BY NANORE BARSOUMIAN
From The Armenian Weekly
YEREVAN—The Armenian American community’s “most important distinguishing characteristic,” according to Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Diaspora Relations office, is its “deep organizational structure,” wrote U.S. Ambassador to Yerevan John Ordway in a June 1, 2004, cable titled “Deciphering the Armenian-American Diaspora,” recently leaked by WikiLeaks.
The comparison was made with sister communities around the globe. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians live in the U.S., out of the 8-10 million scattered around the world, second only to the Armenian population living in Russia or other CIS countries.
“The GOAM [government of Armenia] distinguishes the Armenian-American community from the other Diaspora populations as the most wealthy (both overall and per capita income) and the most diverse in terms of emigration patterns,” wrote Ordway. “GOAM assistance figures and information from local banking sources confirm that the majority of Armenia’s public and private assistance funding (including private money transfers to families or friends) comes to Armenia from the U.S.”
Ordway described the various camps and allegiances within the community—from the political, to the humanitarian, and the religious. (See cable below.)
Five years later, Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch explored the same theme, in an effort to understand and engage the Armenian Diaspora, especially the Armenian-American community. Like Ordway, Yovanovitch noted the “well-organized” and “well-financed” state of the community, in her Nov. 17, 2009, cable titled “Experience Engaging Diaspora Communities-Armenia.” She remarked that the community had shifted gears from preserving their identities into investing in the development of Armenia, offering humanitarian, development, and technical assistance, and “advocating for an independent media.”
Yovanovitch discussed the various Armenian-American organizations, including the Armenian Apostolic Church (the Prelacy and the Diocese), the Armenian Catholic Community, the Armenian Protestant Community, the ARF/Dashnak Community, the Armenian General Benevolent Union Community, the Hnchag Community, and others. She noted that although the Embassy could do outreach work through these organizations, many of them had their own political agendas, “expressed or not,” and connections with political parties or authorities that could clash with U.S. interests in Armenia.
According to the Ambassador, the Armenian-American Diaspora tended to be “nationalistic in nature,” and that “[they] are quick to mobilize their supporters against the GOAM if the Diaspora groups believe the GOAM is not acting in Armenia’s best interests.”
Many of these organizations are opposed to reconciliation efforts, she said, because they do not include a resolution to the Karabakh conflict or recognition of the Armenian Genocide. “Other groups though, such as AAA [Armenian Assembly of America] and AGBU, have publicly supported the GOAM’s policies of regional cooperation and an end to Armenia’s isolation in the Caucasus,” she added.
The Ambassador also observed that “The Diaspora Community has shown limited interest in the promotion of democracy, electoral reform, and civil society development in Armenia,” and noted that Diaspora organizations did not fund any “non-partisan” non-governmental organizations in Armenia.
Below are the two cables.
US embassy cable – 04YEREVAN1255
DECIPHERING THE ARMENIAN-AMERICAN DIASPORA
Origin: Embassy Yerevan
Created: 2004-06-01 12:07:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PREL PGOV AM
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 07 YEREVAN 001255
DEPT FOR EUR/CACEN, EUR/ACE, EUR/PGI
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, AM
SUBJECT: DECIPHERING THE ARMENIAN-AMERICAN DIASPORA
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED — PLEASE TREAT ACCORDINGLY
1. (SBU) The Armenian-American Diaspora continues to wield considerable influence upon the foreign and domestic policies of the Government of Armenia. This influence ranges from the obvious connection of U.S.-born and/or trained GOAM officials, the influence of private and public U.S. assistance funding and the more nuanced impact of person-to-person relations between the GOAM and the Diaspora. Of the estimated 8-10 million people who consider themselves “Armenians” who live outside the Republic of Armenia, the GOAM and major Armenian cultural and advocacy organizations estimate that 1.5-2 million live in the United States. The Armenian Diaspora community in the U.S. can be classified along a number of broad categories that involve intersecting political and religious affiliations and historical considerations. The two most visible political advocacy groups in the Diaspora, the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) dominate policy efforts but still constitute a minority of the U.S. Diaspora population. Their membership numbers notwithstanding, most policy makers view the agendas of the AAA and ANCA as representative of the Armenian-American population as a whole.
