From Bickering to Dialogue

Believing in a Greater Armenian Community

By Raffi Yeretsian, B.Sc., LL.B., Montreal, 1 July 2013

The unwinding of events following Bishop Bagrat Galstanyan’s ousting as Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada, at the 30th Diocesan Delegates’ Assembly a little over a month ago, was as captivating as it was distressing. The widespread concern for community affairs we have witnessed was unprecedented. For once, a decision mattered. The announcement of the bishop’s removal came as a shock to many who shared an affection for the warm and charismatic clergyman who embodied the greater ideals of inclusiveness, service and unity. The dismay expressed by frustrated individuals revealed a malaise that went beyond the outcome of the contested vote. Indeed, since the beginning of the crisis, the members of the community were not treated as stakeholders. They were left uninformed, distracted from the real issues and too often taken for granted. Although action should have come earlier, it is suggested that a public forum with the purpose of facilitating a dialogue among delegates and community members is the most expedient way of turning this crisis into an opportunity to further political maturity.

Believing in a Greater Armenian Community

By Raffi Yeretsian, B.Sc., LL.B., Montreal, 1 July 2013

The unwinding of events following Bishop Bagrat Galstanyan’s ousting as Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada, at the 30th Diocesan Delegates’ Assembly a little over a month ago, was as captivating as it was distressing. The widespread concern for community affairs we have witnessed was unprecedented. For once, a decision mattered. The announcement of the bishop’s removal came as a shock to many who shared an affection for the warm and charismatic clergyman who embodied the greater ideals of inclusiveness, service and unity. The dismay expressed by frustrated individuals revealed a malaise that went beyond the outcome of the contested vote. Indeed, since the beginning of the crisis, the members of the community were not treated as stakeholders. They were left uninformed, distracted from the real issues and too often taken for granted. Although action should have come earlier, it is suggested that a public forum with the purpose of facilitating a dialogue among delegates and community members is the most expedient way of turning this crisis into an opportunity to further political maturity.

Until about two weeks ago, the community was still awaiting the verdict of His Holiness Karekin II with respect to the allegations of procedural breaches during the controversial vote. The vote would have been rendered void had these allegations been proven. For Bishop Bagrat’s supporters, a finding of such breaches would have raised the hopes of his rightful return. In a recent turn of events, however, the resignation of the Primate-elect, V. Rev. Fr. Aren Jebejian, and the announcement by Karekin II of new elections seem to indicate a desirefor the Church’s leadership in Echmiadzin to avoid dealing with the delicate matter of procedural breaches.

Although such a decision may be intended to bring a swift sense of appeasement within the community, the appropriateness of warding off the issues underlying the controversy is questionable.

The community is bound to remain split on the issue. It is doubtful that either of the pro-Galstanyan and anti-Galstanyan delegates will suddenly change their views. While it is uncertain whether Bishop Bagrat will accept his nomination to be reinstated in the upcoming elections, the polarization within the Diocesan Assembly and the community is almost certain to endure. Despite the apparent abatement of protests, the current situation makes the prospect of appeasement uncertain, if not unlikely. Further, the opaqueness surrounding the strife opposing both sides of the divide is almost certain to perpetuate traditional governance whereby members of the community affected by their decisions are paradoxically kept in the dark and called upon for support. Although the ousting of Bishop Bagrat triggered this crisis, its evolution reveals a much deeper need to revisit the role of leadership within the Canadian-Armenian community.

Until today traditional elitist governance, prevalent in the Canadian-Armenian community, made it irrelevant for its leadership to justify their decisions. This opaque leadership was not contested because, perhaps in a cynical way, these decisions were regarded irrelevant by a significant part of the community. And thus, unsurprisingly, the delegates in favor of replacing Bishop Bagrat never formally took the initiative to inform the community members of the motives behind their decision. While this attitude can be explained, its persistence within the specific context of this crisis was morally unjustifiable. From the moment that a large number of community members signed the online petition, that the decision was being hotly debated on social media and that a good number of individuals attended a silent protest in front of the primacy in Montreal, the anti-Galstanyan delegates must have realized that their decision was widely unpopular. From that moment on, any objection to justify their position on the matter was perceived as a blatant disregard for the concern expressed by members of the community. In spite of the distasteful means used by a few to express their objection, the anti-Galstanyan delegates had a duty to confront Bishop Bagrat’s supporters to provide them with the motives of their decision. As leaders responsible for the proper governance of the Church and the well-being of the community, they should have taken these protests seriously. Even if they were unwilling to review their position, they still had the duty to justify what they regarded as a favorable outcome and to seek to understand the frustration felt by those who saw the vote as an injustice.

From a perspective of strategic communication, the anti-Galstanyan delegates’ refusal to disclose their motives gave the impression that they were hiding something, a perception that has actually been quite aggressively instrumentalized by pro-Galstanyan group. To justify their action, some individuals raised the potentially devastating effect that such disclosure would have on the community. Better things are left unsaid, they claimed. Such a stance reveals an underlying skepticism of the capacity of members of the community to exercise their judgment independently. In some way, by refusing to share their version of the story with the community, they perpetuated the conditions justifying their opacity. By refusing to inform the members, they paved the way for speculation, something people naturally resort to as a way of coping with a confusing situation. Under such circumstances, distressed and bewildered members became prone to manipulation and were labeled as such by the leaders. Ultimately, leaders consider these same individuals as lacking the independence of mind necessary for a reasonable assessment of the situation and so justify their attitude. In other words, opaque leadership perpetuates the very conditions that seemingly justify its existence.

