Trust Deficit in Traditional Political Organizations

Team Keghart Editorial, 22 February 2010

Our Diaspora political organizations, namely the traditional three parties, have had dramatic highs and lows during their long history. Currently, especially with the advent of the Internet, they face new challenges to their operations, if not existence. In the past few years non-affiliated societies and diverse groups have mushroomed on an unprecedented scale, asserting the Diaspora needs new solutions and new leadership. Already leadership and strategic guidance of Diaspora communities has begun to slip away from the parties. This undeniable fact is naturally a cause for concern to people who have thus far enjoyed near-hegemony in dictating the affairs of Armenian communities spread around the globe.

Team Keghart Editorial, 22 February 2010

Our Diaspora political organizations, namely the traditional three parties, have had dramatic highs and lows during their long history. Currently, especially with the advent of the Internet, they face new challenges to their operations, if not existence. In the past few years non-affiliated societies and diverse groups have mushroomed on an unprecedented scale, asserting the Diaspora needs new solutions and new leadership. Already leadership and strategic guidance of Diaspora communities has begun to slip away from the parties. This undeniable fact is naturally a cause for concern to people who have thus far enjoyed near-hegemony in dictating the affairs of Armenian communities spread around the globe.

To our knowledge, no scientific study has been carried out to explore the phenomenon and provide clues as to why this evolution has developed and gained momentum. Some observers blame it on the self-defeating rivalry of the three parties. The fratricide, especially of the late ‘50s in Lebanon, is fresh on many minds. Others blame the political challenges on the well-documented social sciences conclusions which maintain that positions and power eventually lead to isolation and degeneration with all their attendant manifestations of greed, arrogance, intolerance, character assassination, absence of transparency and accountability. Still others claim that the traditional organizations have not kept pace with changes in economic, political and social spheres. At least one political party has not updated its platform and bylaws for more than two decades.

Whether these serious challenges to the domination of the traditional parties bode well for the Diaspora is a question that cannot be addressed in a conclusive manner. However, it is assumed that party leaders view the evolution differently from those who do not participate in activities initiated on their behalf. There is an absence of two-way communication between leaders and followers at large, and totally non-existent between parties and non-affiliated people. The parties themselves have to carry the blame for this. As well, the political parties have shown neither tolerance nor patience for “others”, except when there has been an opportunity to co-opt them. To this day there are some, though minority, who believe that if you do not belong to a certain party you should not have a say … perhaps you are not even Armenian. In some quarters to be Armenian is defined by party membership.
 

Is it any wonder then that there is a huge trust deficit towards the established parties? Is it not natural for concerned but non-affiliated Armenians to look for ways to have their voice heard? Is it surprising to witness such a quest–especially in Western countries where give and take, the expression of opinion and freedom of speech are formally respected?

A recent poll conducted by Keghart.com, albeit non-scientific, provides a sample of the prevailing mood at least in a specific sector.  To this date 874 visitors looked at the poll and 238 cast votes. The overwhelming majority– over 80%– said that “a new entity is required to speak on behalf of the Diaspora.”  The poll is still active and accessible at: www.keghart.com/4diaspora.

Meanwhile, a recent study titled A Tale of Two Charts conducted by Richard K. Ohanian and published independently in Keghart.com and in Boston’s The Armenian Weekly provided some interesting observations. Ohanian stated, “more than 90% of the Armenians living in the U.S. who are interested in politics and have the means to go online and visit a ‘grassroots’ political organization’s website choose not to do so on a regular basis.” The reference was to the Armenian National Committee of America – ANCA.

Another interesting Ohanian observation was that “about 7,000 to 8,000 Armenians visit the ANCA’s website on a monthly basis.”

