To Lament or to Act?

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

During a recent visit to Armenia, I took a side trip to Nagorno Karabagh. Love for our historic homeland certainly contributes to endearing that piece of land to all Armenians. But that love and admiration still will be there if you evaluate Karabagh in absolute terms, looking at it from an artistic perspective.

The capital, Stepanakert, has become a modern city, a pride of the Karabagh people.

The natural lush and Alpine beauty, combined with a sense of history, led me to ponder about this paradise on earth: Who is contributing to its development? Who is guarding its borders? Who is investing in its economy?

There is virtually no air traffic between Yerevan and Stepanakert, since the Azeris have been threatening to shoot down civilian aircraft. Every time Armenia attempts to begin air transport, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other “impartial” parties warn that country not to resort to provocations. Thus, the Azeri diktat of an internationally-supported policy to isolate Karabagh and down the road, to force its depopulation, is enforced.

Therefore, the only way to communicate with the enclave or to visit there remains overland transport, which under ideal conditions, takes a minimum of six hours from Yerevan through Goris. The road does not meet international standards, but in local standards, it is considered comfortable.

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Returning from Stepanakert to Yerevan, we took the Mardakert-Vardenis road, which is in a lamentable condition. In any country, a 116-kilometer journey could be covered in almost one hour, but our trip lasted eight long hours, inflicting innumerable shocks on our bones.

This is one of the major arteries that contributes to trade and business between Armenia and Karabagh. One begins to think in whose interests it is to keep a main artery in such prehistoric conditions. Repaving the road has been in the plans of Armenia Fund for the last two years. Those two years have made the road deteriorate even further. But who, one might ask, is responsible for this disaster? The finger-pointing begins. No one thinks it is his or her responsibility.

It is not important which organizations or parties or agencies are tasked with overseeing the situation. Instead, Armenians all around the world are collectively responsible; their ineptness has resulted in leaving Karabagh to its own devices, after the locals shed so much blood for its liberation.

Armenia Fund organizes an annual fund drive broadcast on Thanksgiving Day and the world Armenian community participates. Officially reported results for the year 2014 are $12,399,550, a dramatic drop from the previous year. But no one has yet questioned the cause of that drop, nor has anyone offered a plausible explanation. By the way, one single Armenian benefactor could have written that check.

Armenia Fund is organized on the healthy principle of being all inclusive. It is a forum where Armenia meets the Diaspora. But there are deadweights among the constituent organizations, which have not contributed a single penny nor will they in the foreseeable future. The irony is that they have been invited not for their power to contribute, but for their power to disrupt, should they be left out. They may exercise their negative power to take their revenge, since it is always easier to convince the public not to contribute rather than to contribute.

Hagop Avedikian, editor of Azg newspaper in Yerevan, has taken to task the responsible parties who organize the fundraising, in two consecutive articles.

The first question he asks is why the telethon is organized in the same city, with the participation of the same people and almost with the same slogans?

Then, he offers three recommendations:

  1. To reduce the number of employees in fundraising drives. People are less impressed by the word of paid employees rather than volunteers.
  2. To empower the local committees and trust them with additional responsibilities.
  3. To supply honest, direct and unbiased accounting, because in this case, the moral capital is worth more than financial capital.

The third issue brings up a host of other problems, which is related to trust and accountability. Authority has been fragmented in the diaspora. There is no authority that can rise above partisan or intercommunal divide and command national trust.

Here, Avedikian contrasts the situation to General Antranik’s drive in 1919 in the US, when Armenians in the homeland and Cilicia were devastated after the Genocide. Antranik’s fundraising appeal to the people sounds like a military order (no anonymous donations, no pledges, all cash, etc.), regional fundraising committees to be formed by certain organizations, no extravagant expenses and so on.

How could Antranik command that kind of respect? First because he was a national hero and second, his authority was backed by Boghos Nubar Pasha, president of the Armenian National Delegation, with the blessing of Avetis Aharonian, president of the Republic of Armenia.

The impeccable credibility of these names was awe inspiring at that time. That respect has been replaced today by pervasive cynicism, to degrade and disgrace any authority.

This self-destructive impulse is a sign of a tired nation, who no longer holds anything as sacred.

More than 7,000 donors contributed to General Antranik’s fund drive, raising $532,036.40, which in today’s dollars, is equivalent to $6.5 million. It has to be noted that contributors were all immigrants, most of them factory workers, grocers, cobblers and artisans. The results have been published in a book with all the names of donors, and the amount of their donations, but most significantly, with the inclusion of the names or cities they were born in. The funds were distributed as follows: 30 percent allocated to the Armenian Patriarchate in Istanbul, which was a functioning body under Allied occupation; 20 percent to Cilicia, where home rule was promised by the French; 10 percent to the AGBU, which was operating orphanages, schools and health clinics in Armenia, Cilicia, Greece and the Middle East and the remaining 40 percent sent to the government of independent Armenia.

People were eager to contribute because they had faith that their shattered collective existence would be restored, Cilicia would survive and independent Armenia offered a bright future.

These facts bring us to the conclusion that powerful authorities can galvanize the masses and inspire faith and hope for the future.

What the Avedikian has not mentioned is the negative campaign rampant online not to contribute to Armenia nor to Armenia Fund.

Those campaigners accuse, rightfully, the government officials of corruption. The collapse of the Soviet Union created an ocean of corruption. It is not possible to isolate one area in that ocean and purify its water. Only by considering the government as a necessary evil can we continue contributing, even if one fraction of that contribution is applied toward the intended goal. Three presidents succeeded each other but not one of them was able to curb corruption.

The former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili tried to eradicate corruption and today he is a wanted felon in his own country.

There are entities in Armenia that live up to the norm and they are in private hands, such as Tumo, the Cafesjian Museum, the American University of Armenia, Zvartnots Airport and the Dilijan International School.

The point is not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Donations help, but one has to be willing to lose some of it along the way and also choose wisely.

It is disturbing to face general apathy when Armenia is depopulated, when support to the homeland and Karabagh dwindles, maybe even leading us to the loss of the homeland.

Maybe we are better used to lamenting the loss of our homeland rather than working to maintain it.