DESPITE RUSSIA TALK, U.S. INFLUENCE STILL STRONG
2. (SBU) While the debate continues over whose Diaspora – Russia’s or the United States’ – wields greater influence in Armenia, it is impossible to underestimate the impact of the Armenian-American community on the GOAM. A number of current and former high-level GOAM policymakers were born, raised or trained in the United States with long-term connections to the Diaspora community in the U.S. Current examples of this connection include Armenia’s Foreign Minister, both Deputy Foreign Ministers, various Presidential Advisors including the Chief Advisor on Economic Issues, the Minister of Trade and Economic Development and a number of deputy ministers in other ministries. These policymakers understand the financial and cultural impact of Armenian-American organizations on the Republic of Armenia (officially through bilateral lobbying and unofficially through cultural exchanges, financial remittances and historical connections) and nod to it in public and private as the driving force among the various Diaspora communities.
COMPARING THE U.S., OTHER DIASPORA POPULATIONS
3. (SBU) Of the estimated 8-10 million people living outside the Republic of Armenia who consider themselves “Armenians,” the GOAM and major Armenian cultural and advocacy organizations estimate that 1.5-2 million live in the United States. This number ranks second after the estimated 2 to 2.5 million Armenians that live most of the year in Russia or other CIS Countries. After the U.S., some of the largest Armenian Diaspora populations live in France, Lebanon, Syria, Argentina, Syria and Turkey. The GOAM distinguishes the Armenian-American community from the other Diaspora populations as the most wealthy (both overall and per capita income) and the most diverse in terms of emigration patterns. GOAM assistance figures and information from local banking sources confirm that the majority of Armenia’s public and private assistance funding (including private money transfers to families or friends) comes to Armenia from the U.S. The GOAM’s MFA Diaspora Relations office makes no secret of the Armenian-American community’s deep organizational structure as its most important distinguishing characteristic.
DECIPHERING U.S. DIASPORA ORGANIZATIONS
4. (SBU) Armenian-American groups boast that the U.S. is home to the most organized Armenian Diaspora in the world. In terms of numbers of institutions, associations, church groups and dedicated media outlets, this assertion is true. Roughly fifty Armenian-American organizations claim nationwide membership somewhere in the thousands. These organizations tend to maintain a clear leadership structure and most engage in regular grassroots activities. Naturally, most of these groups’ agendas intersect and many Diasporans belong to two or more organizations while many of the 1.5 to 2 million claim no affiliation. Embassy sources from the membership departments of the AAA and the Armenian
General Benevolent Union (AGBU) estimate that over fifty percent of Armenian-Americans participate in either an Armenian religious or political organization but that only twenty to thirty percent consider themselves “active in Armenian political issues.”
5. (SBU) The Armenian Diaspora community in the U.S. can be grouped along seven broad categories that involve intersecting political and religious affiliations and historical considerations. While most Armenian-American organizations are anxious to promote themselves as having broad-based memberships and as unaffiliated with any single group, many within the GOAM and high-level representatives within the Diaspora share this view of the U.S. Diaspora community. (Note: As with all demographic overviews, these groupings include multiple exceptions and contradictions. While this analysis provides a useful tool for deciphering the general orientation of organizations, it should not be considered absolute. End note.)
THE AGBU, RAMKAVARS, DIOCESE
6. (SBU) Three highly visible Diasporan organizations can be broadly linked to the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), the Armenian Democratic League (ADL or “Ramkavars”) and/or affiliation with the Diocese branch of the Armenian Church. The Armenian MFA and Armenian advocacy organizations based in the U.S. estimate that this grouping captures roughly 30 percent of those active in the Armenian- American community. While often less politically active than the two largest advocacy organizations in the Diaspora (the AAA and ANCA), the AGBU and its affiliated organizations exercise considerable influence upon grassroots thinking about Armenia-related issues.
7. (SBU) The AGBU is the largest worldwide charitable organization in the Armenian Diaspora and constitutes one of the three largest groups of Armenians in the United States today. While the AGBU claims a non-political agenda and concentrates its programming on educational or humanitarian pursuits worldwide, it also touts itself as the “mainstay of Armenian liberalism” among Armenian-Americans. The AGBU is the force behind the largest Armenian school program worldwide in Diaspora communities. They currently sponsor more than 24 schools in 18 countries. The AGBU played a major role in humanitarian aid to Armenia during the harsh economic conditions of 1991-1993 and continues to finance high-profile projects in Armenia including the American University of Armenia (through a continuing endowment and annual support) and the operation of the national opera and symphony hall complex in Yerevan.