Direct contact and exchange between frustrated members and contested delegates in an atmosphere of cooperation would have helped to dispel any speculation regarding the latter’s motives or any doubt regarding their concern for the well-being of the community.

Through enabling an informed debate, open disclosure of the motives would have also created favorable conditions for a more thorough and intelligent discussion among members of the community regarding its internal affairs. Additional information would have contributed to the elevation and political sophistication of the community. By declining to be transparent, the anti-Galstanyan members missed an opportunity to promote a balanced debate on what constitutes worthy leadership–the question at the heart of the current crisis. Perhaps they could have even persuaded a number of members that their decision was well founded. More fundamentally, they took part in perpetuating the very conditions of opacity and frenzied speculation that merely contributed to aggravating the crisis.

Prior to submitting this commentary, a meeting regarding the controversy was convened at the primacy in Montreal on July 4 at 8 p.m. Although such a meeting would have been more appropriate at an earlier date, such an initiative represents a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the organizers will make an effort to reach every concerned member of the community as well as to address their concerns as being genuine and serious.

The way in which the pro-Galstanyan faction handled the crisis is not immune to blame either. Their strategy consisted primarily in labeling their opponents as puppets, controlled by ill-intentioned individuals, dishonest and unreasonable. They avoided confrontation on substantial issues, namely the motives behind their adversaries’ position. The pro-Galstanyan actors exploited the popularity of Bishop Bagrat to discredit their opponents. The issue, however, should not have been the popularity of Bishop Bagrat but rather whether he had done something morally reprehensible to the point of compelling a majority of members of the Diocesan Assembly to replace him. If the pro-Galstanyan side wanted to constructively criticize their opponents, they should have emphasized the question of accountability; not simply the lack of popularity of their decision.

By doing so, it was implied that we should choose our leaders based solely on our emotional attachment and on what they embody, regardless of their actual leadership abilities or moral rectitude. Indeed, history provides us with many examples of morally wicked leader who were very lovable individuals. That said, the emotional attachment we feel towards our leaders is not completely irrelevant. Yet such affection cannot in and of itself be the sole source of legitimacy of a leader. By focusing exclusively on the affection people have for Bishop Bagrat, the pro-Galstanyan group prevented the emergence of a substantial debate regarding the alleged wrongdoings for which he was presumably ousted. The long-term impact of these attitudes is the continuation of emotion-driven community politics fuelled by a lack of information. Seeking the truth must be pursued as a way to make more informed and hopefully better decisions.

Some who lead the “Stay With Us” movement in support of Bishop Bagrat may argue that their knowledge of the latter’s moral rectitude and abilities as a leader was sufficient to justify their campaign directed against the anti-Galstanyan delegates, and also the joining of members to the cause. This justification, however, is based on the premise that statements made by leaders must be taken at face value. This discourages independent judgment and the condition of transparency without which such judgment is effectively disabled. This stance reveals a belief, seemingly shared by both parties to the dispute, that members of the community who are not involved in the day-to-day decision-making process cannot understand the substantial issues.

An anonymous letter entitled “Let’s set the record straight and then move ahead together for the benefit of our Church and community”, distributed on June 14, 2013 by email provides a poignant illustration of this mindset. From a public relations' perspective, the letter is intended to provide a more moderate pro-Galstanyan position by distancing itself from “occasionally excessive” writings and the “ugly language” they contain. This letter fails, however, to promote a more substantial debate on the core issues. The fact that the letter is written by an anonymous group–laconically referred to as “we” throughout the letter–makes it impossible for a diligent reader to validate the information contained therein. Further, the letter contains a notice mentioning that it “is based on first-hand information from reliable sources and verified facts and is issued by concerned members of our church on behalf of the more than 4,000 people who signed the petitions.” Referring to “reliable sources” in an anonymous letter that fails to identify these sources prevents anyone from verifying the validity of the facts put forth. Although it is claimed that these facts have been “verified”, any diligent reader would ask the following question: verified by whom? Impossible to know. How can anyone wishing to exercise his or her own critical thinking do so under such circumstances? The answer is that they obviously cannot. Implicitly, the letter is drafted upon the assumption that the readers should not use their judgment to form an opinion and that it is perfectly acceptable to take whatever is stated in the letter at face value. The disregard for independent judgment underlying this letter only serves to perpetuate a tradition of opacity within the community.

The notice also states that the letter was written by “concerned members of our church”, implying that the anti-Galstanyan delegates do not share this concern. What is implied is that those holding different opinions are not concerned and perhaps even that their interests lie elsewhere. The letter essentially expresses a judgment on the conscience of the anti-Galstanyan delegates, a tactic that unnecessarily diverts attention from the substantial issues at hand: whether their motives were reasonable and what should be considered good leadership within the Canadian-Armenian community.