Keghart.com has no means to verify the information submitted by Ohanian, and treats  it at face value. However, we can provide our own data as shown below. In the past six months, between August 2009 and January 2010 Keghart.com attracted more than 6,000 “unique visitors” month after month. It is relevant to emphasize that the site does not carry any advertisements, is only two-and- a- half years old, compared to ANCA’s “decades of existence”, and has no organizational support.
Our intention at Keghart.com is not self-promotional, nor are these data provided to generate advertising revenues. Our sole purpose is to back the assertion that there is among Diaspora Armenians a trust deficit in traditional organizations. People are in search of new modalities of expression, and over time they are drifting away from the political parties. Thus far the mainstream political trio has made no attempt to stay relevant.  Rather than address the ever-changing challenges the Diaspora faces, the Hnchak and the Ramgavar have witnessed serious fissures among their ranks, while the biggest political party—the Tashnag—has continued its “we know best” policy.
 
16 comments
  1. Excellent
    Sorry I missed the voting session but you can add my voice to the first group (a new entity is required). Houry

  2. Սփիւռքահայ ներկայացուցչական մարմին

    Ներկան յուզող կարեւորագոյն հարցն է, որ Սփիւռքի լիազօրութիւնը ունեցող, սփիւռքը իր զանազանութիւններով ներկայացնող մարմին մը ստեղծուի, որը՝ ստիպողականօրէն Սփիւռքի եւ Հայաստանի միջեւ հանգամանքային անհրաժեշտ հաւասարակշռութիւնը պահպանելու պիտի ծառայէ։

    Արտայայտուած հանրային կարծիքի նշանակալից բարձր համեմատութիւնը նկատի ունենալով, եւ նկատի առնելով 2009 թուականի քաղաքահայեցողական անակնկալ տարակարծութիւններու ճակատագրական  զարգացումը, աւելի քան համահայկական զօրակցութեան ու համակրանքին պիտի արժանանայ գոյանալիք Սփիւռքահայ ներկայացուցչական մարմինը, որու երկարատեւ բացակայութիւնը, կրնայ  Սփիւռքահայութեան հայապահպանման առաքելութիւնը ջլատել։

  3. Political Parties

    Since nowadays there are no serious ideological differences among the three political parties, and patriotism-survival of Armenian Diaspora is, by any measure, the top item on their agendas, I don’t know why the Tashnag, Hnchag, Ramgavar parties don’t unite and form a single party. Imagine the clout they would have. But we know better… the Old Guard will hold on to their "thrones" to the bitter end, even if it means jepardizing our survival away from Armenia.

    1. ideology vs aim
      Vahrij, each of the Armenian political parties have a different ideology, hence it would be impossible for them to unite and we need to respect that.  However, a new party or group should emerge that might be able to bring together most of the Armenians and be independent of the ‘old’ ideological concept, instead have an aim, e.g.: to get the lands back or more realistically, find people who still have deeds to the western lands or any proof as such and try to help them legally and politically to get their lands back.
      We need to be more realistic than emotional to reach our aims.

      1. Dear Vartkes, More than a century
        Dear Vartkes,

        More than a century ago the Tashnags and Hnchags were socialist in their ideology while Ramgavars were centrist. Decades ago the first two stopped talking about socialism or any type of ideology, while Ramgavars these days are non-ideological and mostly cultural in their activities. I believe that because of the changing scene, the three are primarily nationalist/patriotic political parties. And another point: I would use the "political party" description advisedly since in most countries, including the U.S., Canada, France… they do not describe themselves as political parties.
    2. The “Old Guards”on their “Thrones”

      I do not want to come across as staunchly advocating the traditional Armenian parties and drumbeating their cause, however, labeling their leadership, as being “Old Guards” is not simply factual.  A cursory look at the leadership that comes these days from the Tashnag party displays a different reality. They are relatively young; they are not necessarily the sons or the daughters of leaders a generation ago. Most have joined the party at early age as idealists and worked themselves to positions of leadership e.g. Hagop Pakradounian from Lebanon, Hrant Markarian , Mario Nalbandian, Vahan Hovannessian from Armenia, Seto Boyadjian from LA, Dr. Antranig kasparian from East Coast, USA and of course others who are in positions of leadership and are relatively young, educated and driven.
      1. Aleppo to Yerevan

         
        Recently, I was on a flight from Aleppo to Yerevan, and sitting next to me was a group of teenage women-basketball players from Lebanon, on its way to Armenia to participate in a tournament.

