The Wrench Between the Gears of the Protocols: Direct Action Gets the Goods

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By Babken DerGrigorian

October 10th will be a date that goes down in infamy for all Armenians.

It’s placed on the mantle next to April 24th, December 2nd, December 7th, March 1st, & October 27th.

These protocols undid with the stroke of a pen, what generations of Armenian activists have fought for; it undermined the national interests of the Republic of Armenia; it undermined our political capital in Washington; it undermined the self-determination of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

You know this, and I know this. But as the entire Armenian Nation across the world stands in disbelief, there is one question on our mind that we have a hard time coming to terms with: ‘Why?’

I would like to offer some thoughts of reflection, as well as some thoughts on moving forward.

As soon as the intentions of the protocols were made public, Armenian communities all over the world condemned them, and when President Serzh Sarkisian came for his Pan-Armenian tour, we all mobilized in the hundreds of thousands to show our opposition.

One thing was done very well: unification. The voice of the Armenian people was a unified ‘Voch’ (No). From Paris, to New York, to Los Angeles, to Beirut, and especially in Yerevan, we said No and the Armenian Government knows this. Yet despite this unified stance against the protocols, they were signed nonetheless.

It is clear from these actions that the government of Armenia does not represent the Armenian people–and really, why should they? The Armenian people didn’t elect this government. Setting aside presumptive arguments on dual citizenship, even the Armenian people in Armenia didn’t vote for them, lest we forget the tragic events of March 1st 2008.

The Republic of Armenia lacks basic democratic values of government accountability.

This is not news, nor is it shocking, yet we have collectively shied away from this ‘inconvenient truth’ for years, especially when the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) was part of the ruling coalition. Fine; there are arguments on both sides on whether this was or wasn’t justified given the political realities of the time but one thing is certain, it came back to bite us in the proverbial ass.

Let’s be frank. While we made a lot of noise, we failed because the protocols were signed. The protests were great for way to deal with our emotional outrage, but it didn’t change anyone’s mind. The protocols were signed. The hunger strikers were some of the bravest members of our community. Their dedication was inspiring and we are all extremely proud of their work, but the protocols were signed. We gave passionate speeches and pleaded with Serzh, but the protocols were signed. The ARF threatened to, and then did, resign from the ruling coalition but the protocols were signed.

The protocols were signed, the protocols were signed, the protocols were signed!

Which brings us back to the question, why?

It’s not because we didn’t want it (derailment of the process) bad enough. Nothing says dedication more than 35 youth hunger striking for over 100 hours.

The protocols were signed because we lacked the strategic points of intervention. Plain and simple.

What does this mean? It means our actions lacked sufficient leverage to cause the change we wanted. Were they useless? Of course not! But were they successful?

Unfortunately, the answer to that is also no, at least in the short term. The problem of leverage in the Armenian Government is something the Diaspora has had to figure out for the past 20 years. One such solution to this was to include the ARF in the ruling coalition, despite its proportionally low representation in the parliament. It gave the Armenian Government political capital because of the ARFs transnational nature, and it gave the Diaspora a stake in the government and influence in its policies. Yet ever since the turbulent beginnings of the Sarkisian Administration, the government has made it clear that it seeks to shake itself of this ‘external’ influence.

At a time when the undemocratic Government of Armenia is acting against the national interests of the country, I say it’s time for the ARF to embrace its position as Armenia’s natural opposition whole heartedly, and challenge power effectively.

As a transnational opposition, the ARF has much to gain from bringing about true democratic reforms in the country and is uniquely situated to be successful at such a movement.

I believe the signing of these protocols opens a new chapter in Armenian politics, one that is rooted in democracy.

Because the real issue at hand is not the protocols, it’s the accountability of the Armenian Government to the Armenian people.

In case there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, ask yourself this question: Had Armenia held free and fair elections, had the events of March 1st not occurred, would the protocols have been signed, or even existed?

But that’s all water under the bridge, what’s done is done. What we should be asking is, “What now?”

First thing we need to do is realize that we have more leverage points than meets the eye.

While protesting Serzh didn’t change his mind, barricading the Genocide memorial to not allow a photo opportunity is a prime example of a successful and strategic intervention using direct action. It worked!

