The ARF World Congress: An Opportunity To Self-Reflect

We are nearing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) World Congress when this 128 year-old political organization’s global branches will send delegates to Armenia for a thorough review of the past four years of activity, as well as pave a path forward for the next four years. And in order to properly gravel this forward road, it is critical that the ARF points the mirror directly at itself during this review.

It is important that the organization judge how its own decision-making, packaging and messaging has impacted the ARF’s ability to lead the nation of people that created it out of necessity and hope in 1890. This would mean that the ARF resists any and all temptations to convert what is the organization’s primary opportunity for self-reflection, to instead reflect on the activities of Armenia’s now-Acting Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan.

Pashinyan has understandably dominated Armenia’s political landscape since he led the country to a long-awaited regime change—armed by popular support from the people—in what has been labeled the Velvet Revolution. In the ensuing election, the ARF was not able to pass the requisite threshold of five percent to serve in Armenia’s parliament, scoring only 3.9 percent of the public’s support in an election that was a landslide victory for Pashinyan’s My Step Alliance.

The fallout from this result has been mostly sub-standard political commentary of all the other players—including the ARF—where their decisions, packaging and messaging has been critiqued from only a single angle: Pashinyan.

For example, leaders of parties that oppose Pashinyan have consistently ignored their own shortcomings by shining a light on what Pashinyan did, what Pashinyan did not do, what Pashinyan said, what Pashinyan did not say and what Pashinyan will do and what Pashinyan will not do. “History will judge us to be correct,” they have said while ignoring the reality that election campaigns are competitions for the present—in this case, a competition for the hearts and minds of today’s Armenians.

While valid commentary might be spun into such nothingness with effective use of the media, a political force with a history of service such as the ARF owes its World Congress the respect to stand tall above all of this and honestly reflect on itself.

Yes, this means resisting the temptation to turn this review into a referendum on Pashinyan and resist focusing on the revolution’s resulting euphoria as the primary reason for any ARF failures, among a myriad of other reasons beyond the party’s immediate control.

This also means acknowledging that the ARF has plenty to discuss. Its activities in over 20 countries around the world will undoubtedly be featured, as will its activities in Artsakh and Javakhk. However the focus of any honest review of the period between 2015 and 2018 must be the ARF’s activities in mainland Armenia, which culminated in the public rejecting the opportunity to re-elect the party into its National Assembly.

You see, history proves that the ARF has been dutifully building political capital in the Armenian world for over a century. The blood it spilled to achieve an improbable independence in 1918; the exemplary leadership of the First Armenian Republic under desolate conditions through 1921; the establishment and maintenance of the Diaspora as the torchbearers for a future Republic during Armenia’s Soviet occupation; the heroism on the battlefields of Karabakh ahead of the Republic of Artsakh’s successful vote for self-determination; the legislative victories recognizing the Armenian Genocide across most continents—these are all but examples of the capital that has been naturally built out of sincere obligation over 128 years.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom during the past four years either. Deposits have been made toward this capital. The ARF’s leadership to achieve the Constitutional Reforms that brought Armenia to a parliamentary system of governance, replacing the old presidential model; the instinctive reaction of the ARF world to respond with front-line volunteers, resources and advocacy during the four-day Artsakh War in April 2016; the vision to achieve a united call for justice for the Armenian Genocide during the centenary year of 2015; the activities to support the homeland, Artsakh and Syrian-Armenians by outstretching the global tentacles of the ARF—these are among the examples of continued capital building.

So how does such political capital get spent, to the extent that an organization with the aforementioned track record cannot even attract five percent support from its fellow citizens? This is the key question that needs to be honestly, selflessly and courageously pondered by the ARF World Congress when it convenes in January 2019.

Sure, the euphoric environment played a role. Sure, Pashinyan played a role. Sure, foreign interests might be flexing their muscles in Yerevan like they are known to do in countries with the geopolitical realities of an Armenia. Notwithstanding these points, my hope is that the ARF focuses on what it itself is directly able to control, which is none of the aforementioned.

For example, the ARF has been criticized for its delay in joining the revolution. More so, the ARF has been criticized for standing with its coalition partner, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and its nominee for Prime Minister—former President Serzh Sargsyan—while protests against Sargsyan’s perceived grab for a third term in power grew on the streets of Yerevan. The ARF has also been criticized for its controversial exit from the unity government formed by Pashinyan, after partnering with the RPA and the Prosperous Armenia Party in a vote that once again forced people to the streets in an encore in October 2018.

The ARF has since been criticized for not properly acknowledging its mistakes, assuming it did make some. Even before all of this, the ARF was criticized for favoring the path of making changes from within (even in coalition with the RPA) instead of being on the streets (in coalition with the people), as well as for transitioning away from its progressive roots while getting involved in some of these partnerships.

The World Congress needs to break down these decisions and hear the justifications from the incumbent leadership. Assuming it accepts their justifications, the World Congress needs to ask why 96.1 percent of the public did not accept these same justifications at the December 9 polls?

This is where packaging and messaging may need to be scrutinized. Before and after these elections, the ARF brought up some very valid concerns about the elected policy paths of Pashinyan and his team. I too am not comforted by his economic agenda and could be more at ease with his foreign policy standing with less spin-populism and his rhetoric of the potentially chaotic “governance by Republic Square” strategy. However, it is obvious that most people are not listening to the ARF’s concerns. Why not? What can the ARF do better to reverse this worrying trend?

It was US President Harry Truman who famously had a sign on his desk with the following inscription: “The buck stops here!” In the ARF world, it’s up to the World Congress to determine who will accept the responsibility of setting the framework for future corrections.

