On the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, Asbarez approached ARF Bureau member Dr. Viken Yacoubian to elaborate on some of the critical issues facing the Armenian Nation, as well as assess some of the challenges encountered by the party as it continues its activities well through a second century of service to the nation. Dr. Yacoubian responded to questions from Asbarez Editor Ara Khachatourian via email.
Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Dr. Yacoubian moved to the United States with his family at the age of 12. In the U.S. he continued his education in public schools graduating from Glendale High School. Subsequently, he earned his B.A. in Political Science from UCLA. He began his graduate studies at Loyola Marymount University, earning an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. He continued his graduate studies at the University of Southern California (USC), earning a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University’s American Psychological Association (APA)-accredited Psychology program. Dr. Yacoubian successfully defended his dissertation titled “Assessment of Racial Identity and Self-Esteem in an Armenian American Population.”
Dr. Yacoubian has been an activist and has occupied many leadership positions in the community. He has served of the ARF Western US Central Committee for several terms, one of which as its chairman. He has also been a member of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Organization Central Executive. In 2015, at the conclusion of the 32nd ARF World Congress, Dr. Yacoubian was elected as a member of the party’s Bureau, the highest executive body of the organization.
ARA KHACHATOURIAN: As the ARF marks its 125th anniversary, what, in your assessment, has made the party persevere and stay relevant for more than a century?
DR. VIKEN YACOUBIAN: That is both an easy and a difficult question to answer. Difficult, because it’s a monumental task to assess the historical evolution of the ARF and truly understand the intricacies behind its success. Such an understanding requires serious analysis of the historical and geopolitical context within which the organization has functioned for more than 125 years and which has defined its raison-d’etre.
However, in a much simpler way, the ARF has persevered and stayed relevant because the needs and aspirations of our nation have propelled its creation and those same evolving needs and aspirations have defined its vision and hence its path. The ability of the ARF to be the interlocutor of its people’s voice, the translator of its nation’s aspirations, the driver of its cause, no matter the cost to itself, is really at the root of its relevance and success. The Armenian people have always known this fact about the ARF and have appreciated the clarity that underlies its unwavering dedication to our nation and its wellbeing.
On a more structural and organizational level, the formula, if you will, that has defined the ARF is at the core of its relevance for well over a century. On the one hand, a centralized ideology, one that transcends geographical, situational, contextual or any other boundary, and, on the other hand, a modus operandi, functionality, that is decentralized, strictly based on the needs and conditions of the community within which the organization is working. This creates a unified vision while allowing for optimum flexibility to successfully execute activities and operations. In some way, its founders had formulated an internal mechanism of checks and balances whereby its core values and principles are uniformly preserved while its political functionality is not hampered in service of such uniformity.
A.K.: To that end, what should the party do to remain relevant in the Armenian reality in the future?
V.Y.: Keeping its ear to the ground to always hear its people’s voice remains a prerequisite to the ARF’s perseverance and success. The moment the organization is alienated from its people, its relevance will begin to erode. Of course, one must not assume that this voice is homogeneous or concordant. We know very well that times are turbulent on numerous fronts, be it in Armenia, Artsakh, Javakhk or the Diaspora: Governance, security, assimilation, corruption, and other issues plague our current reality. As a political organization, it is important for the ARF to continue moving forward by staying true to its ideology, core values, and platform, while remaining absolutely committed to the principles of democracy, in an intra-national sense, and by embracing the overarching goals that unify our nation, be it recognition of the Genocide, subsequent reparations, nation-building, or supporting and strengthening our Republic and Artsakh.
A.K.: You have been a member of the ARF Bureau for a year now. What are the global challenges facing the party?
V.Y.: Let me first say that challenges have always served as a driving force for the ARF. Any political organization that has an ideologically-based vision, a disciplined operational structure, and a culture that fosters dialectic and reflective processes, welcomes challenges as they serve to vitalize and energize its ranks, further invigorate its vision, and renew its commitment to the cause it pursues. Hence, it is very difficult to find a challenge-free period in the history of the ARF. For the ARF, even victories are perceived as the beginning of new challenges, for the struggle of the Armenian people continues until such time that a just resolution is achieved in the context of Hai Tahd (Armenian Cause).
At this current historical and sociopolitical juncture, one can say that there is a preeminent need to focus on the Republic of Armenia, its stability, national security, and ability to thrive as a country at all levels. We must also be equally vigilant about Artsakh as regional forces continue to pose significant threats to the existence of the land, whose liberation was won by the sacrifice and the unwavering determination of the people.
The party must remain at the forefront of constructive processes that aim to create a society where equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities are afforded to every citizen. A society where the interests and will of its citizens are clearly manifested and tolerated. A society where access is equal and participation in all spheres is multilayered, from governmental entities to the private sphere and the family unit. This requires a transformative will from all directions, top-down and bottom-up. We are of the firm belief that such changes must occur through actions and processes that never jeopardize the stability and national security of the Republic. However, such changes are necessary to ensure the prosperity and longevity of our nation. We believe that the recent adoption of a parliamentary system of governance, which will take effect in the near future, is a first step in the right direction. By no means it is a magic bullet or the solution to all the ills that currently exist. It will, however, create a palpable potential for a top-down positive shift. However, a fundamental transformation can only occur if, as noted earlier, willful, constructive action is generated from all directions through unhindered participation of all segments of society in the political process. We believe that the parliamentary system will at least allow for and probably catalyze such a systemic change.