Furthermore, the notice claims that the letter was written in the name of “the more than 4,000 people who signed the petitions”. The petition, however, was only intended to request His Holiness Karekin II to withhold ratification of the controversial decision. The letter goes further by making judgments regarding the motives of those who voted to oust Bishop Galstanyan and by implying their dishonesty. The petition was intended to support Bishop Bagrat, a highly popular and loved leader of the Armenian community, not to question the honesty or conscience of those who thought he should be replaced. Essentially, the authors of the letter equated a lack of popularity with dishonesty. This only contributed to diverting attention from the substantial issue at hand: on what grounds should a popular leader be ousted? Most fundamentally, they instrumentalized, in a reprehensibly dangerous manner, the name, identity and conscience of more than 4,000 individuals whose names can be easily traced online. The purpose of this was perhaps to give a sense of legitimacy to the claims contained without having to substantiate them but it was done so by hijacking the freedom of thought of the signatories. Signing the petition did not mandate an anonymous group to write the content of that letter in the name of those signatories. Although some may very well have agreed with the content of the letter, a clear mandate to that end should have been given. Contesting an unpopular decision is very different from questioning the moral rectitude of the proponents of that decision. By falsely declaring that they were acting in the name of the signatories of the petition the authors of the June 14 letter took hostage the conscience of the signatories of the petition. The authors unrightfully took the initiative to think in the name of others.

By their behavior, antagonists on both sides marked their preference for a short-term vision consisting of publicly discrediting each other while failing to properly inform the members of the community, the primary stakeholders in this dispute. The result has been acrimonious polarization. By their actions, both sides prevented the community from using this golden opportunity to mature politically. Under such circumstances, the moral foundations upon which our community is founded are at stake. How can the Canadian-Armenian community voice demands to Turkey of an honest assessment of its history when its own leaders are unable to respect the tenets of intellectual integrity? How can it promote further democratization of Armenia when its own leaders do not consider the grievances of its own members as indicators of legitimate concern? How can it consider itself Canadian at all if its leadership does not believe that the conscience of its own members matters? This having been said, something can still be done to stir this crisis in a more constructive direction.

It is argued that the best approach of ensuring an inclusive, transparent and efficient way of managing this crisis is to set up a public forum through which the concerned delegates would be called to clarify their position directly to the community. A truth-seeking public forum would bring two or three delegates of the Diocesan Assembly from both sides of the divide and would be given a chance to explain their side of the story. The public would be given the chance to ask questions. The discussions would be animated by a competent moderator.

Such a forum has the potential of being highly beneficial for the entire Canadian-Armenian community. Setting a precedent of cooperative dialogue as a viable dispute resolution alternative would assert our belief that we can, as a community, work together. It would allow both decision-makers and stakeholders to realize that our community is composed primarily of reasonable individuals who share a genuine concern for the well-being of the community in spite of their diverging views regarding what that well-being means. Direct communication would pave the way for the ending of speculation while elevating the discourse on community affairs. Encouraging involvement in and discussing community affairs would make the community relevant again. By engaging in a dialogue on what it truly means to be a leader in the community and under which circumstances one should be evicted would allow for the community to assert the values it expects its own leadership to uphold. Finally, by organizing a public forum where decision-makers would be asked to explain and justify their positions would set a precedent of accountability for all current and future decision-makers to bear in mind. It would be a healthy reminder that community decisions are relevant to individuals who are distant from the decision-making centers and that their interest should be taken into consideration.

This crisis compels Canadian-Armenians to reflect on the outcome they seek as a community. It represents an opportunity to make things better; to enhance community governance; to make the very concept of community more relevant for its stakeholders. The community can choose to uphold the values it perceived in Bishop Bagrat: inclusiveness, service and unity. Canadian-Armenians can choose to embrace these higher values that are not and should not stem from the work of one man only, for these ideals are everyone’s responsibility. It is a choice. It is a choice to believe in a greater community. Meeting and discussing by acknowledging each other’s concerns as worthy of serious consideration may very well be a first step in asserting this choice.

 

21 comments
  1. Invitation to Participation

    I read the above article with interest. My interest in the article resides in the fact that, indirectly, it leads to more fundamental issues concerning what we loosely call "the Armenian Community".

    The issue of the latest diocesan elections, and their outcome is only a relatively small issue within all other matters that constitute as many community issues. The latter can and should all be intelligently discussed only when those who wish to enter into those discussions also make the effort to understand the fundamental elements of those issues.

    I would welcome the possibility, if one can be created, to participate and contribute to such a discussion.
    Indeed, as a result of the outcome of those latest diocesan elections, suddenly havoc was raised about "why…how come…how dare you…" questions, followed with answers " because…nasty individuals…political parties…hidden reasons…" and all of the latter in the name of some 4,000 petitioners.

    I will not raise the issue of the validity of such questions and petitions.

    I will only ask in turn some questions, only as a vehicle to bring out the much more fundamental issues that such individuals are obligated to research first, ask questions for themselves and having obtained all the pertinent information, enter into the exercise of issuing opinions and verdicts, and creating havoc in the community which is not constructive at all: it is divisive and destructive.

