View from Lebanon

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By Sevag Hagopian

Although it is yet early to discuss the upcoming parliamentary elections of 2013 here, since it has not officially been launched, but the Armenian parties are already polarized, especially the alliance of the Tashnag party with General Michael Aoun’s Change and

Reform bloc — and consequently with Hezbollah — worries many Armenians. Furthermore, the Tashnag leaders have been unconditionally backing Aoun’s dangerous and adventurist strategy regarding regional issues and his collaboration with the Syrian regime and its Iranian counterpart. Aoun, the former Lebanese army commander and current politician and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, declared “The Liberation War” against the Syrian Occupation on March 14, 1989. He was driven out of power by Syrian Forces on October 13, 1990 and was forced into exile in France, where he remained until 2005. While in exile, he appeared before a US Congressional subcommittee to support the Syrian Accountability

Act, which was designed to punish Syria’s regional role. He returned to Lebanon on May 7, 2005, after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, 11 days after the withdrawal of Syrian troops. After his return, he controversially shifted to adopt a pro-Syrian agenda (according to many analysts, for some personal ambitions to achieve the presidency of Lebanon) going as far as signing a memorandum of understanding with pro-Iran Hezbollah in 2006. Aoun, currently a member of parliament, visited Syria in 2009. He leads the “Change and Reform” parliamentary bloc of 27 members that include the Tashnag members of parliament.

It is even more worrying the irresponsible statements of Tashnag representatives in public announcements and in private salons. The language and terminology used are surprisingly similar to those of Aoun’s and those of Hezbollah officials reading many controversial Lebanese issues, like for example, the UN Special Tribune for Hariri’s case against the Syrian regime.

I have many questions for the Tashnag leaders in Lebanon. What is the benefit of the Armenian-Lebanese community in general, and the Tashnag party in particular, in backing Aoun’s political agenda? Is this a political adventure practiced by the Tashnag party

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n Lebanon? Is it a gamble based on the personal interests of the party leaders, or a selfish, materialistic and dubious personal commitment of some of the party leaders — who are based abroad — to regional countries? Does the Tashnag party leadership really believe that the relatively weak (both in quality and quantity) Armenian community in Lebanon can handle the consequences of such an adventure?

What do the Armenians share with Hezbollah and its agenda — which I respect but definitely do not endorse — both on ideological and political grounds? I don’t need to remind the Tashnag leaders that the Armenian General Vartan Mamigonian was martyred in his heroic struggle to stop the political and cultural influence of the Persians in Armenia. We shouldn’t support the Persian Iranians now in their very same attempt to dominate the Lebanese political scene.

Is it not enough experience for the Tashag party — which left its “natural allies” (i.e. Christian classical parties) to join the Syrian camp after the Taiif Accord — to have lost most of the Armenian seats in the Lebanese Parliament that it held for decades? And this hap- pened in front of the eyes — and maybe with the blessing — of their Syrian patrons whom they trusted the party’s political future.

The Taiif Accord was an agreement reached to provide the basis for ending the civil war and the return to political normalcy in Lebanon. Negotiated in Taiif, Saudi Arabia, it was designed to end the decades-long Lebanese civil war. It politically accommodated a shift to a Muslim majority, reassert Lebanese authority in South Lebanon (then occupied in Israel), though the agreement set a time frame for Syrian withdrawal and stipulated that the Syrians withdraw in two years. It was signed on October 22, 1989 and ratified on November 4, 1989.

I remind our Tashnag friends that despite their party’s alliance with the Syrian regime — the Armenians have always failed to convince the concerned parties in Lebanon to recognize the Armenian Genocide in the Lebanese parliament. Tashnag leaders are definitely aware that in spite of their party’s efforts, this was only achieved during the days of political and military tension in the late ’90s between Damascus and Ankara over the issue of the Iskenderoun (Hatay) Province, which was ceded by French colonial powers to Turkey in 1938. I believe that this recognition didn’t come from Syria to reward its Tashnag allies for their loyalty but was a clear political message sent by Syria to Turkey for the above-mentioned reason.

I should also advise the Tashnag Party to evaluate the political future of the Syrian regime and find out how long the Assads will stay in power. The current dramatic developments in Syria are not enough indication for the leaders of Tashnag party to consider their commitments with the Syrian regime? What will happen to the Syrian- Armenians when the regime is soon toppled? How shall the Armenian community survive there when because of the Tashnags they had failed to find common grounds with those who oppose the regime and who will take over one day? If chaos ensues, the Syrian Armenians will be one of the most vulnerable communities in Aleppo and Damascus.

It is noteworthy here to mention that I am not a supporter of the Clash of Civilizations theory. Nor am I engaged in promoting religious extremism and racism. On the contrary, I am a proponent of respect and tolerance among societies. But how can the Tashnag leaders explain the massive internal migration of Armenians from West Beirut (mainly occupied by Muslims) to East Beirut (mainly occupied by Christian) dur- ing the civil war in Lebanon? I do believe they

were seeking safety, security and peace of mind living with their co-religionists in days of crisis. Again, how can the Tashnag leaders explain the massive migration of Armenians during most of the last century from Syria, Iraq, Iran and other non-Christian countries to Lebanon and abroad?

It is wiser and more prudent for the Armenian community in Lebanon to stick to its “natural allies” with whom — whether the Tashnag pro- Iran leadership like it or not — they share the same destiny in the region.

After all, what gave the Tashnag Party the opportunity to have members in the Lebanese Parliament, or me the chance to have this freedom of speech as a citizen, but the Lebanese citizenship our forefathers were granted when they settled in Lebanon almost a century ago with the great support of our “natural allies,” while other non-Christian communities were fighting against this.

I, of course, sympathize with Pope John Paul II’s statement that says Lebanon is a country of a message (Balad al-Risalah) on an emotional level, but my Tashnag friends and I in Lebanon all know, that the above-mentioned statements are more made in good intentions rather than a realistic political belief. We all know the real fact — that Lebanon is, unfortunately, the country of “realization of regional messages.”

Accordingly, what do you think is the best for the Armenian-Lebanese community, my fellow Tashnag friends? Where would you like our children to grow up, my dear compatriots? In a peaceful, pluralistic society — why not in a federal state of Lebanon — supported and protected by the international community?

(Sevag Hagopian is a political sociologist and an expert in Armenian-Lebanese sociopo- litical affairs.)

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