By Jenny Kiljian
The Armenian people have historically been divided by political and religious issues. But–it appears that the tide has turned in the 2004 election season. The three political parties–Armenian Revolutionary Federation–Social Democratic Hunchakian Party–and the Armenian Democratic Liberal (Ramgavar) Party–have all officially endorsed Senator John Kerry in his presidential bid.
Yet–just as the American population seems to be evenly divided between the two candidates–there are a number of Armenia’s who will be casting their ballot for President George W. Bush–who the National Organization of Republican Armenia’s (NORA) has endorsed. It seems that their decision is based largely on the war in Iraq–a factor that supersedes contentious domestic topics and–in many cases–the issues that are of specific interest to the Armenian community. Their belief is that Bush is the better person in terms of leading the country in light of the present situation.
"I think that President Bush has proven his sincerity and dedication to solving this global problem. Do I agree with all of his policies even when it comes to Iraq? No–of course not. I do not think that the post-war phase of this challenge was handled very effectively. However–when you make decisions as bold as the one Bush made–mistakes are going to follow," says Raymond Ellyin–a 27-year-old graduate student of Physics at UCLA. Ellyin–who voted for Bush in the 2000 election–explains that remaining passive considerably decreases the likelihood of error–and notes that Kerry would clearly take a less forceful approach than Bush. "When you are a superpower–you have to make tough calls and that is exactly what president George W. Bush did."
As the mayor of the City of Downey–31-year-old Kirk Cartozian says has been afforded an interesting perspective into the political arena–and his support of President Bush stems largely from this vantage point. "It goes without saying that we are in trying times–both as a country and as a world. George Bush inherited a reality much unlike the world has ever seen. He did not ask for the cards he was dealt. Rather–he has responded with a consistency and clarity that I admire," says Cartozian–who voted for Bush in 2000–as well. "I have watched him as closely as I’ve ever watched another elected official. I sincerely believe that he has our nation’s best interest in mind. He has taken on countless controversial issues that most presidents would refuse to confront in their first term." He echoes Ellyin’s sentimen’s about the advantages of being passive or neutral. "If he were truly concerned about just getting re-elected–it would have been easier to do nothing."
David Norian lives in the New York metropolitan area–and witnessed first-hand the September 11 terrorist attacks. He believes that this issue is of foremost importance–especially to people on the East Coast. "Iraq is the most important issue in this election. I support President Bush because of his understanding of the war on terror–and no-tolerance mandate for those involved in and unwilling to decry terrorist activities–whatsoever," says Norian. "In addition–I feel the Republican philosophy of energetic–focused government designed to help people help themselves is the best way to govern a people." Norian voted for Senator Al Gore in the 2000 election–but says that he quickly came to support Bush within the President’s first weeks in office.
The tension in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks was also undoubtedly felt on the West Coast. "I’m voting for President Bush because of his foreign policy," says one Los Angeles-based Armenian woman–who wishes to remain anonymous. (For the purposes of this article–we will refer to her as Nareh.) "I don’t want to live in fear." She–like the others–believes that the Democratic challenger’s position on the war is weak. "I don’t like the laid-back attitude of Kerry. I think we should have a strong stance as the United States–and that–as far as homeland security goes–the policies should be as they are now–if not stronger."
Although she works for the California Republican Party as a special projects coordinator–Jasmine Megrabyan says it is the president’s unequivocal stance that has persuaded her to vote for him again in this election. "First and foremost–I just firmly believe that he is the best candidate to deal with the current issues–most importantly the war in Iraq," says Megrabyan. "I believe he has a clear vision and I believe that unlike his opposition he knows exactly where we need to be as a country–rather than flip-flopping on all the issues."
"I think a president’s first priority should always be our national security," says 22-year-old James Demerjian–who works as a field representative for the California Republican Party Victory 2004 campaign. "If I supported President Bush based only on one issue–it would be his stance on national security."
Ara Bedrossian serves as the West Coast Representative for NORA–which has been vocal in its support of the president–despite the overwhelming number of Armenian political organizations that have endorsed Kerry. "I think that across the board–Bush is a better candidate for the United States. The war in Iraq is definitely a key issue–and I believe we should stay with the vision of Bush and his plan for the future of Iraq," says Bedrossian–an attorney who resides in Tarzana. "His economic policies are a better fit for what I’d like to see happening in the United States. He has essentially taken the United States back to the age of accountability. Individual Americans have not been accountable for their actions and we have to go back to that."
