Reality Check, Please

Audrey, Germany, 3 August 2011

Audrey is a Keghart reader. We present her comments, re Edmond Azadian’s article ("Echmiadzin Under Attack") in our previous issue, in lieu of editorial.–Editor.

Mr. Azadian,

While your language is certainly articulate and some of your reasoning worthy of debate, your article overlooks that Diasporans–most of us–are not in the business of "turning on Armenia" or on our Holy See for the fun of it. Believe it or not, most of us have better things to do. The corrupt governance that is rampant and endemic in our Mayr Hayastan thrives on the truism that most of the rest of the "nation" outside Armenia’s borders is busy surviving, working, and doing everything we can to keep our identity intact, our children speaking our language, and our institutions in order. After that, most of us engage in some sort of ‘giving back’; for some this means active engagement, for others it means checkbook philanthropy.

Audrey, Germany, 3 August 2011

Audrey is a Keghart reader. We present her comments, re Edmond Azadian’s article ("Echmiadzin Under Attack") in our previous issue, in lieu of editorial.–Editor.

Mr. Azadian,

While your language is certainly articulate and some of your reasoning worthy of debate, your article overlooks that Diasporans–most of us–are not in the business of "turning on Armenia" or on our Holy See for the fun of it. Believe it or not, most of us have better things to do. The corrupt governance that is rampant and endemic in our Mayr Hayastan thrives on the truism that most of the rest of the "nation" outside Armenia’s borders is busy surviving, working, and doing everything we can to keep our identity intact, our children speaking our language, and our institutions in order. After that, most of us engage in some sort of ‘giving back’; for some this means active engagement, for others it means checkbook philanthropy.

It seems obvious to state that few have the disposable income, time, and resources to make the restoration of institutional transparency (whether in government or Church) a top priority on a personal level, as if it were even possible in a machinery as complex as that to which we are referring. And yet, you actually blithely dismiss the word ‘democracy’ and put “transparency” into big fat quotation marks as though it is something to be derided, mocked. Does the concept of ‘feedback’ make you nervous, Mr. Azadian? Are you worried that all those ghostly ‘local feudal lords’ are at their evil cauldrons again, cooking up some black magic because the markets for trouble elsewhere are a little depressed right now? Can you really write all this in good faith, with insinuations in the same breath of “ill will”, when you see normal people in Diaspora taking time to write, call, and speak up when an abuse of power happens to be so blatantly obvious?

I dare say our Holy See has not elicited this kind of active participation from the Diaspora since the beginning of this current administration, and that’s not saying a whole lot for the Center of our Holy life, either.

We are living in astonishing times. People in the Arab world, this past spring, have been standing up in unprecedented masses, marching and risking their lives in the name of calling an end to unjust rule and systems in which ‘checks and balances’ are lacking. We may enter a debate at any moment about the perverse reality wherein national interest(s) and latent imperialism get cloaked with the word ‘democracy’ and brandished like a sword over the heads of the Iraqs or Afghanistans of the world. Yes. But we all know well that the idea that people should be able to FEED BACK into the institutions and structures that govern them, and do so without peril to their person or their work, is objectively a GOOD THING. Who in their right mind reverts to the godforsaken Leviathan as a model for appropriate governance in our day and age, and in so doing, invokes divine right? We Armenians are an ancient people indeed, but do you think a mass regression to 5th century thinking will serve us well? Should we really bow our heads in subservience because our catholicos is who he is, the incarnation of God on earth? Didn’t the English go through something along these lines of questioning in the 1500s?

You are correct: any freedom, not balanced with constructive responsibility, is reckless anarchy. Now take the word ‘freedom’ and replace it with “power”.. Whether or not constructive responsibility has been taken on either ‘side’ may be a matter of debate, but the results today are clear; the center of "power" is obviously fuelling reckless activity that is damaging the people it is here to serve. And other than contributing to centralization of power and resource in Armenia, for whose benefit is this occurring in Diaspora? Enlighten us, please.

In that light, your reference to "manufactured gossip" and "self-serving agendas" seems exaggerated at best. To what end can one actually ascribe these phenomena? Explain to us please who stands for personal gain in the community when people stand up to say that there has been a breach of procedure and by-laws, not to mention one of trust? Are we all just egomaniacs with nothing better to do than dismantle our Holiest institution? All bearers of ‘ill will’, really? It’s so easy to use that broad brush stroke on a false canvas. Or rather, does the current crisis raise a red flag worthy of a second glance into the deeper obvious dysfunction of an institution that has for too long espoused a culture of the kow-tow?

