BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Last weekend was quite outdoorsy for me, but with strong political flair.
Friday started out with a hike to scout a route from Burbank to Griffith Park (in Los Angeles) for a future outing with one of Burbank’s city council members. Then, it was off to REI to check out their clearance sale for hiking and related gear and to buy the infamous Adventure Pass, which is now required in the four LA area national forests (Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres, and San Bernardino). Isn’t it great? We get to pay to park, even just on the side of the road, on our own property. I understand various versions of this exist throughout the U.S. now. After sneaking in the week’s grocery shopping, it was off to Montebello and the Rio Hondo to scout another hike for a city council member in that city. After that it was off to a new (for me) map store in Pasadena, since Geographia in Burbank closed down almost a year ago. I had to get maps for the Woodson Peak area in San Diego County.
I was going to San Diego for the California Democratic Party’s (CDP) convention, where the California Armenian American Democrats (CAAD) was expected to receive its final approval as a chartered organization within the party, the first one in half a century! Of course traveling 125 or so miles without getting in a hike would not do, so I planned the Woodson hike with a friend who lived nearby. Unfortunately, pneumonia got his daughter, and he had to care for her and ditched the hike. I recommend doing this hill.
Saturday was very cool and pleasant (though the views, reportedly quite impressive, were largely compromised by the clouds) and the hike up Woodson fairly challenging at a good pace. It has “potato chip rock” (also called the “diving board) near the peak—a strangely shaped rock with a long protruding ledge that people stand on to have “hero” pictures taken of themselves in all kinds of comical poses. The actual summit is a huge boulder that must be climbed, but the first step is not easily accomplished. People had a two-by-four propped against it as an aid. Unfortunately, my weight would probably have snapped it. Luckily, another hiker arrived at the same time. We chatted, realized we were both in San Diego for the convention, then he recognized me! We’d hiked Mt. Baldy a dozen years ago. A boost from him enabled me to summit.
Then it was back to the car and my friend’s house. Lunch was dispatched (from a Greek place called Pegasus—really liked the name) and as I was about to leave, his wife arrived. The “perils of politeness” kicked in, I ate some more, and proceeded to be late to the CAAD meeting. Luckily, I made it in time for two important items.
First, elections were being held. This was very important since much negotiating (bickering?) led up to a unified slate of candidates. Unfortunately, the group of people who jumped first and worked on creating CAAD (after many people had discussed and advocated it over the last few years) seemed very hesitant to be broadly inclusive. This was a manifestation, partly, of some of the divisions we have in our community, so it came as no surprise. We can, and did, work things out. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only factor at play in the proto-organizational squabbles. Unfortunately, some elected officials and others within the party seem to want to have CAAD replace the Armenian community’s existing advocacy/political organizations. Only cads would take such an approach to CAAD. These inclinations, largely unspoken, contributed to the difficulties I referred to above. Hopefully, everyone involved in CAAD will act in a way that is beneficial to both the Armenian community and the Democratic Party, not just one at the expense of the other. Similarly, I hope CAAD’s creation will lead to the inception of an equivalent organization within the Republican Party, and even the minor parties, too.
The bombshell at the CAAD meeting, for me anyway, was no part of the above. Rather, when it was announced the Cenk Uygur was going to be the featured speaker at the CDP Progressive Caucus’ meeting, a yelped in shock and incredulity. In case you don’t know, Uygur (whose first name means war) is host of the now-online talk show “The Young Turks”, and an Armenian genocide denier. I’d written, almost six years ago, about a similar incident when he and his co-hosts were to moderate a panel of Democratic Party candidates leading up to that year’s primaries. Our community’s pressure back then led him to pull out. And, here we were again, faced with a very similar situation.
The ANCA got wind of this about a week before the convention and got to work, publicly and privately, to prevent Mr. War from being given this platform. CAAD also got to work within the party, resulting in a last minute Saturday powwow (6:00pm, with the program scheduled to start at 8:00pm). Unfortunately, denier Cenk Uygur ended up speaking that night. That led to the Armenian activists carrying out the backup plan of distributing leaflets exposing Uygur’s denialism to those attending the program.
However, some good may have come of this mess. The Progressive Caucus’ chair, in her introductory remarks, reaffirmed the group’s agreement with the CDP’s affirmative position on Armenian Genocide recognition. She also said the caucus would cooperate with CAAD to put on an educational program about the Genocide sometime early this summer (part of this she said to me in conversation after the program was over). Her sense is that Uygur is a “changed man”, though that was not in evidence when he spoke.
The program consisted of reports by members of the progressives’ executive committee members, followed by Democratic candidate for Congress in California’s second district, Norman Solomon. Solomon vigorously affirmed the necessity of Armenian Genocide recognition, but corrected one point, that it wasn’t the first genocide of the 20th century, rather, that “honor” went to the massacre of Congolese by Belgians in the years straddling the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. He invited Uygur to clear up the matter. When the latter finally spoke, he referred to the matter of the Armenian Genocide, and even the offensive name of his show, as something that needed to be addressed. When I asked a question, requesting he simply recognize the Genocide, he again demurred and evaded, arguing that night was not the forum for it, and the topic was different. He clearly implied he would address the matter. Consequently, throughout the program, the Armenian contingent stood, in silent protest, with backs turned to the podium.
Afterward, Uygur was quickly whisked out by “security” folks. These people were absent from the other events held at the San Diego Bayfront Hilton Hotel (though there was evidently heightened security at the Convention Center, supposedly because the “Occupy” movement had said it would take action at the CDP convention). The implication, of course, is that Armenians were a threat to this denier. It reminds me of when previous U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Yovanovitch spoke at the Ferrahian School and had security types present, whereas they were absent at other events in her Armenian community tour. Talk about adding insult to injury.
After all this, it was a late night/early morning drive back to Burbank, to catch some sleep and mountain bike up the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. This was fairly challenging, though luckily the weather was cool, and much of the ride was spent ensconced in clouds. The effort and environment were sorely needed balm for the nerves generated by the lack of cooperation on display the night before.
Despite all this, I think we may actually have an opportunity here. First, there’s a woman named Ana Kasparian who is a cost and producer on The Young Turks. She’s been there for as long as I’ve been aware of the show. This is either a problem or long delayed opportunity. For what Armenian would openly work with a Genocide denier for years and tolerate such an offensive program name? Yet, she is there and may be of some use if she’s not an Uncle Tom. Second, we have Cenk Uygur’s own public remarks from that Saturday February 11 panel. He spoke to the need for addressing the Armenian community’s concerns both about his position on the Genocide and the name of his show. Third, we have some momentum from the very public nature of the interactions, discussions, and meetings that occurred over Uygur’s speaking that night. This enables all concerned to follow up, and quickly, taking advantage of the pressure.
The ANCA should get on this immediately, marshalling all interested forces to clear the air of Cenk Uygur’s denialism, one way or the other, coupled with the changing of the program’s name. You can start writing to the program, just go to the website, www.theyoungturks.com, and write your dissatisfaction.