A Piercing Introspection Is Necessary, Say Some
BY BEDROS C. BANDAZIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
Every political party must recognize changes in society and the people in order to maintain significance and relevance. The ARF, during its 128-year history, has been such a party. Among its various accomplishments, the party was a catalyst in Armenia’s drive to independence in 1918 and became the majority party in that fledgling republic. True, there were other parties and groupings, but the people had overriding trust in the ARF as they believed in its principles, commitment and zeal for the Armenian nation. Unfortunately, because of dire circumstances, this First Republic lasted only two years before succumbing to the joint offensives of Kemalist Turkey and the Soviet Union.
After recovering its footing abroad, the ARF continued its mission across the scattered Armenian Diaspora. The administration of a Diaspora within many foreign countries required a different type of leadership, as each new country of residence possessed different dynamics. In each milieu, the ARF adapted its governance within the context of the host country. The Middle East demanded a certain type of leadership; Europe demanded a different type of leadership; and the Americas demanded an entirely different type of leadership.
Throughout the Diaspora, the ARF often operated as a government-in-exile, administering the affairs of a nation-within-a-host-nation. Its legitimacy drew not from public elections or broad shows of democracy, but from its glorious past, its continued care for its people and its ideological positions which helped educate and orient future generations. Leadership emanated from the inside – via elections within the ARF organization – rather than through friction/interaction/campaigning among the public. Loyal dedication to party rules and demands had to be accepted and were considered necessary for the continuity of the community. The religious institutions had to be protected; the humanitarian institutions had to be defended; and the youth and sport organizations had to be promoted. Financial needs did not have the benefit of taxation but had to be encouraged and sometimes demanded in order for the Armenian-nation-within-a-host-nation to survive.
Throughout the Diaspora, the ARF often operated as a government-in-exile, administering the affairs of a nation-within-a-host-nation. Its legitimacy drew not from public elections or broad shows of democracy, but from its glorious past, its continued care for its people and its ideological positions which helped educate and orient future generations.
This model worked, by and large, for a few generations. For decades, the ARF kept our Diasporan communities alive and vibrant. During these times, whether the Armenian people were for the ARF or a competing organization, the ARF had always maintained an integrity of Armenian values—values that make up the social and national conscience of the Armenian Diaspora. Worldwide, its influence grew and though challenged continually, it maintained a source of strength. Armenian people the world over knew the goals and aspirations of the ARF and respected its ideals and the Armenian nation, dispersed, survived.
Then, beginning in 1988, the Soviet Union crumbled, and a new Armenian Republic was born. But the people of Armenia had changed during the past 70 years. Official propaganda had depicted the ARF as the embodiment of evil. Whether people actually believed in this Communist brainwashing or knew of the ARF’s past deeds, the fact is that the ARF became a caricatured, abstract figure amongst Armenians of the former Soviet Union, who held an innate disdain for authority. Unfortunately, by the time ARF leadership returned to Armenia after this second New Republic, some of its leaders saw themselves as “white knight saviors,” who expected waves of support and enthusiasm for their repatriation. The ARF, as the historical alternative to Communism, took for granted it would assume leadership of a non-Soviet Armenia; but this did not happen. Indeed, in Armenia’s first presidential elections, the ARF was soundly defeated by Levon Ter-Petrosian, attaining roughly four percent of the popular vote. In fact, while the ARF saw major accomplishments during the Artsakh War, the party has historically had difficulty winning over the masses in Armenia. Its successive showings in national elections, ranging from modest to underwhelming, attest to this.
One important reason for this lies in an “Agoump” (group) mentality that prevails amongst its members. While holding the people at arm’s length and making all decisions centrally and internally might work in Diasporan communities, it cannot work in the context of a homeland with a civil society. Unfortunately, rather than accepting this reality, the party has sought ‘pragmatic’ ways of boosting its relevance and, ostensibly, its influence. While there may have been some logic to working inside the system, the fact is that—starting with Robert Kocharian and continuing with Serzh Sarkisian—the party most often found itself in the role of junior partner to corrupt leadership. This further insulated the party, as it obtained governmental positions, patronage and limited influence not from the people, but as favors for being in coalition with the ruling elite. Unsparing critics have charged the ARF with ‘selling its soul’ to have a seat next to the power structure.
