Aram Arkun

Azg Newspaper Interviews Aram Arkun in Yerevan

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YEREVAN (Azg) — The Future Armenian Convention assembled around 200 participants under the same roof for three days, from March 10 to 12, of which 100 were from different communities of the Armenian diaspora and represented different social and professional spheres. The majority of Armenians chosen from Artsakh to participate were prevented due to the blockade of the Berdzor (Lachin) corridor.

The Future Armenian intends to bring together the potential of the Armenians for the sake of future progress of the Armenian people. Historian Aram Arkun, who is the executive director of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada (with headquarters in Watertown, Mass.) and managing editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, came to Yerevan from the United States in order to participate in the convention.

What follows is an edited version in English of the original Armenian language interview.

Perspectives on Armenia and the Future Armenian

The last time I came to Armenia was before Covid and the 2020 war. I have visited many times, starting from childhood with my family in the Soviet era. I was born in the United States, as was my mother, but I have always felt a special connection with Armenia and a desire to help and support it.

It was very interesting for me to meet participants from far-flung places like Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Turkey, and many European countries, as well as from various Armenian provinces, within the framework of the Future Armenian convention, and to hear their views on creating a prosperous and positive future for Armenia. Apart from the issues of historical responsibility, including Armenian Genocide recognition, and the preservation of Armenian identity and culture, the strengthening of Armenia-diaspora ties, and demographic issues were discussed. The birth rate in Armenia has declined to below replacement rate. What should be done, for example, to avoid the deleterious consequences? Three days of discussions took place on the aforementioned topics, debating and finally voting on what measures should be put forward and what ideas should be introduced in order to solve these problems that threaten the future of Armenians.

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Each of the participants should ideally continue to work in his own home country, in his immediate environment, and uses his connections so that the discussions have a practical continuation and effect.

However, without the participation of the governments of Armenia and Artsakh, in my opinion, it is not possible to implement a large number of the proposed plans. The state should also be involved in the process of implementing strategic ideas in a variety of fields, whether economic, political or cultural. It is necessary to choose a strategy for the future of Armenia, coordinate problems and find means to solve them.

The Future Armenian initiative collected more than 110,000 names and contact addresses. These are largely self-motivated people who can play a big role in the development of the future of Armenians.

In my opinion, the Tekeyan Cultural Association’s role in many ways is consonant with the approach of the Future Armenian.

The Tekeyan Cultural Association has been acting as a bridge between Armenia and the diaspora for decades. Our organization has always been involved in various spheres of Armenian life, both in the Soviet and independence periods.

Moreover, the Armenian Mirror-Spectator newspaper has been supportive of Armenia and of course Armenian communities throughout the world in many ways. It highlights the problems of Armenian life and external political challenges. The editorial staff of our newspaper works to create a site where Armenia and the diaspora can better get to know each other. We have writers from Armenia proper as well as from many parts of the world.

The Complex and Multilayered Diaspora

The Armenian diaspora is a very complex structure. Sometimes, it seems like in Armenia it is understood as if it were akin to a single country, but is not, and its features cannot be easily summarized. The diaspora has many rifts due to political and economic issues.

We can start with religion. The majority of Armenians profess the same religion and creed, yet in the United States they have two rival administrative structures: one is officially subordinate to Echmiadzin (to the Catholicosate of All Armenians) the other to Antelias (the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia). Consequently, contrary to canonical law, there are two Armenian cathedrals and dioceses/prelacies in New York. The Boston community, where I am located, has churches subordinate to Echmiadzin and Antelias. At one time, even families became divided due to this split, which was connected to Armenian politics and the Cold War. There are of course also various Armenian Protestant and Armenian Catholic churches in the United States.

There were also the different and rival traditional political parties: Social Democratic Hunchakian, Armenian Democratic Liberal, Armenian Revolutionary Federation, and Progressive or Communist. Even cultural initiatives were divided according to parties and church affiliation.

Among the new generation, this societal split is no longer that acute. However, there are traces left of the old divisions, as well as some new political divisions based on current developments in the Republic of Armenia. Furthermore, each new wave of immigrants to the United States from countries like Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon always have problems with the prior generations of Armenian-Americans.

