A Remarkable Initiative of Political and Social Science-Related Content in Armenia

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By Hagop Avedikian

In November 2010, a discussion and presentation of Haikakan Banak (Armenian Army), a defense- academic journal, took place at the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia (MOD, RA). The  discussion was held with the participation of an outstanding array of political, social scientists and historians. The Appendix, titled “Activity of the US-Armenian Lobbies in Terms of the RA National Security Strategic Interests,” and subtitled “Guidelines of the RADiaspora Dialogue Strategy,” was supervised by the commandant of the Institute for National Strategic Studies, MOD, RA, Gen. Hayk Kotanjian and edited by A. Avagyan, B. Poghosyan and V. Ter-Matevosyan.

The 240-page appendix is in fact a collection of valuable studies, to which a group of experts from Armenia and the diaspora have contributed. Ter- Matevosyan has given his strategic assessments on Armenia-Diaspora issues, P. Chobanyan has discussed the problem of synthesizing the orthographic systems of the Armenian language in terms of the Republic of Armenia national security, H.  Hovhannisyan has raised the matter of the unity of the Armenian Church with a view to the security of the diaspora, while A. Manvelyan has tried to suggest solutions to Armenia-Diaspora pluralism and equilibrium based on the example of the Armenian Ramgavar Azadagan Democratic Liberal Party. A. Yeganyan has disclosed the cooperation prospects of the Armenian and US Armenian lobbies, and B. Poghosyan and A. Avagyan in separate articles have considered the experience and potential of the US-Jewish lobby from the perspective of Israel’s security and, contiguously, creating similar potential serving the Pan-Armenian interests.

The two policy articles of the collection have examined the organization model of the Jewish lobby and, more broadly, of the Jewish Diaspora and the possibility of implementing it in the Armenian reality. One of them belongs to Kotanjian (“Guidelines of the RA-Diaspora Dialogue Strategy”), and the author of the second one is the renowned Orientalist and political scientist, Prof. Nikolay Hovhannisyan (“Strategic Guidelines of the Armenia-Diaspora Integration: Conceptual Approaches”).

The articles of three experts from the diaspora, Julien Zarifian, Asbed Kotchikian and Stephan Astourian are also included in the collection where it is mentioned that the authors’ viewpoint not always coincides with that of the editorial staff. The first two articles almost exhaustively cover the origin, structure and activity methodology of the US-Armenian lobby, while the third touches upon the prospects of coordinating the Armenian Government’s activities with the political parties of the Diaspora.

Thanks to the collection under review, we deal with serious contributions written academically and professionally which also scrutinize practical issues theoretically. For the most part, the articles’ theoretical discussions cover mainly the US Armenian community, as well as the activity of US-Jewish or Israeli lobby. As concerns the practical goals, they are clearly expounded both in H. Kotanjian’s and Hovhannisyan’s articles. At the end of the volume proposals are submitted to the Republic of Armenia president, the government as well as the Ministries of Diaspora and Foreign Affairs.

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As it was anticipated, the ultimate goal of the collection compilers was to find and study the different organization models of diasporas, especially that of the Jewish one, and its applicability in establishing the Armenia-Diaspora system, and generally in consolidating the diaspora into a common structure, thereby protecting Armenians from actual and potential threats.

The unifying initiatives and movements are not new in the Armenian reality. Since the second half of the 19th century such initiatives have been practiced both in the Eastern and Western Armenians’ lives. In the primary stage even the Dashnaktsoutioun had such an intention, being founded as the Federation of Armenian Revolutionaries. The idea of establishing a Pan-Armenian and a non-partisan structure by the very Alliance Israelite example was in the programs of the founders and, in particular, if it can be so stated of the founders of the Armenian General Benevolent Union established in Egypt in 1906.

After the Meds Yeghern (Genocide) the first stage of the activity (headed by Hovhannes Toumanyan and Aramais Yerznkyan) of the Armenian Assistance Committee functioning abroad by the initiative of Soviet Armenian state authorities, i.e. before perverting the idea with the Communist “vision,” in terms of unifying around the motherland, can also be considered as an attempt to create a Pan-Armenian structure like the establishment of the “Hayastan” (Armenia) Pan-Armenian Foundation nowadays. The initiative of an array of intellectuals — goaloriented founders to establish a non-partisan  Diaspora-wide movement in 1975 in Cyprus can also be considered an endeavor to unify the Armenian Diaspora. However, this initiative soon deviated from its core goal, and against many of its founders’ wills, turned into a militarized structure — the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA). Later some of these intellectuals made three successive attempts in Paris and Lausanne to endow the Armenian Diaspora with a diaspora-wide structure (led by Rev. Garnouzian), which encountered the silent reluctance of our traditional parties. And later, already in the late 1970s, the Armenian Assembly of America was founded in the US with the concerted efforts of the ARF (Dashnaktsoutioun) and the ADL (Ramgavar) parties and the AGBU to make use of the USArmenians’ vote in favor of Armenians’ interests, i.e. with lobbyist motivation. (Soon the ARF left the Assembly and as for the ADL, it deemed its presence unnecessary without the ARF).

