It was with great pleasure that I read my friend Antranig Kasbarian’s article, adapted from an ARF Day speech delivered in Detroit earlier this month which I, unfortunately, missed due to prior out-of-town commitments. Had I been present it could have been a lively debate in viva voce, but we can do the same with the pen rather than our voices.
After expanding on the historical and traditional lines the ARF has followed since its inception, Dr. Kasbarian arrives at his conclusions by extolling the three pillars he considers the most important for his party as follows:
1) A commitment to Armenia’s sovereignty. This is a delusional and misleading statement as it continues the “old” ARF adherence to a “free and independent Armenia.” Yes, this could have been a slogan that gathered diasporans and native Armenians around the flag, and was the raison d’etre of the ARF itself, but it’s become totally obsolete since Armenia’s official independence in 1991. So, with independence, the ARF’s main cause of existence vanished. Therefore, suggesting the party’s commitment to “Armenia’s sovereignty” is an oxymoron.
2) Pursuit of the Armenian Cause. Since the above pillar has become obsolete, the ARF has needed another rallying point to maintain its existence, and they chose the Hai Tahd or recognition of the Armenian Genocide. A worthy cause and one close to every Armenian’s heart. The question, however, is very simple: If the ARF has been trying so hard to influence governments through lobbying, international claims, and even armed struggle, where is this much-desired recognition? They have been trying to get this since 1923 or even 1965 and today, 98 or even some 50 years later we have no results. So, I would submit that maybe all Armenian organizations and/or political parties, including the ARF, are doing something wrong! Time to change the approach for better performance and results, I say.
3) Armenopreservation (Hayabahbanum). Keeping the Armenian language alive through schools, cultural events, and a very strong affiliation with the Armenian Church is what the ARF has done to maintain the preservation of Armenian-ness. How successful has the ARF been in this endeavor with the youth? Has the ARF reached out to sons and daughters of mixed marriage Armenians, or culturally hybrid-Armenians who do not speak their mother tongue or know anything about Armenian history and have thus been left outside the Armenian “family”? Or is it that the Armenian Church has been so successful in attracting the youth with its rigid orthodoxy, that has helped the ARF? Becoming an Armenian does not, certainly, mean you have to become an ARF member (or “soldier”), does it now?
The ARF that Dr. Kasbarian is talking about is what he knows to be a “revolutionary” organization despite the fact that armed revolutionary acts like the ARF’s event with the Ottoman Bank belongs to Armenian legends of the past. The ARF’s military-organization-type party with its “Central Bureau” (that, again, is a name that belongs to the Soviet era of the Politburo) is not something today’s youth can accept very easily without the necessary transparency.
Finally, the claim that “the ARF by its nature embraces a diverse whole” is unequivocally totalitarian in its meaning. In other words, despite the diversity of opinions and beliefs, diverse type of Armenians and the globality of today’s Armenian communities, the ARF should always be the central and all-encompassing organization to lead Armenians to their objectives, which are still ill-defined within the ARF itself!
I don’t think there is any reasonable Armenian in the world today who does not accept the ARF’s tremendous contributions to the development of our nation, identity, language, and culture, particularly in the diaspora. As we approach the beginning of a new year, however, maybe it is time for all of us and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation itself to engage in some real self-criticism and decide to change approaches and its mindset, or else become yet another failed attempt to control and direct a continuously better educated, free-thinking, intellectually demanding and creative generation of young Armenians.
Miran P. Sarkissian
Miran P. Sarkissian is an international business consultant currently operating between Brussels and Detroit/Miami Beach while traveling around the world on corporate assignments. He has written numerous articles for a variety of publications.
1) I don’t think you understand what an oxymoron is. In fact, I think you might be an oxymoron.
2) You actually said that. You actually said that? You did. The ARF pursued the Armenian Cause/Hai Tahd to maintain its existence. That’s what you said. Yes? How cynical are you that you think people got together in a room and “chose” justice for the Armenian Genocide as something to help maintain an organization’s existence? The Armenian Cause has always been at the heart of the ARF and is broader than just genocide recognition. But I guess its nice to say “better performance and results” from your hotel room in brussels or miami.
3) you need to explain where that last sentence came from because it seems really out of place. Seriously. Oxymoron.