        The girl sitting next to me and I discussed various topics related to Armenianness, sharing perspectives from our respective Armenian communities, and so on. We finally touched upon the fratricide that occurred in Lebanon during the war. Her response was dismissive, "it was all the Hnchaks’ fault [what happened]".
         
        Providing kids from Bourj-Hammoud an opportunity to play intramural sports, travel to Armenia, and have a sense of belonging is deserving of applause. Teaching their young (or implying to them) that one of the darkest chapters of contemporary Armenian political parties was a one-sided affair, is convenient, but not indicative of change.

        1. The true, current divider!!!

           

          We, human beings agree, disagree, struggle and fight to the extent that sometimes it gets ugly. This is unfortunate. It starts with one individual or group of individuals, a party may be to start but it takes another individual or group of individuals to start a fight. If the other party does not respond responsibly, with wisdom, forgiveness and sacrifice for the good of the people, things go ugly. It went ugly in Lebanon, but it also happened that both parties cooperated very well in the face of a common threat.

          There is another greater problem threatening Armenian unity, and that is the language divider: Western Armenian vs Eastern Armenian. What Jacques Hagopian taught us in school is very different from what we see in our church on Sundays because our church secretary speaks Eastern Armenian. Famous poet, intellectual, veteran teacher Jacques Hagopian, in his early 90s and still writing a book, believes Western Armenian is to be used because it is the classic Armenian.

          In spite of it, I suggest that leaders of the Armenian people in Armenia or in the Diaspora to seriously consider unifying our language by compromising, e.g. instead of saying "militia" let us say "zinvoragan", as in western Armenian, and instead of counting "ootsoon" after the "yotanasoon", let us count, "yotanasoon, ootanasoon", as in Eastern Armenian, thus we will have "tear down the wall".

          Language is the last thing that should divide the Armenian people into "us" and "them".

          1. I think your idea about

            I think your idea about reciprocal compromise to reach a unified language is keen and useful.

            The last thing you want is to feel not part of collective because you speak a different kind of Armenian. 

            Outbursts about which is the more correct Armenian would be avoided too. 

  4. A new entity which
    A new entity which encompasses the cultural, social, political, and religious make up of the Armenian nation.

  5. Be the instrument for the change
    Indeed “there is a huge trust deficit towards the established parties” be it the Armenian or American. However, I do not think it implies that there will be trust in a new non-traditional or contemporary (whatever that means) emerging political party.

    The phenomenon, in my view, is manifestation of prevailing complex social norms to not belong to a political organization, to have a choice etc. What is paradoxical in my view is that there won’t be choices to make if there are no organized political or social entities to chose from.

    As to the Armenian political parties, my view is that each of us must be the instrument of the change we want to see and that does not come without participating in the parties and bring change. No emerging Armenian social entity can possibly replace the rich history of the traditional Armenian political parties and their affiliates and claim the legitimacy the traditional Armenian parties have.

  6. Penso que não se trata de

    Penso que não se trata de formar uma nova entidade visando à aglutinação dos armênios da Diáspora. De nada servirá, também, objetivar a supressão dos partidos que, bem ou mal, cumprem sua missão. Creio que, de fato, independentemente dessas questões, o que vale é que a Diáspora ninca esteve tão unida, em torno dos debates sobre os Protocolos..Isto é o mais importante. Não há necessidade de novos rótulos. Temos, hoje, o que denominaria de  "Globalização da Diáspora Armênia". Não por acaso, estou me comunicando, por meio desta, de São Paulo – Brasil, com os queridos compatriotas dos USA, Canadá e outros países. Pronto, está formado nosso "time".       
  7. Unified – one people , one nation , one homeland
    Sireli Hayrenagitsner,

    We should never try to get rid of at least the 3 major political parties that played a big role in our history regardless of mistakes that they all made, it’s dangerous. No new party will be better or perfect, instead we need to unite as one including Armenia, Diaspora, our Churches, under one flag with one voice and one aim which is to secure our homeland, save our people from the worse , liberate our historic lands, Giligia, save our language, our culture,  our History  and never forget the Armenian Genocide.