    My diagnostic questions addressed to the 4,000 petitioners are the following:

    • Do you know exactly what is the Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada? When and how has it been created?
    • How are each of the parishes of the Diocese created? When and by who? How are they related to the Diocese?
    • How does this entity called Diocese of the Armenian Church of Canada function? For the better or worse, who bears the enormous financial and moral responsibility to make this sizable operation continue to exist, and function?
    • Have you ever, and to what extent, become interested and participated in the resolution of the naturally unending problems that affect this big organization?
    • Did you know that the Diocese was created around 1985 and since then there have been five elections for a primate every five years, some having been elected or re-elected, and some failing in the elections, and yet no havoc was raised at the time?

    I will stop here, because I believe I have made my point.

    The above questions are related only to the diocese. The community has many other issues related to its operation. The operation of the community is based on several structures. The structures are not created spontaneously, and are not maintained by the actions of the Holy Spirit.

    One has to be a participant and a concrete contributor to those structures; one has to spend continuously his/her valuable private time, money and effort in order to then have his/her say in what happens in those structures.
    Other than diocesan elections, there are many other big issues in the community. The survival of our language, the problems of the schools are only some of these. 

    Every one of these issues requires special attention, understanding of the fundamental issues, and then putting time, effort and money to help resolve them one-by-one following a constructive and intelligent process, rather than the signing of petitions.

    I would welcome all petitioners to bring their concrete participation in all the above matters.

    1. Long and Serious Article

      Dear readers of Keghart,

      When I read the long and serious article written by Raffi Yeretsian, I was positively impressed by the care this young and educated person had taken to give serious thought to analyze and write a somewhat balanced point of view about the diocesan elections of May 25th. However, since he had also touched on the much bigger issue of the Armenian community and how important matters are handled in that community, I invited him and all other individuals seriously interested in such and other larger and more important issues and  subjects to participate in an intelligent and in-depth discussion of all those issues.

      I expected that Keghart would provide an appropriate platform for such a healthy and constructive discussion. I may have made a mistake. So what? One learns every day. What a huge disappointment was it for me to see that, without any hesitation, comments seem to have followed my remarks, that were not at all related to Raffi's article, but that they were rather directed in an awkward way, to me personally, and Keghart offered a platform for their dissemination. If that happens to be all that Keghart can offer, I will simply stop taking any part in this discussion, as I am not interested in such mean and petty maneuvers, especially such as the one in the comment by Taro Alepian, who appeals to an anonymously-written page full of false allegations and distortions from Facebook, with the rather feeble implication of "it is not me, look what someone else-anonymous-is saying". It is rather pathetic indeed, from someone who tries to show respectability.

      Let me say to Taro and to that anonymous source (whose, identity is hardly veiled and is obviously close to Taro, although not from Laval) speaking of my legacy. I am very confident that it is solidly engraved in Montreal's history, backed by solid facts and multitudes of testimonials headed by such personalities as the late Alex Manoogian and the three recent presidents of the AGBU. The same applies to testimonials from the late Catholicos Vazken I and his  two successors. It's needless to quote scores of internationally-known and respected personalities, as well as many of my politically honest opponents…all based on close knowledge of my work. That poor, little anonymous person and any of his protectors can hardly affect such credentials. Don't even try, it is futile.

      Concerning Hagop, he too is well known to me. I appreciated that he likes my style! That makes me feel good, as I am only a scientist but he is a man of letters. The only comment I can make to him in this limited space is that all those kind and Christian, church-loving persons would have felt, I am sure, outraged had the proper actions not been taken, and as a result, they would have found their beloved church repossessed by a bank, or their other beloved church fallen into bankruptcy, even though the bishop knew their names and had a big smile on his face. By the way, the bishop never wanted to hear anything from those "uncle"s, from all across Canada, that Hagop refers to.
       

      Dear Raffi, continue your serious involvement. I am always willing to participate in a serious and intelligent discussion, as I wrote before, but not in Keghart if it becomes a platform of slanderous prose.      

      1. Reply to Dr. Gundjian

        Dear Dr. Gundjian,

        At Keghart.com we believe in the open market of ideas and their exchange. From its founding six years ago, Keghart.com has been an impartial, non-partisan site which has provided a forum for the Armenian Diaspora. Through the site, Armenians from Chile to Cyprus, from Beirut to Beijing have been able to share their thoughts and feelings on Armenian issues with fellow Armenians around the world.

        Consistent with the above policy, we have furnished space, in our comments section, to both sides of the diocesan conflict, including your considerably lengthy letters. We haven't challenged your words just as we have not challenged the allegations of the people who don't agree with you. By airing the views of both sides, we believe we can assist the community to get closer to the truth and find solutions to the recent  debacle. We have also refused to publish the vitriolic, vicious, and self-destructive "news releases" which both sides deployed in their PR campaign last month.–Editor.

        1. Dear Editor of Keghart

          Dear Editor of Keghart

          I took note of your explanation of the policy adopted by Keghart. I wish you good luck in the continuation of your mission, the way you understand it.

          As for me, I consider that in the past few days I had enough of an experience with Keghart ( my first ) to determine that, other than my initial expression of readiness to participate in serious and intelligent discussions of issues pertinent to the fundamental interests of our community, I surely do not have any interest nor time in what turned out to become simply a futile dialog, where obviously certain individuals think that they have an open opportunity to bring out all their personal grudges and pettiness against a person, without the slightest element of concern for a positive contribution to the welfare of the Community.