An honest self-reflection at this World Congress will ensure the ARF comes out of what is a historically critical meeting with decisions that will lead to a period of the correct policies— better packaged and efficiently delivered. This will ensure the path forward leads the ARF to clawing back some of the political capital it has lost.

There is no doubt that the ARF deserves its place at Armenia’s decision-making table. It has protected everything Armenia and Armenian for 128 years. This World Congress will be an important opportunity for self-reflection to ensure the ARF continues its exemplary service for the next 128 years and beyond.

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Haig Kayserian

Haig Kayserian is the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of Australia, with a Bachelors in Media & Cultural Studies (Macquarie University) and is currently completing his Masters in Politics & Policy (Deakin University). He is a director at several technology companies based in the US and Australia and is an advisory board member at Armenia’s first technology venture capital firm.

9 Comments

  1. Very well written article & very true on all accounts. We really need to accept our faults to be able to solve them

  2. Mr. Kayserian’s substantive thoughts are very appropriate.
    The ARF will deserve a place at the decision making table only if “…correct
    (relevant to today, that is ) policies and packaging…” are created. The theme of “exemplary service of the past” has to once and for all be a secondary frame of reference replaced by a “today” them.
    A simple change of Bureau is not an answer; as Mr. Kayserian notes, this is an organizational issue.
    The long “clawback’ will start only if that happens.
    This a large order for an organization that has had 128 years of the same drill.
    We shall see; organizational history shows no tendency for change.

  3. The people will not accept the reason that they joined this and previous coalitions to be able to make decisions within the government which was a spin and was never the case, and they should have left the coalition long time ago since they were just passengers being taken for a ride by serjik in order to shut the mouths and eyes of the Diaspora,but they didn’t because they liked their cosy ministerial portfolios and all the business quotas given to the ARF party oligarchs by the criminal and corrupt regime.When a party after all these years can only master 1.6% of the votes in Yerevan elections and only 3.88% of the national elections they must ask the fundamental question why did the people so soundly reject them,because the monopolised ARF elite leadership never listened to the people but just carried on arrogantly with the morally bankrupt policies of RPA oligarchic party and now the people can’t stand the sight of RPA/ARF. There must be radical changes in the ARF leadership who were the architects of the fateful coalition policy and now must come up with policies and hard work to benefit the people or else nothing can or will change, no amount flimsy excuses will convince anyone anymore.Its time for action.

  4. Good on you Mihran! I would have repeated word-by-word everything you have said. To add few points to what Mihran said, is that there need to be structural change of the organization. Structural change means that the system we have is very easy to corrupt to the people who seat on the helm for so many years until they get old. Take the example of our Beuro. One man seats on the chair for twenty-six years. That is three times eight (8) and plus years to stay in power more than three times that by a US president serving two full terms. That is incredible. Don’t we know that the more someone stays in power they don’t want to go and the worst is that they stop LISTENING. They stop LISTENING. What about the current one? He doesn’t want to go? We must change with the new days and with the new year to bring some desperate changes. AN ARF leader must not stay more than two (2) terms of Four (4) years. That’s it. That is eight (8) years of hard work. They must get out and continue to work as an operative (beuroyi korzavar). I mean what is wrong with that? They can continue working for the party and toward it’s progress. Krisdapor and Rosdom weren’t members of Beuro all the time were they? We are proud that our organization is 128 years old. That is wonderful. We haven’t seen one WOMAN to become a member of Beuro? what is this a man only club? is this how we are progressing? Certainly we have many very highly inteligent women in our midst but we haven’t seen any during these 128 years. Why not?This congress must have the balls to bring these issues to the front and have a conversation about it. ARF is the greatest organization and it is time to make it great again by simply looking in the mirror and be honest and AUTHENTIC. Which I believe is not. I hope our voices are listened.

  5. The most recent defeat of the ARF is no doubt attributed to being painted with the same brush as the Republicans. Essentially they backed the wrong horse and paid for it. However in a broader sense , the declining polling of the ARF the last 10-12 years , in my view, reflects an impatience by the leadership. Instead of focusing on its historic strength, grass root populism, they relied on cutting deals with oligarchs and power brokers to win position power in the form of ministerial and governorships. Granted I believe their strategy was to drive change from the inside, it was doomed to work with Sargysyan and his team which opposed change agents. Furthermore , they lost significant credibility when they were viewed as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
    The ARF must focus on its core competency…. organizing at the grass root level. The 100 years of the diaspora in the Middle East, in America or Europe displays the results. Prior to that their work in the villages of Armenia was exemplary.
    It is inconceivable that an entity with its discipline and organizing skills can not only make inroads in a free electoral process but can actually add value to the democratization of Armenia. What it requires though, are large mirrors for self reflection and a focus on what made the ARF an effective and respected player. Rationalizing the decline will not work.

  6. The Armenian youth today don t care about what the ARF did one hundred years ago ,the young people today need a future, they need jobs, businesses ,and factories must start opening in every city and town of Armenia. Five years from now Armenia must become a country of 4 million people. The Azeri population is growing and their army is getting stronger. This is what the ARF must start working for , education ,jobs and social justice.

  7. As long as the present sad state of the existing global (both in Armenia and the diaspora) “Armenian culture” island is not first properly recognized, scientifically analyzed in its true light and cool reality in depth, to be then correctly and fearlessly addressed and overhauled by all with a truly honest concern (if at all possible), all beautiful writings, as the one(s) above, will remain just words and will fly away in the wind like those so many before them. A very complex task that transcends far beyond this or that person’s or organization’s shortcomings or faults.

  8. Thank you Haig Kayserian, you were right on target without hesitation.
    Keep on hitting the nail right on the head I’m sure it will pay the dividend.

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