Fortunately, the Armenian Assembly of America successfully continues its activity till today, though recently it has especially suffered from the unpredictable and sometimes senseless behavior of Gerard Cafesjian, one of its previous major donors. The Appendix under review broadly touches upon the lobbying of this organization and fairly states that as opposed to the other lobbying organization, namely the Armenian National Committee of America, the ARF, which acts as a network of offices in different cities, the Armenian Assembly of America functions under the guidance of individuals who have closer contacts with the US State Department, and generally are loyal to the Republic of Armenia authorities.

I am not aware of whether the chief founders of the All-Armenian Movement at least initially meant for a Pan-Armenian institution. However, later on judging from its isolated and isolationist activity and, moreover, from its leader’s “wise” stance of classifying the Armenians as orange-eaters and non-eaters, thus distinguishing two categories of his native people, we draw the conclusion that this organization did not aim at uniting the Armenians, hence, it turned into a mere party.

The 2001 Armenian World Congress, convened in Moscow by Ara Abrahamyan, should be counted as an attempt of a Pan-Armenian initiative, which has registered tangible success so far only in Russia, more and more being perceived as identical to the productive activity of the Russian Armenians’ Union. In parallel, a team, headed by Karen Mikaelian, is making a utopian attempt, in my opinion, of convoking a “Western Armenians National Assembly” in Moscow. It even organizes meetings and forums in Cyprus, Moscow and other places.

These very lists of examples indicate that there always exists the idea of founding a Pan- Armenian and a Diaspora-wide structure. The time has come to coordinate the dispersed potential and the activities of Armenians. This issue of the Appendix under review, which is a collection of articles, as well as on the other hand, various studies on the Armenians’ issues from different parts of the world, published during the last two years with the efforts of Noravank Foundation and the Ministry of Diaspora, moreover, the creation of the Ministry of Diaspora itself, are an evidence of the urgency of that idea.

It’s not by chance, that just recently, namely on November 20, an international symposium, titled “Armenian Diaspora. Elected Leadership and Global Institution,” was convened on the initiative of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. The symposium took place thanks to the efforts of Harut  Sassounian, well-known publisher of the California Courier newspaper and senior vice president of the Lincy Foundation, director of the United Armenian Fund of Humanitarian Assistance to Armenia, as well as others. Although I did not have a chance to study those materials yet, I find the starting point of that very meeting to propose an elected leadership to a Pan-Armenian transnational organization erroneous and implausible. In one of his articles, Sassounian proposes to run those diaspora-wide elections on the basis of one representative per 20,000 men, which is not only a mechanical, but also an unfair approach to my mind. The issue of a proper representation is and has always been significant in case of the diaspora.

Instead of that mechanical approach in the Appendix under review, in the article titled “Ways to Address the Threats of the Destruction of the World Armenian Structure” Kotanjian proposes the idea of an assembly by representation, as a result of which we will have a “World Armenian Congress of Chairmen of Major Armenian Organizations, presided by the President of the Republic of Armenia.” In other words, a structure to be created close to the Jewish model, which will be tasked to provide the security of the Armenian Diaspora and the Armenian statehood, remove the existing barriers and address the threats, use the efforts of all the Armenians to the benefit of the Armenians and the Armenian statehood.

In his aforementioned article, Hovhannisyan opposes the above-said model but not the idea itself. His main argument is that “unlike the Jewish case, the Armenian Diaspora has never had the task of creating an Armenian state and never could have one, since it would undertake a leading role in the Armenia-Diaspora chain.” Instead, he proposes a more prudent alternative — a dialogue between Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora, where Armenia will be represented by the Armenian president, who will convene that meeting and the diaspora, by the representatives of its structured institutions and organizations. The main tasks of such a dialogue will be a) to declare Armenia an all-Armenian State, and b) to create a body coordinating the relations between Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora or an Armenia-Diaspora Consulting Body, which will act as a structure in transition until prerequisites are created for the existence of an Armenia- Diaspora Pan-Armenian permanent body.

As it is seen from the above-mentioned, as well as from the tasks and proposals considered in the other articles of the Appendix, in the Armenian reality, the time has come to hold viable, profound, academic and comprehensive discussions. It is time to “brainstorm” for the sake of creating a Pan-Armenian structure, and this initiative by the Institute of National Strategic Studies of MOD, the Republic of Armenia is welcomed by all means.

(Hagop Avedikian is the founding editor of Azg newspaper in Yerevan. Azg is a sister newspaper of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator.)

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