Beyond “pragmatism,” the obligation to be critical

I wish to thank my friend Stepan Piligian for his June 5, 2024 column, “What is the end point? A call for pragmatism…” By writing such a column, he has afforded me the opportunity to address a number of misconceptions prevalent in Armenian political discourse. These misconceptions sound reasonable superficially, which is why they are used by those supporting the current regime, led by PM Nikol Pashinyan, in attempts to blunt criticisms of his policies. But when one delves deeper, the problematic nature of these positions becomes evident.

 To begin, there is the claim that the Diaspora (if we can even use such a term, implying homogeneity), is “duplicitous” in advocating for Armenia and at the same time being critical of the policies of its government. Is this behavior so extraordinary? In a democracy, everyone has the right to be critical; that criticism does not relinquish the right to advocate for the country. More to the point, those criticisms are part of advocating for what is thought to be in the best interests of the country. Claiming that this behavior is deceitful harkens back to the days of “America, love it or leave it.”

 We are United States citizens of Armenian descent. We advocate for policies that are in the best interests of the United States and Armenia. We do not require anyone to “respect us.” Again, we are fulfilling a fundamental role in a democracy. The United States has blundered in its South Caucasus policy. While this blunder is a minor blemish for the U.S., tragically, it has led to Armenia being placed on life-support.

Greater Washington D.C. community members stand in solidarity with Tavush, May 8, 2024

 While we each individually and organizationally have the ability to formulate the policies we believe to be most beneficial to both the U.S. and Armenia, critics also have the right to challenge those positions. However, it is unacceptable to dismiss criticisms of the policies of the government of Armenia simply based on where we live or the country of our citizenship. Attacking critics of the Pashinyan regime, not based on the merits or failings of their criticisms but rather the right of those people to criticize, is extremely problematic.

It is unacceptable to dismiss criticisms of the policies of the government of Armenia simply based on where we live or the country of our citizenship. Attacking critics of the Pashinyan regime, not based on the merits or failings of their criticisms but rather the right of those people to criticize, is extremely problematic.

First, it generally indicates to me that criticisms of Pashinyan’s policies must have merit, if the only argument against them is to claim that critics don’t have a right to evaluate his policies. Second, we regularly criticize the policies of many countries where we do not live or have citizenship (Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, etc.). So, then, why must we remain muted toward Armenia? Lastly, such argumentation implies that Diasporan Armenians are not impacted by the policies of Armenia. That may be the case with some policies, but when the policies of the Armenian government involve the Genocide with implications for descendants of that heinous crime, then those policies do impact us all, and we have a right to not only disagree but to actively implement policies in our interests, even if they counter the government’s.

 In addition, an independent Armenia does have a direct impact on each of us, even in the Diaspora. Neither Armenia nor the Diaspora can survive without the other. But even if that were not the case, and somehow we were not impacted, that would neither inhibit our ability to openly evaluate the policies of the Armenian government nor diminish our criticisms.

This line of argumentation is extrapolated further to say, if you do not have children of military age in Armenia, then you cannot criticize. It continues until the only one “allowed” to have a position on the policies of Armenia is Pashinyan himself. It is odd to me, though the tactic is not surprising, as in the U.S. we do not relinquish our right to comment on the policies set by the president after an election just because they receive the majority of votes.

Another tactic deployed to disqualify critics is to claim that they are backed by some outside power. Those espousing such views never asked where Pashinyan’s funding came from in 2018 and the years prior to his rise to power. Neither do these supporters comment on Pashinyan’s protests against the elected government at that time. At least the former elected government had the honor to resign instead of responding with force as Pashinyan has done today.

But that really doesn’t matter, as we can never know people’s motivations. All we can do is evaluate their positions based on merit. The question today is whether Pashinyan’s current policies in regards to Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, the U.S., Iran, etc. are to the benefit of Armenia or not. There is a long discussion to be had on this topic, but it is clear from Pashinyan’s policies that it does indeed “take more than protests to govern,” if only his supporters would acknowledge that fact.

George Aghjayan

George Aghjayan

George Aghjayan is the Director of the ARF Archives and a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee of the Eastern United States. Aghjayan graduated with honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Actuarial Mathematics. He achieved Fellowship in the Society of Actuaries in 1996. After a career in both insurance and structured finance, Aghjayan retired in 2014 to concentrate on Armenian related research and projects. His primary area of focus is the demographics and geography of western Armenia as well as a keen interest in the hidden Armenians living there today. Other topics he has written and lectured on include Armenian genealogy and genocide denial. He is a frequent contributor to the Armenian Weekly and Houshamadyan.org, and the creator and curator westernarmenia.weebly.com, a website dedicated to the preservation of Armenian culture in Western Armenia.

3 Comments

  1. The obligation to be critical does not imply obligation to be verbal. I advocate PM Nikol Pachinyan’s policy of crossroad for peace and diversification of Armenia’ foreign policy initiatives, but all I read is verbalizing against the PM’s policies but no criticism, as to what would have been the better course of action for the PM to take on behalf of the Republic of Armenia and why.

    • It interesting to see how some people believe they are/ ready to become Antranig Dzarugyan, Vahan Totovents, or Vazken Shoushanyan, when they are, in reality, a cheaper Alibaba (made in China) version of Gerard Libaridyan, Nazareth Berberyan, or Hovhannes Kajaznuni.

  2. YES, THERE IS DICHOTOMY, IF NOT DUPLICITY IN THE ARMENIAN DIASPORA MINDSET
    The population of the U.S. is around 335 million. The population of Armenia is around 2.8 million. Consequently, Armenian population is around 1/120 the population of the U.S. In U.S., in 2023, 1353 persons were killed by the police. In 2024 that number thus far is 514 killed. In terms of the Armenian citizens killed by the police, the number in Armenia would have been 11 persons in 2023 and 4 in 2024. No Armenian citizen was killed by the Armenian police in 2023 and none thus far. For all those who cry foul about the brutality of the police in Armenia, have no argument to substantiate their allegation, even considering that that police in Armenia is harassed in ways that the American citizens woold not, and especially the Armenian American would not.

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