Sassounian: Conference Participants Support Elective Diaspora Leadership

After much anticipation and lengthy preparations, the Institute of Armenian Studies at the University of Southern California (USC) held on Nov. 20 a successful international symposium: “The Armenian Diaspora: Elective Leadership and Worldwide Structure.”
The symposium was attended by 600 enthusiastic participants from throughout the United States, Canada, Russia, Australia, and Europe. The speakers were Dr. Z.S. Andrew Demirdjian, Cal State University, Long Beach, “The Persuasive Power of Numbers: A Call for Political Clout”; Dr. Archalus Tcheknavorian-Asenbauer, senior UN advisor, Vienna, “Armenian Unity and International Politics”; Harut Sassounian, publisher, The California Courier, “Proposal for a Popularly Elected Structure to Represent Diaspora Armenians”; Dr. Gaidz Minassian, Foundation for Strategic Research, Paris, “Toward a World Council of Armenians: Why, How, Who?”; former Governor George Deukmejian, “Personal Reflections of California’s First Armenian Governor”; Honorable Grigor Hovhannissian, consul general of Armenia, Los Angeles, “Welcoming Remarks”; former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, “Maximizing Influence in a World of Nation-States: A Challenge for the Armenian Diaspora”; journalist and author Mark Arax, Fresno, “The Power of Speaking to the Media with One Collective Voice”; Dr. Levon Marashlian, Glendale Community College, “The Necessity and Difficulty of Establishing a Diaspora Congress”; Dr. Stephan Astourian, University of California, Berkeley, “The Traditional Armenian Parties and the Problem of Pan-Armenian Coordination”; Dr. R. Hrair Dekmejian, USC and Dr. Nyree Derderian, Stanford University, “Models and Modalities of Creating a Trans-Diaspora Framework,” followed by a roundtable discussion between the speakers and the audience.

My own remarks were an expanded version of the article I wrote nine months ago, proposing the creation of a democratically elected structure that would represent all Armenians in the diaspora. I stated that a growing number of Armenians have realized that a collective effort is necessary if they are to survive as a dispersed ethnicity detached from the homeland. Beyond the need to preserve the diaspora’s vibrancy and cultural identity, Armenians share a common quest for justice from Turkey and a firm commitment for the security and economic prosperity of the twin Republics of Armenia and Artsakh. Armenians have finally concluded that they can benefit immensely from pooling their limited resources and jointly tackling common problems facing all diaspora communities.

As outlined in my February article, I elaborated on the framework of establishing an elected body that would legitimately represent Armenians throughout the diaspora, except those in Armenia and Artsakh, who already reside in state structures with elected governments. Thus, for the first time in the diaspora’s history, Armenians would elect their own representatives or leaders on the basis of one-man, one vote.

I also suggested that elections be held by Armenian communities to choose one representative for each group of 20,000 Armenians. The collective body of 350 representatives from all electoral districts throughout the diaspora would become the entity that can legitimately claim to speak in the name of all seven million Armenians outside of Armenia and Artsakh. Popular elections would encourage the silent majority to get involved in community affairs. This would be a dramatic shift from the current situation where a small number of individuals work around the clock sacrificing their time and effort, while most Armenians, who are unaffiliated with any organization, remain disengaged and disinterested. Should such grassroots elections succeed, large numbers of Armenians would feel empowered and energized, having actively participated in choosing their leaders.

The academic symposium held on Nov. 20 is the first of many steps necessary before launching the ambitious initiative of creating a worldwide representative structure. A team of researchers should now explore and determine the optimum mechanisms to conduct such elections, estimate the demography of each community, establish qualifications for both voters and candidates, and recommend measures to prevent voter fraud.

Conference participants were particularly interested in hearing Minassian’s presentation of a detailed plan unanimously approved by French-Armenian organizations to hold popular elections for a representative leadership early next year. The French experience could serve as a most valuable precedent for other diaspora communities.

It was made clear at the conference that a single electoral plan cannot be applied uniformly to all Armenian communities. Since each community lives in a unique legal and political environment, it would be necessary to devise an appropriate plan for selecting representatives in each country, in consultations with local leaders.

It was interesting to note that when Dekmejian asked the audience if they favored an elective diaspora structure, almost everyone raised their hands, indicating enthusiastic support for establishing a united diaspora leadership framework.
The proceedings of the symposium can be viewed online at


Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the United Armenian Fund, a coalition of the seven largest Armenian-American organizations. He has been decorated by the president and prime minister of the Republic of Armenia, and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Harut; when i go to the link shown in this article, I do not get the proceedings of the symposium. This is an important event that affects us all. Will you please clarify site address.
    many thanks.

