George C. Parker, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Madrid Principles

The story of legendary 20th century con man George C. Parker – who went to jail for repeatedly “selling” the Brooklyn Bridge – can tell us a lot about modern-day attempts to convince Armenians to buy the reckless Madrid Principles.

In his day, George C. Parker – an enterprising early 20th century New York City con man – taught the gullible some pretty painful lessons.

Parker was famous for repeatedly “selling” the Brooklyn Bridge to unsuspecting immigrants who – enticed by the prospect of owning a national landmark – handed over their hard-earned cash for a worthless piece of paper. He made his money banking on the great American showman P.T. Barnum’s dictum: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

For some historical perspective, a New York Times article from 2005 noted, “The Brooklyn Bridge had several attributes that made it particularly well suited for this sort of endeavor [being sold by con men]. Its proximity to the port made it highly visible to newcomers who might be likely marks and its size provided opportunities to show it off while avoiding the law. But perhaps most critical was its considerable fame.”

Parker eventually came to the attention of the law, was found guilty multiple times, and lived out his last years as a convict in Sing Sing – a prison on the banks of the Hudson River, just north of New York.

It is because of Parker’s fame for repeatedly “selling” the Brooklyn Bridge to unwitting buyers that we have today the memorable American phrase: “And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.” This term is basically the textbook definition of the adjective gullible: “one who is easily duped or cheated.”

Today, looking back, it seems unreal that anyone would be gullible enough to “buy” the Brooklyn Bridge.  But as Luc Sante, author of the book “Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York” wrote, “The oddity of the thing today is not that there might have been con artists ready to sell the bridge, but that there would have been suckers both gullible enough and sufficiently well-heeled to fall for it.”

But such cons are not just from some other time, or tricks only played on someone else.

We don’t need to look any further than ongoing attempts to con Armenians out of Artsakh – to take from us what has always been ours, ancient Armenian land defended with blood and guarded today by brave soldiers – often at the cost of their lives.

Today we see the spirit of George C. Parker in the US Department of State’s attempts to “prepare” Armenians for peace by getting us to buy in to the reckless Madrid Principles – a dangerous set of proposals that demand upfront and irrevocable strategic concessions of territory and security from Artsakh, in return for vague and easily reversible paper promises from the war-mongering Aliyev regime.

The set-up starts with gas-lighting Armenians into believing that any other solution is simply impossible. That the movement toward democratic self-determination that drove the number of United Nations member states from less than 50 at its founding in 1948 to more than 190 members today can never apply to Artsakh.

To convince us that a patently pro-Baku deal – one that grants land to Azerbaijan and takes security from Artsakh – is actually good for Armenians, the State Department needs to keep Artsakh out of the equation. This is why the actual people who would bear the real-world risks of a deal are blocked from any formal role in decision-making regarding their own destiny. It’s no good to have doubters around when the mark is being set up. That’s also why the State Department actively discourages members of Congress from visiting Artsakh, using public and private levers to keep a co-equal legislative branch of government in the dark as unelected bureaucrats push their plans behind closed doors.

Finally, cut off any outside help to make the mark feel vulnerable. This would explain why the State Department has launched a major attack on a modest $1.5 million dollar a year humanitarian de-mining program in Artsakh, even as the Pentagon pours over $100 million in military aid into the Azerbaijani armed forces. They want Artsakh isolated and alone.

That’s the set-up.

It’s a swindle – start to finish.

A classic bait and switch.

The end game of the State Department’s “long con” is the Armenian nation watching – a worthless piece of paper in hand – as Azerbaijani troops and heavy arms move into territory and fortifications recently ceded by the Artsakh military. High ground from which they will set their sights on Zangezur.

That’s the type of influence that the corrupt, oil-rich Azerbaijani dictatorship of Ilham Aliyev and his wife Merhaba have in Washington, DC. But – thankfully – they don’t have any power over us.

Their con only works if we let it.

If we abandon Artsakh.

Forget our history.

Betray our future.

But we will not.

We will stand with Artsakh, always – as Americans, heirs to our own independence struggle – foursquare behind a peaceful, durable and democratic, self-determination based resolution of status and security issues between Artsakh and Azerbaijan.

That’s why the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) rejects the George C. Parker plan for Artsakh, and why we remain opposed to any recklessly asymmetrical Madrid-style deal that front-loads strategic risks on democratic Artsakh and lavishes generous territorial rewards on oil-rich Azerbaijan.

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Raffi Hamparian

Raffi Hamparian is the Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America. Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey, Hamparian is a graduate of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, where he also earned a Masters Degree in International Relations. Raffi has worked for a number of members of Congress, most recently as the chief foreign affairs aide for former New Jersey Congressman Steven R. Rothman. He currently serves as the Director of Federal Affairs for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

7 Comments

  1. The points in this article are valid, but they are one-sided. You forgot the other side of the equation. Armenians have been getting duped out of our lands for the past century, this is nothing new. And for me the real blame is with what is inside of Armenia, not outside of it. Armenia is not a serious country. The so-called “leadership” are self-serving and foreign-serving and incompetent, not nation-serving. On one side we have the minions of the west, as this article alludes to. However, the other side is actually more serious and a bigger threat which this articles refrains from mentioning: “Mother” Russia. And that Mother is the real culprit as to why Armenia is in an unrealistic position of checkered lands in the region. It wasn’t the USA that gave away Artsakh, Nakhichevan and Kars and Ardahan to Pan-Turkists. It was “Armenia’s best friend and ally”. The Russia minions that come here making excuses for “Mother” Russia claim that it wasn’t “Russians” responsible for that, but “Judeo-Bolsheviks”. If true, that actually makes it worse for Russia, not better, as today’s “Russian” Russia has absolutely no interest in correcting these past crimes against the Armenian nation.

