The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Western United States elected a new Central Committee a the end of June 2012. A year into its two-year term, the ARF Western US Central Committee Chairman Dr. Viken Hovsepian recently spoke to Asbarez English Editor Ara Khachatourian about the challenges facing the organization globally, as well as in the Western Region and reflected on the party’s activities as it continues to fight for the just aspirations of the Armenian people in the pursuit of the Armenian Cause.
Below is the complete interview.
ARA KHACHATOURIAN: What drives the ARF to pursue its goals and ideals?
DR. VIKEN HOVSEPIAN: It starts with a dream. It all starts with a dream, an ideal. Even the most insignificant of tasks or the most pragmatic endeavor is based on an objective which is borne out of a dream. As a Nation seeking justice, as a Republic searching for fair and just governance, we are not short of big dreams. The big dreams shall drive us to excel and accomplish what otherwise seems improbable. However, our plans, form of execution, and leadership have to be commensurate with those dreams. You cannot have lofty dreams, and have inept leadership. You cannot dream big, but design for mediocrity, unless of course you’re prepared to compromise on your dreams. In general, there has to be a sense of urgency among our People, and particularly amongst the Armenian youth, and there has to be an higher intolerance for what is visibly corrupt and obviously regressive, as time is definitely not on the side of complacency. Look at us. Look at where we’ve gone in the past two decades and ask yourselves: Don’t we deserve better? If the answer is yes – and I believe we do deserve much better – than we ought to have zero tolerance for what we’re being offered with. We need to challenge and change, as anything short of major efforts at reform is unacceptable. So, it starts with a dream, but determination and boldness to pursue the big dreams must follow.
A.K.: How do events in Armenia impact the ARF’s activities in the Diaspora and in the Western Region in particular?
V.H.: We definitely live in an interdependent reality. We find that given the specific makeup of our community, events in Armenia do often impact our community life in a meaningful way, while developments here do play their role there in Armenia. In contrast to some other Diasporan communities, ours has deeper involvement and more substantial interest in Armenia’s day to day affairs.
This is due to the large number of émigrés from Armenia who have family and friendship ties in the country, but also because of the deep concern and interest our particular community has always had toward the Homeland. We’ve always felt and acted as stakeholders of Armenia, even if realities and official policies have at times pushed us away. We’ve always believed that the designs at excluding us are temporal and that one day they will invariably change, just because it makes better sense to include us in the overall governance policy matters through some format or another.
Specifically, I can isolate events such as the signing of the unfortunate Armeno-Turkish Protocols which caused significant alarm and waves of protest in our community, and this in light of a policy in Armenia which preferred to prioritize very immediate and entrepreneurial gains over larger principles which make up the essence of our oneness as a nation. Such occurrences create rifts here in the Diaspora which in turn fuel further alienation. Mind you the interdependent reality I’m alluding to is a good thing from a pan-national perspective, in that it creates a foundation for mutual interests and the perception of a shared future. However, if the two-way influences are of negative energy as they recently have been, this interdependence may serve as a detriment to the idea and ideal of Oneness which is so crucial for our national interests.
This concept of a Oneness is not a trivial one, and it’s definitely not a mere intellectual or philosophical exercise. Actually, I believe it is ultimately the salvation of the Republic and also the Diaspora as we know it. This state of mutuality cannot be accomplished through structures and simple touristic interactions. What it needs is an overarching unity in purpose, a shared ideal so to speak, so that each of the actors – Armenia and the Diasporas – go on living their respective lives and possibly even promoting their own interests, at the same time fully cognizant and committed to the idea that the other’s demise is its own demise. I can go on at length about this, but I will leave this discussion for another time.
A.K.: How have assistance efforts to Armenia and Artsakh changed and evolved in the 22 years since Armenia’s independence? What are the challenges?
V.H.: In the early years, the Diaspora truly and at times naively considered itself part and parcel of the liberation movement in Artsakh or the state-building process in Armenia. Each of the efforts, each one of the assistance measures, was accompanied with a degree of passion and a sense of ownership. As years progressed, and as the leadership of the Republic became more exclusive, arrogant and condescending towards the Diaspora – and its own citizenry, for that matter, and as each well-meaning effort was measured only in dollars, the enthusiasm to assist and to be a part of the solution subsided. Consequently, the leaders in Armenia themselves fell into the psychological imperative of showing that they are not in fact in need of much assistance from the Diaspora, or at best turning to a few individuals with the ability of donating large sums rather than engaging the masses. Short-cuts were taken, instead of engaging the masses and the youth. Additionally, this shortsighted policy promoted a few individuals of means who believed that serving Armenia is through subservience and enabling, and equating anything short of expressions of admiration and unequivocal support with heresy. Consequently, these well-meaning Armenians were paraded as representatives of the Diaspora, structuring an unhealthy narrative. Hence the spiral of complete alienation from one another. This, of course, is a serious phenomenon that is in need of deeper analysis. However, one thing is certain: There can be no healthy Armenia-Diaspora interaction without the development of a commonality or even unity in purpose. The alternative of the present is at best futile and, at worst, detrimental to our Pan-Armenian national interest.
A.K.: How did the elections–presidential and municipal–in Armenia affect the community in the West Coast? How did it impact the activities of the ARF here?