    We should unite together
    With every cell… we carry
    In our Heats, Hands…in our Dendrites
    All must unite
    Our DNA birthed to create
    Shan’t sing more…haphazard tunes
    But one song
    That even a deaf can hear…learn…rehearse
    To achieve at least some gall
    We soulfully are yelling to sight
    After almost a century
    Some…better than none…


  3. I invite you to read my recently published book, “Between the Two Rivers – A Story of the Armenian Genocide,” published by Coffeetown Press, May 2010. It has been on Amazon’s best seller list ever since its publication. 
    It tells the true story of Mannig, my mother, who, at the age of seven, survived the massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. After finding her sister, only other survivor of her family of nine, at an orphanage in Mosul, my book describes the plight of so many orphans in the streets of Mosul. She rose above all odds, and married an Armenian philanthropist from Baghdad, Iraq.
    I was born in Felloujhah, raised and educated in Baghdad. I came to the US in 1952 with a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Washington, in Seattle, Washington.
    I have received awards for published articles. I retired after 30 years in public education, and currently, I lecture about Iraq at Bellevue College, Washington.

  4. Dear Aida
    Nice to inform us about your books…thanks for the Internet.
    I was born in Iraq but I never heard there were Armenians in Falloujah.
    Your writing is passionate and elaborate, because every phrase is a real painful story.
    I forced my self to write in English to publish my poetry collections on Genocides…
    A Poetic Soul Shined of Genocides It includes many other genocides as well.
    Since July 2007 I have published 10 poetry books and more to come;
    Winner of Carnegie Prize for Poetry, Spring 2009.
    MY new poetry collection–the 11th– will be a great surprise; the heading of the book is different of what’s expressed inside from the core of my heart.
    “ My Sun—My Son: Chants Ann Obama’s Mother”
    It ends with stories of genocide almost 200 pages of poetry.
    This poem for you from Baghdad and every Armenian who tasted their water and enjoyed Arab people and their rich poems. I hope you will like it
    Baghdad Raining Blood
    I see blood in every corner of the earth,
    I see blood running from Euphrates to Tigris.
    Everything is lost in red mud,
    As the skies is raining blood.
    The millennium started with blood,
    In each earth corners, once were cultured sites.
    Morn starts . . . with blood,
    Ends in darkness in grooves apart.
    The sun is no longer shining gold,
    Masked with blood!
    The moon is no longer pearly white,
    Covered with cloudy blood!
    Dusk newspaper reads blood,
    Satellite sends news of blood,
    Internet reflects blood,
    Casting shouts nothing but blood.
    Where to escape from blood
    Tinnitus in my ears buzzes blood,
    Smelling . . . breathing blood,
    No escape from shedding one’s blood.
    Started . . . can’t rest,
    All spirits spells blood.
    Invaded mysteriously to shed blood
    In a generous land called Baghdad.
    Where is Harun el-Rashid’s* thousand nights?
    Iraqian poets† from their far graves,
    Sending verses, prose, poems to God,
    Begging to save their homeland: Baghdad.
    The crescents in blood,
    The crosses in blood,
    Where is our merciful God
    To save the unfortunate people,
    From the unfortunate land?
    I am far away but still smelling blood,
    My heart lost sounds of cheerful beats
    Only crying, tearing cells of blood
    On innocent toddlers, said, “They were mankind.”
    Sylva Portoian, MD
    April 2006

    Harun al-Rashid: Most famous Abbasid Caliph (763-809): his reign and fabulous court over which he held sway is immortalized in the book One Thousand and One Nights.
    Iraqi poets of various ethnicities who lived in exile:
    Mohamed Mahdi al-Jawahiri (1900-1997): famous Iraqi poet who suffered in exile and oppression. He wrote a thousand stanzas. No one reached his numbers in quantity and quality.
    Badr Shakir al Sayyab (1926-1964): he changed the course of Arabic poetry, initiating free verse movement in Arabic poetry.
    Nazik al-Malaika (1922-2007): was an Iraqi female poet and is considered by many to be one of most influential contemporary Iraqi female poets. Al-Malaika is famous as the first Arabic poet to use free verse.
    Abd al-Wahab Al-Bayati (1926-1999): he is a well-known poet who suffered like others from brutal regime in Iraq. He lived many places. He published many books in poetry. Angels and Devils and his other books were translated to many languages.
    Sargon Boulus (1943-2007): Born into an Assyrian family. Poet, short-story writer and translator of English-language poets into Arabic. He published seven collections of poems and a volume of short stories.