What if we barricaded ourselves to the doors of the consulate? What if we barricaded ourselves to the doors of the Beverly Hilton. The tactics of non-violent direct action (NVDA) that have been carefully developed by scholars such as Gene Sharp and perfected by activists all over the world would do us much good and will become more relevant as we fight for an accountable Armenian Government.

It goes without saying but our sisters and brothers in Armenia have the most leverage to gain and exploit by utilizing these tactics, so long as it is part of a larger strategic vision.

Let us be responsible organizers here with a few words on direct action. NVDA is a tactic, not a strategy. It should only be used if it moves you closer to your goal. We should not elevate a tactic to the level of a strategy. If it doesn’t suit your purpose, then shake off the romantic feelings of barricading yourself. If you don’t the cops certainly will.

But let’s also acknowledge and put into practice the scores of scholarly work on power and social movements that present compelling arguments for pursuing this path. Gene Sharp’s work on such topics has been translated to over 30 languages, including Azeri, Farsi, and Georgian, and has been cited by the US Institute of Peace as the intellectual groundwork responsible for the success of the OTPOR movement in Serbia, which galvanized an entire country to remove Slobodan Milocoviç from power.

And let us not forget the works of Ghandi and his salt marches, or the now legendary events of Seattle ’99, where the World Trade Organization rounds were successfully halted by activists due to strategic uses of NVDA.

Indeed, NVDA has proven to be most successful when the adversary lacks mechanisms of accountability.  I believe we’re at a stage now, where these tactics will increasingly be more useful and will bear fruit for our cause in opening up larger political leverage points, especially by our sisters and brothers in Armenia.

As soon as we pick up our collective jaws off the floor, I hope we can start to think strategically about what our next steps are, and how we can use our community’s social and financial power to increase our leverage against the unaccountable, undemocratic, government of Armenia.

Against the Protocols? Work for democracy in Armenia.

“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part; you can’t passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
-Mario Savio

 

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17 Comments

  1. Jirair Khrimian said:

    Let us start now, in front of L.A . Armenian Consulate, with the hope that it will be the bigining of the worldwide (dispora and Armenia) barricading.
    I’m a 75 yeas old armenian, I’m not ARF’s member, I do not care who is the organizer I’m ready to barricade.

  2. Armen said:

    There wasn’t any political capital with Washington. For years and years the Washington duped us, and we lived in hope. Let’s be truthful to ourselves, American Armenian organizations don’t have sufficient political and financial clout to influence Washington. All the money and efforts had better been spent in Armenia and for Armenia. All said, I am against the protocols, and despite the rallys around the world and all the outrage let’s say it Armenians in Armenia do not hold Diaspora in high regard and that is because we haven’t done enough.

  3. Serge said:

    Now is the time for all Armenians in diaspora and inside Armenia to concentrate on removing Serge Sarkisian from office without any revolution or any harm done to the country. This action should be very decisive and very well thought of, so it wont create havoc and chaos in the country that Azeris can advantage of it. From now on our whole energy should focus on his removal from office before more damages done and that’s it.

  4. KRIKOR said:

    totaly agree with serge, I am for normalization with turkey for many many reasons, but there are many qustions marks serrounding this agreement!!!!???? and the best way to get rid of them is democratic chnage in armenia through the armenian peopl in armneia as serge says! we must focuse and unite our forces in armenia and the parliament! they stll have to approve it.

  5. katia K. said:

    Well said Babken,.
    I would continue to investigate and look into the “why?” though, because if we ever find a trail of money from Turkey to Serz Sarkissyan, that will be our ticket to exposing him to the people of Armenia… Because, seriously “why” would the Armenian government ever get involved in an agreement that makes Armenia surrender everything, for borders that might or might not open, that might even close after they have been opened?@#$%?
    I agree with Armen that throughout all these years the American political system used us for campaign donations and votes. Although I do not want to downplay our monumental achievement of having 42 states out of 50 acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. However, we do not have leverage because we do not have much to offer the Americans. Unless the Armenians start holding positions in the State Department itself, well maybe even then America will not change its 94 year stance vis a vis the Armenians. We need to understand that Americans work for their country. They will do whatever benefits their country. They do not work for the Armenians, and frankly we would have probably done the same if we were in their shoes…
    That responsibility is ours. We should instead spend money on educating and alerting the people in Armenia, and becoming more engaged with our homeland. I still think we should push for dual citizenship and a “national tax” from all Armenians that should go to hopefully a future Democratic Govt. in Armenia.