The party must also grapple with the challenge of a continuously evolving and transforming Diaspora. It would be redundant to list the “classic” challenges of the Diaspora; preservation of identity, language, “hayabahbanum,” and so forth. The challenges today go well beyond those and it has become necessary to redefine our understanding of the Diaspora in the context of a new nation that extends well beyond the geographical borders of the Republic. Mere preservation of identity no longer defines a Diaspora whose life is almost as long as our party’s history and whose roots run much deeper than what we hoped for when our people were forcefully exiled. We now have a nation without borders, dispersed all over the globe, yet sharing commonalities, some definable, others abstract, but anchored, in the last 10 years or so, by the independent Republic of Armenia. This last piece is a new phenomenon which systemically shifts the diaspora, as well as Armenia. Therefore, a new paradigm has emerged that requires us to reevaluate our understanding of the Armenian nation and the meaning and position of the Diaspora vis-à-vis this new reality. The challenge is no longer about establishing emotional bridges between Armenia and the Diaspora, but it’s about finding pathways that integrate the two in a real and palpable sense. This requires willful action on the part of the government as well as by all vested parties in the country and the Diaspora so that a real participatory relationship is established. A process such as this truly maximizes the potential of our nation and exponentially contributes to our national dreams and aspirations.
In a larger sense, in all facets of our society, an epic, albeit subtle, struggle has been brewing between old and new, traditional and modern, rooted and unfixed. In the new world order, if we lose our smartphones, our universe comes unhinged; revolutions are ignited by way of social media within which these aforementioned dichotomies are clearly manifested. The challenge for a party such as ours, whose greatness is well documented in the history of our nation, is to maintain its relevance which, to some extent, is conditioned upon its ability to evolve with the times and to reinvent itself without becoming divorced from its glorious legacy. Generally speaking, there is a shift in favor of individualism, to some extent as a result of the role that social media plays in our daily lives, as well as due to the sociocultural changes caused by globalization. It is important for any political party, including ours, to stay relevant in the face of these tangible changes but it is also important to ensure that substance and depth are not compromised in the process. I am of the firm belief that our organizational structure is flexible enough to allow for such changes yet to maintain its depth, thanks to a tradition that values collective and dialectic processes and the will of the majority.
A.K.: What is the party’s view of the post-Centennial (of the Genocide) Armenian reality?
V.Y.: There is no question that the commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide was an unprecedented global event for our people and has left a mark in our collective psyche which will reverberate and manifest itself in different forms for many years to come. Aside from its cathartic effect, the coming together of our people on that occasion, the feeling of oneness despite the geographical distances, has imparted a tremendous sense of collective empowerment. This can be considered the beginning of a shift from victimhood to empowered action. We see ourselves as enablers in this process. The fact of the Genocide is no longer at issue; we must focus on reparations and actions that would attempt to mitigate the unmeasurable injustice inflicted upon our people. The depth and breadth of the commemorative manifestations during the Centennial of the Genocide show that our nation is ready and able to engage in this next phase of our struggle.
A.K.: There are those who claim that the priorities of the party in Armenia and the Diaspora are different. How do you respond to that?
V.Y.: Such claims are at best superficial and may very well have more sinister intentions. The priorities of the ARF are established by its World Congresses and implemented accordingly wherever an organizational structure operates. In the beginning, I talked about ARF’s decentralized mode of operation which, in essence, allows for a flexibility that is necessary for efficiency and effective execution of its activities. The uniformity is absolute when it comes to its ideology and the priorities that stem from that ideology. Its decentralized operational structure might suggest certain nuances vis-à-vis emphasis in a given context, however, such nuances are absolutely unrelated to the priorities of the organization as a unit.
A.K.: Why should someone join the party in 2016?
V.Y.: Let me start by saying that for us the most important thing is for people to be politically conscious and engaged. Affiliation is secondary as long as one has made the conscious choice to contribute to our nation, however he or she decides. The biggest danger to our survival as a nation is complacency and an existence devoid of some degree of involvement reflective of one’s national identity. I personally embrace the existential notion that a life which lacks the requisite consciousness to make choices and to hence engage or act based on those choices is a life that is effectively empty. Ultimately, one has to consciously engage in life, act, and take responsibility for those actions. Now, in a national context, for me, gaining political consciousness which would then inform one’s actions is best achieved by way of membership in an organization that is well anchored ideologically and that affords the opportunity to its members to actively contribute to its development, direction, and evolution. ARF, with its 125-year history, has all these attributes. It is surely ideologically anchored and, at the same time, has the structure and internal mechanisms to offer a multitude of practical ways for one to engage in the political process and contribute to our cause and nation. Its glorious history imparts the subjective element necessary to feel connected to the cause, while its activities on the ground, be it in Armenia or the Diaspora, offer all the objective and practical components necessary to become politically engaged.