  5. Perouz,
    Try the link without the last period.  It will work.  The period indicates the end of the sentence and is not part of the url.

  6. Thank you Sylva – I appreciate your comments about Between the Two Rivers and am delighted to read your poetry (even as RED as it is!)
    When book II of Between the Two Rivers comes out, you will get to know the Kouyoumdjians of Felloujah very well. Almost all of them, including my father are buried in the Armenian Church in Baghdad.
    Where abouts did you live in Baghdad, and when did you leave and why? Did you get your medical degree in Baghdad?AUB? or the US?


  7. Frederik; thank you for the additional help in accessing the site. I had the priviledge of listening to the entire 6 hrs of this symposium. Indeed, let’s go – a start has been made- let’s carry the ball. One participant made the comment that his daughters were not considered Armenian because they did not speak Armenian, attend an  Armenian school or belong to any Armenian organizations. let’s start by making it clear that anyone who identifies themselves as Armenian is indeed one of us. We need more among us like the participant who said he was an odar by birth, but became an ABC Armenian. (Armenian By Choice) In order to promote unity within the Diaspora, we need to do  more to teach our language, our faith, our history. Millions of us in the Diaspora have no access to the Church. Broadcast it live on our computers. Give us subtitles. Explain the service and its history. Millions of us have not had the opportunity to learn the language. like this man’s daughter, there has been no access to Armenian schools. We need free WESTERN Armenian language lessons on line. As has already been pointed out on this site, Western Armenian is in danger of becoming extint. As was pointed out at the symposium, our young people are tuning out, they are rapidly assimilating into the cultures of the lands where they were born. Faith and language and history are what unite people no matter where they are. Let’s start by making these available free of charge, on-line to every corner of the world. You won’t have unity without language and faith and culture. Without unity you won’t achieve the laudable goals put forward by this symposium. Many thanks to Ambassador Evans for his support and his talk.

  8. Perouz, thanks for your comments.  Language is of course, to be treasured and kept alive… actually all the different Armenian dialects that were ‘created’ due to the lay of the lands/mountains of Haiastan over the generations.  But yet, we have so many who, for various reasons were not exposed or able to continue using our language.  Those who are able will continue to use it… those who have not known it, but yet are Armenians and are part the grass roots of the diaspora, the USA Armenians from the families of our Surviviors. These dedicated to Hye Tad in remembrance of their forbears, those who had survived the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation and fled to safe havens in so many civilized nations.  Too, many in Turkey over the years were forced to learn the Turk language, I have met them…  forced to pursue the language of the perpetrator turk… So many, who know not our Armenian language are as Armenian in heart and mind and with us… Of course, if the facilities are created to learn Armenian, why not?  (Just like learning any of the languages taught in high schools). Language is important, absolutely… but too,  those who know not the Armenian language but yet are with us in their hearts, in their remembrance of their Survivors – unforgotten in their committment to all our Survivors… never to forget the Turk cruelties ongoing and unending… historically, never.   Manooshag

  9. Hye, thinking, having been driven from Yerevan to Kapan… enjoying all the refreshing clusters of mountains where the lands were fertile and all were living on their farms. Too, where ‘ayd bagh chooreh, zoolal chooreh, vor kalees-eh sare-en” were churning, running throughout  the ride, near to roads, under bridges… Too, then mountains  and valleys, rocks only, from earthquakes since it appeared  too, nothing could grow there… none lived there as well.

    Watching all this, riding in a car, I could not help but wonder at the distances between all the fine ‘livable’ valleys twixt all the rocky sites… and the generations which did not have the means to be able to travel to meet each other, too, that’s when all the various and
    diverse dialects shall have come to be.

    But, even more, how with all these geographic land formations which separated all the villages and peoples – certainly considering the terrain, the weathers, and more…
    How did the nation of Armenians, exist all through the centuries, as a nation, or even
    as first nation to adopt Christianity as their religion?

    I donot know the answer… not being an historian or more, but what comes to mind is the absolute PERSISTENCE of our Armenian people… to have the history that we have had over centuries, to been suffered the Turkish Genocide of the Armenian nation (turks determined to ‘eliminate any and all our people, our language, steal our lands, our wealths which turks have used to build upon) and too, our Armenian women and children… Too, the slaughters, the tortures and worse that  turk leaderships’ mentality encouraged against those that they chose to ‘eliminate’ in toto – but did not succeed.
    But, coming from a family where members were lost to us, but our Survivors… oh my,
    our Survivors!  To go to  safe, civilized nations – not knowing the language, the customs,
    the foods and more… our brave Survivors accomplished the impossible… married, their children to became highly educated,  within each nation where they settled and advanced… Armenians  coming back… for with all their efforts, the Survivors formed the
    foundation of Hai Tahd – the world over… PERSISTENTLY.  And today, with our fledgling Haiastan (only 20 years) having come from the relics of a communism –  and now needing our combined efforts to bring our Haiastan to be the nation that our patriots sought, and as we today seek, we Armenians can honestly claim PERSISTENCE… for today, we have our patriots again, PERSISTENTLY, to bring the Armenian nation to the 
    status amongs the nations of the world which our Armenian peoples are worthy of and too, deserve.  Getzeh Haiastan.  Getzeh our Patriots… all of us, together the world over!Manooshag

