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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.