          Well, let me inform you that you will have to continue that tasteless exercise without me.

          If and when Raffi and his co-thinkers are ready for serious exchanges of ideas, in an appropriate and respectful forum, they will know where to find me. I am definitely more than willing to participate in such an essential exercise to the benefit of the Community. 

          Just before I leave though, as I just saw that last jewel of a comment from a certain Mardik Bedrossian, I like to take this opportunity to point out something to him and to his friends..

          I surely did not become involved in the work towards my community's welfare with his permission or having anyone like him in mind, and also, I definitely do not care a bit about his and any of his friends' opinion about if and when to exit…                                                                                          

          Thank God our Community comprises so many valuable members who make worth wile the time and effort put by devoted volunteers towards the building and maintenance of the fundamental building blocs of our collective organized life. I certainly feel immensely rewarded for having done my own   share.

          Parevner polorine.                                                                   

          1. On External Influences

            In all humility, I submit that targeting Dr. Gundjian is irrelevant and even counterproductive.

            We must bear in mind that, regardless of any external influences, it is the delegates who ultimately vote at the General Assembly. Only they are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make. There is nothing unusual or reprehensible for decision-makers to be influenced by various external elements. Such an influence may come from an individual whose judgment they happen to trust. No one here can assert that they have never tried influencing decision-makers in one way or another. This is a reality inherent to the political process at all levels (community, municipal, provincial or federal).

            The bottom line, however, is that those who make the call clarify their motives, unless they were abusively pressured or threatened. Delegates are the ones who ultimately took upon the responsibility to represent their members. They ultimately make the judgment call as to the weight to give to various external influences. Giving too much weight to one person is, to a certain extent, insulting to the delegates themselves who are then portrayed as puppets with no ability to think. It is unfair. The presence of external influences is irrelevant. Again, the question we should ask is whether the decision, influenced or not, was reasonable and justified under the circumstances.

    2. Discussing is Participation

      Dear Dr. Gundjian,

      Thank you for expressing your interest in the commentary. I understand that you are a proponent of intellectual integrity: individuals taking part in any discussion must make an effort to understand the various aspects of the issues being discussed. I believe this is a proposition many would unreservedly adhere to.

      This said, it would be unreasonable to impose a complete understanding of the issues at hand as a precondition to allow people to engage in discussions, for such discussions are themselves an excellent means for people preoccupied with their daily obligations to be given a chance to have a better grasp of the various aspects of an issue. Such engagement should be encouraged, not discouraged. Engagement in discussions and debates, no matter how clumsily it is done, is the most elementary form of participation in community affairs. It allows us to share our views but first and foremost to understand each other. This is why I am advocating for a public forum. To help people understand.

      For those who are skeptical about the ability of our community to effectively engage in intelligent discussions, I would remind them of the many times they had to bruise their knees while learning how to ride a bike. We can become better with practice.

    3. Great to Understand Dr. Gunjian

      As one of the 4,000 petitioners, it was interesting to become familiar with Dr. Gunjian’s perspective through his words. While I have not met him but followed his popularity through the course of the “Stay With Us” campaign, it is a relief to hear directly from him.

      The personal story Sarkis Meterissian of Montreal shared on Change.org and Facebook's “Stay With Us” page was the source which helped me understand Dr. Gunjian, his value system, way of thinking, and his approach to solving problems and handling hard situations.

      His rationale can be easily understood in the five bullet points which he calls “My diagnostic questions addressed to the 4,000 petitioners”.

      The evident judgmental perception about the literacy levels of those 4,000 petitioners on basic matters such as the year of the diocese establishment, etc. might sound strange at first. The further flow [of words] though confirms this is a way of thinking and living – assessing people’s value and “right” of being involved based on “longevity” of their experience (life, work, specific engagements, etc.).

      Given that no one but Dr. Gundjian in this debate can claim the super-right of such longevity (as I understood from his age-related comments) while the massive movement was/is championed by our youth, I am not sure about the relevance of his questions. Stability vs. “havoc” seems to be the main issue raise. Yet the acknowledgement that the youth are on the driver seat nowadays should be the one, in spite of the fact that they cannot claim "longevity" in comparison to Dr. Gunjian.

       

    4. Five Questions

      As a rule Keghart.com does not publish comments or other material by people and entities that cannot be verified. We also object to the use of "Canadian Armenian Community" for several reasons. Nevertheless the publication of this "comment" is an exception, because several people made reference to this entity and it appears it's the driving force behind a campaign that means well, i.e. re-establishing democratic norms in elections not tempered with corruption. This will be the first and last comment published in the name of the said entity, unless a person on behalf of the group makes himself/herself known to the editorial board of Keghart. This is done for purposes of verification and legal reasons.- Editor

      Dr. Gundjian,

      By now we know that you are reading our Facebook page and Keghart.

      The reply to your questions 1 and 2 can easily be found on the web. Besides, by reading your question 5, one can learn part of the answer to your question 1.

      Question 3: We (the Canadian-Armenian community) bear the enormous financial and moral responsibility to make this sizable operation continue to function.

      Question 4: Yes, we have.

