The Diaspora Should Stop Kidding Itself


By Henry Dumanian, The Armenian Weekly, 12 January 2010

The Armenian Weekly Editor’s note: The letter below, sent to the Armenian Weekly, is a response to an article titled “In Whose Interests? The Political Economy of Armenian-Turkish Relations” by Serouj Aprahamian and Allen Yekikian

***
Serouj Aprahamian and Allen Yekikian co-authored an interesting op-ed published in Asbarez and the Armenian Weekly recently. Under a huge picture of a distastefully built Greco-Roman mansion, which they claim belongs to one of Armenia’s oligarchs, Aprahamian and Yekikian argue (quite correctly) that the opening of the Armenian border will only serve the interests of the oligarchic establishment in Armenia, and not the population at large. According to them, the chief motive behind President Serge Sarkisian’s support of the protocols is the huge personal profit to be made (by him and the court nomenklatura) once the border opens: “In the end, the protocols and the ensuing establishment of relations between Armenia and Turkey are a direct reflection of the interests of this tiny set of powerbrokers within Armenia.” They also go on to suggest that Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s opposition bloc, the ANC, despite denouncing the government, is quite supportive of Sarkisian’s approach to Armeno-Turkish relations: “Ter-Petrosyan has praised the Sarkisian regime’s policy on Turkish-Armenian relations and has even expressed his desire to establish cooperation with the ruling regime.”

These last two assertions are as false as that oligarch’s mansion is ugly.


By Henry Dumanian, The Armenian Weekly, 12 January 2010

The Armenian Weekly Editor’s note: The letter below, sent to the Armenian Weekly, is a response to an article titled “In Whose Interests? The Political Economy of Armenian-Turkish Relations” by Serouj Aprahamian and Allen Yekikian

***
Serouj Aprahamian and Allen Yekikian co-authored an interesting op-ed published in Asbarez and the Armenian Weekly recently. Under a huge picture of a distastefully built Greco-Roman mansion, which they claim belongs to one of Armenia’s oligarchs, Aprahamian and Yekikian argue (quite correctly) that the opening of the Armenian border will only serve the interests of the oligarchic establishment in Armenia, and not the population at large. According to them, the chief motive behind President Serge Sarkisian’s support of the protocols is the huge personal profit to be made (by him and the court nomenklatura) once the border opens: “In the end, the protocols and the ensuing establishment of relations between Armenia and Turkey are a direct reflection of the interests of this tiny set of powerbrokers within Armenia.” They also go on to suggest that Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s opposition bloc, the ANC, despite denouncing the government, is quite supportive of Sarkisian’s approach to Armeno-Turkish relations: “Ter-Petrosyan has praised the Sarkisian regime’s policy on Turkish-Armenian relations and has even expressed his desire to establish cooperation with the ruling regime.”

These last two assertions are as false as that oligarch’s mansion is ugly.

(First, if anybody is interested—the mansion belongs to a parliamentarian whose mafioso name is “Shinanyuti Sergeyi.” When we drove by on our way to Vanadzor last summer, it was guarded by armed men and high walls—perhaps to keep the will of the masses out).

But before I begin my critique of those two points, I want to put their article in context. Between 1998, when Robert Kocharian became president, and last fall, when the protocols were announced, there has never been such a great and detailed examination (and with it denunciation) of the Kocharian-Sarkisian-sponsored oligarchy in the Armenian American community as there seems to be now. And more appropriately, there has never been such open hostility against them from people like Aprahamian, who is a staunch ARF sympathizer. This is not to say that they haven’t addressed the issue in the past. In November 2008, for example, Aprahamian posted an interview with Dr. Ara Khanjian on the huge gap between the rich and the poor. Nowhere in that long interview, however, does one see the word “oligarchy.” Instead, it is presented much in the same way it would be in America—rich vs. poor, capitalism vs. socialism, taxes vs. credit lines. I encourage people to read the new Aprahamian/Yekikian article—it is quite a detour from their past opinions (emotions would be a more suitable word, I think).

