Mensoian: If the ARF Fails to Confront the Challenges, Who Will?

Déjà vu. Again we anxiously wait to see if the resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide will be favorably voted out of the House Foreign Relations Committee. If Turkey with its coterie of paid lobbyists, academic surrogates, and other associated anti-genocide proponents fails to defeat congressional passage of the resolution, another moral victory may be added to the two dozen or so moral victories in hand from foreign governments that have recognized the genocide.

Several years ago it was opined that Turkey was sufficiently emboldened to launch a diplomatic offensive that was geared to placing Yerevan in a compromising position based on its obsessive desire to normalize relations and have an open border (see “Normalization Can Never Be Worth Turkey’s Asking Price,” the Armenian Weekly, Dec. 6, 2008). Secret negotiations between Ankara and Yerevan during 2008 culminated in President Serge Sarkisian’s “surprise” invitation to Turkish President Abdullah Gul to attend the soccer match in Yerevan. Thus began the “soccer diplomacy” charade leading to the signing of the protocols and Sarkisian’s invitation to witness the second meeting of their nation’s soccer teams in Bursa, Turkey.

At the same time in the United States, the Armenian electorate was euphoric when candidate Obama recognized the Armenian Genocide as a historic fact. Why those who supported his candidacy should have been dismayed when this charming eloquent politician qualified his explanation is difficult to understand. As president, he adroitly side-stepped his acceptance of the Armenian Genocide by essentially saying that it was his personal belief and not the basis for United States foreign policy (see “President Obama’s Message to Turkey: Let’s Agree to Disagree on the Armenian Genocide,” the Armenian Weekly, April 18, 2009).

Rapprochement is the Turkish Trojan Horse of their diplomatic offensive whose acceptance will marginalize Armenia as an effective political entity. Its concomitant objective is to eliminate the political, economic, and psychological “millstone” that Hai Tahd represents and by association the influence of the Dashnaktsutiun that has been Hai Tahd‘s historic proponent. Recently Sarkisian not only challenged recalcitrant Turkey to ratify the protocols, but has spoken forcefully with respect to Karabagh’s right to independence. Hopefully this is not more “planned spontaneity.” Time will tell. However, the ARF remains the principal Armenian organization opposed to the ratification of these documents. Individuals and organizations that have accepted the view “Let’s see what happens” or “It’s in the best interests of Armenia” represents a grasping for straws which places faith in a process that has yet to show how the Armenian nation will benefit. It is this group that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encourages to continue their support of Yerevan.

Normalization with an open border provides absolutely no benefit for Armenia. No explanation has yet been offered by proponents to contradict this assessment. Any benefit that might be conjured would come at an exorbitant cost (see “Sarkisian’s Faustian Bargain,” Armenian Weekly, Oct. 24, 2009). While the United States continues to press Yerevan, the Minsk Group (United States, France, and Russia), representing the interests of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), continues to seek a settlement of the Karabagh conflict that will deny de jure independence to the Karabaghtsis (see “The Key to Armenia’s Future Political and Economic Future,” the Armenian Weekly, January 2010 magazine). Political stability and economic development in the south Caucasus is a laudable goal, but should it come at the expense of Armenia’s interests and those Armenians who live in the historic Armenian regions of Artsakh, Javakhk, and eastern Anatolia?

Since independence in 1991, a maelstrom of events has battered Armenia and the Armenians of Artsakh and Javakhk. The protocols and rapprochement are the most recent issues to confront the Armenian nation. The ARF has recognized the inherent dangers to Armenia posed by these protocols. The Jan. 12, 2010 ruling by Armenia’s Constitutional Court tangentially confirmed the ARF’s concerns, but does not prevent the protocols from being presented to parliament for ratification. Ankara views the decision as hindering their insidious plot to use the protocols’ suggested historic commission to redefine the Armenian “Genocide.” The Turkish end-game has always been to marginalize Armenia, eliminate the moral issue of genocide that besets the nation, and in the process nullify Hai Tahd and the influence of the Dashnaktsutiun. According to their reasoning, whatever else remains will easily fall into place.