Another resounding motivation to support Bush is the perception that Kerry is a ‘flip-flopper’ and has apparently not expressed a definitive opinion on the key issues in this election–whether it is gay marriage–abortion–or–most importantly–the war in Iraq.
"I’m not voting for Kerry because of his indecisiveness and his wishy-washy beliefs on certain issues–‘I’m for the war–I’m not for the war. I won’t raise taxes–I will raise taxes.’ It’s difficult to follow his thought process," says Jasmine Megrabyan. "President Bush has a clear–laid-out plan that he’s been adhering to for four years. He took the actions to make the homeland more safe and secure–and he is the one who needs to see it through to the end." Megrabyan doesn’t consider electing a new president to be beneficial for the country. "If they are to elect new leadership in this country–I believe firmly that we will really see many more casualties than we have–just based on the fact that Kerry doesn’t have a clear agenda on what he wants to accomplish. Like the way the tide rolls in–he changes every moment. He tells constituents in every area–what they want to hear."
Nareh agrees. "I’m not voting for Senator Kerry because he doesn’t stand for anything. There’s not one issue that he’s strong on," she charges. "At one point–he believes in the war in Iraq–and then he changes his mind. First he wants stringent homeland security standards–and then he wants to be lax. It’s what we’re seeing during the debates. He can’t stick to things and that frightens me."
David Norian similarly criticizes the Massachusetts senator. "Kerry has no clear direction on the issue of the war in Iraq. There is a lack of cohesion on where he stands," he says. "What we’ve seen is a complete incoherence and lack of clarity from Kerry on the issue of the war on terror. Rather than presenting concrete alternatives–he has been complaining and pessimistic. But–we know what we have with President Bush."
The fact that Kerry is a career politician also concerns Norian. "We shouldn’t be electing a 20-year senator into presidential office. He has a team of people who decide on his policies and move him ahead. At this point–I don’t think John Kerry knows which way is up," says Norian. "He’s been mixed up about Iraq. I just don’t know if I want a bureaucratic politician to be moving into the White House."
Nareh also supports the President and has misgivings about Kerry’s position on the war in Iraq and says that–despite his promises–he would not be able to immediately withdraw US troops out of Iraq. "I believe that any president–Democrat or Republican–would have taken the same positions and decisions as President Bush after September 11," she says. "People find that it’s easier to place blame on him because of his father’s history in Iraq. But–President Clinton would have probably made the same decisions as Bush–and Kerry isn’t going to run out of Iraq as quickly as people might think."
Although the recognition of the Armenian genocide remains an issue close to the hearts of these voters–it does not take precedence and is apparently not the determining factor in their decision to vote for Bush. They further contend that many state and federally elected politicians have been unable to uphold their promises to the Armenian community once in office.
"George Bush does not champion all of the causes that are near and dear to my heart. In fact–as an Armenian living in America–I am disappointed that he still has not recognized the Armenian Genocide," says Kirk Cartozian. "The arena of world politics is much more complex than people realize and I do not hold any elected official responsible for championing one particular cause. Rather–President Bush has earned both my respect and my vote by sticking to his convictions–relying on the sound (and confidential) advice of his cabinet–and leading our country in the most difficult of times."
The genocide is a definite consideration for Norian–who works in advertising–but he believes that his primary allegiance is to the United States. "I definitely consider the genocide," says Norian. "But Armenia’s should have realized by now that the Armenian genocide will only be recognized formally by world governmen’s–and in a more widespread way among people–through our continued work in spreading the truth across all available channels–legislative–media–and artistic mediums–among others. The diaspora must never bow to pressure to give up on the goal of Genocide recognition. We didn’t ask to bear this cross–but we must never blame ourselves for seeking the truth."
For Raymond Ellyin–the recognition of the Armenian genocide takes no greater precedence than other domestic issues such as abortion and gay marriage–in light of the war in Iraq. "Yes–this is something that does reserve a very special place in my heart. I do pay attention to how the candidates feel about supporting Armenia and acknowledging certain historical facts like the Armenian Genocide," he expresses. "Nevertheless–again this falls in the category of lesser importance. Politics is a very dirty game and my experience in this has been lots of promises and no real action by any one president in particular. I feel that ultimately the truth will come out–and through time we will achieve this specific victory by putting political pressure on all future candidates. We have achieved minor victories here and there–but we still have a lot of work to do in this regard."
