United We Stand…

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 22 August 2010

Lack of united Armenian strategy in responding to initiatives that originate in Turkey, either through the state or private citizens, NGOs and institutions, is hindering the advancement of the Armenian Cause. Those initiatives are mostly treated as being destructive with a loss of appreciation of nuances of substance and heterogeneity of authors. Furthermore, there is a paucity of creative counter-proposals from the Diaspora resulting in missed “windows of opportunity”. Add to it the contradictory announcements and actions of the Armenian state, the church and media you have stasis for the Armenian Cause.
 

Keghart.com Team Editorial, 22 August 2010

Lack of united Armenian strategy in responding to initiatives that originate in Turkey, either through the state or private citizens, NGOs and institutions, is hindering the advancement of the Armenian Cause. Those initiatives are mostly treated as being destructive with a loss of appreciation of nuances of substance and heterogeneity of authors. Furthermore, there is a paucity of creative counter-proposals from the Diaspora resulting in missed “windows of opportunity”. Add to it the contradictory announcements and actions of the Armenian state, the church and media you have stasis for the Armenian Cause.
 

The latest Turkish action was the announcement of the “celebration” of Holy Mass at Aghtamar in September. There is no doubt that the Turkish state will manipulate it for its own interests. Our knee-jerk reaction has been denunciation, instead of looking for ways to turn the event into our advantage, such as by mobilizing people to be present not in the hundreds but in the thousands, and asking friendly Turks, Kurds, Zazas and Alawis to  participate in solidarity with Armenians. All it takes is will, determination and cooperation among various factions of the Armenian Diaspora.
 
A memorable event that comes to mind is the publication of I apologize by thousands of Turkish nationals. How did we respond? Some Armenian media outlets did not even think the historic document deserved a few lines. Subsequent invitations to and interviews with key figures who had signed the document were mostly acts of lip service. Some of us argued that it was a ploy by the Turkish government. The authors were even accused of being agents of the state, although that dreaded word was not explicitly used. The "best" outcome was a diplomatic endorsement of the Réponse des intellectuels Arméniens aux intellectuels Turcs by a miniscule number of Armenian intellectuals compared to the number of Turkish signatories of the “apology”. Was there an opportunity to adopt the campaign and expand its potentials? Probably yes, but it was missed.
More recently–this past April– the Genocide was publicly commemorated in Turkey, albeit by a few intellectuals and their friends. Concomitantly, Diaspora intellectuals were invited to Turkey by TEPAV (Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey) to discuss the issue at a symposium. Some of the Armenian participants were rebuked upon their return from the gathering. Although solid arguments were provided against the event, the matter was treated in isolation, and not tackled within a larger context. Again no attempt was made to explore the potential of such encounters which could benefit the Armenian side.

Considering the above three (out of many) examples leads us to state unequivocally that the Turkish state and Turkish nationals continue to set the agenda–some would say they are even dictating it. Turkey will continue to use every means to place a halo around its denialist thesis. The Armenian Diaspora cannot afford to allow the Turkish side to determine this vital agenda. Rather than merely react, and in most cases denounce the Turkish initiatives, the Armenian Diaspora should be pro-active: it should respond in a constructive way to the Turkish undetakings or better–it should put forth its own proposals prior to the Turkish projects. Negative reaction on the part of Armenian Diaspora will neither generate sympathy nor break new ground in advancing our Cause.

Of course, the lack of coordinated effort between the Republic of Armenia and the Diaspora make matters more challenging. As a result, all we hear is cacophony rather than reasoned, constructive, and practical arguments. In the absence of a common strategy by Armenian stakeholders, the field is left wide open for the Turkish side. We have nobody to blame but ourselves. Let’s be honest with ourselves, and let’s ameliorate the situation in earnest.

For starters, Tashnagtsoutune has to realize that it cannot have it both ways, i.e. present itself as the savior of the Armenians, yet at every opportunity try to expand its partisan interests. Vis a vis Armenia, it raises red flags only and only when the party’s prerogatives or positions are in peril. It cooperates with others when there is a chance of increasing its dividends. This approach imperils our Cause, alienates people not only from the party but from Armenian endeavours in general within the party, its sympathizers, and adherents of other parties, too.

Tashnagtsoutune, being the best organized and most vocal Diaspora entity has the responsibility to set an example of cooperation in issues that matter to Diaspora Armenians. Pursuing the Armenian Cause in the legal field, for example, has been discussed for decades, within the party and with others. Yet there has been no real attempt to get the interested individuals or the organizations together. Will Tashnagtsoutune extend its hand to the proposed Western Armenian National Congress (WAN Congress) when the latter’s legal team becomes operational?

We extend our apologies to the Ramgavar and Hunchak parties for excluding them in the above recommendations. They have their internal fights still to sort out. However, they, too, should pursue their efforts by clearly defining what they see as the priorities for the future of Diaspora, our dreams of recovering some parts of our occupied motherland, and act accordingly.

