WAN-C Gets My Vote

By Viken L. Attarian, Montréal, 25 February 2010

Editor’s note: The text originally appeared in 24April Forum (Toronto).

Taking baby steps, walking or running? That is the question.

A relevant question in light of Harut Sasoonian’s proposal. As an Armenian intellectual recently said, “What would be the objective of creating a Diasporan entity?”

History is our teacher. We have tried Sasoonian’s idea several times. Almost every time we have failed to achieve our final objectives because of our narrow worldviews. Obviously, 24April forum is not representative of pan-Armenian views. I am sure that the manager Artin Boghosian can refresh our memories, but the ratio of contributors to members is probably one to 10. The people on this forum do not represent the Armenian “street”, wherever that may be. So let’s not assume good intentions across the board.In my view, there is no single Armenian Diaspora. There are many Diasporas, each with its own dynamics, history, stage of evolution and demographics. We would be ignoring these differences at the risk of our potential. For example, I might have more in common with a contributor to 24April from Sweden than with the Armenian diamond-cutter in Yellowknife who is married to a native Gwitchin first nation woman and is my fellow Canadian. My point is that there are a multiplicity of identities that fracture us and enrich us simultaneously.Any proposal to unite the Diaspora under any umbrella organization must take into consideration the following two factors. The traditional organizations (whether political, religious or any other) will fight it tooth and nail because they want to maintain their hegemony and preserve a status quo which they feel is to their advantage. This is a given. To ignore it would be at best naïve and at worst, complicit in the undermining of such an effort. As well, a Diasporan umbrella organization must be fashioned around a VERY SPECIFIC project around which the multiplicity of Armenian identities CAN unite.

A lofty overreaching purpose such as preserving our identity and helping Armenia is, in my view, an unlikely uniting factor, because we already know that every single Armenian organization would claim that policy “space”. It would be a moot point to create global governance around, so to speak, “motherhood and apple pie” vague generalities. That is why the Western Armenian National Congress (WAN-C) has it right in my view, because their stated purpose is the pursuit of legal retribution for the suffering of our people as a result of the crimes committed by an antecedent state whose legal successor exists today. In other words, there is a defendant in this potential legal case. The purpose of the WAN-C is to create and organize the plaintiff.

It is, of course, hoped that once this experiment and others like it (i.e. mobilizing globally around specific projects and ideas) become successful, Armenians can be inspired by this success and voluntarily choose to use such governance models to enhance their organizational potential. Whether that platform would be the WAN-C or any other one would be premature to determine at this stage.

The Diaporas have a long way to go. For all intents and purposes there is no successful experiment in democracy in any Armenian Diaspora, as we understand and accept the concept of democracy in secular liberal democracies of the West. The reason is, because healthy democracies understand value and even cherish the existence of democratic opposition. As Armenians, we need to cultivate these concepts within global democratic experiments in the Diaspora, again by mobilizing around specific goals. It is for this reason that the Diaspora could not advocate for democracy in Armenia at an institutional level because it lacks those structures and practices itself. It could not give what it did not possess.

The above reasons explain why I would bet on the WAN-C proposal rather than others, but always keeping in mind the aforementioned two caveats.

  1. A bird in hand is better than two in the bush

    Based on the information available on this site it appears that the organizing committee has already laid the groundwork for bringing together people from a wide variety of professions and geographical backgrounds including what traditionally are labled as Eastern and Western Armenians. This by itself is a feat.

    It bodes well, and there is no reason to doubt that the steering committee will be able to deliver what it promises in the short term, i.e. a congress with an executive council to pursue the Armenian interests in the international arena. That’s what is required as we come closer to the centenary of the Genocide.

    It is true that the proposed congress is not a panacea for all the ills that the Diaspora faces, but it is a firm step forward. There are several proposals to unite the Diaspora and the Armenians at large, but such initiatives that pursue all-encompassing goals serve mostly an emotional need rather than putting a brick on top of the other to build a beautiful castle that we all can admire.

    As Mr. Attarian so rightly says, "History is our teacher." Haven’t we learned from the lessons of the past? Do we have to repeat our mistakes time and again?

    An organization with a specific goal such as the proposed WAN-C is practically achievable within very short period of time, because the infrastructure is already present. It’s not an illusive dream and it is within reach.

  2. A sensible approach
    I fully agree with the idea that "a Diasporan umbrella organization must be fashioned around a VERY SPECIFIC project around which the multiplicity of Armenian identities CAN unite." 

    The WAN-C’s project should not be deemed as a threat by any Armenian organization.  If anything, they should all be relieved that there are competent individuals who are ready to tackle an issue in which none of the traditional Armenian organizations, to my knowledge, have made any headway.

    1. Thank you Vrouyr, if all
      Thank you Vrouyr, if all Armenians have the same common sense as you do, then we will not be in a similar situation.

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