  6. Babken DerGrigorian said:

    Jirair: I applaud your commitment and enthusiasm. I think before we organize a barricading of anything, a clear goal and strategy needs to be in place. Ask yourself this, “what will barricading ourselves to the consulate do exactly”? It’ll send a message to the Armenian government, but I think the time for sending messages as passed… they clearly don’t listen.

    Armen: I was referring to political capital IN washington, not WITH washington. This distinction, while subtle, makes all the difference. While I agree that Washington (i.e. the administration and its agencies as well as other branches of the government) has “duped” us, our intense lobbying efforts gave us political capital. the Armenian Lobbying efforts brought congresspeople into power, and influenced policies. It is this capital that I am suggesting has been undermined. What are we to go tell Congressman joe smith of kentuky (not a real person), who signed on to our genocide bill last year for the first time? or the entire Armenian congressional caucus as a whole?

    Serge: I agree. This is where our efforts will be best served. But we need to make sure the leadership of such a movement is “homegrown”, not diaspora driven… though resources from the diaspora can surely fund this effort.

  7. Garen Yegparian said:

    Only one difference have I with the contents of this piece– given the alternative to Serzh Sarkissian in the 2008 election, the protocols or something like them WOULD likely have surfaced.

  8. Gayane said:

    My dear friend (he is a white guy from Michigan) told me before the protocols were signed and when I was hyperventalating due to it.. that no matter how much we screan and yell in America, nothing will change in Armenia… US truly does not care about Armenia because it will not gain anything from it.. Armenia does not have anything to give to US.. Turkey does… So whatever we do may never succeed.. He said that Armenia HAS A CHOICE to retrieve from signing the protocols.. NO other country has the right to pressure Armenian govt to do anything.. However, they do it because WE LET THEM do it.. WE ALLOW other countries to pressure and put us in the corner and dictate what we should or should not do.. Armenia does not have the means to stand up against these superpowers but Armenia has a choice.. a moral, ethical and truthful choice but IT chooses not to.. because and he said this will hurt like hell..because most likely “your government is bought up by either US or TURKEY..

    Everything he told me struck me like million knives.. but i knew he was right.. and what is worst is that he also told me that my President will spit on Diaspora and not take us seriously….. and he was right again.. Sarkissian himself said that he did not come to Diaspora to ask permission but to tell us about the decision he made.. Imagine my blood pressure once i read those words..my heart stopped and i could not speak.. HOW DARE HE put us down like that in front the enemy? ..

    I agree that first thing on our agenda should be to bring down the mafia and replace it a better, honest and dedicated body..

    Katia: I definitely agree with you on dual citizenships and taxing.. I mean we pay taxes that come out of our ears to this country and for what? WHY? Why not do that for our OWN COUNTRY.. to make it better and greater for the future generations and for those who will end up going back to our land.. I agree with you because I know without having a say in everything that goes on in the govt, we may not have a stronger and firmer power as we wish to have… your thinking is on the right track..

    Taxem Serji gluxa vor sents ban arets MER glxin…

    G

  9. arman said:

    I agree with Armen, we have spent so much money and energy in Washington and they have duped us over and over. I know we got a lot accomplished in Washington but as you can see its not enough. I belive we have to spend more money and energy on Armenia and Armenians directly, one idea is to have an non-profit organization who helps Armenians in diaspora go back to Armenia and get settled in, this organization would help them with housing and help them find jobs, this would even be beneficial to businesses in Armenia also since Armenians from diaspora will have much better customer service skills. I know so many families who are just barely surviving right here in Los Angeles, and working for less then minimum wage while rest of the family is in Armenia, it is very hard for them some times they don’t see each other for years, or even worst they split, this is like a huge swamp just pulls them in and they can’t get out. I know they would go back to Armenia and their families in a heart beat if there was some king of financial assistance. One thing has me worried is that I see so many young families win the US Green Card lottery, this is beneficial for US since this are young families and will work and pay taxes, and the benefit for the current Armenian government is that they get rid if the young ones, and all the old ones will eventually die, and they will deliver Armenia to Turkey without any Armenians, this is why we have to be united, be succesifull in diaspora to help each other and move to Armenia as many of us as possible.
    You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

  10. Ara Nazarian said:

    If you believe that NVDA was the cause of the color coded revolutions that were the rage a few years back, I’ve got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. They were mere smoke screens used effectively by the State Department, CIA… to accomplish their tasks through a key group of field operators who went from Serbia to Ukraine to Georgia to get the job done.