      Question 5: You are correct that since the diocese was created around 1985 five elections have been held for a primate without havoc. That is because these 2013 elections were non-democratic, full of corruption and with numerous illegalities regarding church by-laws. Now that the Canadian-Armenian community is better informed of the details through our Facebook site,  the Canadian-Armenian community is  saying enough is enough and, now more than ever, wish to have their church back. This can be accomplished by removing manipulative and corrupt delegates, as well as priests who caused the storm we are in today.

      Dr. Gundjian, we don’t need a history lesson detailing how and when the Diocese of Armenian Church of Canada was built. We shouldn’t waste our time on that. There are more important issues here.

      We all know that it was you and some delegates and priests who were working to get Srpazan Bagrat out of Canada.

      As a highly-respected scientist and a person who has done a lot of community work, can't you accept the fact that Srpazan Bagrad has accomplished great work in our community by bringing our youth together and uniting all Armenians?

      • Do you honestly believe that the elections were democratic in their true sense and not altered?
      • Do you still have issues with him? If yes, what are they?

      We are not politicians; we don’t have letters or titles in front or behind our names. We are the common Armenian people who do make mistakes when posting information and when commenting. These are not issues to be concerned over and we are not intimidated by any of this. Our duty is to have all pertinent information available to the Armenian people. We promise you that in the next election the delegates and priests will be democratically elected to represent our churches and its future in Canada.

      We don’t want any politics, personal vendettas in our churches. We don’t want corruption, manipulations.

  2. Dear Dr. Gundjian…

    Dear Dr. Gundjian,

    Even though I like your writing style and the structure of your response, your points make no sense to the average Armenian who attends church services on Sunday mornings, without getting involved in the administrative functionality of the church.

    People need leaders–leaders who can inspire and lead. Leaders make mistakes, because they make decisions, they take chances and launch initiatives. People do not care about bean counters.

    For once, people spoke. Whether they were right or wrong doesn't matter. People expressed their feelings, thanks to social media, for the first time in the history of our church. People are desperate for overdue reform. People want the church "maintained by the actions of the Holy Spirit" and not by political parties and secret societies.

    If you read between the lines, you will see that people were asking their church back. They want a mother church that is not abused for national or any other purpose but is only a place of worship.

    I do not understand why you would bring the subject of the preservation of our language to church matters. Isn't that the job of the school, the family and the community centres? Community can mean many things, but mixing all together can be troubling and makes a Christian Armenian uncomfortable. Why would an atheist Armenian get involved in church matters?

    "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ.[Matthew 22:21]

    Pope Francis said bishops should be "close to the people" and not have "the mentality of a prince".

    For the first time, people have seen a bishop who was able to call everyone by their first name, had utmost respect for every individual–rich or poor, important or unimportant, young or old. For the first time, we saw a bishop who knew how to laugh with everyone. If he had made mistakes, it was up to the diocese council to advise and help a young clergyman as an "uncle", but not try to tarnish his reputation.

    There is an Armenian saying: "Hasgetsoghin shad parev".

    Hagop

  3. People in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Stones

    The following appeared on Facebook recently from someone in Laval, in apparent response to Arshavir Gundjian's Information No. 3 which slandered Bishop Bagrat Galstanian with false accusations. Only the headline has been changed from "Arshavir Gundjian Personally Orchestrated Bishop Galstanians Election Defeat" to a more appropriate "People in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Stones".

    PEOPLE IN GLASS HOUSES SHOULD NOT THROW STONES

    Arshavir Gundjian has been a negative force in our community, and is disliked by most Canadian Armenians. Although he was involved in establishing a lot of our institutions, whenever things did not go his way he turned against the people of these same institutions.

    He built the AGBU Armen Quebec school with money donated by Alex Manoogian. Then over the next 30 years through mismanagement it accumulated a total deficit of $20 million, which was reluctantly paid by the AGBU Central Board. When parents and donors wanted to see the financial statements, he refused to show them probably because a member of his family and several friends from the Tekeyan Centre were on the payroll. Enrollment of students dropped until he was retired and the school was handed over to new management, at which time enrollment began to increase and the deficit decreased substantially.

    He was on the AGBU Central Board in New York, but had major conflicts with the AGBU Montreal Chapter on matters such as his refusal to enroll AGBU Armen Quebec students as members of the AGBU Montreal Chapter. These resulted in his not being welcome at the AGBU's Montreal Community Centre. He was eventually retired from the AGBU Central Board.

    He was part of the group that established the Congress of Canadian Armenians, but when it's leaders and it's participating organizations did not listen to his directions he orchestrated its demise.

    He established the Abaka weekly newspaper, but over the years it's readership has declined and is now only subscribed to by a dwindling number of people.

    He was very active in the Ramgavar Party internationally, but when he lost an important election he refused to admit defeat and split the Party into two opposing factions weakening it to the edge of oblivion.

    He participated in the founding of the Canadian Diocese of the Armenian Church, but when Primate Bishop Bagrat Galstanian did not follow his constant directions on what to do, he took offense and orchestrated the Bishop's removal at the Diocesan Assembly meeting in May 2013.

    His legacy will be all the negative things that he did in our community. He will be remembered for his arrogance towards anyone who did not agree with him. It is unfortunate that these have overshadowed his past accomplishments.