    In the 2016 war which Russia was definitely aware of, not only did Russia not side with Armenia as a so-called “ally”, but by barking the rhetoric of “both sides need to stop” as Azerbaijan launched an invasion means that Russia was actually on the side of Armenia’s enemy. A real ally would have campaigned that such an illegal violation of the ceasefire would cost the aggressor party in the negotiations process. Instead Russia doubled down by sending its chief Apparatchik to bark further by hinting at handing over territories to Azerbaijan. And who’s in power has nothing to do with it, the 2016 war was at a time when the Armenian government was very-pro Russia. Ultimately, the “leadership” of 2016 showed its incompetence and lack of fortitude of how to properly react to a terrorist nation which killed 100 of its innocent people and took some territories. There is no Armenian leader, past or present, who has ever had the guts to properly address Azerbaijan either by press of on the battlefield. That’s why these incompetent weaklings are not taken seriously by anyone, including Armenians.

    • Nope.

      Azerbaijan=The Spoilt child of Russia.

      Turkey=The Spoilt child of NATO *and* Russia.

      And BTW, Armenia=The Step child of Russia.

      The Step Child which keeps on giving in order to “exist”, and in constant hope that Mother (of Pan-Turkism) Russia can only utter just one little tiny bit of “approval”, which is all they need in order to keep the obedient subservience going with getting noting in return. And if Mother (of Pan-Turkism) Russia happens to throw Armenia a bone as a bonus on a good day, all the better! And please, let us ignore that “table of plenty” which Turkey, Azerbaijan and Mother (of Pan-Turkism) Russia are seated at enjoying their steak… for 100 years and counting.

  2. I am grateful to Mr. Hamparian for supporting his criticism of the deal by reference to broader principles, namely because the deal offends self-determination and is internally contradictory. As I understand it, his criticism is that the deal pretends to respect self-determination but will inevitably lead to a situation where self-determination can easily be eliminated by Azerbaijan. These are the types of criticisms that neutral observers can understand.

    I’ve attended numerous Armenian events on Capitol Hill and elsewhere concerning Artsakh, and I can’t help but be disappointed at how parochial they are. Politicians give speeches whose message boils down to, “Outcome [x] is a good outcome because it is good for Armenians,” or “We oppose policy [y] because policy [y] is not good for Armenians.” Substitute “Sri Lankans,” “Botswanans,” “Pakistanis,” or anyone else for “Armenians” and we would roll our eyes. We would say it is “ethnic lobbying” or “identity politics.” Well, that is exactly how non-Armenian observers react when they hear speeches like that. In my view, ANCA’s lobbying message should discuss why something is good for Armenians, but it shouldn’t end there. It should also try to connect the preferred outcome to broader, universal principles.

  3. Would like to echo what Bob is saying but point out that this approach can be extended to most Armenian issues.

    But the main reason I’m commenting is that after reading this article I wanted to do more reading about Artsakh since I don’t know much about it. I started at the Wikipedia page for Artsakh. This page seems mainly written by someone for whom English is a second language. It;s hard to understand what the writer is saying sometimes. It makes for laborious reading too. If we want folks to better understand Artsakh it warrants fixing.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Artsakh
    I’d like to challenge someone with a good grasp of Artsakh history and good editing skills to go to the page and edit.

  4. The excellent op-ed of Mr. Hamparian reminds me, sort of, of the “Bedouin and the Camel” tale. When the Bedouin saw desert storm heading his way, he set up his small tent and hid in it, to wait out the storm. A little while later, the camel begged the Bedouin to let in its head because it was cold outside. The Bedouin allowed the camel to stick its head into the tent. A little while later, the camel asked if it could put its neck in the tent. Eventually, inch by inch, the camel entered the tent. As a result the flimsy abode collapsed. The storm blew over them and both died. Now the Azeris, the U.S. State Department, and several European “yes men” states want us to give the Azeris some of the territories we took as a result of Azeri attack. Nexxt, of course, they will demand the rest of the territories… and then Artsakh, leaving Armenia vulnerable to the Azeris –the same people who say Armenia is West Azerbaijan. But they wouldn’t need to invade Armenia because every sensible Armenian would have fled if Artsakh is handed to the Turkbeijan. But this, of course, of no consequence to the U.S. State Department bureaucrats. The U.S. is already guilty of the Original Sin of not supporting the return of the Western Armenia villayets to Armenia. The U.S. also prevented the return of Kars and Ardahan to Armenia immediately after WWII. And now the American “deep thinkers” think they can bamboozle us–a nation which has had millennia-long experience with their ilk.

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