BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
It has been quite a ride this year for Armenians of the world. We started out badly, what with the previous year ending with Kobe Bryant’s ill-conceived, money grubbing shilling for Turkish Airlines, the U.S. House of Representatives’ (USHOR) failure to even vote on H.Res. 252, and Obama’s recess appointment of Mr. Conflict-of-interest himself, Matt Bryza as U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. That last one is ending now, with the Senate highly unlikely to act to confirm that guy, so he’ll be out of Baku soon (unless of course he decides to settle there, what with all the friends he has among the crooks who run that country). Off course this bit of White House idiocy also garnered the recent Washington Post op-ed piece glorifying the deeply flawed diplomat and criticizing our community, and especially the ANCA for “daring” to oppose this appointment.
However we did end the year well with an early Christmas present from France’s Parliament with the law criminalizing denial of the Armenian Genocide. But then, since it’s an Armenian issue, and all of our picnics seem to come with ants, we had some lamebrain at the LA Times decide to editorialize against this legislation. You see, in some people’s universe, it’s OK to have legislation defining as hate crimes actions and utterances against some groups, minorities, in the U.S. But if anyone else decides to enact equivalent legislation regarding the Genocide, well, that’s just an infringement of free speech. After all, what is the extirpation of a nation compared to anti-Black, homophobic, or misogynistic graffiti?
Another breed of ants at this French picnic is the timing. There’s likely a lot more politics to passage of the anti-denial law than we would have liked. French President Sarkozy is running for office and, no doubt, currying favor with our compatriots in France. This is the Turkish government’s argument, too. Let’s give them some credit. They can’t be wrong about everything. Sarkozy’s previous lukewarmth towards our issues supports this contention. He was giving signals back in February when on a visit to Turkey, he suggested some alternative association in the European Union for Turkey, fitting his inclination to disallow Turkey from becoming a full member.
Naturally, Turkey is throwing its typical temper tantrums over the anti-denial law, calling home its Ambassador to France for “consultations”, threatening to terminate trade deals, etc. This may sound familiar. It’s been repeated countless times by Ankara. A discussion with a friend yielded the idea of producing a chronology of Turkey’s actions when the French Senate acted on Genocide recognition a decade ago. Then, add today’s parallels in a new timeline. Pretty soon, we’d be able to predict what Ankara will do next and when. Remember, Turkey has whined, complained, hollered, lobbied, and ultimately done nothing with all the countries who have taken actions Ankara deems anti-Turkish, whether this be Genocide recognition or things like the U.S. arms embargo enacted after Turkey invaded and occupied Cyprus.
Another friend suggested a symbolic action that both thanks the French government and shows some economic savvy. The idea, simply, is “Buy French”. So given the season we’re in, perhaps buying French wine is in order. Imagine if a spike were observed in those sales, especially in areas with heavy Armenian population concentrations.
Turkey’s tantrums are especially fitting given its prime minister’s, Erdogan, well known ego. Despite this, his party (AKP), though slightly diminished, retained power in parliament, a mixed bag from an Armenian perspective. While AKP’s rule has brought some softening in Turkey’s chauvinistic Kemalism, it has also coincided with Turkey’s growing power in the region as its economy has strengthened and a very adept foreign minister, Davutoglu, has done much to project Turkey’s power. Unfortunately, Turkey-Armenia(n) relations are currently still a zero-sum game, and Ankara’s gain is Yerevan’s and Diaspora’s loss. Examples from this year of the double-edged-sword nature of AKP political dominance are: the Ogun Samast’s (Hrant Dink’s murderer) 23-year prison sentence— something unimaginable in Turkey even 15 years ago; the positive light Turkey has been cast under for being on the “correct” side of the Arab Spring; Erdogan’s politically motivated “apology” for the Turkish government’s mass murders in Dersim (the name coming from Der Simoneh, it is said, and today called Tunceli [Tunjelee] by Turkey) province; and the Turkish parliament’s effective killing of the ill-conceived Turkey-Armenia protocols. Of course Turkey’s tourism industry also does wonders for the country, as it takes advantage of various peoples’ treasures that are now found within its boundaries. Particularly galling to me was that my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, organized trip to Turkey last Spring. Then, of course we have the large number of tourists, from the Republic of Armenia, enjoying Turkey’s beaches, and the slowly growing number of Armenians going to or occupied homeland to climb our Mt. Ararat.