Unfortunately, neither preventing the ratification of the protocols nor genocide recognition by the United States Congress will provide the proverbial “silver bullet” that will smite Turkey and allow final victory to be declared. (To what political end has genocide recognition by France and Russia served?) A universe of legitimate issues exist—many are long-standing—that must be vigorously confronted and resolved before Armenia’s future is secure. The singular problem for the ARF is to determine the how and when and where it may efficiently and effectively respond to these challenges. This is no easy matter.

This universe of issues encompasses the harsh unjustified political, economic, and cultural policies that the Georgian government imposes upon the Javakheti Armenians. Yerevan is not aggressively confronting Tbilisi on these policies and actions that contravene the required economic, political, and core democratic value changes in its treatment of minorities agreed to by Georgia in 2006 as a member of the European Union’s “European Neighborhood Policy” (ENP). And this by a government that the United States steadfastly maintains is the beacon of democracy in the south Caucasus. If these discriminatory policies by Tbilisi are not challenged (hopefully by the ARF) within the next several generations Armenian Javakhk will be irretrievably lost.

Linked to this “harassment” is the perversion of justice perpetrated on the Javakheti Armenian activist Vahagnn Chakhalyan (sentenced in 2009 to 10 years in prison) that has been visited upon two other activists: Gurgen Shirinyan, who was given a 3-year sentence in October 2009 in addition to a 17-year sentence originally handed down in 2008, both trials in absentia; and the ongoing trial of Aram Batoyan, again in absentia, who is being tried on charges that date back to 2005 (see “Javakheti Activist Vahagn Chakhalyan: Justice Denied by Georgia,” the Armenian Weekly, Sept. 19, 2009). This police and judicial misconduct has been documented by Yerkir Union and acknowledged by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Then there is Karabagh. Since the 1994 ceasefire, the imperative to resettle strategic areas of Karabagh has languished. What happened to the government’s program to increase the population by some 100,000 people? During the 14 years of de facto independence, the population has basically remained unchanged (see “The Political-Strategic Resettlement of Karabagh’s Security Zone,” the Armenian Weekly, June 30-July 7, 2007). On another front, what is being done to lay the requisite foundation to support Karabagh’s right to be recognized as an independent political entity? It will take more than public declarations that the Karabaghtsis have this inalienable right. It would be a logical initiative for the ARF to convene a conference of recognized scholars who would discuss the legal and human rights basis for the former Soviet autonomous region of Karabagh to be independent. Coincidentally, what is being done to influence sympathetic journalists, political leaders (especially members of the U.S. Congressional Armenian Caucus), business leaders, leaders of advocacy groups, and the public at large (including Armenians) by visits and reports to support Karabagh’s right to recognition? Azerbaijan and its enabler Turkey are being allowed to describe the conflict in terms of terrorist activity and the claim for independence as an Armenian irredentist ploy.

And now Turkey. There are so many issues that have been left to languish. Where to begin? The destruction and seizure of religious and educational property and its restitution or indemnification have not been forcefully and continuously challenged in appropriate venues. Neither has government policy allowing for the physical decay of cultural artifacts or for their planned destruction. What of the Armenian farmlands, businesses, and homes that were involuntarily abandoned when the Ottoman Turkish government carried out its genocidal plan to empty historic western Armenia (eastern Turkey) of its inhabitants resulting in the systematic murder of some 1.5 million innocent Armenian men, women, and children? At best only sporadic, uncoordinated, and ineffectively implemented actions have been made to challenge these issues to which Turkey is vulnerable.

And finally, what of the tens of thousands of children and young women who were “taken” by tribal villagers (under varying circumstances) and required to live within an alien cultural environment. During the ensuing 90 years, these “lost” Armenians of the genocide became the progenitors of successive generations who presently populate the Turkish western provinces of historic Armenia. Has thought been given to what should or could be done with respect to these “forgotten” Armenians still connected by blood to the martys of the genocide?

It is obvious that this universe of issues contains more than the protocols and genocide recognition. In accepting the challenge, the ARF faces a Herculean task that far transcends anything the Dashnaktsutiun may have attempted in the past. In charting its course of action, the ARF must continue its active engagement of the Armenian Diaspora for the moral and financial support required to achieve its mission. And it must harness the expertise of those dedicated Armenian men and women who can assist in formulating and implementing the initiatives necessary to achieve its objectives. Now is the most critical period in the modern history of the Armenian nation. If the Dashnaktsutiun fails to vigorously and effectively confront these challenges, who will?

