A New Dawn for the ARF

An ARF-er reflects.

Kotchka Images/Flickr

In the Parliamentary elections held on December 9, 2018, the ARF disappointingly failed to meet the five percent threshold of votes to have parliamentary representation. For ARF-ers in Armenia and the Diaspora, this was a gut wrenching defeat, which will undoubtedly lead to soul searching, discussions, debates and arguments about what went wrong and the future of the ARF going forward. Like many ungers in the ARF family, I have been struggling, thinking and reflecting on what will come next, what needs to change and what needs to be done. There is a new reality in Armenia with a completely new political landscape which has to be taken into consideration, especially now that we are not part of the government and are on the ‘outside,’ so to speak. Since its founding in 1890, the ARF’s glorious history can be timelined in three periods.

 

Period 1: 1890 to 1923

This can be considered the ‘Fedayee’ period, during which the ARF valiantly sought to protect its people and the interests of the Armenian nation—a heroic armed struggle by men and women, who sacrificed their lives. The crowning achievement was the first independent Republic of Armenia on May 28, 1918— a monumental moment after the devastating Genocide.

 

Period II: 1923 to 1991

The ARF was imbued with a spirit and dedication to the idea that Armenia would never remain a captive country, and it became the principal, if not the only, truly international voice of the Armenian nation in the Diaspora. Thanks to its support of cultural, social and youth initiatives; humanitarian organizations; political committees and publications (like this one), it became the principal political institution in the Diaspora the world over. During this period, under the Soviet regime, there was an anti-ARF propaganda machine that relentlessly attacked the ARF and suppressed its goal of Independence.

 

Period III: 1991 to Present

During this period of independent, post-Soviet Armenia, there have been many developments during the reign of Armenia’s first three presidents. In December 1994, Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrossian made-up charges and banned the ARF from operating in Armenia. In May 1998, the second President Robert Kocharian rewarded the ARF for supporting him and reversed the ban. In 2008, the ARF supported the Republican Party’s candidate Serzh Sargsyan and, as a reward, was given three ministries and became part of the coalition. However, without a significant power base and electoral clout, the ARF was unable to aggressively advocate nor influence change within an administration it supported. Quoting Michael Mensoian, “There was no recognition that the notable success the ARF had achieved with the diasporan communities was accomplished under far different circumstances than the circumstances of the Armenians of the Motherland had faced. The party entered the world of post-Soviet Machiavellian politics.” (“Where is the ARF of Our Fathers” in the Armenian Weekly, December 8, 2011)

I would add to these:

  • The ARF’s decision to support and be part of the Republican administration, with the argument that being “ inside” would enhance our chances to implement/introduce changes, did not work; on the contrary, it tarnished the ARF’s image.
  • Corruption continued to be unabated. The economy did not improve while oligarchs reaped the benefits at the expense of the common worker, and emigration exasperated the brain drain.
  • There was a disconnect between the ARF in Armenia and the ARF in the Diaspora.

Now we are at a new dawn. What can the ARF do:

  1. Regroup and develop a clear vision, platform and a program for the future that clearly identifies the challenges facing the Armenian nation. We need a new approach and a new strategy.
  2. Develop and outline a credible program to address the plight of the worker and his family. This much needed strong message of social justice has to be clearly articulated in an agenda that resonates with the worker, both male and female.
  3. The ARF has to make an exerted effort to reach the youth. Until the ARF can significantly expand its influence with the youth, it will remain a marginal political party in Armenia. We need to establish viable resources of communicating and engaging with the young generation born in Armenia who are not aware of the ARF’s work and efforts, especially in Yerevan.
  4. Have a clear platform and vigorously pursue domestic initiatives that eradicate the oligarchic system that benefits the few; facilitate economic expansion and job creation; and offer incentives to halt emigration out of the country and support family formation.
  5. Reignite the fervor and passion to rightfully claim to be the revolutionary party of its forebears with a firm commitment to create and contribute to the creation of a system beneficial to all Armenians irrespective of age, infirmities, talent, intellect, gender and religious beliefs. This shall help create a truly free and just society.
  6. All these should be effectively communicated to the electorate. In our age, all means of electronic communications should be used to reach the people. The ARF needs to form a young team of communications and marketing savvy people who can effectively utilize the communication modes currently available to reach the populace.

We all have to recreate, re-energize and re-establish the ARF. The upcoming World Congress can be a solid new start.

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Vart Adjemian

Vart K. Adjemian was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1943. He became an ARF member at the age of 16 and was a contributor to the Armenian daily newspaper “Houssaper.” Adjemian worked for a German company in Egypt that was awarded the project of saving the Abu Simbel Temples, as well as for the Australian Embassy in Cairo. In the early 1970’s, he moved first to Montreal, Canada, and then to the United States. Adjemian worked for the Continental Grain Company (New York) for 30 years, holding executive positions in the United States, Italy, Switzerland, and England; the last 8 years of his tenure was as executive vice president and chief operating officer. In 2005, he retired to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He is an avid supporter of the ANCA and a regular reader of the Armenian Weekly.
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7 Comments

  1. Unger Vart Ajemian is expressing a majority opinion of Ungers who have remained silent too long. We have all assumed that the Diaspora Programs which had worked for decades would automatically work in the 2nd Republic. A Republic is different from Diaspora and its issues need a different type of governing. Now there comes forth a New ARF World Congress in a few days. Will our Leadership address these issues expressed? Will they come forth with new ideas and programs for a New ARF? All are anxiously awaiting, especially Ungers and Hamigers. Bravo for Unger Vart Ajemian, he is speaking what most Membership is feeling but afraid to say. Thank You Unger Vart for your insight and vision.