We had some good moments. Four decades late, but, at long last, in April, we got an official highway sign on California’s State Route 60 directing people to the Armenian Martyrs’ Monument in Montebello. That’s good visibility. Also in April, when Obama was in Los Angeles, we had a large “welcoming committee” for him as we protested at Sony Studios where he was schmoozing to raise money. Later, in the fall, our efforts resulted in the cancellation of the Ottoman Marching Band’s (Mehter Takimi) parade on the streets of Hollywood, home to a large concentration of Armenians, a clear provocation against our community. The USHOR Foreign Affairs Committee’s action calling on Turkey to restore stolen churches to their rightful Christian denominational owners was a bright spot on the Washington D.C. scene. This is important because it suggests there are better ways of pursuing our goals with Turkey rather than taking on its massive denial machine frontally, directly.
The downside, present again, came in Obama’s failure to properly characterize the Armenian Genocide, for a third time. The “Anatolian Festival” came back to Orange County and served up Turkish propaganda to tens of thousands of unsuspecting people attending it as a “cultural” event. A committee of the USHOR passed a measure granting Turkey privileged economic access to some Native American groups, basically, a way of getting into the gambling business, despite efforts to forestall such an inequitable measure. Luckily, it will probably get nowhere and die with this Congress at the end of 2012.
Then there are the hard-to-characterize, or clearly explain, events. Kirk Kerkorian conveyed the entirety of the funds of his Lincy Foundation to UCLA’s endowment. It seemed to be a surprise to everyone, and I’ve yet to learn why that happened. Of course the concern is that the generous funding for Armenian charitable needs such as schools and the United Armenian Fund would stop. I recently heard that at least one of the Armenian schools was getting a contribution from this fund, so there’s hope.
Another, and relatively new for us, area is the growing role of the U.S. Courts in our struggle. You know about the lawsuits, some settled, some pending, and one in a mess, against various entities that benefitted from Armenian funds and wealth during and after the Genocide. This is an unsettled area, with new ground being broken. It is new not just to us, but even to U.S. jurisprudence as some of the issues being litigated have not even arisen through lawsuits in our closest parallel, the Jewish Holocaust. Some steps taken might be premature or ill considered, while others are solid. Along with this, it is necessary to continue generating enabling legislation at state and federal levels in the U.S., another example of indirect work that we must do in our struggle against the Turkish regime.
Perhaps the most unusual, and somewhat creepy, aspect of this year is the number of Armenians who “earned” an obituary in the LA Times, the kind the paper puts out, not the kind one’s family buys. The first, from late 2010, was J. Michael Hagopian, founder of, survivor interviewer for, and filmmaker for the Armenian Film Foundation, described by the LA Times as “a voice for the dead”. March featured another Genocide survivor, Martin Marootian, the man who was the lead plaintiff in the NY Life Insurance co. case. June saw the passing of Jack Kevornian, Dr. Death, who singlehandedly advanced the cause of dying with dignity. In October, fully three Armenians were featured. Sarkis Soghanalian, the “Merchant of Death”, an arms dealer who seems to have worked for, with, and around governments, and who, I have a vague recollection of this, had helped provide arms for our community’s defense in Lebanon during that country’s civil war (if someone can verify this, it would be good to give the man his due). The last two are of a less morbid character. Ray Aghayan was a Hollywood figure, a noted costume designer who won three Emmy Awards and received three Oscar nominations. The final one is Larry Zarian, one of the first Armenians on the west coast to serve in elected office, a groundbreaking individual. Weird…
But key to anything we do, success or failure, is large scale community participation. Everyone’s input and engagement is valuable. So please, if you still have not overcome your hesitation over writing to government officials or the media, hitting the streets for or against something, or giving some of your time to our cause, let 2010’s New Year resolutions provide the opportunity for your transformation into an activist.
Shnorhavor Nor Daree.