Today, with the Velvet Revolution and the move toward free and fair elections, we see how inflated prior numbers were. The ruling Republican Party, which regularly attained a majority in parliament, received 4.7 percent of the vote, and did not even make it into Parliament. Similarly, the ARF, which regularly crosses the five percent threshold, has now found itself on the outside looking in, with only 3.9 percent of the vote and no parliamentary representation. Even more sobering were the results of September’s mayoral elections in Yerevan, when the ARF candidate won just 1.6 percent of the vote. The inability to work with and for the Armenian people has created an environment in modern Armenia in which the ARF has become increasingly irrelevant.
Condemnation of past leadership should not be condoned. Those in the ARF leadership in these early years of the New Republic did their best. But the time has come for a true change to a new and revised ARF in order to bring itself into today’s progressive society. It will not happen overnight. A new ARF must enlighten and bring forth its ideals into this new Armenian society. The ARF needs to be transparent with its mission. It must be relevant and address the issues important to today’s Armenian electorate. Today, there is a major disconnect between the current Armenian citizenry and the ARF. If the party is to remain relevant in today’s Armenia, then this disconnect must be evaluated and ultimately addressed. Failure to do so could spell doom, making prophets of those critics who claim that this 128 year-old organization has seen its day and should now dissolve.
A new ARF contract for the Armenian nation and the people of Armenia needs to be created to inform the Armenian people of the new ARF mission. The Armenian people need to know why it is important to have the ARF as a governing entity for leadership of the Republic. Relevant issues which conform to the ARF ideals can be presented which will create a reason for voting for the ARF.
This new ARF Contract can be as follows:
WHEREAS, there is a new and revitalized Armenian Nation worldwide and within the Republic of Armenia;
AND WHEREAS, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation has for over 100 years been the Social Conscience and Defender of the Rights and Betterment of the Armenian Nation;
WE, THE ARMENIAN REVOLUTIONARY FEDERATION, hereby pledge to institute a righteous effort to work tirelessly to implement a Contract of Ideals and Initiatives on behalf of our Armenian Nation with the following:
Human Rights For All People
The ARF pledges to defend and promote the rights of all people toward human and civil justice without discrimination, protecting the universal dignity of any and all people to their beliefs and persuasions whether it be in freedom of the press, right to their religious beliefs, right to vote without interference, defend individuals in their choice in lifestyle and elimination of government corruption. All efforts will be extended to prevent sex trafficking of women to foreign countries and violators will be prosecuted as enemies of the State. The sanctity of women’s rights must be protected. Violence and sexual abuse against women cannot be tolerated and violators shall be prosecuted as criminals to the full extent of the law. New laws must be created to protect Armenian women worldwide and women within the Republic of Armenia.
The ARF pledges to come forth with economic initiatives to propose private and governmental incentives which will be fair without interference or corruptive criminal or governmental abuse, thus creating a fair investment atmosphere. The ARF seeks to initiate proposals for enterprise zones, tax benefits for new investments, standards of measurement which are acceptable with universal norms, recognize the need for investments in other parts of the Armenian Republic outside of Yerevan with incentive programs, to come forth with innovative programs within the country preventing any adverse corruption by governmental bodies, to institute a minimum wage standard for the Armenian labor market, to promote fair and safe labor practices and fair treatment of the environment, to eliminate nepotism in jobs and investments, and promote a fair and just judicial system to encourage protection of these investments.
Governmental and Operational Reforms
Require that any and all laws which apply to the rest of the country must apply consistently to all governmental bodies and members of Parliament, the Presidential Office, cabinet members and governmental agencies, as well as all governmental officers elected or appointed, and government employees. Require that all governmental bodies be subject to comprehensive annual audit to prevent waste, fraud or abuse, eliminate wasteful positions and agencies in the government and eliminate federal, localities and state budgets of wasteful spending, ban the proxy voting privileges of any and all elected officials, require all governmental committees to have public access to governmental meetings and require at least a two-thirds vote to pass any taxes initiated by Parliament or any governmental body. Require any budget proposed by the Parliament or executive branch of government to be a balanced budget unless the Republic is in a state of war or emergency.
There must be a fair and equitable right to religious freedom for all to worship as they choose but recognize that the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church has a special place in the minds and heart of the Armenian People and its institutional historic status must be defended and provided with full rights and continued influence to the nation. Religious institutions must not be taxed unless involved in profit incentive operations. Other religious denominations shall have protected status in Armenia.