8. (SBU) The membership of the second largest political party based in the Armenian-American Diaspora, the Armenian Democratic League (ADL or “Ramkavars”), has considerable connections with the AGBU. Historically, the majority of AGBU donors and board members were members of or sympathized with the Ramkavar Party to some degree. The Ramkavars represent one of the most politically conservative elements of the Armenian-American community. The ADL is still loosely associated with the Ramkavar party in the Republic of Armenia (which controlled a handful of seats in Armenia’s first parliament in the early twentieth century and after independence during the administration of President Levon Ter-Petrossian. The Ramkavars still reportedly wield considerable influence upon the editorial content of the Armenian daily “Azg”). While generally less nationalistic than some of their ANCA counterparts in the U.S., the ADL’s political agenda includes a major push for worldwide recognition of the events of 1915 as a “genocide.” The ADL continues to advocate for USG assistance funding for Armenia through political advocacy organizations, most notably the AAA.
9. (SBU) The Knights and Daughters of Vartan, a service organization whose recent activities are based loosely upon models such as the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, is one of the most active Armenian-American fraternal associations based in the U.S. This organization claims membership in the tens of thousands and sponsors humanitarian activities in the Republic of Armenia including the renovation of schools and health facilities in rural communities.
10. (SBU) Organizations affiliated with the AGBU (including the ADL and Knights/Daughters of Vartan and others) are generally characterized by their affiliation with the Diocese of the Armenian Church (“The Diocese”). The Diocese is the largest branch of the Armenian Church which recognizes the Catholicosate of All Armenians (based in Etchmiadzin, Armenia) as the apostolic authority of the Armenian Church. Diocese congregations make up the majority of Armenian religious groups in the United States. While it would be inappropriate to state that all AGBU or ADL members worship as part of a Diocese congregation, there is a tendency for these groups to align with one another on political issues. The humanitarian arm of the Diocese, the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), raises and distributes millions of dollars in humanitarian relief aid to the Repulic of Armenia each year. In addition, FAR has won contracts to implement international donor community-funded projects including the ongoing USG humanitarian programs in Nagorno-Karabagh.
“INDEPENDENT” BUT CLOSE TO DIOCESE/AGBU CLUSTER: AAA
11. (SBU) While claiming to be totally “independent” from the other clusters within the Armenian-American community, the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) most often aligns itself with the AGBU/Diocese cluster on political policy issues. The AAA claims to be the largest Armenian-American advocacy organization. The AAA’s membership is probably the most inclusive of Diaspora organizations because it has gone to great lengths to involve both the Diocese and Prelacy religious communities. According to Embassy sources, the AAA’s dues-paying membership totals approximately 3,000 in the U.S. with 7,000 to 9,000 AAA “activists” regularly volunteering on AAA grassroots advocacy efforts. These advocacy activities include the AAA’s annual meetings with the U.S. Congress during which the organization lobbies for USG Assistance funding and discusses policy issues including relations with Turkey and genocide recognition. While not legally registered as a PAC, the AAA’s efforts resemble those of a traditional issue-based lobbying organization but also include programmatic endeavors such as the Armenia Tree Project, the Yerevan-based NGO Center and other assistance programs. The AAA maintains offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Yerevan.
MAJOR DIASPORA CLUSTER 2: DASHNAKS (ARF), ANCA, PRELACY
12. (SBU) The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) is a worldwide organization that reports affiliates in over 200 countries including a strong presence in the United States. The ARF is widely known by its nickname “Dashnaksutyun.” The term “Dashnak” is often used to refer to members or sympathizers of the ARF. Active since 1890, the organization is the most politically oriented of the
Armenian Diaspora groups around the world and has traditionally been one of the most vocal supporters of Armenian nationalism. ARF groups were active in helping establish Armenia’s first republic and as a self-proclaimed “alternative, nationalistic school of thought” in Armenia and the Diaspora during the Soviet era. The ARF’s Diaspora groups are linked through a direct organizational chain to the ARF “Dashnaksutyun” party that is active in the Republic of Armenia today as a member of the governing coalition. This link notwithstanding, the majority of the ARF’s funding and influence has almost always resided within the Diaspora. While Diaspora-based groups go to great lengths to defer to the ARF’s Yerevan offices on worldwide policy matters, it is clear that ARF affiliates in the U.S., Canada, France and Russia have a majority voice in many issues regarding policies on issues such as relations with Turkey and Nagorno- Karabakh.
