Is the Armenian cause anyone's monopoly?
by Edmond Azadian
Is patriotism a monopoly? Is the Armenian cause anyone's monopoly? Apparently so for some Armenians. For a long time members of the Dashnak party professed that whoever did not belong to the party should not claim to be an Armenian. This dogma was loudly pronounced by the rank and file of that organization, but it was also practiced quietly by the leadership, narrowing down the definition of an Armenian to the membership of a militant group.
Admittedly the Dashnag circles have counted more activists in the Diaspora. Armenians also owe a great debt to the leadership of the ARF, for having eliminated, one by one, the leaders of the Ittihadist party, who had perpetrated the Armenian genocide, and who had been convicted, in absentia, as war criminals at Constantinople court-martials after World War I.
But soon after that patriotic task, they turned their guns against their fellow Armenians, not even sparing high ranking clergy who happened to refuse to follow the party line. In short, the ARF leaders introduced the culture of terror in Diaspora Armenian political life.
Today, since terror cannot be exercised without impunity in the civilized Western countries, the violence of terror has been substituted with an exclusionary mentality of discounting and ignoring other segments of the Armenian community in the political spectrum of the Diaspora.
A case in point is the Pro-Armenia Conference held February 1-2 at the Senate's Clemenceau Hall in Paris, France. It is reported that the conference has brought together ministers, ambassadors, members of the parliament, as well as 80 public and political leaders from twenty different Armenian communities.
It is said that the goal of "Pro-Armenia" conference has been to promote in the political circles of different countries the problems Armenia and Armenians are facing at the present time.
Indeed, a very worthwhile cause, but unfortunately carried in the same ARF mentality and partisan methods that can cause more harm than good to the very goal that the conference has been advocating.
We do hope that the Foreign Minister of Armenia, Vartan Oskanian, who was one of the speakers at the conference, had the good sense of bringing to the attention of the organizers their partisan approach, while the Speaker of the Parliament, Armen Khachatryan, has defined the conference as "a new fact of cooperation between all segments of the Armenian nation", without noticing the absence of many of the segments of the Armenian nation.
As long as the vital issues of the Armenian genocide and the preservation of the Armenian identity and heritage are pursued by diverse groups, without the purpose of the unity, the nefarious effect of the genocide continues to dominate our national psyche and disrupt our collective action.
Therefore, it behooves us to join forces in pursuit of those vital issues, without leaving any group out, and especially without working at cross-purposes.
Here in America, two major organizations, namely the Armenian Assembly and the Armenian National Committee, have been conducting lobbying activities in Washington, D.C., seldom cooperating, and more often than not duplicating the same task and rejoicing at one another's failures.
Despite its very noble goals, it seems that the Pro-Armenia Conference has been organized with the same partisan zeal, excluding many organizations and individuals who would have underlined the collective nature of the conference. Perhaps that is the reason that we have more complaints than compliments about the conference.
The first angry shot came from Bedros Kalayjian, the deputy of Cyprus' Armenian community at the House of Representatives, who was circumvented by the ARF leaders in their first attempt in organizing the Pro-Armenia Conference on that island. Despite being the only Armenian representative at the Cypr
us parliament, Mr. Kalayjian was perhaps ignored, because he is not affiliated in any fashion with the Dashnag party.
If the purpose of the conference was to bring together the Armenian legislators from different countries around a common cause, it is hard to understand why Mr. Kalayjian was ignored, especially when the group initially intended to hold the conference in Cyprus.
Another angry remark was issued by Hagop Kassardjian, member of the Lebanese Parliament, in an interview given to the English language "The Daily Star". Mr. Kassardjian, who also happens to be the leader of the ADL, has blamed the organizers for excluding four Armenian members of the Lebanese Parliament. In the past all the Armenian members of the Lebanese Parliament were selected from the Dashnag party. This time around only one member belongs to that party, the others being either independent or belonging to the ADL or Henchak parties. Mr. Kassardjian has defined this approach as "a policy of apartheid", adding that "Despite the importance of the goal, any form of action, for the sake of the Armenian cause, is doomed to failure, without the participation of all political parties".
In concluding his remarks Mr. Kassardjian also reproached Catholicos Aram I for extending his patronage to partisan conferences.
The list of complaints and criticisms does not end there as the organizers have made a major blunder by withdrawing an invitation extended to Prof. Yair Aron, a renowned Israeli scholar and an ardent supporter of the genocide recognition. When scholars of Prof. Aron's caliber are so few, especially combating Israeli government's pro-Turkish denialist policy, only political immaturity can explain such an inexcusable act. If the concern was not to antagonize Arab countries which are hosts to many Armenian communities, the organizers should have known that even Arab and Palestinian leaders associate freely with Israeli activists or scholars who advocate the Palestinian cause or statehood. That concern need not have been an issue to disinvite Prof. Aron. That blunder has antagonized the Zoryan Institute and the French scholar Dr. Yves Ternon, who have lodged protests with the organizers.
It seems that the conference has raised more questions than it has solved. It has also caused considerable damage to the Armenian political agenda by creating dissention among Armenian leaders.
On the other hand, the conference must have caused some satisfaction to the Turks who enjoy witnessing Armenian fragmentation in facing such major issues of far reaching political consequences.
February 11, 2003