It is important to note this complete shift in emphasis because it has political motives behind it. Oligarchs are sponsored by and under the largesse of the ruling regime—sanctioned by the most powerful politician in the country, the president. They don’t belong in political science textbooks—they are real people with names and faces (and those seem to change depending on your political party). In the long ago pre-protocols era, “oligarchs” were a far away phenomenon. If anyone was to blame, it was certainly not the “ruling regime,” and most certainly not President Sarkisian (or Kocharian). That’s Levonite talk! In fact, the worst the Kocharian-Sarkisian regimes have done is been negligent. Look at Khanjian’s response to a question about creating greater economic equality in Armenia: “With our focus on poverty, we [the ARF] were able to influence the government and make it more aware of the needs of the poor. During the opening ceremony of the ARF’s 30th World Congress, one of the first concerns mentioned by Prime Minister Dikran Sarkisyan in his speech was the fight against poverty. This was not a coincidence. Prime Minister Sarkisyan knew that the ARF cares about the poor; therefore he explained to the ARF World Congress delegates that he also is concerned with the conditions of the poor. In addition, the government of Armenia, similar to many other developing countries, with the cooperation of the World Bank, has adopted a Poverty Reduction Strategic Paper, PRSP, which is a long-term plan for reduction of poverty in Armenia.” Does that sound like a government to blame for oligarchy? Nope. In fact, the government seems to be quite cooperative and responsive. Now, it seems like Aprahamian and the gang have discovered what many of us have long been saying: Robert Kocharian and Serge Sarkisian are the main reason why oligarchs thrive.

Run a search on the word “oligarchy” on the Asbarez website, for example. One of the results is an article about the protocols (and only but once mentions oligarchy); one is a story from Radio Free Liberty on Armenia’s human rights ombudsman; one is about the ARF’s road-to-nowhere-map on regime change; and only one search result seems to be doing the issue justice. That’s a total of four articles, two of which only mention oligarchies once, and one is from Armenia itself. Of course, this oligarchic system is the root Armenian-made cause of the diaspora’s proportionate distrust of all things Hayastan and Armenia’s problems as a whole. It is hindering intellectual, economic, social, cultural, and democratic development. Yet in the diaspora, it has received nowhere near the amount of time and focus it should be getting. If genocide recognition is an immediate community goal, oligarchies in Armenia should be getting the second most amount of attention (or even the third).

Aprahamian, to his credit, is actually one of the few people who has tried to address the issue in the past. Therefore, it is no surprise that this recent article was co-written by him.

Indeed, this new article is quite impressive: It includes names, dates, what they make, how much they make, and how they made it (even I learned something new), and it is also wrapped around rhetoric about justice, history, and of course, azgasirutsiun (patriotism). It also advocates a fierce crackdown on oligarchs. This is in strike contrast to the previous “solutions” we have been offered by Aprahamian and the like in the past: bank loans to the poor, adjustments to government services, anti-corruption campaigns, etc. Before, it was a polite conversation about abstract concepts like monopolies, democracy, socialism, etc. Now, it is advocating the almost militant overthrow of individuals (like our most trusted president). Moments after it was published, Aram Hamparian, the director of the ANCA, posted a link to the article on his Twitter feed. In fact, he even commented on Khanjian’s article about the economic situation in Armenia (also recently published). He asked, “Where is the intellectual pro-protocols argument that 1) most Armenians (not just a handful) will benefit, and 2) the benefits outweigh the costs? Those who believe in ratification, if there are any left, should stand up and publicly offer their views.” Any brief look at the reaction from the community at large paints a similar picture. From Facebook pages to comments on Asbarez, the Armenian Weekly, and Armenian blogs, “the criminal oligarchs have to go” has become a common rallying call. The contrast between the then and the now is undeniable.

Why, then, have these people suddenly decided that Armenia’s oligarchs lay at the root of our nation’s precarious situation? Weren’t these oligarchs eating away at the heart of the people of Armenia in, say, 2006 or 2005? Aprahamian’s article would have been as potent a few years ago as it is now. Research, for example, how Robert Kocharian sold national assets to the Russian government at below-market prices (essentially making the taxpayer pay for the difference). And he wasn’t selling away wine factories; he sold things that are tied to our national security: energy generators, power plants, and the like.

