WATERTOWN, Mass. (A.W.)—Armen Rustamian, member of Armenia’s National Assembly, concluded his East Coast visit on Dec. 13, following a guest appearance at the New York ARF’s program marking the party’s 119th anniversary. During his Dec. 9-13 visit, Rustamian met with Congressional and other US representatives and spoke at several Armenian community events organized by the ARF in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Providence, Watertown, New Jersey, and New York.
During his six-city tour, Rustamian spread the ARF’s unwavering message of opposition to the controversial Armenia-Turkey protocols, which were signed by Armenia’s and Turkey’s respective foreign ministers in October.
Rustamian, who is chairman of the National Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Relations, also serves as Representative of the ARF Supreme Body in Armenia. Throughout his visit, he explained the ARF’s current strategy to derail the protocols and warned that the party will press for regime change in Armenia if the protocols’ constitutionality is approved by Armenia’s Constitutional Court in January, and if the National Assembly subsequently ratifies the document. A report of his community visits follows.
Rustamian’s first community event was held Dec. 9 when the ARF of Greater Washington invited representatives of its affiliated organizations, ARF members and supporters to a community talk on the protocols.
Rustamian shared details of his visits earlier that day with various Congressional and Administration officials. He emphasized the ARF’s view that Armenia’s rapprochement with Turkey should have begun with the customary establishment of diplomatic relations and Turkey’s opening of its border with Armenia, followed by additional steps following those initial moves.
The ARF leader told members of Congress and State Department officials that the ARF favored open relations with Turkey, but opposed the heavy price preconditions would cost Armenia in exchange for an open border. Rustamian strongly condemned the current protocols as dangerous to Armenia, noting as an example Turkey’s current push to resolve the Karabakh issue in Azerbaijan’s favor under cover of the protocols.
Rustamian spoke at a community reception on the evening of Dec. 10 organized by the Philadelphia ARF. Rustamian discussed current events in Armenia, providing his personal perspective as a deputy in Armenia’s National Assembly and the role of the ARF as the voice of opposition in Armenia.
He focused on the importance of the anti-protocols demonstrations throughout the Diaspora and in Armenia, noting that these protests were so successful that President Sarkisyan was compelled to respond to protesters just prior to the Oct. 10 signing of the protocols, claiming that the protocols did not endanger Armenian Genocide recognition, reparations, or the self-determination rights of Karabakh’s people.
Rustamian arrived in Providence the following day, Friday, Dec. 11. He was greeted by members of the Providence ARF and escorted to Providence City Hall by a police motorcade. Providence Mayor David Cicilline welcomed Rustamian to his chambers where Rustamyan was presented with a key to the city. During his meeting with Rustamian, Cicilline noted his long-standing, close relationship with the Providence Armenian-American community and his recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
Also present to greet Rustamian at Providence City Hall were a representative of the R.I. Jewish Federation and the Counsel General of Guatemala, along with other foreign Latino dignitaries. The representatives acknowledged the rich culture and history of the Armenian people and related their support for the self-determination of the people of Karabakh.
After the Providence City Hall ceremonies and meetings, Rustamian was taken to the Rhode Island State House where he met with Rhode Island Secretary of State Ralph Mollis and State Treasurer Frank Caprio. Rustamian was also presented with a citation from the Rhode Island House of Representatives sponsored by Speaker of the House William Murphy, House Majority Leader Gordon Fox and House Minority Leader Robert Watson.
The parliamentarian also visited Providence’s North Burial Ground, location of the community’s 1915 Armenian Genocide monument and memorial. The visit was solemn and he learned of the monument’s history and background.
Rustamian’s Providence visit concluded with a lunch with Providence ARF members and Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch. Rustamian proceeded to Watertown, MA, after lunch where he was scheduled to speak at a public meeting at the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center sponsored by the ARF of Greater Boston.
In Watertown, Rustamian gave a wide-ranging interview to Hairenik Weekly editor Zaven Torikian. He also met with the ARS Central Executive Board, whose members were meeting at the Hairenik Building.
On the evening of Dec. 11, over 200 people attended the Boston ARF’s public meeting where Rustamian discussed the meaning of the Armenia-Turkey protocols and the ARF’s plan of action to derail their passage.
Rustamian explained the most contentious sections of the protocols: the formation of an historical commission to study and examine outstanding issues, presumably including the 1915 Armenian Genocide; the precondition of recognizing the Armenia-Turkey border established by the illegitimate Kars Treaty; and the precondition of returning Karabakh to Azerbaijan by requiring Armenia to recognize the territorial integrity of neighboring countries, thereby abandoning the self-determination rights of Karabakh’s people..
Rustamian emphasized that the Government of Armenia’s repeated claims that the protocols contain no preconditions are easily disproved by the protocols’ text, as well as the open and repeated admissions by Turkey’s official representatives.
He also discussed the Armenian government’s miscalculation over the public reaction that the Protocols would receive. Armenian government officials were not prepared for the assault of protest from Armenians living inside and outside of Armenia in opposition to the concessions Armenia would have to make in exchange for an open Armenia-Turkey border.
With regard to the ARF’s plan to derail the protocols’ passage, Rustamian explained that the ARF’s strategy attacks the protocols at every stage of the ratification process. He explained that the first stage centered on the protocols’ pre-signing period. The ARF rallied its members and supporters around the world and led the protest movement against the protocols to pressure Armenian government representatives not to sign the protocols on Oct. 10. When the protocols were signed, the second stage of the ARF’s campaign has begun with the Armenian Constitutional Court’s review of the protocols for conflicts with Armenia’s Constitution. The ARF is focused on this stage now and is making legal arguments to demonstrate the protocols’ unconstitutionality. A court decision is expected in January. If the Constitutional Court deems the protocols constitutional, the ARF’s focus will shift to a third stage, centering on the Armenian National Assembly’s vote on the protocols. The ARF will push a majority of National Assembly members to vote “no” on the protocols. If Armenia’s parliament passes the protocols, the ARF will enter the fourth stage of its strategy: calling for regime change in Armenia.
On Dec. 12, Rustamian paid a visit to the Armenian Prelacy in New York, where he met Prelate Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan and the Prelacy Executive Council. That evening, Rustamyan was guest of honor at ah ARF New Jersey gathering at the home of Raffi and Mari Keshishian. On the morning of Dec. 13, the New Jersey ARF hosted a community brunch in Rustamian’s honor.
On Sunday evening, Dec. 19, Rustamian was the main speaker at the New York ARF’s celebration of the party’s 119th anniversary, held at the Armenian community center in Woodside. In a 40-minute address, Rustamian again reviewed his US itinerary, focusing on insights derived from his discussions with US Administration officials. He also reviewed the larger struggle now underway regarding the Protocols’ ratification inside Armenia, as well as the ongoing process between Armenia and Turkey.
The program also included a written message from Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Karen Nazarian, which was read to the audience by MC Ara Caprielian. Offering words of congratulation, the Ambassador commended the ARF for waging many difficult struggles on behalf of Armenian rights throughout its history. He then made clear reference to Armeno-Turkish relations, emphasizing the need to continue a demanding posture, both inside and outside Armenia. The Ambassador’s remarks were enthusiastically received by the audience of over 150.
The program also featured moving closing remarks by His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Archbishop Choloyan linked the ARF’s identity to the cause of justice on a wide range of issues, going well beyond the current protocols and encompassing the critical junctures of modern Armenian history.