Just recently, in an article written by Nancy Gibbs in Time Magazine, the following was written about Obama’s Nobel Prize… “By now there are surely more callouses on his lips than his hands.” Unfortunately, the same is true for President Sargsyan. The power of a promise is strong, but to a wounded nation, a promise means nothing.
In the days following the four-hour long, closed-door meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian, family and friends asked the same question over and over again, “Is he really going to sign?” Well, we got our answer Saturday morning.
When President Serzh Sarkisian visited Los Angeles, he met with 60 community representatives at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Inside the meeting, Serzh Sarkisian and his administration met with various organizations for an exchange of ideas and views surrounding the Protocols… or so we thought!
I was the youngest in the room and in many ways the most inexperienced and most naïve. Yet, none of that mattered. I don’t think any schooling, experience or credentials of sorts could have prepared anyone for the tense and demoralizing meeting which took place.
Allow me to share my thoughts which may be very different from the others in the room.
The President began the meeting late. Sources outside, attending the protest, reported that President Sarkisian peeked out of his Presidential Suite balcony several times before entering the meeting room at 4:25 p.m. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. All attendees first had to pass through metal detectors.
He started the meeting with brief remarks and suggested that we allow the meeting to serve as a question and answer session following by closing remarks. The group agreed. Harut Sassounian asked the first question. He stressed his opposition to the Protocols and emphasized the important reasons behind his opposition. He spoke freely and respectively and the President responded back to Sassounian’s questions in great detail.
I followed with my questions/remarks a few moments later.
Pattyl Aposhian Kasparian: “Although not spelled out, the historic clause inclusion is directed toward the Armenian Genocide. Hence, our outrage. Over 20 countries have recognized the Armenian Genocide as an indisputable fact and the International Association of Genocide Scholars have stated without reservation that the Armenians were subject to genocide. Why would we turn a political controversy into a historical one?
President Sarkisian: (my written notes through English translation to the best of my note-taking capabilities) It is not the case for us to turn politics into history. Turkey was pressing for this commission for years and we’ve said no. Now, it’s on our terms. My priority is to have Turkey recognize the Genocide. Getting our land back from Turkey is not realistic. The Turks might try to maneuver around the historic commission but we would never agree to it. We can raise an issue as to the consequences. By establishing relations with Turkey we are not casting doubt on Genocide or striking a blow to the International campaign. We have not ever cast doubt on Genocide. The sub-committee will never discuss that Genocide took place as it is not up for discussion.
Pattyl Aposhian Kasparian: The timing of this trip is disheartening as you have made the Diaspora feel trivial, insignificant and invisible. As you witness the obvious and open disagreements to the Protocol with more than 10,000 protestors outside, what actions will you take to address this extensive opposition and when?
President Sarkisian: I don’t think 10,000 protesters is an argument. It just shows that the organizers know how to organize a protest. I too, can organize a rally with 10,000 supporters of the Protocol. We are here to consult the Diaspora, not to be compelled or be intimidated. I’m not here for your vote. I do not want to undermine the resources of the Diaspora. I consider the Diaspora very vital, but I am not here to be intimidated either.
Pattyl Aposhian Kasparian: Third, what guarantee can you provide for economic prosperity when Ambassador Yovanovitch herself stated that open borders will only produce a 1 to 3 percent growth in the next 15 years annually? Additional reports indicate that open borders will penetrate the Armenian marketplace with Turkish products which will lead to increased levels of unemployment and poverty. Is this marginal increase worth signing our history away for?
President Sarkisian: Our purpose is not an economic one. I am unaware of any of these statistics that you have mentioned. Since when did America’s Ambassador become a researcher? Research can serve any one’s purpose and I have research that indicated otherwise.
I continued with the following closing remarks.
“Mr. President. We stand united for open trade between Armenia and Turkey as well as the establishment of diplomatic relations. What divides us is when historical injustice and threats to the future of our nation are covered up because of special interests and peer pressure.
We are not the little, powerless, and unknown nation anymore. We are strong. We are educated. We are empowered. We do not need to fall victim to pressure.
