.
    In my view, those who espouse these efforts are from segments of our community who distance themselves from our established political parties and their affiliates. They could not possibly espouse different causes. Paradoxically some of them draw inspiration from the historic 1919 Paris Peace conference in Sevres in spite of the fact that the two delegates were from established orders; Avedis Aharanonian as a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and Boghos Noubar Pasha as a member of the Armenian General Benevolent.
    At best the end result will be another assembly of “independents” who will need to headquarter their operation somewhere other than in Washington. Other “independents” have already assembled and structured themselves there as the Armenian Assembly.
    Those who are spearheading these drives of late remind me of Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s utterance:  ‘there are too many candidates and not enough platforms to go around’. 
    1. Where are the platforms?

      The organizations that you refer to had mere 29 and 13 years of existence respectively at the time of the Peace Conference. The ideas, prinicples and goals were attractive to people. They were young organizations. Over more than a century later they have become inflexible to adapt to new challenges.

      Here is the crucial matter – When all these many decades since the 50th Anniversary of the Genocide, and after so many intellectuals, community leaders, activists almost have begged the traditional organisations to develop new strategies to form some sort of an umbrella "home" where all can meet – the affiliated and what you call the "independents" – they have miserably failed to at least listen to those calls. Do you then blame people to explore new modalities? Where is the "platform" of the organizations in that regard?

      With respect to legally challenging Turkish usurpation what the traditional organizations have so far done is simply laughable. Of course, they have performed marvelously in carrying the propaganda aspect of recognition. How close has that brought us to what ultimately Armenians want? Challenging legally does not necessarily mean only and only demanding the lands. There are numerous issues that can be pursued through legal means. Please, here again, where is the "platform" of the traditional organisations?

      Why is it that you so carelessly treat the Assembly? Please check with ANCA where they learned the trade of lobbying? At one point they were within one group. Weren’t they? It’s so easy to say the "Assembly" is stationed in Washington. The euphamism is too naked. Where did the mother organization of ANCA station itself throughout the cold war period?

      Reagan’s "utterance" in the context above is irrelevant.

    2. Challenge

      Dear Garabed,

      When/if these two efforts demonstrate to Diaspora Armenians that both organizations have practical, well-thought and promising agendas Diaspora political parties would have no justification not to support WAN-C and EDDS. What’s more, these two organizations might gather support from "neutrals" (chezoks). In a way, I see WAN-C and EDDS as two organizations which are unintentionally challenging the political parties. It’s sort of a "put up or shut up" call to the Diaspora political parties.

      1. I put an end to my Duel

        The Editorial Board of Keghart.com should not have quoted Harut Sassounian having reported or said to have made headway with a “leader of a major organization” to structure his proposed EDDS. It is akin to tabloid hearsay and belittles a reader.

        I am curious to know what is Harut proposing us to do with our Armenian National Constitution "Հայ ազգային սահմանաադրութիւն", the Ottoman approved code of regulations that governed the Western Armenian millet in the Othman Empire since 1863? It is in force to day. Is he proposing to scrap it? Will his proposed EDDS be parallel hierarchy? Could EDDS have legal representation over the vast holdings of the Catholicosate of Cilicia across the Western Armenia? Skepticism aside, there should be some plausibility for a proposal. 

        1. Replying Garabed

          Dear Garabed,

          We are curious to know why in your opinion the "Editorial board" should not have quoted a much respected publisher like Sassounian. Rest assured that the quotation is verbatim. Why is it "akin to tabloid hearsay"? Could you please illuminate us?

          You have used the term "duel" in both of your most recent comments. Initially we thought that it was a typo-error, but when it was repeated then we had to presume that you really have meant "duel". Since when expressing divergent opinions with civility in public has been labelled as combat (to use another term for it) and with whom?

          We feel that it is Mr. Sassounian’s prerogative to answer your questions or not. He is under no obligation at all to accommodate you under this roof. He has his own publication, the California Courier and you can raise the matter with him. Nonetheless, it is your right to raise such matters wherever you feel comfortable.


          Dikran Abrahamian

          1. “Dual” and “Duel”


            Sireli Dikran,
            I used the word “duel” as an eye catcher to the editorial party titled "dual",as a play on words if you will,  to reflect a controversial issue.
            Statement of “having consulted a leader of major organization” is akin to tabloid reporting from unnamed sources, as far as I am concerned. I am sure that he has quoted this to you in verbatim. I never questioned that or intended to question it.
            However, I took issue with it being presented in the editorial for me, as a reader, to ascribe credibility because this unnamed leader of that unnamed organization which is claimed to be a major one has consented to the idea of EDDS, by implication to have that major organization endeavor towards the realization of EDDS. However, neither the naming of the leader, nor of the organization is for me, as a reader, to know. I did not find the inclusion of such a quote appropriate for an editorial.





  4. Tossing the coin?

    Dear Dikran,

    While it is heartwarming to see that so much is being done to have a legal registered organization that will represent the Armenian Diaspora, I cannot but help to think it might come as a package with various problems included in it.

    While you did explain the differences between the two organizations, namely the " Elective Democratic Diaspora Structure” (EDDS) and the “Western Armenian National Congress” (WAN-C), I still have to ask a few questions.

    Do you think both can co-exist with the required harmony? Or how democratic would the EDDS actually be? Is it going to be as Democratic as the Government of Armenia is? Obviously the influential ones will win the elections. But will these people who are elected as representatives for whatever reasons take the whole organization seriously? Will they actually work hard to reach the goals that the organization will have or will they go there and do nothing?

    Or how is the decision making going to be? What if a wicked majority votes against constructive policies?

    You had written that Sasounian wants to include different Armenian organizations. Do you think it is possible for these organizations to agree? After all it means that they will be using the role they play. Will they make that great a sacrifice, after all many of these organizations earn a lot of money I suppose from Diaspora donations. Will they be ready to lose this easy income?

    Let me explain another worry of mine. In India we have a small community. Now while majority of them don’t know how to speak or write Armenian, there is practically hardly anyone who knows what the Armenian Genocide includes. Yes they know a single line of it-that the Armenians were killed by the Turks. But nothing more. The ones who know are the students of Armenian College, and they are either from Iran, Iraq or Armenia. And they are students. Consider that the Armenian community of India is electing its representatives. It is obvious that the current church committee will be the probable ones to be representing us. Knowing them I can assure you they will be of no help to the organization. The only possible way for the Armenian community in India to help is to provide financial support, which I doubt (for valid reasons) they will. This is just one example.

    Now there might be such problems in the different communities in various countries. How will EDDS benefit or how harmful will this be?

    Will it be possible for Armenians from different walks of life, different countries having different viewpoints about an issue finally agree on a point? Will it not create internal conflict and problems, because if it does then the organization will not function smoothly, thus being more a curse rather than a blessing.

    These are some worries that come to my mind. I can be wrong no doubt, but in case I am right, how has the organization planned to tackle the various problems that might arise. ?

    Yes, it has a lot of advantages. After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But at least let us make sure that this step is taken in the right direction. If we can do that, and if we can clearly differentiate between EDDS and WAN-C and provide them from ever colliding  in any matter or platform, then we can see a better future for our nation. However, if we cannot and do not prevent this, then I am afraid we will have created ourselves a Frankenstein Monster.

    Thank You.


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