Stop the Peace, I mean, Protocols

September 21, 2009 at 3:22 pm (Armenian-Turkish relations, Diaspora-homeland relations) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Diasporan dissent is hitting the streets with a new campaign called Stop the Protocols.  This coalition of Armenian youth groups and diasporan organizations opposes protocols between the Armenian and Turkish governments that would establish diplomatic relations between the countries and open their shared border.  According to the Stop the Protocols website:

These protocols, if accepted by Armenia, will result in the surrendering of the Armenian Cause*, the end for Karabakh’s independence, and the nullification of the Armenian people’s legal rights to historic Armenia.

[*The Armenian Cause, once broadly understood as all efforts towards maintaining Armenian-ness in dispersion (language, food, music, religion) is now commonly used to describe the campaign for genocide recognition and all related activities.]

Rally poster, Photo in poster credit: armenianamerica.wordpress.com

These protocols, understandably, trigger many of the passions and fears of the diaspora.  However, what is surprising to me is how unified the diaspora is when it comes to condemning the protocols.    All three political parties active in the diaspora (and yes, the Armenian diaspora has had full fledged political parties for 90+ years) are supporting a “Stop The Protocols” rally in California on September 27th.  That’s the Dashnaks, Hnchaks, and Ramgavars.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised by this.  These three groups have unified in the past for genocide recognition campaigns.  Furthermore, the likelihood that the protocols will translate into action is high, so opposition to them might seem like these parties’ last hope to represent their diasporan constituents before the protocols push them and their goals into oblivion.  The Stop the Protocols coalition also includes the ARF Shant Student Association, Unified Young Armenians, Armenian Youth Federation, Woodbury University Armenian Students Association, and the UCLA Armenian Students Association.

While I understand their drive, I disagree with their position.  The diaspora is comfortable speaking on behalf of the Armenian nation; however, the diaspora has the economic and social stability to be idealistic.  The diaspora and its political parties can afford (financially and ideologically) to be stridently nationalistic, seek reparations, demand autonomy for NK, and make genocide recognition the focus of their political activism.  It is really easy to be an armchair nationalist, write some checks, and rant about Obama dodging the g-word.  It is much harder to make a living in the Ararat valley and worry about your son’s mandatory military service and whether or not he will be sent to NK.    Of course the Armenians of Armenia are concerned about NK, genocide recognition, and mets hayk – but they are also the ones who have the deal with the day-to-day reality of two closed borders, a smoldering war, and missed opportunities for trade, tourism, and pipelines.  So when diasporan groups speak on behalf of the Armenian nation, it comes across as selfish and self-indulgent.

I also disagree with the doomsday effect the Stop the Protocols campaign is forecasting if the protocols are signed.  The end of the Armenian cause is impossible.  I think this fear is based on Turkey’s ongoing genocide denial and the potential for the genocide to be used as a bartering chip in negotiations, from the state-to-state rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey to regional relationships – like Turkey’s accession to the EU.   While I agree that it might be harder to get Turkey to recognize the genocide after Armenia and Turkey establish relations, truth be told, getting Turkey to recognize the genocide hasn’t been going so well for the past century.  Blaming the death of the Armenian cause on the protocols sounds defeatist to me.

credit: Tufenkian Foundation

credit: Tufenkian Foundation

Blaming the protocols for ending NK’s independence is also uncalled for.  First of all, NK’s independence is kind of weak – not even Armenia recognizes NK as an independent nation.  Furthermore, Turkey has long had a hand in the peace process and continues to have an interest – protocols or not.  After a 15-year ceasefire, it is time for the NK conflict to be resolved, and not everyone is going to be happy about it.  The diaspora is attached to the NK conflict because of how it resonates with 1915; however it is not true nor fair to equate Nagorno Karabakh to eastern Anatolia.