It is clear there is one, and only one, reason behind the massive diaspora-public outrage at Sarkisian’s oligarchy: the protocols, nothing more and nothing less. It is a good reason, if for no other, to oppose them. A defeatist organization like the Armenian Assembly, for example, can argue that the protocols are a good step in the right direction, but they cannot argue that it will only help the (now) criminal ruling elite (at least without looking like they’re from another universe). There is much force behind such accusations. It is a knockout punch (to the already credible case) the ARF community has for the Armenian Assembly folk and the broader community. Getting rid of the oligarchy used to be a much broader issue; now it is tied to getting rid of Sarkisian. If the Armenian Assembly wants to get rid of the oligarchy, they must fight against Sarkisian. If they are fighting against Sarkisian, they are fighting against the protocols. At the very least, it makes supporters of the protocols look like they are in bed with Sarkisian by ignoring the plight of the poor, miserable people of Armenia (which they are).

It also validates this new gung-ho attitude the Tashnag community has against Sarkisian. They are no longer fighting against the protocols and the rights of the “nation,” but they are fighting for the people of Armenia on a very practical and local level. Genocide recognition will make us all better in a much more abstract pan-national way. The fight against the oligarchy will help a single mother in Armenia put food on the table for her kids. Take that, open border advocates! Who cares about the real wellbeing of the people of Armenia now?

From all of this, important questions emerge: If our glorious president had never signed the protocols, would Aprahamian, Yekikian, and the hundreds of people I have heard curse Sarkisian, really stand up against this oligarchy? Would we really be talking about how they are robbing the people of Armenia of a future? Or would we be on the path we were on before the protocols, namely, a silent, yet honest acknowledgement of the issue, followed by ignoring it, and an unwillingness to attack it as it should be when it is addressed—with names, pictures, and addresses, with unforgiving anger, and most importantly, with honesty. I think you all know the answer to that question.

From that, a more important question for the people of Armenia: Are these really the people you want to stand alongside in your long and dangerous battle for regime change? The protocols are the only reason they are with you. Are these the people Vartan Mamigonian took to Avarayr? In the middle of the battle, if Sarkisian gives in to their demands and rips apart the protocols, will Aprahamian, Yekikian, Hamparian, and Khanjian leave your side? Will they leave you to the mercy of Sarkisian’s thugs and brutality much as they did on March 1? How convinced can you be that you are out on the streets, protesting, for the same reasons? Apparently, not very convinced indeed.

(I am aware that the Armenian Assembly has made the case that an open border will get rid of the oligarchy. I have chosen to ignore their arguments because, quite frankly, they are idiotic. I am also aware that the ARF community in America was fiercely critical of the “autocracy” of Levon Ter-Petrosyan in the late 1990’s. But this is the exception that proves the rule. Their criticism emanated from their partisanship (as it does now), not an honest condemnation of the oligarchs. Upon joining the coalition with Kocharian in 1998, they toned down their criticism as described above. Also, although I’m sure he doesn’t mind, my apologies to Yekikian for concentrating more on Aprahamian—I am simply more familiar with his views and work than yours).

2 comments
  1. Naive Viewpoints – Wake up from slumber…

    Oligarchs were the result of LTP administered so called democracy in RA supported by super-wealthy Armenians, mainly from USA "ramgavaragans", previously called Etchmiadzanagans.

    They were against those who would have wished RA to be a European, rather Swedish-Danish-Finnish style Euro-Socialistic system.

    Why are you so surprised that this has occured.

    Capitalism has shown its failure…Wise up and think Euro-Sedish socialism for our Patria, not this wild free market economy that has brought the world to the brink of catastrophe.

    1. Gaytzag, You raise valid points

      Gaytzag,

      You raise valid points and I would partially agree with you. Unfortunately, privatization was thought to be panacea for all ills and some Diaspora people have a responsibility of acknowledging that they encouraged the rulers of Armenia in that direction right from the beginning.

      I would, however, try to refrain from finger-pointing only one particular sector, as in those what you call "Etchmiadznagans" there were quite a few influential people both in the Diaspora and in Armenia who believed in what otherwise I would call mixed economy. The assassinations of October 1999 eventually helped the oligarchs to consolidate themselves. Don’t you think?

      And what about the decade that followed the tragedy? Whole sectors of the economic infrastructure, and more importantly strategic elements were given away for private gains.

      May I suggest to read Harut Der-Tavitian’s excellent analysis of the Wasted Decade?

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