Commentary: Unpleasant ‘Welcome’ Mat For Armenia’s President


By Edmond Y. Azadian

If the ARF branch on the US West Coast was looking for an altercation, it certainly got it when it released to the press its bombshell.

Indeed, as the community was preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Armenia’s independence, the ARF on the West Coast decided to boycott the celebratory banquet, which will also be honoring President Serge Sargisian, the man who “has driven Armenia into the mire of corruption,” according to the ARF statement.

This rebellious stand received a mild rebuke from the ARF Central Bureau, through its representative, Giro Manoyan. This is not the first time that the ARF is extending the unpleasant “welcome” mat for Armenia’s president. We cannot rule out also a political posturing by the West Coast ARF, coordinated with the Bureau, to extract maximum concessions from the president during the upcoming elections.

There is no love lost in Washington towards Armenia, compared to the despotic ruler in Azerbaijan and the frivolous ruler in Georgia.

The Dashnag statement will certainly play into the hands of the same quarters in Washington, which recently terminated the Millennium Challenge contract with Armenia, leaving rural renovation programs there flailing and unfinished.

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President Sargisian “enjoyed” a similar reception when he visited different countries to personally present the Protocols. The reception was worst in Lebanon, where the ARF youth stoned the presidential procession to the amazement of the local Lebanese people who were wondering what kind of hostility people were harboring towards the representative of a country which had recently gained independence after 70 years of Soviet rule.

No one can claim that there is no corruption in Armenia. Also no one can claim that any one’s hand in the power structure may be clean, but the irony is that the Dashnag party itself was part of the coalition headed by President Sargisian. Therefore, the ARF was a partner in crime in corrupting Armenia.

When the going got tough, the ARF jumped ship, trying to play to the opposition. But that position was already occupied by the real opposition coalition headed by Levon Ter-Petrosian, and consequently the Dashnag party ended in a no-man’s-land, with limited popularity and unlimited static.

What actually is happening in California is that the West Coast ARF is playing up to the popular sentiments of an expatriate community where opposition to Armenia’s current regime is fashionable, which in turn can be explained in psychological terms. Most of those immigrants had real and objective reasons to move to California, chief among them economic ones. In addition, many families were worried about their children serving in the army, in a very volatile region of the world which is an actual powder keg, not to mention hazing incidents within the Armenian armed forces. And above all, they did not see any promising future for the younger generation. Considering that every individual has only one life to live, the above reasons outweigh patriotism, which demands only sacrifice.

Yet despite all these legitimate reasons listed above, those who have abandoned Armenia have feelings of guilt and look for subterfuge. Thus, the first self-redeeming act is to blame Armenia, denigrate the regime and thus receive psychological relief. That relief is being translated into politics, making opposition to Armenia’s regime a very popular slogan and a cop-out for the entire group. Of course, no one is countering these armchair opposition politicians with blame, saying, “if you cared so much about your homeland, your place was Armenia, where you could stay and improve the lot of your compatriots, and for that matter, also yours.”

All these analyses are academic. The fact on the ground is that Armenia’s current administration has more vocal opposition in California than any other place. Previous administrations did not fare any better. And the ARF seems to be riding on the tide for some political dividends.

Even a dissident ADL group, which has severed its ties with ADL traditions and principles, has bought into this trend, hanging on the coattails of their Dashnag overlords. Indeed, this group, published in ADL’s Nor Or weekly an editorial recently comparing Serge Sargisian’s administration with that of General Pinochet’s brutal regime in Chile.

In the past, the ARF’s hegemonic instincts in the diaspora were checked by a unified ADL stand, thereby creating a balance of power across the communities outside Armenia. It was a windfall for the ARF to see a split and weakened ADL, and that party’s leaders began boasting that the ARF controls the diaspora and can claim to speak on its behalf.

The ADL split was engineered initially by the first president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, who announced, during his first visit to the US, that traditional political parties were “anachronistic.” The current administration is no less responsible in the ADL split, perhaps inadvertently.

This cavalier attitude towards the traditional parties was occasioned by domestic considerations, with parochial political myopia. By weakening the ADL, Armenia’s leaders were cutting the branch on which they were sitting.

History demonstrated that by dislocating traditional political parties, Armenia could not develop real political parties in order to nurture democracy in the country. The best that Armenia could come up was to create a semblance of political parties, or, caricatures of them, if you will, based on the resources of some oligarchs.

History has its revenge. The party that Ter Petrosian created — Pan Armenian National Movement (HHSH) — after steering Armenia to independence, fizzled out. It met its doom before its bloom, because it was a movement which was not able to become a political party and because it had rallied around political opportunists. Recently, two prominent leaders, namely Ararat Zourabian and Alexander Arzoumanian, resigned from that moribund party, which became anachronistic faster than the traditional political parties.

When it comes to diaspora’s evaluation, there are some very unrealistic expectations. For example, some political leaders would boast that “if Azerbaijan has oil, we have a diaspora.” The truth of the matter is that no government since independence was able to harness the full power of the diaspora in terms of resources to benefit the homeland. At best, they were able to manipulate the diaspora’s weaknesses and internal contradictions for temporary relief.

Now they have to pay for the consequences. The West Coast ARF is extending the “unwelcoming” red carpet to Armenia’s president. That perhaps may be only the tip of the iceberg. It is not improbable that some other groups, inspired by the arrogant stand of ARF may run to the streets with hostile banners to further embarrass the president.

That will be the icing on the cake of Armenia’s Independence Day celebration.

Armenians seem to have lost focus of their history. So much so that they are willing to waste opportunities which could unite them and propel them into a more promising future. Let us join, therefore, and celebrate Armenia’s 20 years of independence, the way we deserve to celebrate.

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