And finally – the Stop the Protocols campaign is also opposed to the protocols because they would nullify the “legal rights” of Armenians to historic Armenia.  When it comes to territory, the diaspora has always been on its own:  not a single Armenian president has ever made claims on Eastern Anatolia, including the current one.  However, several cases out of California have made inroads into reclaiming financial assets.  I think this is more realistic.

credit: stoptheprotocols.com

credit: stoptheprotocols.com

What the campaign boils down to is a conflict between the Republic of Armenia and its diaspora over who best represents the Armenian nation.  Traditional, nationalism is the domain of nation states; however, the Armenian diaspora has its own nationalism complete with political parties and political agendas.  More and more, the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan is excluding the diasporan perspective from Armenia’s national and foreign policies.  As the Stop the Protocols campaign demonstrates, the diaspora is ready and willing to strike back.

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8 Comments

  1. Paul said,

    Nice post! I actually wrote one with very similar positions this morning (it was done in a rush so forgive any mistakes, haven’t proofed or added pictures yet). One thing you left out is that the Armenian Assembly is a major diasporan group who does not oppose the protocols, but yes you are basically right that it is surprising all the political parties are on board. As an east coast Armenian, I am used to the Tashnag-Ramgavar divide which rended the communities back in the 1930s and has yet to wear off, so it is strange to see them all on board. Ramgavar-Assembly are not connected, but they are at least tacitly so since Tashnag-ANCA are so connected, Ramgavars gravitate to the Assembly. The Armenian Diocese also came out in favor of the protocols along with AGBU, so there are big forces (in name at least) who are behind the protocols, but I think the political parties are the ones who have the best infrastructure and sense of allegiance amongst their members so that does count for a lot. Glad to see I’m not the only Armenian blogger who thinks the protocols are not a terrible thing, and basically at worst a necessary evil, since what I’ve failed to hear from all of the Stop the Protocols people is an answer to what SHOULD be done instead. They have no real substantive plan (which is viable at least, reclaiming western Armenia isn’t what I call a viable plan), just an opposition to one.

    • pomexpress said,

      Thanks, Paul.

      I think of the AGBU as a benevolent grandfather – supportive of Armenians everywhere, but kind of out of the loop when it comes to politics. I like the AGBU just the way it is – in fact – it is one of the few organizations out there that does not champion genocide recognition above all other aspects of their programming.

      I am finding it harder and harder to differentiate between the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA). Despite differences in their mission statements and diverse objectives, both organizations spend an inordinate amount of time an energy advocating for genocide recognition. Ok, AAA supports the protocols – but their statement of support reflects the same fears that the ANCA put forth, albeit much more boldly: NK and the “Armenian Cause”/genocide recognition. [Reclaiming historic Armenia was always more of a Dashnak nationalist thing, anyways – making it all the more strange to see the Hnchaks and Ramgavars on board with the in the Stop the Protocols campaign.]

      Amen to having the “Stop the Protocols” people come up with some solutions of their own. With all of the youth groups and student activists involved – they really have enough creative potential to come up with more than just cleverly worded signs. I would like to see the older folk – the political parties – inspire these youth to come up with the solutions that have eluded them to date.

  2. Aram Hamparian said,

    Katherine,

    I came across your site today, saw that you noted you are DC-based, and wanted to extend an invitation to you to visit the ANCA, near Dupont Circle – 1711 N Street.

    I know that our whole team would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, etc.

    If you would like, send us an email at anca@anca.org or call (202) 775-1918 and ask for Aram.

    Best regards,

    Warmest regards,

    Aram

    • pomexpress said,

      Hi Aram –

      I would love to visit the ANCA office. I will email you privately about setting up an appointment.

  3. tzitzernak said,

    Thanks for the post! Well said (even if I don’t agree with some of it )..
    “So when diasporan groups speak on behalf of the Armenian nation, it comes across as selfish and self-indulgent. ” – Definitely agreed.
    Among other points though, I’m not sure though that I’d agree that the Diaspora is attached to NK because it is for them an echo of 1915. I might, though, if more than 50% of those Diasporans involved could discuss parallels/similarities, such as the pogroms of Sumgait – few can, is my guess. Depends also on which Diaspora we’re talking about – I believe that in many cases there is a divide between those Armenians who starting to immigrate to the US in the 1990’s and later, and those Armenians who have been here for a while – despite what nationalistic ideals would lead us to think.
    But that leads back to your point, those outside live and function in a completely different context than those inside Armenia.