Institute a Term Limit initiative that no elected individual may serve more than a 12 year term in office whether it is a federal, state or local position. This shall be for all office holders whether it is for Executive Branch, Parliament, Governors or Mayoral positions.
The Courts of Armenia should be impartial and without influence from any governmental body or persons. The Executive Branch shall provide qualified candidates for said appointments. Any and all appointments to any judgeship shall be approved by the Parliament. There should be a proper oversight of any and all candidates as to their qualifications, integrity, character and free from outside influence. Eliminate placing defendants in a jailed cage while at trial. Establish a bail bonding system so that non-violent defendants need not stay in prison while their trial is pending.
Rights of Citizens and Family
The rights and integrity of the family must be protected. There is a need to protect the family unit with assistance to keep families united and fulfilled. All legal citizens must be allowed to vote but there must be a Legal Registration to validate voting. A citizen committee along with an Electoral Board must be able to review the voting and allow presence at polling stations, vote counting and administration. Voting officials shall be paid a reasonable stipend with full review representation of all political parties at all voting precincts. Representatives of the political parties at voting stations cannot be paid by the Electoral Board or the Government; they must be paid by the political parties.
The Armenian Diaspora
The ARF recognizes the importance of the Armenian Diaspora and will continue to promote and influence the Diaspora organizations which are all part of the Armenian nation. Armenians worldwide are considered citizens of Armenia but not all Armenians are voting citizens. Armenian Diaspora should be encouraged to become official voting citizens of the Armenian Republic. The Office of Diaspora Armenians should be headed by a recognized and respected Armenian Diaspora individual with knowledge of all organizations and religious groups. The Diaspora representative should be non-partisan and respected within the Diaspora. Working with the Diaspora, the Government of Armenia should work with key Armenian Diaspora institutions to implement a system of co-operative review especially regarding Armenian Genocide Recognition and to bring forth a case in International Courts to seek reparations for the trillions of dollars of stolen Armenian assets within Turkey and other countries.
The Armenian Military
The defense of the Republic is of paramount importance to the Armenian nation. The Armenian military should be non-partisan. Its military must be for the defense of the Nation. It must be provided with the best equipment for defense of the Republic with properly trained soldiers. A citizen committee should be instituted to oversee administrative financial budgets and concerns. Said citizen committee shall not be involved in military operations but provide an oversite to prevent fraud and abuse of the military financial budget. Any military fraudulent abuse shall be considered treasonous and punishable as civil and criminal laws provide. Upon reaching the age of 18, all citizens must serve at least a two-year term with a five-year reserve status. Conscientious Objection status can be acceptable but the drafted Conscientious Objection Citizen must serve in some non-combatant position during this military service. Women should have equal status in military service and be subject to the draft.
The ARF pledges to extend it organizational programs into all areas of Armenia. It will attempt to formulate Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) chapters, Homenetmen chapters, Armenian Relief Society (ARS) chapters and Hamazkayin chapters in all areas of Armenia where possible and where the need exists. The ARF will extend its resources to the betterment of the people in the villages and cities within the Republic. It will bring forth endeavors which have been successful in the Diaspora and utilize this experience to benefit the general population. The ARF will assist in raising the standard of living for the general population and those in need. Its goal will be to assure water access and sanitation for all Armenian people, clean and academically acceptable schools and facilities, and assist the local governments in their endeavor to properly administer their duties.
The ARF will champion all efforts to assure the people of Armenia that they should not be subjected to toxic waste and poisons to its water and lands from any manufacturing entity. Any and all mining operations and manufacturing entities must adhere to safe and secure universal acceptable standards to prevent poisoning the environment. The courts and Government of Armenia should take such detrimental environmental violation issues as serious consequences to health and safe living of its people. Violations of any toxic environmental issues must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The Government Environmental Protection agencies must be empowered with qualified and fairly compensated individuals that will not succumb to fraud or corruption to environmental violations.
The ARF can continue to serve the Armenian people maintaining its obligation to be the Social Conscience for the Rights of All Armenians. The Organization must give the Armenian people a reason to respect and support the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The ARF is far from finished, but it needs to revitalize itself and adapt to the reality of today’s Armenia, Otherwise !
Bedros C. Bandazian is the Managing Trustee of the Armenian Cultural Association of America Endowment Funds.