Upcoming Clinton Meeting Reveals Disturbing Fractures in Community
On Feb. 9, leading Armenian American groups will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, apparently to discuss issues of mutual concern. The meeting is being held at the State Department’s invitation, following discussions with various community and advocacy groups. The meeting is widely expected to address Armeno-Turkish relations, focusing on the controversial protocols that are now under consideration.
On the surface, such a meeting would appear welcome—reflecting the U.S.’s willingness to develop consensus, or at least to hear the input of Armenian Americans in developing its policies. Unfortunately, however, much goodwill has already been lost in the process. This is mainly due to missteps taken by the State Department, then reinforced by several Armenian American groups. For those unaware, the State Department initially issued invitations to a small, exclusive, and imbalanced group of organizations–the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the Knights of Vartan, and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). Clearly, this list is remarkable more for its exclusions than its inclusions. To put it bluntly, the inclusion of the Diocese without the Prelacy is patently ridiculous, and is compounded by the fact that the Protestant and Catholic communities–with significant presences nationwide–were excluded as well. And then, there is the inclusion of the AGBU without the Armenian Relief Society (ARS)–the largest Armenian American women’s group, which pursues significant charitable activities here and in Armenia. We could also mention other groups–traditional political parties, cultural organizations, and others that have maintained significant voices in our community.
The immediate questions that come to mind are, “Why?” and “To what end”? From the original list, we can surmise only one of two answers: Either the State Department is seeking to generate phony “consensus” on the protocols, and is therefore gathering the softest elements on this issue (with the exception of ANCA); or the State Department is listening to voices in the community that, for their own purposes, seek to exclude others who might “compete” with them for legitimacy as representatives. The cynical among us might go even further: Perhaps the Armenian government, seeking to portray the diaspora as favoring its misguided initiatives, has found the ear of someone in putting this lineup together.
Whatever the scenario, such a move is a clear non-starter, for it further divides our community and creates false competition instead of allowing us to come together.
In response to this move, community protests came almost immediately–mainly from the ANCA, as well as from the excluded organizations themselves. Interestingly, no protests were heard from the AGBU, AAA, Knights of Vartan, or Diocese, presumably because they had gotten in themselves. The game here, apparently, is get in the room, then shut the door behind you. How selfish.
In response to the protests, the State Department–apparently not without some embarrassment–has widened the field a bit. As of this week, the Catholics, Protestants, Prelacy, as well as independent groups such as the United Armenian Fund and the Armenian Bar Association, have been added to the list. But the ARS remains excluded, apparently due to strenuous protests from the AGBU, backed by the AAA. How petty! What does the AGBU gain by excluding the ARS from such a meeting? The honor of being the only benevolent group worthy of being invited? The AGBU has a long and proud history of benevolence, both in the diaspora and Armenia. Its seat at the table is assured by this record, not by excluding other groups. We urge all groups to come together and shed such nonsense, once and for all.
We live in a moment when consensus is imperative—especially before a U.S. State Department that would exploit our dissension. Let’s not allow such maneuvers to weaken our resolve. We must come together, with one voice and one purpose, before it’s too late.