    Armenians have some serious thinking to do about their and their state’s future. We all act shocked that this has happened now. Anyone remember LTP? he was about to do the same thing 10 years ago. What made us think that not doing anything about the source of the problem will make it go away.

    We Armenians collectively dropped the ball. So, I would not go around and put the blame all on Serjik and his minions. We all have failed. He’s just responding to pressures put on him by other powers to survive and get some legitimacy somewhere in the world.

    Before we chain ourselves to a door or tree or something, let’s first try to understand each other (Armenia and Diaspora) besides the cliche stereotypes that we hurl at each other; think of the situation that the country is in; come up with some reasonable solutions; find a few people who are not either dimwits and/or crooks to have in charge; divide labor between Armenia and diaspora based on our respective strengths; and move forward for a change.

    And for God’s sake, let’s stop being such tools to have the likes of LTP, Serjik and Robert as our leaders. Are these the best we can do?

  11. ARMENAK said:

    This is Soviet Republic of Armenia, ran by the same corrupted officials. Diaspora has assisted Armenia by lobbying for various funds and grants. We fed them, and bred them. We need to stop covering their immoral and corrupted acts in front of the world. We need to bring their endeavors to the surface and tell the world how corrupt are officials in Armenia.This is not officially elected government and we need to stop assisting them now. By feeding them, we just make them stronger. Diaspora needs to follow the footsteps of USA bankrupting USSR. We have the script just follow it. Stop supporting financially and lobbying for aid. When their clans become hungry, and financially unstable they will simply destroy each other, and they real democracy can be supportde by diaspora then and not now. We need to stop all of the telethons and fund raising

  12. Alex Postallian said:

    Washington has given us lip service on the Genocide issue.Armenia is a small country,turkey is larger and is more important as a customer to U.S. corporations.It all comes down to dollars.More important our country the U.S. is being led down the path of destruction by the present administration and the past.Soooo worry about our country,we are slowly being owned by foreign countries,SOoo learn to speak Chinese or Japanese fluently.Yes I am proud to be Armenian,but I am an American ,first.

  13. Gayane said:

    Alex,

    You are right.. No super power can remain at its throne for too long.. Just like Russia, who was the super power that collapsed, USA will eventually collapse too…it will happen.. when that will happen? I personally dont…

    But knowing other languages is not a bad idea.. it is sad but it maybe the reality sooner or later…

    However, if I had a choice to live anywhere after the collapse of USA, I rather go back to Armenia.. unless Turks are already there and took over our lands, then no point of going there…. (GOD forbids)..

    G

  14. Lusik said:

    So, the equation is: Against the Protocols? = “Work for democracy in Armenia.”

    In science, before an equation is written, you have to define the quantities (categories).
    a) What do you mean by “Democracy”. Is not it the sword used by all “well-wishing” sides?
    b) Are you sure, that a little bit of centralization is not needed at this moment?

  15. Amb said:

    Fundamental questions are not being asked, it seems to me:

    Is the government of Armenia responsible and accountable to Armenians throughout the world or just the citizens of Armenia who can participate in voting for it?

    Is Diaspora even relevant now that there is a (semi-)free and independent Armenia? Shouldn’t all Armenians in the Diaspora immigrate to Armenia, settle there and then start participating in the day-to-day life of the country? (Like we do in our adopted countries).

    And similar questions.

    Until we deal with fundamental questions, we’ll keep dithering back and forth from crisis to crisis with no definite direction.

  16. Mike said:

    To ARMENAK who wrote on October 15, 2009 at 11:12 pm
    “Diaspora has assisted Armenia by lobbying for various funds and grants. We fed them, and bred them… Stop supporting financially and lobbying for aid.”

    Thank you for lobbying for funds and grants. Is there a total amount for all these years? Anyway, most of it is stolen before it arrives to Armenia. However, if you personally donated any money that my 70 yo aunt in Yerevan could have benefited from I will gladly reimburse you. Please let me know how much and where to send you a check. Thanks again, but I will not stop supporting her until your tax dollars support NATOTurkey in its illegal blockade and arm and train Azeri and Georgian militarists that threaten Armenia.

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