    What I think these organizations could do, along with the youth who are active under their wings, is to look at the current situation. Not to harp on what some unfortunately consider old news, the present government is an oppressive, violent regime. Any deal they make is going to be marred by that – they will be forced to make concessions to maintain power – this is a fundamental problem with the deals being made today. Maybe we can’t get what we want, and maybe we are all divided on what we want, inside and outside of Armenia, but if the entity making the decisions does not even represent the people of Armenia, not to mention the Diaspora, then what right do they have to make them?
    So what SHOULD be done (as Paul asks)? They should support those in Armenia who would like to have basic democracy and human rights. When a government comes into place that did not shoot and beat its way in, then we can fight amongst ourselves about protocols and negotiations, and compromises.
    But neither the AAA nor the ANCA supported or support such activities. Let’s ask ourselves why…. and let’s be honest…

  4. pomexpress said,

    Oh my – the Armenians are sooo many diasporas all in one! The post 1990s diaspora is huge and deserves much more scholarship.

    I would have to say that equating NK to the genocide mainly pertains to the old US diaspora – the pre and post 1915 wave that has raised a few generations in dispersion. This is the diaspora I know best – the one I was raised in – and the one I’ve researched the most. There was certainly an upsurge in aid and interest for Armenia proper in the late 1980s – due to the war, earthquake, and evaporating Soviet hold. And the parallels I was referring to are a lot more rudimentary than Sumgait. Basically the image of a Turkic people encroaching on Armenian land went straight to the hearts and wallets of the US diaspora. NK was a “never again” moment in the making – but this time the diaspora influenced the situation with their dollars and advocacy.

    I agree with you on how the character of Armenia’s government will affect any and all diplomacy and I also like your focus on advocating for good governance and basic human rights. I also agree with the “Stop the Protocols” people in that Armenia and Turkey are not exactly equal partners on the diplomatic playing field. HOWEVER, should Armenia reject diplomacy until its human rights situation is resolved and/or Turkey recognizes the genocide? I don’t think holding out will improve either plight.

    I would be interested to hear more about why you think the AAA and ANCA do not have more of a human rights focus in their programming.

  5. tzitzernak said,

    The NK issue was turned into, for some, one of the never again moments. Interestingly enough, the leadership of one of the most vocal Diasporan groups, the ARF, was not supportive of independence in 1991. And, at least until 1994, by which time the vast majority of the fighting was already over, with everything said and done, only a handful of Diasporan Armenians actually fought in the war. While some of the money collected was used for the war effort, much was swallowed up in bureaucracy, and some people’s pockets. In fact, some of the biggest donors remain anonymous, as far as I know, to this day.
    In the end, Diasporan Organizations, at least in my opinion, did only a fraction of what was possible. And the ARF, with all of the talk now of not giving a square inch back, and saving Javakhk, were unable to support the growth of Armenian communities in the liberated/occupied territories, despite having promised individuals that they would be supported if they moved to those lands.
    In response to your question, I don’t object directly to the diplomacy – what I object to is that the diplomacy with Turkey is being carried out by an individual who is compromised, and who thus is being forced to make compromises that a more supported president would not have to.
    AAA, ANCA and Human Rights? If they had a true focus on human rights, then their original statement back in March 2008, or any statement since then, would have condemned the use of force on civilians, would have spoken out about the hundreds of beatings and imprisonments (not to mention the fact that some of the political prisoners were veterans of the NK war). The ARF even joined the coalition. If human rights were a priority for these groups, they would have riled up their Diasporan youth and other followers over 18 months ago, when freedom of speech, press and congregation were annihilated in Armenia. But they didn’t. Most US Armenians don’t know what is going on in Armenia beyond anything related to the Genocide. Because it is not a priority for the AAA or the ANCA, it is not on their agenda.

  6. All-Armenia Tour ‘09!!! « Pomegranate Express said,

    […] Indeed – as discussed previously – the diasporan political parties are mostly united – and more groups join in every day – the Zoryan Instititue, AGBU, various schools and […]

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