The editor of our sister publication Hairenik Weekly Zaven Torikian recently conducted an interview with long-time ARF leader and activist Tatul Sonentz-Papazian, who discussed President Barack Obama’s post-inaugural approaches. The Armenian Weekly published the interview in English. This week, we present it below.
Armenian Weekly: How should we perceive and evaluate Obama’s approach in restoring, in the first instance the international reputation of the United States and, second, the trust of Americans in their government?
Tatul Sonentz-Papazian: To start with, we must note that the reinstatement of America’s international standing and the restoration of the American people’s trust in their federal government are interconnected issues. The potential of the United States depends on the socio-economic state of its middle, largest consumer class. Events came to prove that the last eight years of the Republican-Conservative regime–in view of the careless spending and waste of financial and human resources in both foreign and domestic policies–were in essence neither republican nor conservative in nature.
As we know, early on, a reactionary socio-economic agenda was imposed by a coterie surrounding the president known by its fundamentalist leanings, with publicized loyalty to an Old Testament “Creator” and–through close personal connections–to a world network of oil interests and market speculators. The result of such a credo was that the right-leaning “silent majority,” whose votes had brought this group to power in blind commitment to “Republican” family values, witnessed the total disregard and neglect of its economic interests to the benefit of formerly American, now international, corporations and the financing of costly military adventures prompted by neo-colonial “white man’s burden”-type delusions. The rights and interests of the working middle class and minority groups, as well as concern for the degradation of the biosphere, were put on a cold backburner.
The Obama Administration must, first of all, stop this precipitous descent into fantasy by turning the priorities of the discredited pseudo-plutocratic Bush regime upside down, with serious commitment to the legitimate interests and rights of the toiling majority of taxpayers and a realistically sane foreign policy. Only then may world opinion concerning the United States and the trust of the American people in their federal government be restored.
AW: On the domestic front, Obama faces the daunting challenges of reestablishing the viability of the U.S. economy and securing reasonable growth of production. Will these urgent issues force him to reevaluate his agenda?
TSP: As I said, given the fact that the restoration of trust in the federal government–along with the somewhat soiled reputation of the United States abroad–are closely connected, it is impossible to stimulate the economy without coming to coordinated terms with global partners in commerce on the adoption of perimeters that will not promote the present drain of funds and jobs from the United States. Undoubtedly, today, all givens that proceed from the right wing political platform of the last eight years need to be objectively assessed and considered without, however, steering too far away from the stated left-leaning course (based on which a distinct majority of disillusioned Americans turned their backs on an erstwhile conservative agenda, bringing the Obama Administration to power).
AW: Can the present global recession create a situation wherein this new administration, also constrained by geopolitical pressures, backtracks from official recognition of the Armenian Genocide?
TSP: In geopolitical terms, the present highly interactive world order remains mostly unchanged when the threatened economic collapse is global in nature. Under such circumstances, pressures are equally felt by all powers, with no discernible change on their stance towards ongoing, unresolved ethnic crises with international ramifications, such as the Palestinian, Kurdish, Armenian, and countless other issues involving oppressed minorities.
So, a realistic approach to the issue of official recognition of the Armenian Genocide tells us to accept the fact that as long as the endemic need for oil remains a paramount concern, U.S. foreign policy will very likely stay the course, with treaties and military bases intact, ready to assure the flow of oil from the Middle East and the Caucasus. As we all know, one of these bases is in Injirlik, Turkey.
AW: History has shown us that at the eleventh hour, promises made to recognize the Armenian Genocide as such have always been forgotten. Thus, over the years, presidential contenders have made such promises only to change their minds after their election to office. Should we believe it this time?
TSP: We should extricate this issue from the emotional confines of trust or mistrust, and set it on a plain of objective realism. We should not forget that–not too long ago–the U.S. Congress had officially recognized the Metz Yeghern as genocide. However, in the context of the political realities of that time, that recognition could not have a telling effect on the fortunes of a long forgotten Armenian Cause. Since then, we have experienced the world-wide 60th commemoration of the genocide, almost a decade of extreme activism, the independence of Armenia, the liberation struggle of Nagorno-Karabagh, and the establishment of the Artsakh Republic–events that made Hai Tahd a visible and unavoidable international case begging for a solution, with echoes of the Sevres and Lausanne Treaties being heard regularly. Caught between the clashing provisions of these two treaties, the Armenian Cause was immobilized until the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, which had put all national liberation movemen’s and minority grievances on ice, for the duration.
Today, the Kemalist/Islamic Republic of Turkey itself has entered a critical era of socio-ethnic turmoil, the outcome of which no one can predict. It is within these widening political perimeters, that the Obama administration will set the issue of the Genocide recognition as just another bind in the huge Gordian Knot of an agenda that it has set for itself and needs to unravel on a basis of ever-shifting priorities.
AW: On the issue of foreign aid, what kind of economic and technological assistance can Armenia expect from the new administration?
TSP: The quantity and quality of U.S. assistance will first depend on the fluctuations of U.S.-Russia and U.S.-Iran relations, and then on U.S.-Armenia, Russia-Armenia, EU-Armenia and particularly Iran-Armenia relations. Let us remember that the U.S. promotion of Turkey-Armenia rapprochement is a diplomatic missile aimed at the growing Iran-Armenia cooperation, a tactical move that may be construed as a threat to Russia’s geopolitical interests in the area, while throwing Armenia into the gaping muzzle of the Turkish Grey Wolf.
AW: Barak Obama has publicly promised to uphold the self-determination rights of Artsakh Armenians, a position that boosts Armenian hopes. What steps should be taken to make this happen?
TSP: It will all depend on the value of Caucasian petroleum on the American stock market. An America self-sufficient in energy resources will not give in to Azeri pressures on its tactical moves in foreign policy. The present realities need time for any appreciable change. In the meantime, it is up to the Armenians not to give up the pursuit of their legitimate rights and to take advantage of the many weak points in the present status quo, which–considering the numerous inequities on which it based–is far from being static or permanent.
AW: As an ethnic minority, while maintaining our distinct culture, how are we going to remain in step with Obama’s following statement: “Our similarities far outnumber our differences, and in the final analysis, we all desire the same things–to live a peaceful and prosperous life and to leave our children a better world than the one we inherited.”
TSP: Obama’s statement, in this instance encompassing all of humanity, addresses the increasingly multi-ethnic nature of Western societies; it is by no means a negation of ethnic cultures and their right to exist. One must keep in mind the U.S. motto E Pluribus Unum (“Out of the Many, One”), the concept of a “nation of nations,” where races, cultures, and religions exist and thrive side by side. The very election of Barak Hussein Obama to the office of president proves the evolutionary progress of the concept.
In a basically free society, the only threat to the cultural survival of America’s almost two million Armenians can come from a lack of the willingness of Armenians themselves to remain true to their cultural and spiritual values, which by no means contradict those professed by the Founding Fathers of the United States–a nation of nations.
Undoubtedly, like all Diasporan nations, Armenians also will pay their dues to assimilation. But remember this, in spite of all the natural and man-made catastrophes, there are more Armenians on this planet today than there ever were during their long, turbulent history. For better or for worse, all indications are that Armenians are here to stay.