The goal of United Free Independent Armenia, inclusive of all Armenians, is aspired by all Armenians; of some Socialist view of socio-economic political order for that Armenia is what the ARF manifests and strives to accomplish. The three pillars aforementioned are for sure to accomplish and secure yet. They still remain ARF’s, as well as many others’ goals to achieve. The closest we got is Sovereignty of the Republic, which is shaky due to the drainage of the population, as well as its econo-political challenges in both Armenia and Artsakh. Hayabahbanoom for sure is getting harder, due to globalization, spreading to every corner of the globe, decades-long sufferings in the Greater Middle East, loosening and weakening of our convictions, the Cold War and its partitioning policies in Armenian circles… And Hay Tahd: For sure it has to do with everything political in the area, where Turkey/ Azerbeyjan/petro-dollars have vastly more resources,and say in the world’s economic and political scenes and circles… Alluding the pillars are something of the past: I strongly disagree. Our affairs and challenges getting harder to achieve: I agree. Calling for adjustments to tackle our survival issues: I understand. Yet, those who cannot adjust; cannot self-criticize; cannot adopt new tactics… cannot and will not survive. The three Pillars are still our challenges for survival.
I believe most would agree that there is a difference between patriotism and jingoism. Patriotism is good. Jingoism is bad. I had occasion to read Dr. Antranig Kasbarian’s recent, well written article entitled: “Building on the Totality of ARF’s Ideals” and Miran Sarkissian’s sober response titled: “Time for ARF to Engage in Self-Criticism”. By dwelling on ARF’s past glory, Dr. Kasbarian’s article appeared to be a subliminal pleading not to abandon the ARF (“Party”). This is instigated by the apparent realization that the Party is either stagnating or is, in the worst case, gradually losing legitimacy and popularity based on failures of leadership at home and in the diaspora.
For the honest observer it is clear the Party is surfing the crest of its former self. The fear is that it could soon become an anachronism –a mere shadow of its former might in need of a major overhaul. I fear that foreign global observers would soon perceive it as a “Mittyesque” organization –a paper tiger if you will. Those passionate for the ideals it once stood for must accept constructive criticism –a principle the ARF could never tolerate. The days of vengeful retaliation are a relic of its revolutionary days, where strict discipline was an understandable imperative. Today, however, it is the stuff of jingoism that is rooted in blind obedience to emotionalism and utter disregard to intellectual thought and rigorous analysis. It is indisputable that the Party has no monopoly on wisdom. A wise few of the Party’s membership may agree; but for the average member or sympathizer it would, sadly, be a sacrilege to make such a suggestion. This is called “intolerance”. It is a regressive and harmful attitude for the Party and the Armenian nation as a whole. While the Party may lend lip service to tolerating diversity of opinions, concepts and strategies, it remains largely close minded and unreceptive to new ideas, challengers and NEW BLOOD from outside of its limited pool of hard core followers and diehards. Inclusivity ought to be the name of the game. While it cannot be all things to all men, it can certainly command the respect and allegiance of a great number of Armenians. The weakness perceived by many potential sympathizers is the tacit conviction that the Party considers any suggestion of change, reform or deviation from past strategies as an existential threat –to say nothing of some party bosses who fear loss of their status. This is endemic in any political party that operates without transparency and accountability to its constituents. If the Party rejects the latter criticism, it must in the least admit failure in defining its mission, policies and strategies to lure the populous to its ranks –case in point the dismal results of the last presidential elections in Armenia and a stagnant growth in its membership at home or abroad. This can best be described as lack of communication. In this age of social media proliferation, that wields the power of making or breaking revolutions, this is an unforgivable oversight. If these honest observations, coming from a well- intentioned source stirs the ire of the Party, then so be it. It will only suggest a fundamental lack of confidence in its strength of convictions. Nothing should shake a party’s integrity if it is deeply rooted in patriotism. And patriotism requires selflessness and sacrifice for the common good of an entire nation and not the select few. The Party ought not to believe itself to be infallible. That is a recipe for failure. The Party aspires for universal appeal but paradoxically practices exclusion. It has demonstrated inability to transform itself mainly because it lacks and discourages “thought leaders” to join its ranks. Do they, perhaps, perceive thought leaders to be a source of threat that could “rock the boat”? It was Albert Einstein who once said: “the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” The Party is either in denial or clueless about its serious shortcomings. It needs to flash forward to the 21st century in a hurry. It must define a clear, credible and all-inclusive party platform, a proactive membership recruitment of elite professionals such as thought leaders as well as communication and technology experts who will be treated with respect and deference for their professional opinion and analysis. Using its access to the ANCA, the Party should actively encourage, recruit and provide or seek out third party scholarships to train a relatively large number of future experts in the fields of international relations and foreign affairs. Make every effort to place experts and new graduates in key foreign policy making organizations to ultimately influence favorable policy outcomes in global affairs. If the Party fails to plan, develop and implement a plethora of carefully devised projects and programs and as in the words of Sarkissian, it fails “to control and direct a continuously better educated, free-thinking, intellectually demanding and creative generation of young Armenians” it will find itself on an irreversible course to irrelevance.
