All-Armenia Tour ’09!!!

October 6, 2009 at 12:14 am (Armenian-Turkish relations, Diaspora-homeland relations, media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , , )

I like the idea of an pan-Armenia tour. I would like to do one someday – hit up Manchester, Buenos Aires, Cairo…

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan is wrapping up his week-long all-Armenia tour in Rostov-on-Don/Rostov-na-Donu after stops in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Beirut. His purpose: to rep the protocols to the protocol-bashers, namely, diasporans around the world.

You might have heard about his reception. In Paris, protesters scuffled with the police. In NYC, young activists fought to have their voices heard. In Los Angeles, thousands picketed Sargsyan, shouting votch! (no!) outside of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

dont betray UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles.  Credit: StopTheProtocols.com

"don't betray" UHaul parked across from the Armenian consulate in Los Angeles. Credit: StopTheProtocols.com

The protests were not limited to Sargsyan’s tour, either – protests have sprung up in Montreal, Toronto, and Argentina. Glendale and Los Angeles – if we can separate the two – have been particularly active both before and after Sargsyan’s visit.

Like good activists, diasporan organizers have done an excellent job gathering protesters and publicizing their events. Conflicts between picketers and riot police – caught on camera and video – nicely convey the passion these diasporans feel about the protocols. To the media, it sure looks like the diaspora is unified in their opposition Indeed – as discussed previously – the diasporan political parties are mostly united – and more groups join in every day – the Zoryan Institute, AGBU, various schools and churches. The combination of self-promotion paired with the sudden burst of diasporan activism ensures that the protests will make the news.

This worries me. While I do no oppose the protocols, I do not fully support them either. You are not going to find me on a street corner with a witty poster because I am not a blind nationalist – of the Republic or of the nation. I see benefits and dangers in the protocols, but I am willing to let them play out. They will not fix everything – and they will not ruin everything. However, I am not inspired by Armenian youths in California forming a human chain to prevent Sargsyan from visiting their local genocide memorial. In fact, I see some really detrimental behavior shaping up in the form of these protests:

1. Like with section 907 of the Freedom of Support Act – the diaspora is once again actively interfering with Armenia’s foreign policy. The opposition claims that Armenia is not on equal negotiating grounds with Turkey – but have they considered their role in tipping the power scales against Armenia?

2. Diasporan media outlets are owned by diasporan political parties and those parties are part of the anti-protocol coalition. They promote and report on the opposition – and that becomes the de facto truth. Like I said, I am not out there repping my ambivalence towards the protocols – and that wouldn’t be nearly as sexy as straight-up opposition anyways. When there is only one voice speaking for the diaspora – that will become the only voice.

NYC protest  Credit: Asbarez

NYC protest Credit: Asbarez

3. Diasporan youth are being indoctrinated into an Armenian identity that is primarily based on the Armenian cause. This is not new. However, the urgency of the situation is new. Youths tend to take these revolutionary things pretty seriously, and hatred will form. Hatred without proper means of reconciliation gets desperate, and that leads to extremism.

My inner pessimist is already anticipating the day when the protocols will fail and a roar of victory will rise up from the diaspora: “we did it! now we can get back to advocating for Turkey’s admission of the genocide.” I love the activism, I love the passion – I just think it is misguided. If the diaspora’s goal is to achieve recognition for the genocide from Turkey (I will leave NK out of this for now) the diaspora needs to start becoming the change they want to see. It isn’t going to happen by force, guilt, or political pressure – it will happen through knowledge and understanding.

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4 Comments

  1. vartan said,

    Wow I agree with you completely in every sense. I have no more to say, good job.

  2. Aram Suren Hamparian said,

    Katie,

    Just saw your note on FB and read your blog.

    Before offering a few points and then posing a question, I wanted to say how much I appreciate your coming to visit the ANCA. I always like welcoming new folks to DC and to offering any help we can provide, and really enjoyed your visit and our discussion. I did not, get the sense at all that you viewed your hosts (or our friends) as “protocol-bashers.”

