Mensoian: Where Does the ARF Go from Here?

Now that Turkey has shown an unwillingness to ratify the protocols that, paradoxically, were written to address its best interests, and now that President Obama has again failed to refer to his personal acceptance of the Armenian Genocide as genocide in his April 24th message to the Armenian people, the drama of the past year has come to a close. I will leave it to others to argue whether President Sarkisian was the wily fox in the Turkish chicken coop or if Prime Minister Erdogan was done in by his ineptitude. Whatever the reason, Armenia has been saved from the insidious effects that the ratification of the protocols would have had on its political and economic interests (see “Sarkisian’s Faustian Bargain,” the Armenian Weekly, Oct. 17, 2009). A sophomoric understanding of the Turkish position would have suggested that “…Turkey…[would] not budge on the genocide issue and…[would] not forsake its ally Azerbaijan.” And just as obvious, Sarkisian would have been extremely foolhardy to have accepted the preconditions demanded by Turkey (see “The Roadmap to Normalization is a Roadmap to Oblivion for Armenia,” the Armenian Weekly, Oct. 23, 2009).

Obama has surprised no one by once again ignoring his Armenian supporters, the entreaty of Sarkisian, and the efforts of the ARF (Armenian Revolutionary Federation), ANCA (Armenian National Committee of America), and the Congressional Armenian Caucus. The leadership of the ARF should rethink its strategy concerning April 24th as it prepares for 2011. However, in the meantime it is an imperative that the leadership realizes that reliance on this myopic view of Hai Tahd is rife with inherent dangers.

First and foremost it gives short shrift with respect to Artsakh’s ultimate goal of achieving de jure recognition as an independent political entity. (The term Artsakh is purposely used because it includes the districts of Nagorno-Karabagh and the liberated historic Armenian territories that form much of the security zone. Shahumian and the eastern margins of Martuni and Martakert still remain occupied by Azerbaijan, as well as parts of historic Artsakh north of Kashatagh.) At the very least, the ARF must provide the historic background that supports the right of the Artsakh Armenians to declare their independence from Azerbaijan and the legal and human rights basis for their recognition as an independent political entity by the community of nations. There are sufficient reasons for identifying Artsakh as the key to Armenia’s future viability (see “Artsakh, the Key to Armenia’s Political and Economic Future,” the Armenian Weekly, January 2010). Artsakh transcends in importance the objectives of normalization, an open border and, at this moment in time, recognition of the genocide by the president of the United States.

Of equal importance is the plight of the Javakhk Armenians. Who speaks for them? If diplomatic constraints prevent Yerevan from forcefully confronting Tbilisi on the issues, then it becomes the duty of the ARF to speak for our brothers and sisters in Georgia in various international forums. Just recently Roland Blum, a member of a delegation of deputies of the National Assembly of France visiting Tbilisi, “…raised the issue of violations of human rights of the Javakheti Armenians” to government officials. As expected their response denied that any discriminatory practices were carried out against the Armenian minority and that Vahagn Chakhalyan was, in their words, nothing more than a hooligan who received his just reward. Conditions have been steadily deteriorating with the government of Georgia flagrantly violating its commitment to respect the rights of its ethnic minorities. This is done without fear of international repercussions.

This is all the more lamentable when Georgia has been a member of the European Union’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) since 2006. Signatory nations are encouraged to develop initiatives that will bring about economic, political, and core democratic value changes for the benefit of their ethnic minorities.

During the four years that Georgia has been a member of the ENP, conditions have actually worsened for the Javakhk Armenians. Their inability to use and to teach the Armenian language, to have equal educational, political, and economic opportunity as citizens of Georgia, or to petition the government without fear of reprisal has placed the Armenians in a subservient position. In addition, they are subject to arbitrary and capricious police action and judicial misconduct, practices which have been well documented by Yerkir Union and acknowledged by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). These discriminatory government practices have a dual purpose. Either the Armenians will be acculturated over time or, if they resist, will ultimately have no option but to leave their historic lands. These discriminatory practices are being carried out by a government that the United States steadfastly maintains is the beacon of democracy in the south Caucasus. If these policies and practices are allowed to persist without any attempt at both the local and international levels at amelioration then we should expect that Javakhk will be irretrievably lost within the next several generations. How does ignoring Artsakh and Javakhk comport with a “united Armenia (—free and independent—) for all Armenians?”

Since the roadmap to regime change was announced months ago, little if anything has been provided to indicate what this change will entail and, more importantly, how this change will be accomplished (see “Translating the Roadmap to Regime Change into Action, Part I,” Nov. 21, 2009 and “Part II,” Dec. 12, 2009). What happened to the determination to restructure society based on the principles of social justice and the equality of opportunity? Empowering the worker to reach his full potential is a necessary first step to creating the dynamic society that must serve as the foundation upon which a viable Armenian political entity can be established. Do these principles not form the cornerstone of the Dashnaktsutiun political and social philosophy?

At best, the present Turkish failure to ratify the protocols is a minor, temporary victory and the failure to have Obama officially recognize the Medz Yerghern as genocide is a minor defeat. The main battle has yet to be joined. The ARF must regain the fervor and the spirit that brought it into existence in 1890 and that served it so well during the early days of the diaspora. Since the establishment of the second free Republic of Armenia in 1991, the ARF has seemed reticent to create the required vision necessary to inspire and guide its efforts in shaping what will become the economic and political Armenia for much of this century. It must be a vision that will captivate the imagination of the Armenian worker to join with the party in restructuring the economic system and that will enlist the enthusiastic support of the Armenian people in the diaspora and within Armenia especially. A fundamental premise of that vision must include the de jure independence of Artsakh and the liberation of the Javakhk Armenians from their economic, political, and cultural servitude as citizens of Georgia. Failure to unite these objectives in any operational vision would be inimical to the meaning and purpose of Hai Tahd and the role of the ARF. If success eludes the ARF here, does it seem reasonable that we can successfully confront Turkey on genocide recognition and a host of related issues? I don’t believe so!

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. Why the plans do not include anything that the ARF should do about the people in Armenia itself, or the Armenian communities in the Diaspora? Maybe because these will clash with the other plans mentioned in the article?
    Like what is called “insidious effects that the ratification of the protocols” will postpone Armenia’s need to open up to the world and regional economy.
    Armenia is in desperate need of democratic political life, before any extra territory from east west north and south. Shouldn’t this be included in the ARF “what to do next”?

  2. I’d agree with Vahakn. ARF should do more for the people of Armenia. It’s an almost prevailing opinion in Armenia that ARF ruling elites are the unelected government’s puppets, not a genuine opposition. ARF leadership explains their inactivity in social, human rights, civil society, and juridical issues in the Homeland by the fear not to aggravate the domestic situation to the extent that our enemies might make use of instability to their benefit. This is a half-measure and a lop-sided concept. Ways and means need to be thought of to address the apathy and despair of the people, mass emigration, moral degradation, and social injustice in the hands of the corrupt and much loathed government.

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