The ARF USA Western Region Uprising

Book Review by Diana Melkonian, Los Angeles, 16 June 2024

David Torossian, an American-Armenian writer, recently published “The ARF USA Western Region Uprising: What Happened in the ARF Organization of Western USA” («Արեւմտեանի Ըմբոստութիւնը. Ի՞նչ Տեղի Ունեցաւ ՀՅԴ Արեւմտեան Ամերիկայի Կազմակերպութեան Մէջ») in Armenian, which is the most serious attempt to date to analyze the uprising that occurred in the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (Tashnagtsoutyoun, Dashnaktsutyun) organization in Western USA from 2020 to 2023.

The work is published electronically (e-pub and PDF), consists of thirteen chapters, and is available for free download both on the Internet Archive and on the author’s blog.

In his work, Torossian examines the background and effects of the ARF Bureau’s establishment of a Central Committee for the party’s regional organization in Western USA. The author examines ARF internal tensions from 2015 to show how key figures and events shaped the Bureau’s politics of persecution and the ARF Western America region’s reactions. One of the most notable events was the 55th Regional Assembly, held by the region’s party members. Democratically and per party norms, this Assembly elected a new Central Committee against the one appointed by the Bureau.

In the next section, “How the Conflict Was Born,” Torossian details the conflict’s history. Using vivid storytelling, the author traces the conflict to Armenian President Serj Sarkissian’s 2008 decision to normalize ties with Turkey and the ARF’s “NO” movement. Vicken Hovsepian of Western America successfully led this movement and the normalization process was stopped by the president. Nonetheless, this caused party contradictions, initially limited to the Bureau.

The author also discusses the reforms presented at the 2011 ARF 31st General Assembly by the representatives of different countries, among which was the Western America region. Later, he details each proposed change and the goals. Hrant Markarian and Vicken Hovsepian led the negotiations on both sides. After negotiations failed, Hovsepian and others declined to join the Bureau. Soon after, the Central Committee of Western America chose Hovsepian as its representative, a “vote of confidence” in the General Assembly reforms. Other pivotal points include the April 2016 Four-Day War, the Sasna Tsrer Operation, and the passing of Vahan Hovhannisian in 2014. Bureau representative Hrant Markarian gained complete party control as a result of the last, and the appointment of a loyal Central Committee in Lebanon in 2015 exemplifies this.

More important than the 31st General Assembly became the 32nd in 2015, when the ARF Western US region delegates refused to vote in favor of Hrant Markarian. While Markarian was able to establish his control over ARF Lebanon, his focus was on the organization of the Western US. The author says “The Western region is the heart of the Diaspora today.” The “successes” in Lebanon would not be achievable there, as “the ARF organization in the Western US was more cohesive [than Lebanon] with almost no internal fractures the Bureau could exploit.” The region’s “opposition” was gathered by Markarian and given unfounded value. As such, Markarian distorted the conflict as an attack on Vicken Hovsepian. Nonetheless, the region’s Central Committee and members resumed their routine activities despite the Bureau’s persecution policy.

In “The Progression of the Events,” the author describes the ARF Bureau and the Central Committee of the Western U.S.’s actions and relations amidst geopolitical and organizational crises.

In August 2020, the ARF Bureau and the Western US Central Committee agreed to hold a Regional Assembly there from December 3–6, 2020. The Bureau warned that failing to hold the Assembly would compel it to take “steps.” The author emphasizes that the Bureau did not clarify these steps. Despite COVID-19 health guidelines, the Bureau abruptly ordered local committees to suspend their general meetings in October 2020, citing the Artsakh war and the OSCE Minsk Group’s Geneva conference as reasons. The author claims that these arguments were insufficient and irrelevant to discontinue the meetings.

In response to the Artsakh war, the Central Committee mobilized its full political and economic support. In 2019, before the war, the organization in the Western U.S. provided significant financial aid to Armenians living in Lebanon, which was experiencing an economic crisis. The author claims that the Western US Central Committee was linked to Armenian realities worldwide, from Armenia and Artsakh to Lebanon and the Diaspora. After Armenia lost the war on November 9, 2020, the Western U.S. Committee sought Nikol Pashinyan’s resignation. Despite COVID-19 issues, the Central Committee ordered committees to meet and elect Regional Assembly members by December 1, 2020. To prevent the assembly, certain party members, possibly coordinating with the Bureau, undermined the procedure. Despite the ARF’s principles of decentralization, the Bureau’s July 2021 decision to halt the assembly and appoint a new Central Committee violated party statutes and U.S. laws.

Next, “The 55th Regional Assembly of the Western United States Region and Its Aftermath,” has sub-sections, such as “31st General Assembly of the ARF” and “Negotiations.” In it the author details what he categorizes as a pivotal event in the history of the ARF- the Regional Assembly which elected a new Western US Central Committee. Having previously discussed the tensions between the Bureau and the Central Committee, the author delves deeper into their evolution in the aftermath of this election. He emphasizes that this Assembly was crucial for the ARF to address internal issues and reaffirm its principles. He notes that the assembly and the Bureau’s response to it exposed deeper organizational weaknesses, hindering reform and advancement.

The author then details the judicial proceedings in the US. As indicated, the dispute swiftly reached US courts, intensifying the situation. The legal disputes strained party relations and increased tensions. From the first day, the rift became a complicated organizational issue, raising public and internal questions about the ARF’s integrity, transparency, and accountability. David Torossian continues to say that the legal proceedings quickly revealed the party’s inner workings, internal conflicts, and vulnerabilities to domestic and foreign critics.

Torossian then examines the 34th ARF General Assembly, another major event. In Artsakh’s disarray after the war, the ARF formed the “Movement for the Salvation of the Fatherland,” a street protest against the Armenian government. The party then declared its electoral participation and created the “Armenia Coalition.” According to the author, this political maneuver was again criticized and resisted within the party. The Bureau barred the Central Committee of Western America from attending the General Assembly. The Committee and many party members there wrote to the Bureau arguing for its participation. However, the Committee failed to get such participation. Next, the author continues to address the daily conflicts that occurred within the Bureau and the Central Committee during this period. After the General Assembly, the Bureau began new negotiations. This showed its failure to govern the Western US organization through its alternative loyalist Central Committee.

In his conclusion, David Torossian reiterates that the election of the new Central Committee in the Western United States was unprecedented in ARF history. He claims that the Bureau’s admission of misconduct is evidence of this. He believes the movement was successful, especially as an initiator, because it reaffirmed the ARF’s statute. Torossian closes by briefly outlining the Bureau’s and the Committee’s ongoing tensions, and his vision for the future.

In the final part of the work, the author presents all the announcements, interviews, and articles published in the Armenian press related to this story as valid documents. These provide additional perspectives that shed further light on the three-year rebellion of the ARF Western Region in the United States.

*****

2 comments
  1. Thank you, Ms. Melkonian, for this summarization, in English. Can you shed light on the fracturing of the ARF, which seems to currently have three factions?

  2. Thank you Ms. Melkonian for this beautiful review. I had the chance to read the first part of David Torossian’s book couple of weeks ago. I have to commend the author for his thorough examination of the internal conflicts and key events within the ARF, related to their organization in the Western USA region. Torossian’s detailed analysis and vivid storytelling effectively illuminate the complexities and significant moments that shaped the organization’s political landscape during the ARF “Western Region rebellion”, making it an insightful resource for understanding this notable case. Thank you again for your insightful review.

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