Activists and commentators react
WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)—If President Obama’s plan were to completely alienate Armenian Americans in the first year of his presidency, it’s safe to say he has reached his goal in record time.
Two weeks after betraying his campaign promise to properly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, Obama broke yet another promise to Armenian Americans who had staunchly supported him during his presidential campaign—he tilted the military aid parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan in favor of the latter, and proposed allocating less aid to Armenia than it received in 2008.
The two Armenian American groups—the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Armenian Assembly—that for years have struggled against genocide denial and for—at least—an even-handed approach to Armenia and Azerbaijan, issued strongly worded statements expressing their disappointment over the Obama’s most recent betrayal of promise.
But little has been written about the community’s disappointment and outrage over what it views as the continuous stream of blows from the Obama Administration in recent weeks.
The community leaders, commentators, and activists I talked to this week attested to that anger.
“The Armenian American community in California was taken aback by President Obama’s proposed budget that significantly slashes U.S. aid to Armenia in favor of a boost to Azerbaijan,” said Ara Khachatourian, the English-section editor of “Asbarez,” a newspaper based in California, which is home to close to a million Armenians. “Coming on the heels of his disappointing announcement on April 24, his budget proposal has angered this community, which in droves voted for him and his agenda for change. Not only has there been no positive change, but there have been further setbacks that could adversely affect Armenians around the world,” he added.
Boston-based activist Ara Nazarian agrees. “Soon after breaking his campaign promise to properly recognize the Armenian Genocide and strong-arming the Armenian government into issuing a shameful joint communiqué with Turkey on the eve of the 94th anniversary of the genocide, President Obama has broken yet another campaign promise,” he said. “The president’s much-touted message of change and hope and his commitment to the pursuit of justice and human rights seems to bypass the concerns of the Armenian American community. This is especially troubling given his inspiring and energizing campaign promising to break with the expedient politics of the old. While Obama’s presidency is in its infancy, the Armenian American community is experiencing déjà vu all over again,” he added.
Activist George Aghjayan from Worcester, Mass. wonders what Armenia gained in return for the concessions it made during its recent negotiations—under U.S. pressure—with Turkey. “Armenia has given up much over the last few weeks: signing a “road map” agreement that derailed U.S. presidential recognition of the genocide, concessions supposedly contained in that road map, and now the proposed foreign aid package,” he said. “What exactly has Armenia received for all these concessions that, quite frankly, jeopardize its very existence?”
Prominent Armenian commentator Harut Sassounian, also the publisher of the California Courier, believes that “Armenian interests are now going from the frying pan into the fire.” By breaking his promises, Sassounian said, “President Obama is disrespecting his own word first.”
Sassounian has a call for action to all activists: “Let’s fight back, the way we did with the firing of Ambassador John Evans when we blocked the nomination of his successor. We should not sit back and watch our interests go down the drain! We can get the U.S. Congress to reverse the foreign aid cut. We can also reverse the effects of his April 24 statement by passing a genocide resolution in the House as well as the Senate.”