    Here are my three points, and my question:

    — The charge that organizers did an “excellent job gathering protesters” implies that those in attendance where not there as a reflection of their values, but rather that they were somehow herded there as sheep. That comes across, I hope unintentionally, as condescending.

    — The phrase “blind nationalist” is also insulting. While there are certainly unthinking adherents in any movement, it is patently unfair to paint a broad cross-section of our common community with such a broad and bitter brush.

    — The point about indoctrination is, again, dismissive of all those who share a common commitment to justice. I could, I guess, choose to dismiss your point of view as a result of the “indoctrination” you have received at home, in school, from peers, etc., but that would be unfair. You deserve better than that, and so do other Armenians.

    My question is this: Can you please explain how, in your view, Section 907, a provision of law governing the allocation of US foreign aid, represents interference in Armenia’s foreign policy. I have been involved in every aspect of this law, from the time of its first drafting, and am truly curious to learn of your facts and analysis behind this assertion.

    Aram

  3. Sean / Chant said,

    The bullet points in the above comment seem to miss the forest for some small trees, and let sensitivity get in the way of an engagement with the blog post.

  4. pomexpress said,

    Aram –

    I, too, enjoyed visiting the ANCA office and meeting you and your staff. While I do not agree with all of ANCA’s calls to action – I respect how your organization lobbies on behalf of Armenian-Americans. As we discussed – the relationship between ANCA’s priorities and the diaspora’s interests is a close one.

    I would like to address the concerns you raised about my post.

    First – I am honestly impressed by the outpouring of activism. To pull off a successful protest (never mind a dozen or more over four continents) – organizers have to be very well organized with a clear and captivating message – but they also have to get people out onto the streets. I was not being sarcastic or condescending – they are doing a great job.

    As for “blind nationalist” – you caught me using incendiary language. Of course it is not fair to sum up the anti-protocol folks as blind nationalists – just like it is not fair to sum up the pro-protocol folks asSargsyan yes-men or lap-dogs. Any opposition coalition unities diverse interest groups through mutual opposition. The anti-protocols movement is no exception. My point was that it would be so much easier to be a blind nationalist – because then I could be pro or anti protocols and say “screw it” to all of the complex issues that the protocols bring up. Alas, blind nationalist I am not.

    A common commitment to justice sounds like the best indoctrination possible. However, I am talking about the anti-Turkish indoctrination our youth are also receiving at the protests. Chants of “Turkey must pay” and posters that visually equate Turkey’s crescent with a swastika do not only inspire justice – they also promote hatred.

    As for section 907 – I am basing my analysis on Gerard Libaridian’s Modern Armenia, published in 2004 and a collection of essays, Diasporas in Conflict, edited by Hazel Smith and Paul B. Stares, published in 2007. Section 907 was a major victory for diasporan lobbying groups because it sent money to Armenia during its post-independence period while blocking funding to Azerbaijan. I was under the impression that the Armenian Assembly of America was the primary player in getting section 907 into the Freedom of Support act – but perhaps I am wrong on this. 907 became one of many Turkish preconditions that hampered LevonTer-Petrossian’s Armenian-Turkish rapprochement efforts in the 1990s. 907 also became yet another barrier to resolving the NK war. In what has become a common refrain – Turkey wanted Armenia to “call off” its disapora on this issue. According to Libaridian, who was a member of LTP’s government at the time, the Armenian government did indeed reach out to the diaspora and asked them to lobby for the removal of 907, that removal might promote Arm-Turk rapprochement andNK peace. Libaridian states that not a single diasporan group could be convinced to organize for the removal of section 907, thus influencing Armenian foreign policy. I don’t believe that the 907 is completely responsible for preventing rapprochement/NK peace – but it was one of many reasons why we are still dealing with these issues today. I have no doubt that you, as one of the policy’s authors, see 907 in a completely different light.

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