13. (SBU) The ARF’s U.S.-based political advocacy arm is the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). ANCA is the principal political spokesperson for ARF policies in the United States. ANCA’s grassroots activities regarding April 24 commemoration addresses, U.S. policy vis-a-vis Turkey, and advocacy of independent status for Nagorno-Karabakh are some of its most visible policy campaigns both within the Armenian-American community and to outside observers. In addition to more than 100 locally based chapters, ANCA manages regional (East and West Coast) offices and a national headquarters in Washington, D.C. ANCA’s strong links with the ARF headquarters in Yerevan have up until now obviated the need for an independent office in Armenia.
14. (SBU) Together with its vocal grassroots campaigns on political issues, the ARF has created one of the most successful networks of cultural and youth organizations among Armenian-Americans. The Armenian Relief Society (ARS) is a nationwide women’s auxiliary association that serves as the ARF’s charitable and educational arm. The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) coordinates summer camps and political education programs for young Armenian-Americans in conjunction with worldwide ARF programs.
15. (SBU) For decades, an unofficial link existed between the ARF and the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church (“The Prelacy”). The Prelacy recognizes the authority of the Armenian Catholicos based in Antelias, Lebanon (often referred to as the Cilician See). The ARF-Prelacy alignment coincided with the outbreak of the Cold War. With Diocese leaders based in Soviet Armenia, nationalistic ARF activists opted to operate through Prelacy congregations in the United States which they felt were less susceptible to Soviet influences and could best advance their cause for an independent Armenia. Prelacy congregations are by no means exclusively populated by ARF supporters. The perception exists among many, however, that “Dashnaks worship with the Prelacy.” While there are fewer adherents of Prelacy congregations than Diocese congregations in the United States, this group remains a significant and active part of the Armenian-American religious community. (Note: There are no liturgical or theological differences between the two branches of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Relations are cordial if not warm. The current Catholicos’ predecessor had been the Catholicos in Antelias before his election in Etchmiadzin, and representatives of Antelias participate in the election of a new Catholicos in Etchmiadzin. End note.)
MAKING SENSE OF THE AAA/ANCA “DIVIDE”
16. (SBU) The AAA and ANCA are two of the most visible Armenian-American political advocacy organizations in the United States. Both organizations maintain Washington, D.C. offices and regional hubs in major U.S. cities. While their platforms are not diametrically opposed to one another, their different approaches on key topics such as relations with Turkey and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at times give the impression to observers both in and outside the Armenian- American community that they are competitors. While the two organizations often pool their resources for joint projects
(including April 24 commemoration initiatives on the Hill, lobbying efforts aimed to increase USG assistance funds destined for Armenia et al.), the highest levels of their respective membership rosters rarely overlap. ANCA’s grassroots strategy often appears to the public as more aggressive and politically charged than the AAA’s.
Professional representatives from two groups regularly hold informal consultations on key issues, but high-ranking representatives agree that significant rifts about where to invest political and human capital are commonplace. (Note: While the AAA might at times be critical of ANCA’s methodology, it appears that AAA often benefits from the increased awareness or heightened visibility that ANCA’s activities offer the Armenian-American community. End note.)
CLUSTER 3 – ORGANIZATIONS CLOSE TO THE “HNCHAKS”
17. (SBU) Activities of the smallest, and yet of the most well-known politically based groups of Armenian-American organizations centers around the ideology of the Armenian Social Democratic Hnchakian (or Hnchak) Party. Known as “Hnchaks,” members of these organizations claim to be part of the oldest Armenian Diasporan political organization in the world. Founded in 1887, the Hnchak Party originally called for an independent, democratic Armenia encompassing the historical Armenian territory. The organization flourished among Diaspora communities in the Middle East and Europe and established a strong presence on the West Coast of the United States. The party and its affiliate organizations in the U.S. (fraternal societies, a women’s advocacy group and various youth groups) played an historically conservative role among Armenian-American groups during the second half of the twentieth century. Following the Armenian independence movement of the late 1980s, the Hnchak Party re-established itself in Armenia, winning seats in Parliament and carving out a small role in domestic politics. Hnchak organizations in the United States claimed to wield considerable influence on GOAM policies during this period.