Nareh also hesitates to believe in the promises that politicians make to the Armenian community. "History has shown that they don’t stick to what they’ve promised," she asserts–echoing the sentiment that there are other–more pressing national and global concerns that affect her decision. "Taxes–domestic issues–foreign policy–these are the issues that I look at. Because the United States has such a strong relationship with Turkey–I don’t believe any president will be able to recognize the genocide in the present or near future."
Norian–in fact–believes that the Armenian genocide and the Armenian community’s sensitivity to injustice make the war on Iraq germane to their role as voters. "Many Armenian-Americans–the majority of whom are of the second and third generations – with a direct relationship to survivors of the Armenian genocide – may feel the gravity of the current world situation more–in terms of the need to bring to justice those tyrannical and genocidal regimes who seek to deny human rights and sponsor terrorism–especially in the Middle East," says Norian.
He draws a comparison between the survivors of the genocide–and the present plight of the Iraqi people. "For us–the freedom our nation is now proactively defending is the very freedom that our ancestors were offered without hesitation upon fleeing the horrible crime of the Genocide," he says. "We have developed a strong trust and identity in this country over the generations–and we will never take America for granted–not only because of the trials our parents and grandparents experienced just to make it here alive–but how hard they worked in the early 20th century to assimilate into their new–beloved country. I believe this is true in many cases for individuals who are able to put into perspective the experience of earlier generations of Armenian-Americans–and understand it in the context of what is going on in the world today. Many Armenian-Americans do–in fact–consider themselves American first–and do not have ties to a ‘third country’ and family history in another part of the Middle East or Arab world–and that influences the way they look at America–the issues and–thus–this election."
Despite their disagreement with many of the president’s policies–they say it is his handling of the war in Iraq that makes him the better candidate. "I am pro-choice–and I also disagree with Bush when it comes to gun control," says Raymond Ellyin. "But–again–all of these issues fall into the category of lesser importance–and about seventy percent of my vote is connected with the global war on terror because that is a higher priority than any other issue. Most of the time in life–one has to pick the lesser of two evils."
Kirk Cartozian–as well–parts ways with President Bush on several of the key issues–noting that the safety and security of the United States as a nation and bloc must take precedence over the various voting constituencies. "I disagree with a few of his positions–but they are all secondary to giving my vote to a person who I feel is the most concerned with leading our nation–as opposed to pandering to any and all interests that may represent a powerful bloc of votes."
The issue of abortion also does not seem to be a determining factor. "I believe that ultimately it is a woman’s choice–but I also am personally opposed to abortion," says Jasmine Megrabyan–who has a four-year-old son. Asked about the rumblings about Bush seeking to make abortion illegal–Megrabyan does not waver. "I would support him–because in the end–I am personally opposed to abortion."
For Nareh–a lawyer–the widespread panic over the possibility that President Bush could ban abortion has not fazed her. "I don’t believe Roe v. Wade will be overturned–and I don’t think President Bush’s beliefs alone can change that," she affirms. "I believe in a woman’s right to choose. Barring 50 years of staunch republican ruling–a lot of the justices changing–it’s a rare circumstance I don’t see happening."
David Norian sees it not so much as a difference of opinion–but a lack of communication between the Bush administration and the American public. "I’ve been critical of his performance in the first and third debates. He wasn’t as articulate as I would have liked. In the debates of 2000–when he was running as a challenger–you saw a better speaker," says Norian. "He has failed to communicate a lot of issues. But–generally he has a way of communication that can be really strong. He distills issues to their essence and communicates directly to the people. I like his approach–his aura–and the strength he puts forth. Yet–he’s a man of action–not necessarily a man of words–and I rely on that."
Most expressed a strong skepticism about Kerry’s promises to the Armenian community–noting that–as the senator from Massachusetts–his constituency is largely Armenian.
Jasmine Megrabyan says she doesn’t give special preference to candidates who promise to support the Armenia’s or pass measures that will recognize the Armenian genocide. "I personally don’t because I was born and raised in this country. I am an Armenian-American," she says. "I believe that in this current election cycle–the fact that Senator Kerry comes from a state that has a large number of Armenia’s residing in it–is a big reason why he has tailored his particular message to this group of constituents."