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian

Michael Mensoian, J.D./Ph.D, is professor emeritus in Middle East and political geography at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a retired major in the U.S. army. He writes regularly for the Armenian Weekly.


  1. Pardon my ignorance but I am certain Mr. Mensoian (or someone) could define ” Hai Tahd” for me.  I have asked the same question to the Armenian National Committee but have not  yet received a reply.   Since subscribing to The Armenian Weekly, I come across the words “Hai Tahd” often.  I speak Armenian so I know what it means. The English translation I’ve seen is the “Armenian Case.”  I also know that it is related to the Genocide and the quest for justice…reparations…  But I don’t know if the ARF has a written statement or a platform that clearly outlines the specific goal(s) or vision of “Hai Tahd.”  Thank you,

  2. Armenians by now must realize that both sides of the aisle have disappointed us with respect to genocide recognition. One thorn in ourt side has moved on ( Democratic Rep John Murtha).  Republican Representative Dan Burton, I’m sure, will speak against any efforts for recognition. It must be noted that Burton has threads to Turkey. I think a good counterpoint in our argument is the upcoming centennial year of the horrific destruction of the indigenous natives of the Ottoman Empire.  

  3. As a life long Dashnaktsakan hamagir, it’s my opinion that the ARF has undermined itself enough as a result of its pigheaded and narrow minded approach it took regarding the protocols. The best thing the ARF could do at this point in time is to admit its blunder, rejoin the government, and try to exploit the promising geopolitical situation in the Caucasus today in Armenia’s favor.

  4. Guys:

    This idea may not be very ‘Armenian’ but I often think of this.

    How would life be like today? if the USA or Canada or Australia, would have carved out, many years ago, a small bit of land for Jews and Armenians and perhaps a few other victim nations, so that we would have our own country? then the conflict areas, atleast geographically, could be abandoned for the Islam to suffer in…to do what they please! No help for murderous people should be offered. They can live in their own misery! I believe you all know what I mean by the geographical territories.

    Large countries like Russa are able to take care of themselves. I guess?

    After I think this silly, unacceptable thoughts, I also realize that ‘hey? we were there centuries before you guys…so what right do you have to march in plunder, steal our land, men and women and children’ If my neighbour walks in and kills me and takes over my house? does this mean my house is legally his property? Absurd! Ofcourse not!
    No nation really came to our rescue in 1915-1920. They all ‘talked’ but talk is cheap. England admitted it at the time…that they should have dealt with the Osmanian Empire more harshly! But they didn’t!

    I believe that the greatest, and un accountable, unknown loss, is the thousand of people who were stolen, sold, enslaved and brought up as Turks. Even Sultan Hamid’s mother may have been Armenian? I don’t know if this is true or false but it has been questioned in the writings I have recently read.

    Yes, the ARF has always been the one looking after our nation. There is no way they should buckle now.


  5. People – who do you think has kept and ensured our survival for thousands of years????? Armenians who live on the land of Armenia!    These Armenians are the ones who fought the Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Turks, etc., not the ARF.  ARF has only existed for 100 years.  The ARF does and has done good things, but they are not the all-saviour of the Armenian people.  The people of Armenia are the ones who suffered and kept Armenia as Armenia.  Where were we (Diasporans) during the dark period of Communism and the liberation of Karabagh? We provided our moral support, yes, but it’s the Hayastantsiz who KEPT THE LAND!

  6. Sireli every body:
    Mr. Mensoyan  mentions lost Armenians in Turkey. That’s a very tragic fact, indeed. But let me tell you all, that there are such armenians in Syria too. Last spring I paid a visit to Hasake-Kamishli area. There I met children and grandchildren of very young armenian boys and girls, 5-10 yrs old at the time. Under unspeakable conditions these were left by their parents just in order to have them saved from starvation and massacres. Mrs. Saadie, Movses Tirakian’s (Moussa al Armani) daughter, or Hovhanness Hekimian’s s0n Mihran( Mohammad Mahmoud)  of Mush, and then Abdalla Mustafa, son of Nazareth Chorbajian of Tomarza… They all remember the plights of their fathers. They keep the knowledege of their Armenian identity, but!!!
    Some  of these Armenians which  live as kurds 0r bedouins, have organized themselves into a tribe: Armenian Moslem Tribe. This was founded in 1998, in order to defend their interests. The whole area is a tribal one. If you don’t have a tribe to back you, then you are just no one!
    The members of this tribe number just only 25,000. May be more than that number remain outside the tribe! Some carry double names. E.g. Mohammad-Garo and Ahmed Sako (twin sons of Abdallah Moustafa). Hovhanness Hekimians( Mahmoud) grand-grand daughters are named: Nanor, Nairi, Armine & Menar. What future awaits these girls? 
    The tribe is spread over a large area in villages and small towns. They have lost language, fatih but still maintain that the blood in their arteries & veins is ARMENIAN! 
    Thes people deserve some sort of attention!
    For myself, I have begun writing a book about them. Also, I presented a special report about my findings, to different authorities, religeous and political.  