Long before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more so after the collapse, many leftist individuals “deserted” their party but a few continued to operate under a variety of organizational names or joined other parties. Some preferred to be “independent”. This committed and capable contingent has been ignored by the Diaspora. Doubting their patriotism, ignoring their understanding of world affairs, and their contribution to Diasporan life is akin to amputating an active limb from the body. Their participation within the framework of an overall Armenian body politic is not only necessary but crucial in cultivating relations with progressive forces primarily in Turkey and elsewhere. Let’s invite our free-floating ”leftists” into our communities, organizations and projects.

The ideological followers of the generation that employed "unorthodox" means in the ’80s are still around with their own organizations and publications. They too deserve our attention.

Although statistics are not available, it’s safe to state that the majority of Diaspora Armenians do not belong to or follow any of the parties. Conventionally they are referred to as the “silent majority”. Probably a good number of them do not and will not take part in any Armenian endeavour irrespective of its origin. However, some “independents” are active and do participate in community affairs in a significant manner through individual projects or organized forums.

Armenians, at least in the Diaspora, have settled into a lazy and denialist mindset. In a misguided belief of our nation’s immortality, they maintain in the backroads of their minds the following nonsensical notion: "In our long history, we have survived war, famine, persecution, exile, genocide… we will somehow continue to survive whatever fate throws our way." This absurd myth, this belief in miracles blinds us to the existential challenges Diaspora faces, and may well result in our disappearance, within a few generations, as viable communities outside the borders of Armenia.

As mentioned earlier, we sorely lack common strategy to confront initiatives emanating from Turkey or to reverse the trend of setting the agenda. To that end awareness of what awaits Diaspora without cooperation among its various factions enumerated above is essential. The future appears bleak as the years go by. Numbing fatigue would eventually drown us. We cannot afford to waste more time.

Will any of the existing organizations take the lead in opening the channels of communication and coopeation? Or shall we wait for a messiah who will never show up? Will the proposed WAN Congress have sufficient gravitas, the intellectual mass and muscle, and the broad sightedness to draw all factions together? Or will it degenerate into yet another self-serving organization with special interests or ulterior motives?

What we need is inspired leadership which will win Diaspora’s confidence.
What we need is strength of will in Diaspora leaders, parties, and individuals.
What we need is moratorium on pomposity and cant.

It’s almost midnight for the Armenian Diaspora.

 

9 comments
  1. Ախ Թամա՛ր

    You are advocating that we should publicize the Akhtamar incident and try to get the attention of the public, media and Turks in that respect. It may do what?

    A) The spot will become a prominent tourist attraction benefiting only the Turks

    B) The Turks will show the world that they have renovated the place out of their own expense and the Armenians are trying to take ownership of it…

    C) The media and the Turks can easily make a point that the place is a museum and not for worship. Touching, candles and other incense is forbidden in any museum. We lose the case either way!

    If we don’t have the Armenian government’s backing, we shouldn’t do anything in this respect, since this is a major issue only resolvable by political means. The Armenian government should let UNESCO and the World know that this is a religious place and belongs to Armenians and/or it shouldn’t be represented as a museum only.

    Simple demonstrations will not do it.

    1. Vartkes you are right

      How right Vartkes is…..This is a Turkish ploy to pull wool over the world’s acknowledgement of the Genocide. Akhtamar is a museum in the eyes of perfidious Turks….Just recently Armenian children who visited the church were forbidden to light candles…..What more this editorial needs to know the intentions of Turks?
  2. Armenian Parties…

    Any Armenian political party, specially Tashnagtsoutune, regard themselves as a higher entity than the nation of Armenia. Their interests come first than the nation’s,  their priorities are "higher"…

    I will not be surprised if they denounce the Armenian state if their survival is based on such an act…

    Asking Tashnagtsoutune to join forces with another entity is a big mistake, since their only strategy is to join-to-destroy other initiatives.

  3. Armenian government needed too

    Notice how rarely the Armenian government even brings up, for example, the genocide issue in international forums.

    We in the Diaspora need to have support from the Armenian state itself.   This is not an excuse for the Diaspora not to act more forcefully, but I merely point it out.

    The Armenian government often seems to acts as an extension of the Russian state, which of course could not care less about the Armenian genocide.  To what extent is the Armenian government a puppet regime?

  4. The messiah

    Actually the messiah that you are talking about is the only saviour of Armenians; it has to be the Russians (unfortunately).  We have two options:
    1. Live another 20-50 years maximum like this and then we will be history…
    2. Ask Russians to take us in as part of their country, provided we keep our nationality, religion, right to vote for our leaders, education, etc.
    The Russians would be happy that their southern region will not convert completely into a western regime, they will have the power to dictate our foreign policies, they will have control on our ‘extra’ resources, etc.

    On the other hand, we will have full protection by their army, we will still exist even if we fall below 1million in population.  We even can benefit from their resources and we don’t have to worry about imminent war and extermination.

    We have to be realistic and ‘see’ the facts that we don’t have too many options anymore…

  5. There is a time to be humble

    There is a time to be humble and a time to speak aloud. We have not yet learned proper timing for either.