Those Armenians who moved from Soviet or post-Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan to the US did not need to develop the habit of helping and serving the Armenian community on a voluntary basis through organizational structures to preserve their identity back in the homeland. They also do not necessarily have close ties with the church, which they visit only on major occasions. Consequently, they have not become engaged on a large scale in traditional diasporan institutions. Another issue which still is being resolved is which language should be taught in Saturday schools: Eastern Armenian or Western Armenian?

Four generations of Armenians live side by side in the diaspora. Due to intermarriage, in recent generations fewer and fewer remain fully Armenian by ancestry, but some continue to attend church. How can they participate in the liturgy if they do not understand Armenian? Some argue that the divine liturgy should be celebrated in English, just as the Catholics abandoned Latin and now celebrate the divine liturgy in different languages.

There are many more issues, some of which differ not only in different countries but even within regions of countries where Armenians live, and a person living in Armenia cannot imagine their diversity if he has not lived in the diaspora.

About the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

The Armenian Mirror-Spectator newspaper, in addition to an experienced editorial staff of three (longtime editor Alin K. Gregorian, staff writer Harry Kezelian, and myself), has correspondents and columnists in various parts of the world. Two of its columnists live in Armenia and present analyses of Armenian political issues and external challenges in English.

Our most senior and experienced editorial columnist, Edmond Azadian (who himself is a leading figure in the Armenian community) [he unfortunately passed away only a week after this interview], actively analyzes and writes about Armenia’s internal and external political issues and similarly about the diaspora. The Armenian Mirror-Spectator is a weekly newspaper, but it also has a website that is constantly updated with important news. We work to maintain impartiality and balance. We often present current developments through interviews, not taking sides. We allow the reader to make his own conclusions.

On developments in Artsakh, for example, recently, I interviewed former Minister of State of Artsakh Ruben Vardanyan, Human Rights Defender Gegham Stepanyan, and former Foreign Minister and Advisor to the President of Armenia Davit Babayan. We have shown video reports from Artsakh television periodically, with English captioning, and have had some local correspondents. We always follow life in Artsakh and Armenia, as well as of Armenian communities around the world. In American politics, we reflect the efforts of Armenian-American organizations which work to communicate with and influence the US Department of State and the international community, so that international events affecting Armenia and Artsakh are not left without response.

The Armenian Mirror-Spectator is one of the periodicals representing the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party, founded 91 years ago. We will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the newspaper this year (though actually it took place last year). In the United States, we also publish the Baikar weekly, written in the Armenian language, whose founding precedes that of the Mirror-Spectator.

Although we adopted an electronic version of the Mirror-Spectator, we still publish some 1,300 copies of the printed newspaper for our traditional readers, who often tend to be from the older generations. At the same time, we regularly try to use new technological means to make the website more interesting for readers primarily from younger generations.

Diaspora Mulls Various Scenarios for Armenia and Artsakh

Armenia’s security is the most vital issue that concerns the diaspora, as well as of course Armenia. We go to sleep every day with the fear that we will wake up and learn that Azerbaijan has attacked Armenia again, attempting to occupy Zangezur or other bits of the territory of the republic, let alone what is left of Artsakh. Azerbaijan demands a corridor through the south, which will be disastrous for Armenia.

There could be an even worse scenario: Iran also gets involved in a regional war. Azerbaijan wants to take the north of that country. Turkey might also enter into military operations. The US could also intervene, at least indirectly, and in the process, Armenia may lose its southern territories, or worse. Iranian fighters could enter southern Armenia in order to stop Azerbaijani advances, but then no one knows what could happen next there. Such scenarios are being thought about and worried about in the diaspora. I hear these concerns in Armenia as well.

We can draw some parallels between the current situation in Armenia with similar developments after 1918.

And we don’t know what the solution is. One thing is clear: Armenians have no leverage. Many hope that something favorable for Armenia will happen in the international field, and there will be a change. For this reason, to a certain degree, it may be possible to delay the signing of settlement treaties with Azerbaijan until changes occur in the Russian-Ukrainian war or in the relations between our neighbors in the region.

American Soldiers Will Never Come to Armenia

Although we live in America, we are not sure whether the West or the US can play a decisive role in the Caucasus. America’s main goal is not to morally support Armenia, but to reduce Russia’s influence in this region.

