BY SKEPTIK SINIKIAN
I know that amidst all the absurd news or non-news that is circulating within the Armenian community–there haven’t been many people who have ventured outside the confines of our intellectual Armenian ghetto to see what’s going on in the outside world. How CAN someone even if they wanted to? Who cares about the war in Iraq when over 180,000 Armenia’s in Armenia are trying to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for performing the world’s longest line-dance. That’s right–a line dance. Last week–hundreds of thousands of Armenia’s stood in line in Armenia and for once–it wasn’t outside the US embassy to apply for visas to leave the country. Instead–they attempted to dance in a line and set a world record. What is even more amazing is that over 100,000 Armenia’s actually coordinated and organized a synchronized event–a first for our community! The last time this many Armenia’s were seen in any type of coordinated activity–was in Las Vegas when over 1000 Armenia’s (unbeknownst to one another) were all playing black jack on April 24. The runner up was the other similar sized group of Armenia’s who were actually commemorating the Genocide in Montebello. Do I sound bitter or cynical? No. Not me.
I admit that I was fascinated by the Guinness record line dance for about three seconds and then another article on CNN’s financial news caught my eye. The headline read something like "Wachovia Apologized for Ties to Slavery." At first I thought Wachovia was a former Soviet Eastern Bloc nation or maybe another German company that was being sued victims of slave labor during World War II. But this was something even better. Apparently–Wachovia Corp is the largest bank in Philadelphia–"the city of brotherly love." The bank recently issued a report revealing that five local predecessor companies profited indirectly from slavery. A formal apology was issues and the bank vowed to help increase awareness of African-American history. I read the article and kept thinking the same thing over and over again! Why have we let New York Life and other companies off the hook so easily?
Ok–so I’m not a lawyer and I didn’t understand the nuances of the New York Life Case. And I guess a 20 million dollar settlement is better than nothing. But still–so many times when I’d bring the case up to my lawyer friends–mostly Armenia’s–I’d hear similar defeatist statemen’s. I’d hear commen’s about how hard it is to bring a case to court that’s nearly a century old. I’d hear about how authentic documen’s of the period were hard to come by. Well–at the end of the day–New York Life settled. And you know why? Because they were afraid of the bad publicity they’d receive if people knew how a life insurance company profiteered from the deaths of thousands of innocent Christian Armenia’s.
Here’s how the whole thing went down. Apparently Walchovia filed a disclosure document while applying for a city loan or contract. The disclosure document is required for city contractors under a 2003 ordinance by Alderman Dorothy Tillman. Legislation passed by politicians (mostly democrats and mostly African-American) requires companies who have profited from slavery to disclose the fact that they have in their documen’s filed with cities. Companies found lying about their past end up losing their contracts.
That’s the basic story. Imagine being held accountable for a crime that was widely accepted by most Americans and occurred 200 years ago. Just imagine! And here we are as a community–doing back flips in the air like trained dolphins at Sea World any time KCET runs a documentary that mentions Armenia or shish kebab.
Almost six years ago (if my memory serves me correctly)–California State Treasurer Phil Angelides reprimanded a company doing research for the California Employees Retirement funds for downplaying what happened to the Armenia’s and Greeks by the Turkish Government during the last century. Angelides–my big fat Greek Treasurer–was the one who took notice of this. Not the Armenian-American elected officials who we entrust to look into these types of issues but an American of Greek background. It makes me wonder what our elected officials are up to the whole time in Sacramento.
My question is the following. Are we supposed to support folks for simply being Armenian? Here’s another one. Are we supposed to support elected officials for simply coming to a Genocide commemoration event or for shaking hands with the members of the Armenian Jedi Council (Archbishops–Prelates–Primates) for a simple photo-op? My answer is no! The bar has been raised. I–for one–am no longer satisfied with simple resolutions and speeches that futilely call on Turkey to acknowledge the Genocide. We need real leaders with guts who will take Turkey to the bank and hurt them where it counts. We need a real Armenian Bar Association that is able to fund attorneys to do research into these topics and then take the New York Lifes of this world to court. We need Armenia’s who have a vision of where to take the Genocide recognition issue. Because–believe me–if we don’t take the fight to them–they will bring it to us.
Organizations like the Armenian Assembly of America–AGBU–even our own churches are slowly moving away from demanding any real reparations–restitution–or compensation for lost property from the Republic of Turkey. This is evidenced in the ongoing clandestine activities of the AAA in the affairs of the Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Committee (TARC)–the silent cooperation by association of the latter two bodies.
I’m writing this article and I’m still amazed. An apology for owning slaves at a time when it wasn’t even illegal to own slaves. Wow. Wow–an apology and a pledge to raise awareness about African-American history. And while Wachovia is apologizing for something that happened over 200 years ago and which was sanctioned by US law–we will run back home with our pitiful 20 million dollars–without an apology–without any significant step bringing us closer to official recognition of the Genocide. Makes one wonder what an apology is worth nowadays.
Here’s a math equation that might help.
Life Insurance policies sold to Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire: Thousands of dollars.
Profit from unclaimed policies after the Armenian genocide: Millions of dollars.
Same profits adjusted by inflation: Billions of dollars.
Attorneys’ fees by both New York Life and plaintiffs in the 20 million dollar settlement: Millions of dollars.
Donations made to "community organizations" through settlement: A little over a million dollars.
Never having to say you’re sorry to the people you screwed over–and still retaining your stock value: PRICELESS!
There are some things money can’t buy: a decent–heartfelt apology isn’t one of them.
Skeptik Sinikian is a professional solo line dancer. He was trained in Paris at the Academy of Mimes and Jugglers. His solo-line-dances will soon be world famous when he enters the Guinness Book of World Records for world’s smallest line dance. He can be reached at SkeptikSinikian@aol.com or visit his blog at www.sinikian.blogspot.com.