  2. An objective and rational analysis with realistic and sensible suggestions.
    Hope delegates to the World Congress had the opportunity to see it.
    Change is needed. Hope it will happpen.
    Peter

  3. Once again, Mr. Adjemian offers a thought process that addresses change.
    The Armenian Revolutionary Federation needs to undergo an internal revolution of policies, platforms and programs in order to connect with the people of the Republic.
    Change of Bureau members is window dressing; organizational DNA needs a long overdue re-do.
    There is one problem: the majority of attendees at the Big Dance will be loyalists and not agents of change who think as Messrs Bandazian and Adjemian do.
    The organization shows no element of creative thinking; just sound bites from the past with pictures of the founders on a wall.
    The aghoump mentality will continue in an organization that in ongoing manner will be out of touch, irrelevant and dis-functional.

    • Totally agree with Harry! The ARF does not even have the intellectual capacity to think creatively or come up with a strategy. It is the “Old Boys Club” mindset that cares more about the ARF rather than the Armenian people. ARF is a command and control organization. If they say “jump” you don’t ask why, you just say “how high”. I know because I have been there and thats why I left. Intellectual thinking is seen as the enemy. I did a presentation back in 1986 to a bunch of Homenetmen members on Artificial Intelligence and they mocked me. Look where AI is now! This is just one example of so many that I have encountered. This world congress is just lip service and nothing tangible will come out of it.

  4. I disagree that the ARF initiatives “failed” in Armenia, just because it was part of the coalition governments of Kocharian and Sargsyan. In fact, I see a relative success in attaining 4 percent votes lately, rather than 7 percent votes in previous elections. They ALL show that the ARF is not rooted yet in Armenia; and further, they really “hate” the ARF in Armenia: And this point should be tackled in this General Congress. As for dressing up the ARF for massive failures of previous governments, these are merely denigration tactics of peoples and organizations in Armenia, who as I mentioned “hate” the ARF and whatever it stands for. Whatever the ARF conditions in being part of coalitions were principally met: No land for peace initiatives; Constitutional changes to a Parliamentarian System…And these conditions were ample to satisfy to a 5% attaining Party. Yet, the more they write about previous failures in Armenia; the more they dress up those Armenia failures to the ARF; the more they systematically repeat those lies; the more these lies become the truth for the lay people. The ARF had NOTHING to do with economic failures of Armenia: Unless one listens to LDB, that its Artsakh policies of “no land for peace” has led to Armenia’s isolation, Russian dependency, and the rule of the oligarchs. The ARF; Armenia at large are at the crossroads of two axes: North-South Russian / Iranian; and West-East Western / Turkish / Azeri. And ALL opinions and groups and organizations in Armenia, and the Diaspora, are nothing but revolving around these 2 axes. Bottom line: Armenian Nationalism is threatened everywhere: Be that in Armenia; or the Diaspora (BTW, the Soviet era being over, the ARF is NOT welcome in the West either). And the General Assembly is convened under these circumstances…Good Luck.

  5. Any critical and objective analysis of ARF’s current status and predicament in the political landscape of the third Armenian Republic needs to pay close attention to developments during the past century. During the first Armenian Republic the ARF was both very influential and effectively ran the Armenian government towards the end of that period when the other minor parties that comprised the initial coalition pulled out. During the period of the second Armenian Republic from 1921-1991 the ARF was largely excluded from the political arena and had limited influence albeit for a brief period when it was engaged in the Karabagh issue and conflict. Then there is the period of the third Armenian Republic when the ARF alternated between being a junior political partner of a larger and much more dominant governing political entity and periods in opposition. Whether part of the government or in opposition, the period of 1991 onwards saw the ARF at best exercise marginal influence in the Armenian polictical landscape. For a dominant diaspora entity to have such a marginal and limited role in Armenia also highlights the contemporary political disconnect between the diaspora and the Armenian Republic.
    Finally any attempts to change or revive the ARF and its image and appeal must also address its official name. The word “revolution” being part of a political parties name is no longer conducive to attracting and appealing to the majority segment of today’s population.

  6. Hagop:
    Your thoughts are informative and much appreciated.
    The disconnect between the Republic and diaspora are because there are so many Armenian societies with so many perspectives of practical political behavior.
    Diaspora is a plus and a minus.
    You are certainly correct on the name.
    In yesteryear, revolutionary had meaning as relates to being a captive nation.
    Today, “revolutionary” depicts a pronounced, harsh disruptive attitude against existing institutions. It is a very negative and harmful perception.

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