In the words of Pierre Trudeau: “The past is to be respected and acknowledged, but not worshipped; it is our future in which we will find our greatness.”
I am not jotting down this note as a defense of ARF nor as a criticism of Dr. Antranig Kasparian’s article.
ARF, much like any other political grass-root organization, is what its members make it to be. Undoubtedly it has a rich history of service to the nation. The best way to see ARF as a more vibrant and responsive organization to the needs of the present, is to join it to help bring the change and not wait until it is changed to what one perceives that change aught to be, to join it. Like any other organization, change comes from within and not without.
Just imagine the state of the organization had Antranig and the likes of him stood by the sideline.
I find it interesting that most of the accomplishments cited in the first half of Antranig Kasbarian’s speech are from old history books. Where has ARF been post independence? Why no mention of Armenians and Progressive Politics or Armenians and the Left creating a wider range of discourse? It’s phrases like “those who wear suits and those who wear khakis” that reveal the antiquated nature of this party. As long as ARF remains an old boy’s club, at its core, it will fail. If you want to see the success of equality in leadership, look at young women taking prominent roles in current movements for social change, such as environmental activism, the protests of human rights crimes in the army, and whistleblowing fraud during elections. The most prominent opposition MP during the Russian customs debacle has been Zaruhi Postanjyan. These are the actions that genuinely represent revolutionary spirit; a healthy democracy — with equality for all — is the true way towards sovereignty, empowered identity, and historical justice. As important as the Ottoman era revolutionaries’ successes and sacrifices were, you need to come out of the shadows, boys. Sexism is a disease, like racism, like the injustice and hatred that eventually led to the killing of Armenians during the genocide, but ARF seems far from deeming it a battle worthy of fighting for the greater rights of all Armenians, never mind looking at how it weakens its own party.
You know, it is unfortunate that some females are born into a wrong species like humans. Not all females are lucky to be born into the arachnids, where those evil self-serving males are invariably taught a lesson they won’t soon forget. But, better luck next time I suppose.
All “traditional” organizations are either limited in their effectiveness or receive unfair criticism as a result of the dark cloud of our community schism that exists . It is true that after 80 years many barriers have been removed. The new generation cares little about ” what side” you are from. Thankfully, it is often the reflection of jokes and humorous stereotypes. Nevertheless , the progress of returning to a more “natural state ” is slow and painful. How many members of the AGBU grew up in the Prelacy? How many ARS members are a product of the diocese? This is not to diminish the impact of these outstanding groups. They all serve our people with honor, but we do limit ourselves by our “spheres”. Today everyone has friends, colleagues and perhaps has even participated in community events, with someone from “the other side”. Of this institutional division is so dispised , then where is the outrage and passion to end it. Are we victims or enablers?
We all owe a debt to the ARF. I consider myself reasonably balanced on community issues. I , like many of you, participate to serve our people. I abhor our divisions…. Be they subtle, structured or inherited. Why… Simple … Because they limit our effectiveness as a people. At the end of the day, that’s all that counts. Our situation with a fragile republic and a large diaspora( fighting assimilation) demands a higher level of integration.