  10. I honor and applaud all of the members who attended to the above meeting and will be working towards this very important and vital cause of having a Diaspora Leadership that will speak for the remnants of Armenians having survived the Genocide, they are today scattered all around the globe and have been for over 95 years.  The Armenian Revolutionary Federation did it for many years and it is time that one united elected Diaspora Leadership will continue this important task that speaks volumes to our hearts and will unite all Armenians together for one cause and one bright future; to stay alive culturally as Armenians in Diaspora and be supportive to our Motherland, and even to have a voice as Diaspora’s Armenians within the Armenian Republic.  I cannot express my utmost gratitude to the above participants and my joy for this great cause.  Thank you for providing this news to us dear Mr. Sassounian and I thank the great humanitarian, Mr. John Evans who also participated with us. 

  11. Your posting is so descriptive, Manooshag, that I felt I was driving along the beautiful countryside with you. Many thanks. I wonder what reason the turks have for teaching Armenian to turks. I don’t trust their motives.
    Several weeks ago, I met a young man in his mid twenties who told me he was of Serbian descent. He said he was born in Canada and his parents were born in Serbia. When I asked him where his grandparents were born, he said his mother never spoke about the birthplace of her parents. He only knew that they had escaped from somewhere and then moved around to many places before ending up in Serbia. His curiosity was piqued and he pressed his mother for more information. For the first time in his life, he learned about his Armenian roots! His grandparents had fled during the time of the genocide. I baked a tray of paklava and of gohta, gave them the web site for Armenian Kitchen, and welcomed him and his mother to the Diaspora. I gave him a list of books he could borrow from the library about our history, and then I gave him the film Ararat. He is so very proud of having his new-found Armenian roots. He tells everyone who stands still for even a moment that he is not only a Canadian and a Serbian, but he is also an Armenian. He called me a few days ago to tell me how much he enjoyed the food he was cooking from the Armenian Kitchen web site, and how much he learned about our culture from the short stories that were posted along with the recipes. He is going to celebrate January 6 and commemorate April 24 from now on. I’m betting his partner will become an ABC Armenian. (Armenian By Choice) There are only a handful of Armenians where we live. There is no school or community centre or church. How will he and his mother and his partner learn more about being Armenian? If Armenian Kitchen can maintain a site that teaches our cooking and elements of our culture, in simple accessible language, why is there no site that teaches our language and our faith? These people are in our midst and they are one of us. And they need more than recipes. If Armenian Kitchen ever publishes an annual calendar with recipes  along with anecdotes, let’s all vow to buy an extra one and give it to someone like this young man and his mother.
    During this symposium, Harout said that only 10% of Armenians belonged to any organization. With all due respect to our learned panel, millions of us live where there are no organizations, where there are few other Armenians, where we never hear our language spoken. But we are all still as Armenian as those of you who belong to many organizations and who conduct your daily lives in fluent Armenian and take your children to our church every week. The word “unity” was used repeatedly during the symposium. The question was raised as to where to start. I submit that unity will never happen without access to language and faith and culture, and without being more inclusive. I had early morning coffee in eastern Turkey with an American who said that he was told he was not a “real” Armenian because his mother was an “odar.”  Yet there he was, half way around the world, searching for his father’s village. We aren’t doing enough.

  12. Hello Perouz,

    That was a heartwarming story you put it out here.  I mean a real-life story.  I loved it.  Btw; Manooshag’s descriptiveness made me feel good all over also.  Walking through the meadows, the mountains, the valleys, the lakes and the rivers of our Western Armenian lands; would have been a dream come true and I hope we’ll see it while we’re still living.  “Asdvads togh vor ouze”.