    Then sireli Dr. S. Jeshmaridian,
    May I kindly ask you that are  you  really saying the Jeshmarid thing? Does your belief satisfy you?
    George J. Apelian
    Ainjar, Lebanon

  7. Well…just on a realistic note.  The ARF is least likely to bring about any change in Armenia because it is considered to be a faux-opposition, pro-government, deranged fringe party (this is just Armenia we’re talking about here).  It’s top leaders are not trusted by any considerable portion of the populace.  Even with all their connections, Yerkir Media outlets, and tons of Diaspora-networking, the last election brought the ARF no more than 6% of the vote — and that was up against the likes of Levon and Serge.  Our partisanship aside, this is just what the statistics and elections show.
    You have just about the same support as does the Green Party in America.  In fact, the ARF probably has the best name-marketing of any party (Dashnaktsutsyun, no?) throughout the Armenian world and especially Armenia.  You also have an ideological platform (most parties in Armenia don’t).   And, unlike the Green Party, there is really no organized effort to try to block out your voices and ideas.  In fact, the world is your stage.  But even with all of that…your support is dismal at best and pathetic at worst.  Until you address the “why don’t people like us” issue with some honesty (and stop giving the excuse that Hayastantsis are ignorant communists and the ARF is too far ahead of them), you won’t be able to accomplish anything — let alone something on the scale that you’re talking about.  Sorry guys!
    Although — some soul searching would be good for the party, it’s good for any political force.

  8. Hye, Jesmaridian, I recommend to you to read Theodore Roosevelts writings, especially his
    IN THE AREA – and then, and only then, it is possible that you shall learn what you lack now…
    To be IN THE ARENA, to be there – when you are right, when you are wrong, but doing your
    utmost … despite the know-it-alls… depite the Jesmaridians…
    You shall learn from Theordore Roosevelt, a president of the USA
    P.S.  This shall be printed frequently, to remind the naysayers… AND to give thanks to those who are

  9. Agreed, The A.R.F. is the only organization to push the Armenian for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.  All other organizations, instead of working together with the A.R.F. are laxed on this issue.  However, at the same time, the A.R.F. must make changes to our way of thinking and come out with new effective goals to get Washington, the State Dept., Congress, & Senate to recognize the facts of life.  The following are some suggestions that could help: l. A mass demonstration in Washington, DC. 2. A dialogue with the five Jewish Organizations that are being paid by the Turks to not recognize our Genocide.  3. To have full page adds in all newspapers in all cities where there are Armenians all over the country to educate people on this disatrious first Genocide of the 20th century. 4.  To update the “The Deeds of the Turks” that shows all the Massacres & Atrocities they have committed from B.C. to date.  These are only a few suggestions that can be done not counting what our non-Armenian friends could do to help.

  10. Hye, perhaps the ARF received only 6% of the votes in Armenia – since Serge and his cohorts
    made certain that they, and only they, shall have been the winners – and elected themselves! 

  11. Hye Artashes Bashmakian, since no one has come forth to explain Hai Tahd to you – which you yourself have ‘described’ it behooves me to say:  Hai Tahd is all that you say – and more.  It is
    what comes from within you – from your generations lost to you – at times, indescribable pain,
    remembering what the Martyrs suffered, and what  memories our surivivors had to live with all the days of the lives – and more. 
    Hai Tahd is all things for all of us – our covenant from the Martyrs, passed to the Surviviors, and now to our  generations following – in pursuit of Hai Tahd! 
    P.S.  and of course, JUSTICE!

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