Mr. President. I truly believe that you have Armenia’s best interest at heart. Allow this trip to serve as your exit strategy. Use the Diaspora as your scapegoat. Blame us. Allow Armenia to show its unique strength— not defined by the state’s power, but the people’s power.
Grab this opportunity. It is only when the Diaspora is fully incorporated into the decision-making fiber of Armenia that we as a country can move forward.”
Hours went by. More than twenty individuals in the room spoke in opposition to the Protocol as it currently stands. He responded to every question. He spoke calmly at times and restlessly at others. Several individuals asked questions about the historic commission clause, open borders and the ever-so-veiled Karabakh reference. At times, he impatiently responded, “I’ve already answered that question.” I wanted to scream… “But Mr. President, we don’t accept your answer. Don’t you realize that by re-asking the question, we are voicing our opposition and concern?”
You can say that the sky is purple 1000 times, but we don’t have to believe it. Sitting in that room, we had one objective—to urge the President not to sign the Protocols as is.
The opposition continued. Hovan Tashjian spoke on behalf of the A.R.F. Steve Dadaian spoke on behalf of the A.N.C. Dikran Babikian spoke on behalf of Hamazkayin and Sona Madarian spoke on behalf of A.R.S.
Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian voiced his concern over the protocols, too. Very respectfully but also very directly, Archbishop Mardirossian encouraged President Sargsyan to speak to the people. Item by item, he addressed the many concerns of his flock.
I couldn’t help it. Although I had used my allotted time, I spoke again.
Pattyl Aposhian Kasparian: Mr. President. You suggested that we open new fronts with Turkey to achieve Turkey’s recognition of GENOCIDE rather than that of 1, 2, or 3 additional countries. What if we want both? Please serve as our advisor and provide the Diaspora with guidance as to what you believe the Diaspora can do to help advance Hai Tahd?
President Sarkisian: Young Lady, do not give up hope. It won’t be tomorrow or a year from now or even three years from now, but one day, Turkey will recognize the Armenian Genocide.
Arkady Ghoukassian, former President of Artsakh, took a few moments to answer my question in his closing remarks.
He noted, “The Diaspora and Armenia must work towards a common goal, common agenda. As Armenians in the Diaspora, we call on you to help our motherland. We turn to you to point out our shortcomings. We want you to fight. We want you to continue voicing concern. But don’t look for enemies in our lines and forces.”
“I too see shortcoming in these protocols,” added Ghoukassian. “However, we have to work together to fully employ the Diaspora and have better results. We have to trust our powers. If we live on as victims, we will never success. Just remember Artsakh.”
I left the meeting feeling hopeless. President Sarkisian’s message was clear. He will move forward. He believes that Armenia will walk away with the winning pot. Yet…But…However! As a human being, man to man, I was devastated that I was not able to look President Serzh Sarkisian in the eye and allow him to see my frustration– my pain– my distrust. He didn’t even seal the deal with a handshake. He walked out of the room as quickly as he had entered.
During his entire world tour, not once, did President Sarkisian address or even acknowledge the thousands and thousands of people gathered together to protest the Protocols. The Armenian people are those who were out there opposing the Protocols. The Armenian people are not the few organizations who claim to lead the Diaspora by voicing support on letterhead.
The true voice of the Diaspora spoke. They spoke in numbers. They spoke through tears. They spoke through hunger strikes all over the world. Mr. President. Did you listen? Are you listening?
Are we expected to go on a “gentlemen’s promise? We are expected to walk in blindly and trust Mr. Sarkisian because he is the President of the Republic of Armenia? Let’s take things at face value. What he said (above) and what is written in print (Protocol) does not match up. We have to believe what we read on print—what is legally binding. We need something tangible. We need something MORE than lip service.
Now, it’s the same opposition, but a new audience. Now, it’s up to the Parliament to hear our concerns and oppositions. It’s up to the Parliament to understand that the ratification of the Protocols affects our country, our history, our people and our future.
I hope the Diaspora’s opposition will provide the Parliament with more power and new muscle. The voice of the Diaspora serves as a humble, but powerful resource. Our voice is strong and pure and it is only a matter of time that the Parliament will stand strong and oppose the Protocols.
To all our brothers and sisters in Yerevan, let the voice and the heart of the Diaspora be with you!