What is worse? When people speak up or when people numbly swallow what is shoved down their throats in the most un-Christian manner possible, totally devoid of an iota of the spiritual sustenance of which our Holy See is supposed to be the fount? This is perhaps best illustrated with the inconsistency of the de-frocking policies currently being exercised with free hand. Do you position your logic by calling the fiasco in Nice, France all a pile of ‘manufactured gossip’, upon which (some of) our (fully frocked, to date) clergymen and their unsavory associates have been covered in the French press with their activities in the counterfeit, drug trafficking and prostitution "sectors"? And for argument’s sake, if those really are all falsehoods, we can certainly deduce one thing, Mr. Azadian: our Holy See is having a major PR and public diplomacy crisis, the likes of which could put Bernie Madoff’s “due diligence” teams to shame. Will you and the blind venerators of the emperor continue to adore the silken garments while attributing their own institutional dysfunction to the ‘local feudal lords’ of Diaspora as well? The blame game is such a slippery slope.

Your "analysis" of the situation of our Diasporan communities in Switzerland and elsewhere is regrettably flawed. You obviously neither understand the actual community dynamics to which you refer nor have you painted a picture of the "players" in good faith. The last general assembly election saw 96% of the Swiss membership of the community vote AGAINST in formation of a Diocese and what appeared to be the arbitrary replacement of a priest with a bishop (said to be the Vehapar’s brother-in-law, perhaps hearsay). Does that sound like a "few local leaders" to you?

“Sending 30-40 young aspiring clergymen to the centers of higher learning or major seminaries overseas” has never been nor is today the problem; you unwittingly make Holy Etchmiadizin sound like a cultural association sending its exchange students into abusive foster families. No one would be or has been unwelcoming of such emissaries, who are typically assets to the communities in which they serve. Rather, the problem lies in the overriding of legitimate local election results, in subverting the rights of communities (who, by the way, pay the bills as a collective) to choose their priests, in exercising campaigns of personal slander and disinformation, and in exerting open pressure to place these “exports” into positions of power on advisory boards and committees of foundations without earning their right (and doing their time) to do so. Is it a wonder that public perceptions of these "policies of unification" are not positive, and that already nearly a 1,000 people have signed a petition calling for a change in Holy Echmiadzin’s approach to Diasporan communities?

We probably agree on one thing: Our Holy Catholicos as an entity should not be a target for character assassination. Who gains from this? What end does this serve? Who feels pleased that their church, their place of peace and prayer, of christening and final rites, has been turned into a haven for self-serving businessmen who answer to the call of the puppet strings pulled from the highest ranks in government? One thing is certain: something is wrong, and the problem emanates at least in equal parts from Armenia as from the Diaspora, where organizations that are often volunteer-based happen to be run frequently with laxity and a general lack of professionalism. It’s one thing to acknowledge this and quite another to capitalize on it.

You write: "Echmiadzin has been under Soviet rule for 70 years and is still recovering from the damage of that oppressive regime. Many Armenians, mindful of the historic role of the Mother See, have been supported and helping the supreme spiritual center to overcome its challenges." Pray tell, other than exhorting the long and venerable history to which our current leadership is doing regrettable limited justice, what excuse is there for these kinds of scandals to erupt?

How interesting that suddenly those with such screamingly obvious private interests of various kinds in/with Armenia have become the great “holier than thou” defenders of a Church that is betraying its mission to be a force of unification rather than one of fragmentation. As our Church ‘strives’ to get organized, has its leaders given a moment of thought to the collateral damage of that "re-organization" undertaken with a ‘strong hand’? The outcome is clear and you obviously are not one who lives with its consequences: these are deep fissures in our communities today all over Europe and in the US, amidst a Diaspora that cannot afford to be dissolved.

And in all of this, where is the Christian approach that our Christian leadership should be practicing? Not in the current strategy? Are we all simply the misguided flock who dare to speak about ‘checks and balances’ in an institution that functions on a Central Asian Nazarbayev-style “cult of personality”? It’s possible. I like to keep an open mind. But then an opportunity exists for our “spiritual” leaders to put in practice the teaching of Christ, and to find a path towards constructive dialogue based on forgiveness, and one rooted in the ground (and not in the plushness of their motor vehicle cavalcades). Where was the campaign to properly and respectfully inform and communicate Holy Echmiadzin’s end goals to its flock? Or did we miss that in our genetic zeal to be destructive?

There is a self-destructive gene, indeed, Mr. Azadian. And it lies in those who seek to cast a thick holy veil over the truth of the great improprieties that we are currently witnessing in some of our Armenian (religious) institutions. Not only are they destroying the legacy of a millennia, they are overturning the inherent principles that set our ecclesial community apart from its counterparts hundreds of years ago. Oh, and as a by-product, genuflecting at the altar of neo-Soviet autocracy, with the people they are meant to serve as the ‘great sacrifice’.