If Armenia shifts its allegiances fully from Russia to the West, the US will be very happy about it, but if Armenia enters the Western world, Turkey and Azerbaijan will have a much higher status in that world, because the interests of US foreign policy more often coincide with those of that duo.

There is an Armenian community in the US that can raise a voice of protest, but ultimately it cannot shift American policy. Armenia is a small, poor country that does not have much to give, and therefore, is not in much of a position to demand.

Something can be done diplomatically, but it is not realistic that America will come and save Armenia if Azerbaijan or Turkey attack. At best, the US will say that Azerbaijan attacked Armenia and something very bad happened, but American soldiers will not come here.

Becoming Overtly Anti-Russian Is Dangerous

Today Russia’s interests are very different from before and are not favorable for Armenia. While Russia might still do some positive things for Armenia, it can threaten it if Armenia takes a position diametrically opposed to it.

Armenia is in a very bad situation today, and it should try to get support from somewhere, but it should also act very cautiously, and not be overtly anti-Russian. It’s a very difficult path to follow – how far you can go, while buying time and not falling down, is unknown.

In Boston, we organized a demonstration in front of the State House in support of Artsakh. It is clear that Artsakh will endure the blockade, but in the end, this situation cannot continue for long. Azerbaijan’s goal is clear: by killing or making life miserable, to depopulate Artsakh and thus achieve its goal of ethnic cleansing [territory without the troublesome Armenian populace].

This is politics. No country will do more than issue statements and appeals, let alone apply sanctions against Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan wants to occupy the south of Armenia and create a new border with Iran on that side, maybe Iran will not allow it and intervene, but only to protect its own interests, not acting for the sake of Armenia. The issue of the Berdzor Corridor does not concern Iran much. It is interested in preventing a “Zangezur Corridor.” Iran works to solve its vital issues, just like the Americans.

Why should the US impose sanctions against Azerbaijan? It is not in its interests at present. America has plans to help Armenia, but it has bigger plans for Azerbaijan. Aid programs for the latter should have been suspended due to Azerbaijan’s behavior towards Armenia and Artsakh, but no program has been interrupted, right?

If the Russian soldiers who are there in Artsakh (and Armenia) cannot resolve the current problems, what will the Americans do from America. How will they help the people of Artsakh or Armenia? I think that if the Russian soldiers leave here, American soldiers will not come to replace them. What happened in Georgia? Georgia took an anti-Russian position and turned its face towards America. What happened as a result? Georgia lost territories, and America did not help it at all physically. The US can help Armenia economically, but it will not provide military support. How much will it even take advantage of Turkey’s weakened state to put pressure on that country to reconcile with Armenia?

Artsakh and Cilicia appear to be in the same situation. The Armenians of Cilicia returned to their homes in 1919, and then they were expelled in a few years, with several tens of thousands massacred in the process. Like the Cilician Armenians, the natives of Artsakh are connected to their land and some will refuse to leave and even fight. But sometimes there are unexpected changes in politics.

Until then, along with diplomacy, Armenians must prepare in many ways, rearming and strengthening ourselves.

Until Armenia Helps Itself, No One Will Help It

During the 44-day war, a large amount of money was sent from the US. To this date, we do not know what that money was spent on. The Tekeyan Cultural Association, for example, collected and sent more than $100,000. This inspires mistrust in the diaspora and the suspicion that our funds were not used properly.

If Armenia cannot organize itself, stand up, and defend itself, then it should not wait for someone to protect it. Only by taking certain definite steps can one expect help from others.

The decisions of international courts will not be implemented if Armenia cannot make its voice heard, and if there is no consistent follow-up.

No matter how defeated and weakened Armenia is, it should be able to make Azerbaijan understand that not everything is permitted, and in particular that the sovereign territory of Armenia remains the sovereign territory of Armenia. If Azerbaijan can present its maps, Armenia can also bring its own maps.

The diaspora understands that it cannot do without Armenia. We also feel and understand that Armenia’s very existence is at stake. The diaspora is nourished by the motherland. If that nourishment disappears, only the name will remain of the Armenian diaspora.

(Original interview conducted by Nair Yan)

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