  13. To Seervart,belatedly,
    NORTH AMERICA,SOUTH AMERICA,EUROPE,RUSSIAN FEDERATION,MIDDLE EAST,in Yerevan, at Diaspora Ministry.For latter need to have these collaborating both with RA,as well as  amongst each other.For  thjese 5  are quite different from each other, as rgds,customs,language, culture and a host  of other peculiarities.This waay they will also cooperate in getting  things solved ON THE SPOT on a daily basis.
    As rgds your wishing well for ¨Leadership¨in diaspora,what has been proposed  is  another facet  of going through Elections on a larger scale and again electing on same old  fashion  of Voting from multitudes.To which i do not oppose,it should be donme  but in PARALLEL WITH WHAT I ´SUGGEST¨  THAT  OF for  FRIST  time electing through a NEW Concept. to this I shall refer  later  on.

  14. Ï shall continue  where I left  off abovde:- Under title  of Ä New Concept of Electoral Law and Governance¨¨ which also is the title of my¨paper¨which is registered at Ïntellectual propeerty¨  in Washington D.c. and YUerevan´s similar establishment.In very brief format.-
    Heretofore in almost all countries  the political parties and in our case  in Diaspora(s) the spiritual class/leadership has been the main engine  that following old  English Law, then the French and American Revolutions  have developed  the prevailing mode.That  of the politico presenting their candidates, spending huge amounts  of monies in advertisements, organizing symposiums,banquettes,fund raising  events,all to the end of concentrating on the delegates  of their choice to be in Parliaments/Congresses and Senates. Some  non-partisans also through above system,with possibly much more financial support/spending have been elected/nominated  as such. Whereas, it will be impossible to go straight in opposition of this system outright ,it is possible ,especially in our case to set aside above for those  who believe  in same, such as the politico and also the people-in diaspora- who prefer the mpore than 160 year old Armenian ¨Sahmanatrutyun¨that was drawn up in Bolis  under harsh Ottoman rule,to carry on.
    Whereas ,we should accept that  with the advent  of very much advanced compatriots  on the scene both in Fatherland and Diaspora, the Huge Collectivities  of our people are  working are engaged in Professions  that are very much advanced and have been registering very high positions all over the globe(incl.RA/Artsakh)  these are left  untapped, SINCE   majority are  non-partisan and are left to drift away.
    I have ¨suggested´in various articles ,published  in Asbarez,Nor gyank and Reporter long ago that  these people be formed into ¨Professional Colleagues Associations¨.5 already on the sence.I started to write about this, in Summer 1978/9,first article in Asbarez, entitled  ¨Four preconditions for the Armenian diaspora¨then again in Nor ghyank 1983 ¨Projections on ¨¨Ä New Statute for the Armenian Diaspora¨which delves into the above mentioned huge collectivities and having to goa Socialo formation within their Groups , they elect  3 person delegates to the Inter-professional Colleagues Asscociation and then invite the politico and clergy to join in thus for the first time hav ing THE ELITE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE presented alongside the politco and clergy in each Armenian Dense community.On to the Centgral Counciol of  each community country and then these submitting to the Supreme Council of Diaspora in 5 department./
    More about that later.In the interim for those  who are  not aware. About a year and half ago in France the two  new Armenians establishments  have been formed  one called  the Haybachdban ,the other “Western Armenian Council” .These ,in my view ought to merge and then also *though they have  not done so ,so far,ask our all exsiting establishments to join  in .Especially those  that such as ours  The First Armenian congress in 1979,to which I was a participant  to 2nd and 3rd as well in Paris and Lausanne,then the one formed  in Moscow  that  headed by Ara Abrahamian, to all consider an amalgamation of regrouping into one .I believe time is now to have all our people aware that  the huge collectivities  of the PCA’s could have a very important role to play in our future/
    to be cpontinued

  15. The second book by Aida Kouyoumjian will be available in the bookstores and Amazon on December 1, 2013. It is called, “Beyond the Two Rivers – The Continuing Story of Mannig of “Between the Two Rivers – A Story of the Armenian Genocide,” published by Coffeetown Press, 2013. In the Sequel of Between the Two Rivers, the two sisters, Mannig and Adrine, and their families experience military takeovers and the assassinations of royalty in Baghdad, Iraq during WWII, while their life-style and family ties crumble like the bricks of a building under heavy bombings. With the advent of the American influence in the Middle East, and particularly in Baghdad, the various communities are swept up by American movies, books and magazines. They socialize with Americans who arrive in Baghdad to work at the American Embassy, the U.S. Information Service, and other US entities. Their children attend American schools, and all their acquaintances aspire to go to America. Mannig’s two daughters earn scholarships to attend Universities in the US, and when they become US citizens, and Mardiros passes on, Mannig decides to immigrate to the United States to join her children. After all, Baghdad no longer hosts an international community.

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