Simply stated, the most significant accomplishment of the ARF in the post genocide diaspora has been it’s role as the gatekeeper and defender of Armenian nationalism. This was a task carried out in communities across the diaspora with devotion. We can criticize individuals, decisions and activities ( which Armenians love to do) , but we can not deny the incredible gift of keeping the flame of nationalism alive. Who celebrated May 28 in the diaspora for decades? Once it was viewed as a ” Dashnag holiday”. I remember listening to Arthur Gregian as a young man. It was incredibly inspiringToday it is revered by all as what it always was….. The Avarayr of the 20th century. In defense of the ARF , they were on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism( putting it mildly) for it advocacy of the Tri-color, Mer Hayrenik and even the Hai Tahd, but it took the RoA about 10 minutes to embrace these as Armenians values. What did they know that the rest of the diaspora didn’t? Our institutional biases at work. It has worked both ways. We laugh about them now(thankfully) but it wasn’t that long ago that we would hear Armenians refer to each other with vigor as fascists or garmeed( red). This for a people who first enemy is assimilation….. The final phase of the genocide that Talaat counted on to destroy any Armenians that survived the crime.
I do believe that there is one question the ARF should examine closely. How can the greatest nationalistic organization in the diaspora for the last 90 years , have such a limited presence in the political landscape of Armenia.
Honestly examining this question will not only improve the ARF-D’s political impact, but help the diaspora/ homeland relations.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Where would nationalism in the diaspora be without the ground level- community service work of the ARF. It’s been very popular in the diaspora since 1991, but let’s understand how that base was built. There are two ways to attempt change….. Criticize and hope for the best or encourage with the facts and motivate those to improve. The former builds walls in our community. We have decades of experience to note that. The latter builds to a vision. We all need to cross over, blur the old lines and build a new Armenia.
I often think of one of my personal heroes of the 20th century…. Karekin Hovsepian ….. A warrior of Sardarabad, an early mediator of the church division, a Primate of the Diocese in America and then the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. A remarkable , beloved man who served his people with distinction…. Who gave all of his God given gifts to our people. Respect our differences and make them a strength.
I was hoping that this article will disappear from the Front page of The AW, before Antranig’s article disappeared. Something wrong with editorial priorities,
I have no idea who Miran Sarkissian is. But the last sentence of his article is a poor attempt to try to decsribe himself. To me, it is obvious that he is an egotist and selfcentered. I don’t know if he was ever an ARF member, or tried to become one.
The ARF is a living organization. Like any political organization, it has had its ups and downs, successes and failures, accomplishments and shortcomings. I have been an ARF member for 52 years; never in my 52 years I have seen the ARF discrimate against anyone because of their views or opinions.
Criticism is definitely acceptable. But you should be more specific with the points you are trying to make. What happened?
The only observation I shall make is that due to many complex reasons the ARF has been more successful and influential in the Disapora than in Armenia. In Armenia the ARF has not yet been able to garner grass root support and has not succeeded in forming an opposition coalition
that can challenge the President’s and his party’s failed policies in many aspects.
This letter served no purpose nor did it have a solution to anything, and in fact tried to bring in imaginary problems (like one commenter above) for the purpose of taking cheap shots. Criticism can be good and healthy where it is legitimate and called for. However, when you throw your stones make sure you aren’t sitting inside glass.
Is the ARF perfect? No. But it’s time for the ARF to be criticized and engage in self-criticism, but apparently all others really must be or are perfect. Meanwhile, they have nothing to show for after a century of riding on the back of the ARF in every diaspora community throughout the world.
All the non-ARF organizations and their critics… what is your purpose? At least the ARF stands for something: 1. Preservation of the Armenian culture outside of Armenia as a result of Genocide. 2. The pursuit of justice for the Genocide. 3. The protection of Armenian communities including Armenia if need be.
After the Genocide the other two diaspora parties did only one thing: the opposite of whatever the ARF did for the sole purpose of being ‘the opposition’. They got so desperate in fact, they often joined forces just to be against the ARF. That’s a pretty sorry and pathetic track record to have.
The AGBU, which is supposed to be a non-political entity even gave politics a shot with the so-called protocols, again working against the interests of the ARF and Armenians worldwide.
The opposition and marginal existence of the ARF in Armenia has its basis in history and Soviet mentality and therefore partly understandable. What’s the excuse and basis of being anti-ARF in the diaspora… BEING A FAILURE FOR ARMENIAN CAUSES?