My theory is that we Armenians suffer from a genetic predisposition to hoard power and avoid power-sharing at all costs, possibly as a result of our historical collective experience; the lack of transparency we witness today in our Holy See is endemic, running right up through the management of some local businesses in Armenia, through some of the major Armenian non-profit organizations in Diaspora, into the tragic lack of ‘rule of law’ in the country and the realm of ‘strongman’ politicking. If only our spiritual leaders could help us.

The solution, you ask? Not to hide under those stones you mention. To speak up when we see injustice. To shout about power-mongering, no matter who it emanates from. To yell from the rooftops when people are using public positions for private gain. To not be fearful just because our historical experience commands it, almost as an auto-response to conflictual situation. See if we will not create a new Armenia.

  1. I agree!

    Dear Audrey,

    There was nothing I could possibly disagree on. To the point, factual and professionally presented. I think this alone can answer all existing and future comments objecting our discussions about our ‘Holy’ness and the church.Hope everyone reads this. You have my respect Audrey. Thank you for speaking up.This is the only way we can stop the disgaceful situation from growing any further. God Bless You. God Bless Armenia and our TRUE Armenian Apostolic Church. 

    1. It’s All Relative

      There’s no short or tall.

      Zulus are taller than Scandinavians; Scanadinavians are taller than Germans; Germans are taller than the British; the British are taller than Northern Italians; Northern Italians are taller than Southern Italians; Southern Italians are taller than the natives of Peru; natives of Perus are taller than the pigmies of Africa… Ancient Romans were shorter than today’s average Mediterranean person. Goliath the Giant was no more than six-feet. It’s all relative.

  2. “Do not want to be involved with all this”

    A reader sent the message that appears in quotations. There is no particular article where it could be posted as a comment. Arbitrarily I chose Audrey’s comment-article because it is partly a reflection of our times. The author, whose name and place are withheld, is right on and tells in a few words what probably many of us experience in our families.

    "I received the link from a friend, but I would like to be placed on your address list.

    We have such problems that seem unsolvable….are we the last generation of Armenians?  My children who are teenagers do not understand all the problems and divisions we as Armenians are met with, and they do not want to be involved with all this."

    1. Our Children

      The reasons that our children in the Diaspora do not want to get involved "with all this" (Armenian) are too complex to sum in a one line or two. Naturally their involvement or lack of involvement in the Armenian community in their formative years is a choice we parents made for them. As adults our children should have gotten involved to begin with to make informed choices. However, they are not to the extent we expect of them.

      How is it that in Diaspora our parents raised the “last Armenian generation” and which in turn cannot do the same? Let us not absolve ourselves of our own responsibilities as parents in the way we raised our children. To a great degree our children are the products of the choices we made.  


  3.  Inner Circle

    I, for one, would like to see the inner circle in Echmiadzin once again bring more Diaspora representation on board. I’ll leave it at that … to those who can read between the lines.

  4. The Balance

    It is good to read in Mr. Azadian’s article that the greatest misfortune of the Armenian nation–from Tigran II (betrayed by his son Tigran IV) to Vartan Mamigonian’s betrayal by Vasag, the conflict between Pakradounis and the Ardzrounis, the end of the Pakradounis (betrayed by Vesd Sarkis) and more recently the fate of General Antranig–were the reasons for Armenian self-destruction. It is to be noted that all these destructive cases were due to the influence of surrounding forces, through the 2,000 years of Armenian history.

    Now that we are liberated from all external influences, Diaspora Armenians and Armenia Armenians are still not fully integrated to each other, in understanding, in organization, in democracy, in leadership.

    Mr. Azadian has made his analysis with his eyes half closed. His analysis of the past might be accurate, but his words about recent developments–between the Diaspora and Echmiadzin–are imaginary, theoretical, and away from reality.

    Take, for example, Mr. Azadian’s analysis of the Swiss Armenian Community. I am part of this community. Mr Azadian didn’t ask me before writing his article or read my comments and the documents attached to my comments in concerning our case.

    Mr. Azadian must understand that::

    -Diaspora Armenians have a better understanding of what democracy is.

    -During the 90 years following the Genocide, Diaspora Armenians had their very solid social, cultural, philantropic, and benevolent organizations.

    -Armenia Armenians are still under the influence of Soviet dictotarial democracy, and they all are students of the old Soviet regime. Corruption, lies and criminality are today the way of their success.

    -Religion, Christianity and the Armenian Apostolic Church are more correctly understood by Diaspora Armenians than by Armenians of Armenia.

    -There are fewer sect (such as Jehovah’s Witness) followers among Diaspora Armenians than in Armenia, which Gatoghigos Karekin II neglects to see.

    -That Karekin II, with his PhD, is less qualified than priests (mentioned in Mr. Azadian’s article). So Karekin II has not the virtue of understang God when he says that he will bring his opponents to their knees.