    1. People in Glass Houses

      The article that appeared on Facebook of someone from Laval and submitted to Keghart by Taro Alepian should have the courage to sign his name and then, only then he may throw his own stones.

      1. What’s Good for the Goose…

        When Dr. Gundjian and his collaborators issued their three mass emails on June 6, June 11 and especially on June 22 personally attacking Bishop Galstanian, they–like the person from Laval–did not sign their names. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Dr. Gundjian can now see what it feels like to be personally attacked.

        The time has come for us to move positively forward, and recognize that we need to work together for the welfare of our church and community in Canada. We should sit down around a table to try to bridge our differences. We owe that to the people of our community. Hratch is close to Dr. Gundjian. Perhaps he can persuade Dr. Gundjian.

        1. What’s Good …

          Taro is as close to me as Dr. Gundjian is. There is no need to persuade anyone that the latter wishes the same thing and has already taken measured steps to realize it. What frustrated me most is that while Mr. Alepian is aware that the unsigned letter in question was full of untruths, he somehow kept fueling the cinders of discussion by sending it to Keghart.

          Now I cannot blame Keghart for printing it, but I expected more restraint from Keghart.

  4. From Bickering to Dialogue

    Dr. Gundjian,

    The bottom line here is that democracy is not made through the opinion of one person or a group of people. It is made by the majority and the masses. The majority have spoken and it is clear they love and want their bishop. If there are issues to be handled, they will be handled and decided upon by the people and not by you. Look at what's happening in Egypt. The people there have the say and they decide their leader. Who made you an eternal god in Montreal? This lunacy will only be tolerated by your small group of individuals who did not stop you when they should have. Not only did this cause great damage to Bishop Galstanian, but to you, sir, an even a bigger one. If your true intention is the welfare of our community and church, please recognize your exit. 

  5. Mr. Yeretsian’s Analysis is Right On

    I would like to congratulate Raffi Yeretsian on penning a remarkable piece which analyzes the overall malaise of this situation in great-depth and correctly spells out all the legal and moral issues related to the situation at hand.

    In defense of Keghart, I would say that as a long-time contributor to its pages since its inception, I can attest to the fact that Keghart respects freedom of speech and expression beyond anything else. As such, it is one of the rarest Armenian publications of the kind in the world, and certainly a trailblazer on that front. I have also been a subject of at least two personal attacks on two separate occasions that were of a slanderous nature (although not anonymously, I recall, in the first case, that the person did sign with his original name, and in the second, with a rather clever pseudonym).

    I was called many names, for the record, I was called a Stalinist, who condoned the horrendous acts of the violation of human rights under Communist regimes. Those persons obviously did not have a clue about my public track record.

    The above-mentioned slanderous messages were published in the pages of Keghart, but so were my comments of self-defense.

    I would suggest that had there been an anonymous posting directly to Keghart, with slanderous content, then that posting would most likely not have been published.

    While I am NOT suggesting that the recent diocesan elections are illegitimate, because a) I am an Armenian Catholic and hence not a member of the Canadian Armenian Diocese and b) I am not qualified to comment on and not aware of the details of what transpired and why (apart from being disturbed by all the anonymous cyber campaigns that are circulating), however, I have been sufficiently involved in Armenian affairs in the community and internationally to suggest that Mr. Yeretsian's call must be heeded.

    The serious matter of the lingering democratic deficit and the related issue of legitimacy that flows from it are matters of utmost importance for all Armenians. It is true that our institutions are accountable only to their members and that they all act with the best of intentions. It is also absolutely true that their actions impact the whole community and NOT only their active and even passive membership. The decisions to build, close down or mortgage a community center, a school, a church or even a newspaper, or any other initiative of a similar nature have a wide ranging impact that can sometime linger for generations and have a positive or negative effect on  the community, by either sapping it of or enhancing its dynamism. The cost of all our collective decisions must be weighed collectively against the missed opportunities of taking other decisions.

    On a final note, a healthy opposition is a fundamental tenet of any democratic process. That means a respect for our opposition which also believes in constructive criticism for the public good. Provided of course, that  such opposition also believes that it itself can make mistakes and has a proven track record of rallying around a reasonable common purpose.

    And, if I am not mistaken, that is exactly what Mr. Yeretsian is asking for.

    Paregamoren,

    Viken L. Attarian

    1. Balanced and Constructive

      It is great to see impartial, independent views like this with such an in-depth qualitative analysis. Emotions should not drive either opponents or proponents of any given campaign. It is just that if this campaign had not been nurtured by a rapid response and if the random extreme statements–by some of the campaign administrators–had not been made into overly big issues without trading them off, the campaign would have not lived to the extent that it did.

  6. Focusing on the Real Issue

    Dear Dr. Arshavir Gundjian,

    Do you think this forum is ripe/ready enough for you to provide more colour on the specifics of the real issue outlined by you (in your below letter) which, I believe, caused this debacle?