NORA’s Ara Bedrossian cites the geo-political history of the United States. "I believe–in general–State Department policy doesn’t change from administration to administration and Armenian voters need to remember that. The United States is an ally of Turkey and I don’t think that will change," he cautions. "As Armenian-Americans–we have a good future with Bush. He’s sent aid to Armenia–solidified the security structure in Armenia–and has bettered economic relations between the United States and Armenia. He’s secured Armenia membership in the World Trade Organization–and he’s pressured Turkey to lift its blockade."
David Norian–as well–considers the promises of politicians to be fruitless. "My opinion of Kerry–based on being a close follower of this election–is that he does pander to different groups in order to get their votes. The man is all over the place," he says. "As Armenia’s–we know the promises that the politicians make when they’re looking for votes. Once they’re elected–they can’t fulfill those promises within the United States system. I can’t imagine that Kerry will succeed any better. I think Kerry is unclear of what it’s like to be president and what kind of resistance he might encounter. I don’t fault Bush for failing to get the genocide recognized."
Megrabyan and Demerjian drew comparisons to Congressman Adam Schiff of Glendale.
"There is a vast number of Armenia’s in Massachusetts. It’s just like in Glendale when we see Adam Schiff constantly catering to the Armenian community. Those are their voters and those are the people whose support they need. Yet–I don’t see Kerry coming to the Armenian community in Glendale saying anything," she says. "But–for me personally–where they stand on the issue of the Armenian genocide is not the key determining factor. It is of importance because I am Armenian and I’m raising my child as an Armenian. But–to say that it would be the deciding factor–no."
Demerjian–too–doubts the sincerity of Kerry’s affection for the Armenia’s. "John Kerry the senator had to talk about Armenian issues because he represented Massachusetts where there is a big Armenian population. It’s the same reason Adam Schiff supports the Armenian cause. It’s not because he cares–but because a huge part of his electorate is Armenian. They both have to be sensitive to Armenian causes–otherwise they wouldn’t get elected."
A handful defended the president’s tight-lipped demeanor about the war and the recent reports that the American public may have been misinformed about the reason for the United States going to war in Iraq. "As far as the misinformation about the weapons of mass destruction–I can only say that regular citizens like you and me only see what is at the surface. Politicians and Presidents do not have this luxury," he says–crediting Bush with having the fortitude to deal with the global threat of terror. "September 11–the bombings in Italy–and the school hostage situation in Russia proved how evil these terrorists are. These terror cells are all linked to one another–and will stop at nothing to get what they want. We cannot afford to sit back and wait for another attack to take place so that we can retaliate. In summary–I am voting for President Bush because I think that he is the lesser of two evils (in this case). Our country cannot afford a weak president who wants to negotiate our well-being."
He also absolves the United States for taking a unilateral position in the war in Iraq–forgoing the approval of the United Nations before the invasion. "The United States did not undermine the integrity of the United Nations. The United Nations undermined its own integrity by not following through with its promises and demands. Passing resolution after resolution is not a deterrent for the enemy."
Jasmine Megrabyan also supports the administration’s approach with the media and the American people. "I believe that anybody who is running the country–whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican–can only disclose a certain amount of information to the public," she says. "With the information available to him–he led the people in the right direction."
Even in light of criticism about how the Bush administration has handled the situation in Iraq–David Norian continues to defend the President and the decision to invade Iraq. "Did things go wrong? Yes. Were mistakes made? Yes. But–I trust that eventually we’ll bring the situation under control," he says. "This is a tremendous challenge and because we’re able to look at it under a microscope as it’s happening–we might forget the logic behind it as the events are still playing out–as opposed to believing in the initial logic for being there and in the long-term benefit of what we’re doing in bringing state supporters of terrorism to justice."
Norian cites a comment made by Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot during a recent interview with Charlie Rose. "He said that this election is about who will be the next Commander in Chief –and not just ‘President’ as we’ve known that term to be," he says. "This idea resonates with me."
Kirk Cartozian points out that as the Commander in Chief and leader of the free world–Bush leads a plurality–not only of those who support him and voted for him–but also of his opponents and detractors. "He is responsible for all people–even those who didn’t vote for him–and those who continue to contest his policies–that is how a democracy operates," says Cartozian. "He will be held to ultimate test. On November 2nd–America will decide if they want to stay the course–or choose another one."