    -That Karekin II must understand the creation of the Swiss Armenian Diocese is based on exaggerated statistics (supposedly 26,000 Armenians in Switzerland) provided by a Vartabed to Catholicos Vazken I, against the reality of 3,000 members. The Swiss Armenian Community does not accept as fait accompli the creation of a diocese, based on inaccurate statistics.

    The actions of Karekin II in Diaspora will result in the destruction of Diaspora Armenian organizations. These actions have to be resisted  by all means.

    -We must not forget that the closing of Melkonian Educational Institude in Cyprus is the destructive action of Karekin II. If there is a new Tigran IV, Vasag and Vesd Sarkis for the recent Armenian history, it will be Karekin II.

    -We pronounce therefore that We Do Not Accept Karekin II as Gatoghigos and that he should be declared "Vegharazourg" by All and True Havadatsyal Armenians of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

    Let Mr. Azadian further defend Karekin II. This is the exigency of democracy.


  5. Balance?

    I am an Armenian-American. I don’t accept Mr. Dedeyan‘s accusations or disapproval of my Catholicos. He was duly elected and because it was a democratic election, I have no reason to disagree. Does Mr. Dedeyan speak for all Swiss Armenians? Do Armenians in Switzerland abide by democratic principles?

    Mr. Dedeyan’s attitude does nothing to heal the rifts in the Armenian Church. He writes of conspirators and traitors. Mr. Dedeyan what you say may be interpreted as traitorous. You’d best be served by renouncing your nationality. You definitely do not belong with my crowd along with your prejudices. You give Switzerland a bad name.

  6. The Gatoghigos of Mr Jamgochian

    We respect Mr Jamgochian, but his Gatoghigos is not respectful with his illegal actions. Yes, he is elected, but his election is not Devine and full of distructive actions. He thinks being infalible, and this attitude is already rejectable.

    If Mr Jamgochian speaks about Swiss Armenian community, he must learn that we had and have today, since the origin of our organized community life, our elected Apostolic Armenian Church Council, keeping legally the church and performs the Sourp Badaraks, without interuption. Last Sunday we celebrated the Armenian KHAGHOGHORHNEK in our Armenian Church, in Geneva. (for your information)

    Contrary, the subject Karekin II has created for Swiss Armenian Community an illegal, paralel Council, which does not represent the continuation of the existing Council. This was Arbitral decesion from him, without the knowledge of the community.

    -This was the first illegal action of the said Karekin II.

    -The second illegal action is, sending as representative of him to Geneva to replace the existing priest of the community. For this he was not allowed legally, by the Statute of the existing Council.

    -His third illegal declaration, unacceptable and great shame to him, by declaring " He will bring to Knees those who oppose him"

    -The forth, his uncorrect attitude, as Gatoghigos, to oppose the closing of the Melkonian Educational Institute, MEI in Cyprus, letters are addressed to him. He was never reactiong. This means, he is a great MEGHSAGITS to this Diaspora Centre distruction.

    -The fifth, his representative now, Yebisgobos Nerses Barsamian, (I respect him, but he must return to Etchmidzin), lately I heared that in miserable condition is living in an Catholic Convent for 5.0 $ / day, and that, since he came he celebrates his Badaraks (it can not be considered Sourp) in the Catholic churches. This is the shamefull and miserable organization of Karekin II.

    If Mr Jamgochian is not living in Switzerlan, then he has less to say for the Swiss Armenians. For the illegal creation of the Swiss Diocesse, Mr Jamgochian has to read the documents attached to my previous comments, to understand the reality of the Suiss Armenian Conflict/ Disagreement.

    This Karekin II is wrongly elected, He thinks he is Infalible. From this point of view, he has not the Vertue of Understanding God.

    From this point of view, We do not accept Karekin II as Gatoghigos.

    Mr Jamgochian can venerate his Gatogigos Karekin II, respectfully, as his private one.

    I expect Mr Jamgochians comments ti each paragraph above.







  7. Various Categories

    Various categories of persons, including popes, presidents, prime ministers, corrupt dictators, wealthy businessmen and drug dealers have used and benefited from the banking secrecy laws of Switzerland. As a result, her economy has been described as an underground economy, a deposit box for dirty money.
    Mr. Dedeyan gives credence to Switzerland’s reputation. He is just another Swiss individual that doesn’t follow the norms of the civilized world. I wonder if he was born into this mentality or acquired it. 
    1. Uncalled for

      Mr. Jamgochian,

      The first paragraph of your comment makes sense. However I find the second paragraph uncalled for and insulting, insinuating and tilting almost towards character assassination for whatever reason. How can you deduce from a general observation about a country that a citizen has a particular trait of character or not.

      It’s almost saying something along the following:

      Canada is a wealthy country. John Doe (who happens to be an unemployed worker and lives on welfare) is rich.

      Does it make sense?

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