    Akhtamar for Turks is understandable  to be a museum. The question is do Armenian leaders think otherwise?

  6. Of Unity

    Armenians have many admirable traits which have enabled our survival during our long history. Why are we not like the Babylonians, Sumerians, Incas or the Aztecs? These were great civilizations that were our contemporaries, but now do not exist. Yet we survive. That’s the good news to ponder.
         
    Unfortunately, modern Armenians are also driven by two negative forces–an obsessive hatred of Turks and an unhealthy, intra-competitive mentality. One of the results of the denied justice re the Genocide is that we are left bitter and full of hate. Although at times this can fuel activism, it also blinds us to opportunities. The current Akhtamar situation is an excellent example. We only see this from the perspective of mistrust and anger, thus the call for its boycott. As a result, we miss the chance to turn the tables on the Turks, get our message out to the world and take advantage of the situation. Our answer is to reject any possibilities because of our hatred of Turkey. This ignores the new realities and greatly limits our effectiveness. If we are truly commited to our cause, we must subordinate our anger to our goals.

    In today’s Armenian Diaspora it is not sufficient to identify one’s self simply as Armenians. We are first Tashnags, Diocese, Prelacy, AGBU, etc. These are the vehicles by which we express our commitment, but the irony is that they have also come to represent intracompetive forces. For every option there is an alternative that looks at the other as competitor for the minds and wallets of individuals. We have the AYF or the ACYOA for the youth; we have the ARS and the AGBU for philanthropic projects. Many cities have a diocesan and a prelacy church. We have competing dioceses in three regions in North America etc, etc, etc.
               
    Each of these groups is full of dedicated and hard -working people. The walls between them, especially how they view each other is at best sub-optimal and at worst amot!
             
    The first change required is one of mindset. We need to express a true love of all people and organizations. This is not an idealistic or abstract notion. For example, when you meet an Armenian from your area who goes to a different church, be happy that he is a participant in our Church and community–and not view him as someone who goes to a church other than mine.  
           
    If major organizations conducted joint high-profile projects, we would begin to adopt new behaviors. It is sad to see active Armenians don’t have the opportunity to work together because of our institutionalized walls. 
           
    I have great expectations for our people. Let’s pray that we begin to change the paridigm and stay commited to our common purpose.

  7. Decimation of Armenian intellectuals

    Blame it on the decimation of Armenian intellectuals in 1915 if you will, but the Armenian diaspora today has been reduced to a monolithic and mind-numbing emotional reaction to the national crisis of 1915, tempered by romantic notions about the long ago and far away. That’s all there is and that’s all we want or so it seems–even as Armenia approaches a potential national crisis in 2015.

    But your survey of the sorry state of politics in the Diaspora is useful and informative, and your review of the cultural developments in Turkey is hopeful as well. While anger and grief may be sustaining Tashnagtsoutune (and perhaps the Church), with all due respect, after 95 years, they have contributed little to nation-building and don’t play well in public. 

  8. I wonder

    I wonder how many Armenian Diaspora leaders, particularly Tashnagtsoutune heads, are reading the heart-rending comments in response to your "United We Stand…" editorial. And more importantly, how many of Tashnagtsoutune leaders will come forward to help unify the Diaspora and guarantee its survival? When will Tashnag leaders realize that the nation is more important than the Tashnag Party? When will they realize that without Diaspora Armenians, there will be no Tashnagtsoutune Party?

    Tashnagtsoutune is the single largest Diaspora Armenian bloc, and the best organized entity. Willy-nilly, without Tashnagtsoutune’s participation, there can’t be a meaningul united Diaspora effort to guarantee the survival of our communities which are scattered around the globe. Thus, Tashnagtsoutune bears the responsibility to do the heavy lifting, rather than the Ramgavars or Hnchags.

    I believe Tashnagtsoutune leaders should invite the heads of the other parties, organizations, etc. to a national gathering, to draw long-term plans on cooperation aimed at guaranteeing the vibrancy of the Diaspora. We have to do it ourselves: we can’t expect help from the Republic of Armenia, where Tashnags rarely win more than 5% of the votes.

    I, like many other concerned Armenians, am frustrated by the drifting (slow demise?) of the Diaspora. I don’t know what it would take to make Diaspora realize that if it doesn’t take action, our days outside Armenia are numbered. We are divided, even in far away communities where there are only a handful of Armenians. And divided about what? Pray tell what are these significant (?) difference which are more important than our surival?

    Imagine this scenario from a history book or even from the movies: A city is under siege. It’s surrounded by much-stronger attackers who are determined to bring down the city walls and exterminate its defenders. And inside the wall, the feckless defenders are fighting among themselves because they disagree on the colour of the uniform their soldiers should wear. This is what’s been happening in the Diaspora since the early 1920s, and every year the defenders get weaker and still undecided on the colour of their soldiers’ uniforms. But I can guess that if the defenders don’t unite right now, the uniforms of everyone will soon be red.

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