       
    I beg of you all this is the time for us to take care of all these issues, otherwise there is not much time left and soon it will be to late.
       
    One thing is for sure,  we all love Armenia, we are all proud to be Armenian.
     
    God bless our Nation
     
  8. Response to editorial


    Your very perceptive analysis of the outdated and useless Armenian so-called “political” parties didn’t go far enough.

    You could have asked them to cite one good example where they have benefited the Armenian people in the 19th century, in the pre-Genocide 20th century, in the post-Genocide 20th century, and now in the 21st century.  “Dividing the Armenian Community and weakening the Armenian message,” which may impress their followers, is not an acceptable answer and is not the kind of “good” the Armenians deserve and need.

    You mentioned, in passing, “50s Lebanon.”  That has to be one of the most disgusting and sordid actions of these harmful parties.   The lies and the charges that were presented to Her Majesty’s Government were so nasty as to border on the obscene.  During my time in London, I was able to speak with many of the people on the receiving end of the attempt to blacken the name of the Catholicos and, by extension, Etchmiadzin (not realizing–or caring, it could be–that it was also damaging the Armenian Church). 

    Fortunately, HMG’s Foreign Office had the good sense to contact the Archbishop of Canterbury who, speaking personally and for the Church of England, said there was no substance whatsoever and suggested that HMG ignore what was coming from Lebanon.  The government followed the advice.

    But what they must have thought about the Armenians will not strain anyone’s imagination!

    Until 1915, these useless people gave Turkey the excuse it needed to “solve the Armenian question.”  Since the Genocide, they have given some governments the reason to ignore the legitimate claims of the Armenians.

    Any “unity” movement that includes representatives of these useless parties is planting the seeds of its destruction.  They will try to dominate that “unity” movement.  If they fail, they will actively work against it.


    At the risk of making this too long, permit me to give one example from the past.  Just after World War II, a group of young veterans in Philadelphia decided to form a Veterans Association.  They asked for and received the enthusiastic support of my father and his newspaper–”at last, the younger generation is taking a role in the community.”   The reaction in the community was overwhelming, and the first dinner and open meeting attracted more than 1500 people and the city’s largest ballroom was so full that tables had to be placed in the reception area and in the elevator area.

    Then, the political parties decided that an independent veterans movement would be damaging to their useless existence.  They strove to get the young members of their parties to get into office.  One party succeeded and within five years the veterans’ group had died.

    Just think what the Armenian status would be like today if that Veterans group had succeeded and had survived!  And if it had grown into a national organization of World War II veterans and of the Korean War veterans and of the Vietnam War veterans. Presidents and presidential candidates would be speaking at its annual convention; politicians would seek the support of the organization; Congress would pay attention to an appeal that began “We Armenians. . . .”  Cities would compete to host  the annual convention.  Its members would have pride of place at inter-cultural events.  The list of possible benefits to the Armenians is endless.  Did the competing so-called “political” parties have the vision to see this?  Do pigs fly?

    But enough.

    When next you return to this subject, ask these outdated and useless “political” parties to tell us what good they have done.

    Avedis Kevorkian

    Philadelphia, PA  USA

    3 March 10

     

  9. You’re comparing apples to oranges

    Comparing the ANCA to Keghart.com on the basis of "unique visitors" is rather laughable.

    The performance measure of the ANCA is in WASHINGTON, not in the number of visits to their website (as Ohanian himself admits, when he compared the AIPAC website to the ANCA; finding that the ANCA had a disproportionately larger unique visitors per month, he concluded that the AIPAC’s performance should not be measured in unique visitors but by their effectiveness in steering US foreign policy).

    Keghart.com is a WEBSITE that features news and opinion articles and allows users to comment.  Not surprising, being a website, the performance measure of Keghart.com is unique visitors per month, and NOT their effectiveness in affecting foreign policy in Washington!

    CONCLUSION: let’s compare oranges to oranges.

Comments are closed.

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