V.H.: It is getting to a point where Armenians in the Diaspora are fast losing all interest vis-à-vis political developments in Armenia. In that sense, this is not much different than the experience of the citizenry of Armenia. Anyway we look at this progressing phenomenon, it is an extremely negative development. People generally lose interest in anything they cannot impact. The Diaspora as a whole and the Diasporans individually nowadays lack the proper mechanisms of positively impacting life in Armenia, much less electoral processes. Effectively, benevolent work is probably the only type of engagement remaining for a Diasporan Armenian’s involvement in Armenia, which is not sufficient and definitely not conducive to promoting the type of intense participation which would be ideal in a meaningful partnership. Impacting would mean sharing the problems and being a part of the solution, and not simply to be regarded as an accessory with limited use. As I suggested earlier, there is the need for a complete partnership. As a Nation, we are not presently in search of this potentially powerful and rewarding partnership. The elections which you mentioned, for example, ought to be a rallying point creating “buy-in”, but unfortunately, at present, they negatively impact as people understand that elections are not a vehicle of channeling popular sentiments in a democratic way. No one wants to be seen as a part of compromised elections.
As you well know, the ARF did not fare well in either of these elections. I do not wish to go into the reasons as to why the stated results were what they were, or question the very validity of those results. Any objective observer of elections in Armenia realizes full well that the electoral system is not conducive to free and fair elections. Having said this, we need to admit that we in the ARF need to do a better job in conveying to the electorate the sense of urgency that exists and the power that it commands through its vote, its activism. I am not one to fault the citizenry for the choices it makes. It makes its choices because of a belief system, and it is incumbent upon us as a political actor to better convince the citizenry to make the right choices, as we see them. The burden of proof rests with us, and we simply have to place the proper people, we need to institute the necessary structures, platforms, and execution, in order for the People to dare join us.
A.K.: What are some of the challenges facing the ARF today both regionally and globally?
V.H.: I can go on for a long time enumerating a host of practical, logistical or financial challenges we face every single day.
However, I believe our greatest challenge, as it is in the case of any entity pursuing lofty objectives such as ours, is to bridge our ideology and our stated objectives with our output and our daily activities. People need to be convinced that we mean what we say, and that we are prepared to execute. The ARF has always been the bearer of progressive ideals, and it has historically delivered towards the realization of these ideals. I would venture to state that the vast majority of the Armenian people would subscribe to the dream, ideals, and the mission promoted by Dashnaktsutyun, now and historically. The challenge for today is to be worthy of our impeccable record and tradition of being the agent of delivery. There really is not much room for rhetoric in a degenerating national reality. The Dashnaktsutyun has always been regarded as a guardian and a “watchdog” of our national imperatives, by friends and foe alike. We need to be worthy of this calling, in that if the guardian is not in pursuit of its traditional role, said imperatives are compromised and national interests are at stake. So, regardless of temporary setbacks, the ARF will ultimately be on top of its game.
A.K.: Given the changing political landscape, what role do you see the ARF playing in the 21st century?
V.H.: We need to be able to successfully deal with the struggle between the old and the new. What I mean is that we need to preserve the core values which makes the Dashnaktsutyun what it is and we need to protect the core traditions which define us, at the same time adapting to the quickly evolving realities. The ideals pursued by the ARF have remained timeless and relevant throughout the last twelve decades of its existence. These ideals are very relevant even today, perhaps even more so than most times in our history. Its progressive ideology has resonated with the vast majority of the Armenian people, and because of this it has become the most powerful and organized Armenian political force. However, we find that our “application”, or at times the means of implementation becomes outdated, and so we adapt. Fortunately, ARF’s dynamic structure and wealth of experience allow for such adaptation as we apply the proper focus and efforts. Again, we may veer from our focus and our best practice at times, but we always reform and revive ourselves only to be more revitalized than ever. This has been the case throughout our history, and there is no reason to believe that the present and future will be any different. The key to all of this is the younger generation, of course, which is always purer, bolder, and more resolute than the rest of us.
A.K.: As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, what is your vision for the national imperatives associated with this milestone?
V.H.: There seems to be consensus that the Centennial must take our struggle for Hye Tad to the next level. Not shying away from this challenge, we ought to be careful not to fall into the trap of expecting miracles to happen on a given date. The struggle for the recognition of the Genocide, the struggle for retribution and reparations, is a continuum requiring methodical and systematic execution. It is not a theatrical production with a date certain performance. So, we need to be careful to realize that as we apply more pressure on ourselves and as we up the ante over ourselves, we need to understand that the 100th Anniversary is no more or less important than the 99th or the 101st, so long as justice has not been attained. The main focus of the Centennial and events surrounding it need to focus on our national demands–bahanchadirakan. Here, I must add that it has almost become the fashion for people to confuse moving on to the “next level” with a false necessity of moving away from recognition efforts. Let us not forget that recognition is the basis and the crucial necessity of all our just demands. Just because we face certain setbacks, we do not shy away from the challenge. And the challenge remains the pursuit of universal and Turkish recognition of the crime, condemnation of it, but also the escalation of the struggle to levels unattained before this. In this sense, I am somewhat disappointed with the lack of intensity and focus exhibited by the efforts so far vis-a-vis the Centennial commemoration. We can only hope that things will improve shortly and that we will renew our collective efforts.
A.K.: Why should the community heed the message of the ARF?
V.H.: The community will do what is ultimately right. In order for the community to accept the ARF and follow it, it is the ARF itself that needs to be worthy of such heeding. Therefore, the challenge is upon us to show the community and our people in general that our priorities are right, very much as they have been historically. It is incumbent upon us, the ARF, to deserve the community’s support. As we analyze our reality, I cannot see any other Armenian organization that has as extensive and as ambitious of a dream and vision. Again, it is not our dream and our mission that is facing a test, but our resolve and our priorities. We need to show adequately our concern with emigration from Armenia which is now threatening our national security, we need to address issues of concern for the youth here in the United States, etc. If we execute properly and if we serve the people as we should, the community will join us. If we fail, the community will fail us as well.