ENCINO, CA–Town hall meetings have begun throughout the Western United States to inform Armenian communities of the current state of negotiations between Armenia and Turkey and the steps being taken to prevent the ratification of dangerous agreements between the two countries, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) reported on Saturday.
The community briefings, which began this week with two meetings in the San Fernando Valley and Orange County, will be updating Armenian Americans on the ongoing developments in the anti-protocols initiative and providing avenues for activism on the issue.
The first town-hall, organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s Western Region (ARF-WR), was held at Ferrahian Highschool in Encino on November 19. More than 200 people attended the discussion, lead by ARF-WR Central Committee Members Steven Dadayan and John Kossakian.
Kossakian presented a brief history of Armenian-Turkish relations since the independence of Armenia, discussing Turkey’s decades long blockade of Armenia and its efforts at pressuring the young Armenian republic into making the difficult choice between the Armenian people’s historical rights or the country’s economic prosperity.
On April 22, Armenia and Turkey announced they had agreed to a roadmap to normalize their relations and open the closed border. The announcement came on the eve of the 94th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, allowing US President Obama to backtrack on promises to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Amid intense opposition and protests by Armenians around the world, Armenia’s foreign minister signed agreements with his Turkish counterpart on October 10 to establish ties between the two countries.
The signature came despite Turkey’s strong preconditions that Armenia must relinquish legal rights to historic territories in Turkey, agree to the establishment of a historical commission to debate the Genocide, and concede the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to Azerbaijan.
“Now that the protocols have been signed, everyone’s main concern is which parliament is going to ratify it first,” Kossakian said, adding that Armenia is currently playing a waiting game with the document. “Instead of worrying about this, we should start working on our next step–to confront the Armenian government about the protocol issues.”
In his remarks Kossakian underscored the anti-protocols campaign’s latest initiative of channeling public sentiment against the protocols to pressure the Armenian parliament not to ratify the devastating documents.
Dissecting the actual provisions in the protocols, Dadayan discussed the legal implications of the documents and the heavy burdens Armenia will be required to uphold if it’s ratified.
Through these protocols, Dadayan explained, Turkey is seeking to legalize its current de-facto border with Armenia. The current boundaries are illegal and based on the illegitimate treaties of Moscow and Kars, signed in the 1920s by the rogue Bolshevik and Kemalist regimes. If the protocols are ratified, Armenia will once and for all relinquish its rights to US President Woodrow Wilson’s arbitral award of historic territories now under Turkish occupation.
Dadayan also discussed provisions in the protocols that will constrain Armenia’s relations with Karabakh and prevent Yerevan from from serving as the guarantor of its independence and security. He explained that if Karabakh is one day attacked or overrun by Azerbaijan and Armenia wants to take action or send medical or military assistance, it is legally prevented from doing so.
In underscoring the unequal bargaining position Armenia has been placed in throughout the negotiations process, Dadayan recalled his encounter with Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian during his visit to Los Angeles in September to meet with Armenian Community leaders.
Dadayan said he had asked Sarkisian what international lawyers and experts of international law were consulted by the Armenian government about the legal implications of the protocols, which were drafted in English. “The president said he was not good in English nor was he a lawyer” Dadayan recalled, noting that Sarkisian said he trusted his diplomats enough not to seek professional advice.
The same points were raised at the Armenian Center in Santa Anna, CA on Saturday, November 20 by Vache Thomassian from the ARF Shant Student Association. Thomassian spoke to some 50 people at a briefing, hosted by the AYF’s Orange County ‘Ashod Yergat’ chapter. In his remarks, he reiterated community concerns over the forced choices being presented to the Armenian people by the protocols and discussed the unprecedented level of activism around the issue.
Presenting a photo-montage of global anti-protocols activities spanning the last two months, Thomassian stressed the resound impact of the Diaspora’s actions in Armenia. “Anywhere you had an Armenian community around the world, you saw people express their disapproval,” he said. “Our voices were heard and shared all the way to Yerevan, where 60,000 people demonstrated against the signing of the protocols.”
That there is widespread opposition to the documents is not surprising. “There’s a lot to be lost here and very little to be gained,” said Thomassian, explaining the many preconditions Armenia is faced with if it wants to normalize relations with its neighbor. “The protocols could very well evolve into a package deal that includes a quick resolution to the Karabakh conflict.”
Thomassian discussed the current strategies and tactics being employed by the “Stop the Protocols” Campaign, from educating and mobilizing Armenian communities across the US to work within the American political system to advance the Armenian Genocide resolution to a vote in Congress.
He also discussed many of the ARF’s recent initiatives in Armenia. The party has been working around the clock in parliament and at the grassroots level to not only prevent ratification but also to address the underlying problem of corruption, he explained. ARF activists have been visiting villages, organizing communities to oppose the documents. Meanwhile, the ARF has been meeting with other parties opposed to the protocols in Armenia to strategize future joint actions against ratification.
But neither Sarkisian, nor the protocols are the “end all problem here,” Thomassian said, explaining that the present situation is largely due to corruption and a lack of democracy in Armenia. “The protocols didn’t pop out of nowhere; they are the result of oligarchs selling out the interests of the people for their own self interest.”
Thomassian discussed the ARF’s call for a serious overhaul of the corruption and oligarchic rule in Armenia, talking about the party’s initiative to build the groundwork for radical changes in Armenia.”The long-term objective of the ARF is social reforms, government reforms and democratic reforms,” Thomassian said. “In the last few weeks the ARF has been introducing dozens of pieces of legislation in parliament on issues concerning the national debt, women’s’ rights, poverty, and social security.”
“The protocols are in limbo right now, but that doesn’t mean we are meaningless; we need to dig in further and do more work, be more active and get our voices heard that much louder,” Thomassian exclaimed. “everything we have done to this point has had an impact and if we can increase the pressure and create enough obstacles, this thing might completely collapse.”