Unity, Disunity, Power and Destiny

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By Edmond A. Azadian

Armenians have talked and worried about unity throughout their history because they have suffered much as a consequence of disunity. It is ironic that the more they talk about the need for unity, the less unified and more fragmented they become.

However, we are united in pain and suffering but divided when we face leadership and the pursuit of future goals. Today we are united in helping our brothers and sisters caught in the crossfire in the Syrian civil strife. Yet, we are divided in most spheres of Armenian life. We finally were blessed in having a free and independent Armenia, and we are at a loss as to what to do about it. People who aspired to independence are now abandoning independent Armenia. The leadership at home and abroad is divided. We are witnessing a leadership crisis.

Our church is still divided for no reason. It seems as though a people who had emancipated themselves from centuries of foreign domination would seize the historic opportunity and rebuild Armenia and unify the church. But there is general apathy throughout the diaspora and Armenia and people are no longer alarmed when confronted with existential dangers.

There is too much talk about the depopulation of Armenia, but almost no movement to reverse it. Turkey and Azerbaijan have deliberately blockaded Armenia to strangulate the last historic portion of Armenian existence.

Armenians are individualists, born out of centuries of oppression which have shaped our individual will for survival. Yet we are individualists at the expense of our collective goals and a common future. As we try to broaden individualism, the most we can achieve is partisan pride, countering our universal goals.

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Many “deeds of valor” have been recorded in our church, in the words of our historian Moses of Khoren. But it seems that those achievements are intended to outdo other levels of hierarchy in the church. For example, under His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, crucial projects are being developed at the Catholicosate of Antelias, like the publication of scholarly books, symposia to preserve the Western Armenian language and prizes to encourage writers, etc. But all these endeavors seem to be intended to bring credit to Antelias, rather than to the overall church, since the leadership in Antelias is in competition with the Mother See of Echmiadzin, determined to challenge its authority.

In Istanbul, the Turkish government has been holding the Armenian Patriarchate hostage to use it for its own political ends.

The authorities used and abused whatever authority Patriarch Mutafian had by sending him to European capitals to lobby for Turkey’s admission into the European Union.While they were using his credibility, they cynically terrorized him as well, driving him into near catatonia. Indeed, bombs falling in the Patriarchate’s neighborhood and Hrant Dink’s assassination proved to be the straws that broke the camel’s back. And today, by forbidding the election of a new patriarch, their goal is to keep the status of the patriarchate in limbo.

A different scenario has been playing out in Jerusalem, one of the political nerve centers of the world. After the loss of Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, the Brotherhood of St. James convened and elected Archbishop Aris Shirvanian as Locum Tenens. The aging and frail cleric knows as well as the other members of the brotherhood that the burdens of the Patriarchate are too heavy a responsibility.

Yet the Brotherhood could not manage its responsibilities properly with a wisdom commensurate to the awesome challenge that the Patriarchate is facing. Hopefully, come January 2013, a more circumspect outlook will enlighten the brotherhood in order to bring the most capable spiritual leader to the throne.

Here again, the Supreme Patriarch of the Armenian Church as well as the government of Armenia were kept in an observer position, in deference to the independence and the legal authority of the brotherhood, while all the powers in the region have been exerting their influence to bring an outcome in line with their political interests.

The Israeli and Jordanian governments as well as the Palestinian Authority have more to say than the heads of the Armenian Church and the Armenian government. To demonstrate how deeply the above parties are involved in defining the fate of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem it suffices to say that one of the sticking

points in the failure of the Camp David accord was the status of the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. Israel demanded to have the Armenian Quarter under its jurisdiction and Yasser Arafat refused.

This outside meddling, barring Armenian authorities from intervening, is encouraged by the very by-laws and disposition of the Jerusalem brotherhood.

Thanks to their creative talents, Armenians deserved to become a great nation, yet we have ended up with a miniscule homeland. At one time, during the reign of Tigranes the Great, the Armenians built an empire. Unfortunately that empire fell victim to Tigranes’ arrogance; indeed, it is recorded that when the Armenian king saw the Roman army advance under Lucullus, he said: “If these are the delegates, they are too many; if they are the troops, they are too few.” Yet the Romans arrived and defeated his empire, with the help of his own son, a story of betrayal that has been a familiar refrain in Armenian history.

The Armenian kingdom in Cilicia, which lasted from the 11th to the 14th centuries, was the setting of rivalries and betrayals among the Armenian princes, until the Mamluks overran the kingdom in 1375.

As we study Ottoman history, we find that the Turks were able to preserve a united state by upholding the absolute power of the ruler.

However, the sultans themselves have been able to maintain that absolute power not only through ruthless elimination of any dissent by subject nations, but also by eradicating any political challenge to authority within their own circles.

Recently a Turkish historian published the history of the Ottoman rulers, revealing that each and every Ottoman sultan, from Fatih Sultan Muhammad to Abdul Hamid, had murdered his own children upon ascending the throne, to forestall any challenge to their rule.

The first sultan who murdered both his son and his brother was Sultan Murat. The historian has mentioned only one sultan who had spared his progenies, Orhan Ghazi (1288-1359.) It is said that Suleiman the Magnificent had his children killed before his own eyes by throwing them into boiling water.

Incidentally Suleiman the Magnificent is much admired in the West for his conquests and his patronage of the arts.

In The Prince, Machiavelli defined the prerequisites and parameters of power in the most cynical terms. We Armenians have always lacked that cynicism, to our own detriment.

That has been our destiny.

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