    Re your words "The only comment I can make to him in this limited space is that all those kind and Christian, church-loving persons would have felt, I am sure, outraged had the proper actions not been taken, and as a result, they would have found their beloved church repossessed by a bank, or their other beloved church fallen into bankruptcy, even though the bishop knew their names and had a big smile on his face. By the way, the bishop never wanted to hear anything from those "uncles", from all across Canada, that Hagop refers to." :

    1- What authority did Bishop Bagrat have and could exercise on his own to lead to the repossession of our beloved church by a bank?
    2- Who overrode Bishop Bagrat and what authority was used?
    3- If proper action has already been taken to stop the repossession of the church, why was it necessary to remove Bishop Bagrat?
    4- How long did it take this process to develop and why was it not shared with the larger constituents, even the delegates, while as you say at the same time "uncles" were made aware of?
    5- If the issue was that serious, why did the 24 delegates found it not objectionable enough to remove Bishop Bagrat?
    6- Is such a process repeatable in the future without any reform on how the authorizations are assigned and the diocesan decisions are exercised? 

    Thank you,

    Vahe Balabanian
     

  7. Fear of Losing

    As stated by the historian and moralist, otherwise known as Lord Acton,: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

    Another quote from American writer John Steinbeck: "Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power."

    We can see this behavior not only in our community but also with some world leaders who initially meant well. It gets to their head; and they create their own tunnel vision. That is why many new constitutions do not allow a leader to be re-elected more than twice.

    That said, all older generation leaders of our community need to embrace the youth and allow them to lead. STOP LIVING IN THE PAST. The world is evolving. Retire and enjoy your grandchildren.

    Thank you.
     

  8. Want to be American

     Maybe these Canadians want to be American. Maybe they should move over hear and join the Tea Party! Then they can help us clean up this country.

  9. Disrupting Church Services

    These protesters aren't Apostolic Armenians. They are WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). They have no respect for Mother Mary, chosen by God, and believe any of “their women" could have been Mother Mary. What's to stop them from saying that anyone of them could have been Jesus? Wouldn’t this be blasphemy, unless the Protestants feel they are above blasphemy?

    They bashed our bishop in Fresno and in Saint Paul's. In psychological terms, you would call this the Mother Mary Complex or the Jesus Complex. These fanatical cults are blasphemous. This is Protestants infiltrating our original and traditional church. Our Church–from the first bishop John the Baptists forward–has a spiritual realm for our clergy whereby they dedicated their lives to the Church and live without spouse or children. The Protestants are like Sunday school children who never grew up: their secret is that they want to be Mother Marys and Father Joseph since their Sunday school plays. Mental health centers have wards for these types of people. If these neo-Nazi Protestants keep ousting our priests then we will not have any bishops left to serve in this "odar nation" we live in. It's not the priests' duty to flatter the audience, the way they do in Protestant churches.

    They should all just leave our Church and join an Anglican church. How about calling their church "THE PEOPLES CHURCH" for they are already assimilated and not 100% Armenian? Then they can speak all the English they want and stop forcing us to sing Sourp Badarak in English.
     

  10. Interests of Our Church

    The below public notice was received on July 16th. For reasons provided in Act Now. Not tomorrow.  it was withheld. The "Church Crisis" is out in the open now, and the notice may be relevant to the unfolding events surrounding the church.-Editor
     
    THE TIME HAS COME TO STOP SLANDERING
    AND TO THINK OF THE FUTURE OF
    OUR CHURCH AND COMMUNITY

     
    On June 18th His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, issued a letter ratifying the election of the Diocesan Council, the Election Committee and the Audit Committee members that took place on May 25th at the Diocesan Assembly meeting. He did not however ratify the election of Primate. Primate-elect Fr. Aren Jebejian then had no choice but to gracefully resign.

    Recognizing the present turmoil in our community as a result of the contested election, His Holiness has appointed Archbishop Nathan Hovhannessian to oversee the Canadian Diocese for a period of time and has mandated him to organize new elections for Primate.

    Bishop Bagrat Galstanian left Canada a month ago, and His Holiness has appointed him Director of the Armenian Church Social Doctrine Department at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. But still on June 22nd the same few people who were responsible for Bishop Galstanian’s election defeat issued their third mass e-mail slandering him with false accusations.

    Abaka Weekly in its July 8th issue also published an article written by these people, in which they continue with their shameful personal attacks on Bishop Galstanian. They mistakenly think that by discrediting him it will somehow justify what they did to a beloved Christian leader at the Diocesan Assembly in May. These negative attacks have outraged people.

    For the sake of our church and all Canadian Armenians, these attacks must immediately stop and be replaced by respect for our Christian values and our Armenian heritage.

    The time has come to heal the deep wounds of our community. We must now constructively work together with Archbishop Hovhannessian in the best interests of our church.

    Ana Afeyan                               
    Levon Afeyan                           
    Taro Alepian                             
    Walter Asatoorian                     
    Arsineh Attarian                                
    Diran Avedian                           
    Hratch Banis                             
    Arden Dervishian                      
    Harry Dikranian                        
    Seti Hamalian                           
    Oskan Hazarabedian                
    Boghos Kichian
    Anahid Manoukian
    John Manoukian
    Sossi Manoukian
    Marcelle Meterissian
    Sarkis Meterissian
    Naira Movsesyan
    Emma Nersisyan
    Gayane Nersisyan
    Garo Nichanian
    Harout Ohanessian
    Albert Yeghikian

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