Recovery on the Way

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenian political parties are the most maligned organizations in our society, although they have borne the heaviest share of sacrifices in recent history. Perhaps the main reason is that Armenians, being individualists, don’t want to fit in ideological straightjackets or organized disciplinary structures for the common good. As we blame the world around us for our failures and misfortunes, we seldom step back to figure out our own responsibilities.

Armenian political parties were founded during the Ottoman period with the patriotic goal of liberating our people from a tyrannical rule.

Each party had an ideology and a road map towards the realization of its goals.

The Armenagan party, which was the precursor of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Organization (ADL), was for secret preparation of self-defense, and it proved the veracity of its political strategy twice during the two battles of Van (1896 and 1915), where it was born.

The Social Democratic Hunchak party had an international calling and its credo was based on socialism.

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The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF or Dashnag) was more nationalistic and better organized than the other parties.

Any political party can exercise its ideology within a government structure. Therefore, after the dispersion of the Armenians around the world in the aftermath of the Genocide, the parties became irrelevant in their host countries as ideological entities and they all focused on the survival and the reorganization of an uprooted population.

This noble task, of course, does not discredit those organizations, whose leadership recognized the priorities of the day and acted selflessly.

In the process, the ideological exercise was placed on the back burner.

When Armenia declared its independence, a new era dawned for the political parties to rejuvenate themselves and to introduce the democratic process in the homeland, which had been dormant during 70 years of dictatorial rule.

But the parties were viewed with suspicion by the natives and some leaders were even persecuted them for meddling into the internal affairs of the homeland which lacked homegrown political institutions at the time. The first president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, even dismissed them as “anachronistic” and began manipulating those parties internally. He closed down their offices, jailed their leadership and confiscated their media offices.

No one can deny that after 70 years of atrophy in the diaspora, the parties needed to reform their stances and tailor their ideologies and actions to the emerging political realities.

But they did not deserve destruction. Even today Western concepts of political systems have not yet taken root in Armenia, where most of the parties constitute the political fiefdom of some influential oligarchs.

Following this unanticipated confrontation, the ARF rebounded thanks to its structure and discipline, to play its role within the system. The Hunchak party was half resuscitated and still is led by more than one head.

The ADL was the victim of its own liberalism, as opportunists infiltrated the ranks to achieve their own selfish goals under the guise of “democratic freedom.” At one point, more than 20 members of the Armenian parliament adhered to the Ramgavar party, which in its turn aggravated jealousy.

Disintegration hit the general structure of the party and since 1995 different regions have operated in a decentralized manner. This situation afforded the opportunity to some marginal people to co-opt the title of “central committee” leadership, lending that title subserviently to the traditional adversaries of the party, in the name of “cooperation.” The ADL has always extended a hand to other parties, on equal terms, on issues of paramount importance, but never at the expense of winning personal favors for its leaders.

Besides, no strategy and no policy have been changed in the opposite camp to warrant complete surrender.

In order to further weaken the party, the hijackers began a process of “expulsions” — on trumped up charges — of leaders who had built the history and the glory of the party. But those supposedly “expelled” leaders proved to be more resilient and in command of the membership who had elected them in the first place.

The root causes of this destructive behavior seem to be the unrelenting vendetta of some frustrated members towards the traditional legal leadership and a motivation to control and waste the assets of the organization.

While these invaders were unable to overthrow the traditional leadership, they were very successful in alienating a large number of productive, loyal and dedicated members, who refused to lower themselves in mud wrestling and they opted to serve sister organizations in the community. The vacuum created by their exodus proved to be handy to these self-appointed elements to create chaos in the organization and render its by-laws and traditions a mockery.

These opportunists have marginalized themselves and they have decided to hold a convention this week in Lyons, France, with the participation of hand-picked “loyalists” without due process of the election of delegates, with the obvious goal of reinventing themselves.

Of course, no honest member in good standing would — or could — recognize the election results nor the decision of that illegal gathering.

The ADL Eastern Region of the US and Canada certainly is one group that is not supportive of the elections. The party’s membership in Lebanon has already showered the organizers with hundreds of signatures denouncing this unsavory course of action.

While the healthy regions continue their activities in the diaspora, despite the mayhem created by a few troublemakers, a brighter picture emerges in Armenia.

The leadership of the party was also hijacked by a self- appointed “leader,” who was serving as the deputy of the “leader” in Toronto, Canada. The main “contribution” of that deputy was selling the head office on Koriun Street in Yerevan and pocketing the money. He has also sold three offices bought through the contributions of ADL benefactors in the Eastern region of the US. At this writing he remains a fugitive as he is on the wanted list of law enforcement authorities in Armenia.

The Toronto leader had begged for photo ops with the president and the prime minister in Armenia. His wish had been granted under the condition of his solemn promise to unite the party in the diaspora. Although he used those pictures to boost his beleaguered image, but he reneged in his promise. He was told: “If you wish to serve your people and Armenia, unite” the party. He has lost his credibility with the authorities in Armenia. That credibility was very dubious any way.

With the fugitive “deputy” on the run the ADL Armenia (HRAK) and Armenagan ADL have joined and reorganized under one charter of ADL (Ramgavar Azadagan Goussagtzoutioun) and they have been duly registered as a political party, which claims its roots in the Armengan party of Van (1885) and its successor party ADL (Ramgavar Azadagan party – 1921).

The party is participating in local elections and has already a political platform for a future role in Armenia’s democratic process. This gives the opportunity of the healthy regions of the ADL to cooperate with the rejuvenated party in Armenia. The ADL District Committee of US and Canada has already greeted this dynamic development and offered plans and projects for future cooperation.

While some minions still are mired in their ludicrous games, the recovery of the ADL is finally on the way.

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