18. (SBU) Disputes among party leadership and two subsequent splits in the party during the late 1990s weakened the party’s standing in Armenia and consequently the influence of Hnchak-related groups in the U.S. Hnchak party leaders tell the Embassy that the party’s aging membership in the United States, coupled with the recent internal disputes, have seriously weakened their influence as an arm of the Armenian-American lobby. The memory of the Hnchak’s historically large membership and the roster of influential Hnchaks in recent Armenian-American history, however, continue to lend the group a certain degree of clout within the Armenian-American community. Hnchak organizations support the weekly “Massis” newspaper which claims the second-largest circulation among Armenian-American
publications and posits “traditional Hnchak” views on Armenian political developments. (Comment: While both the Ramkavars and Hnchaks retain organizational structures and a public profile, they appear to be fading as significant forces in the Diaspora, including in the U.S. End comment.)
SMALL BUT STRONG – THE ARMENIAN PROTESTANT COMMUNITY
19. (SBU) While constituting only roughly 10-15 percent of the Armenian community in the United States, the Armenian Protestant Community is generally considered the oldest and one of the most prominent parts of the U.S. Diaspora. This group traces its roots to the first major emigration of Armenians to the United States following the surge of American missionary activity in Ottoman Turkey in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Armenian Protestant Community’s activities center around locally- based congregations that sponsor cultural, youth and charitable programs. Embassy sources agree that this community’s strongest centers of support are in New Jersey and central and southern California. This group, while generally active in initiatives related to genocide awareness, recognition and study, does not subscribe to a specific political agenda on Armenia-related issues.
20. (SBU) The Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) claims organizational links to the majority of the Armenian Protestant churches and operates educational and humanitarian programs that benefit Armenian communities in the Republic of Armenia and in the Diaspora. Most experts agree that this group, due to its relatively long history in the U.S., has one of the strongest financial bases and the highest percentage of high profile professionals in the United States today. The Armenian Evangelical Union (AEU) represents a smaller portion of the Armenian Protestant Community. Similar to the organizations affiliated with the AMAA, AEU congregations sponsor locally based cultural and educational initiatives as well as humanitarian efforts in the Republic of Armenia.
ARMENIAN-AMERICAN CATHOLIC ORGANIZATIONS
21. (SBU) Armenian Catholics living in the United States represent a small portion of American-Armenian community (claiming membership of roughly 35,000). Following efforts to widen and strengthen its social and grassroots structure in the late 1990s, however, the group emerged as a well- organized group espousing conservative political and social values in line with the teachings of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate (based in Lebanon). While the Armenian- American Catholic community has ties to the American Conference of Catholic Bishops and other U.S.-based Catholic structures, it functions as an autonomous branch of Catholicism with 10 functioning parishes in the United States. These communities are concentrated most heavily in New York (home to the Exarchate, the U.S. community’s leader), Los Angeles, Boston and New Jersey.
PROFESSIONAL AND CULTURAL ORGANIZATIONS ON THE RISE
22. (SBU) A growing number of professional and cultural associations have changed the face of the Armenian-American community during the past two decades. While “independent” from the clusters of organizations mentioned above, many members of these associations likely belong to one or more of the cluster organizations. Groups like the Armenian Network, Armenian Bar Association, Armenian American International Women’s Association and Armenian Professional and Student Association report increasing membership and are expanding their activities. These groups sponsor advocacy efforts in the U.S. as well as programs in Armenia ranging from technical assistance and exchange programs to humanitarian assistance and service trips.
HUMANITARIAN GROUPS AND PRIVATE FOUNDATIONS
23. (SBU) The United Armenian Fund, which sponsors humanitarian shipments to Armenia from the United States, is in a unique position among Armenian-American organizations. Largely funded by Kirk Kerkorian through his Lincy Foundation, the UAF is a joint effort of the Diocese, Prelacy, AGBU and other Diasporan organizations. Focused strictly on humanitarian projects, it enjoys virtually universal support in the community. The Hayastan-All-Armenia-Fund, a public-private hybrid endeavor with significant political backing from the GOAM and Diaspora groups in the United States and France, has raised funds for humanitarian and infrastructure projects in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia since the early 1990′s. The group was designed by advisors to then President Levon Ter-Petrossian as a mechanism to mobilize Diasporan financial support. While subject to some internal political intrigue and claims of financial mismanagement, the Hayastan-All-Armenia-Fund has maintained an extremely high profile among international Diaspora organizations and Armenian-Americans from the Los Angeles area figure prominently on the organization’s governing board. The fund’s annual telethon fundraiser is carried internationally via cable networks to cities with large Armenian communities. The organization’s fundraising financed the two major road construction projects in Nagorno- Karabakh, the “East-West” and “North-South” highways.
24. (SBU) Individual Armenian-Americans continue to wield considerable influence in Armenia through private foundations and endowments such as the Lincy Foundation and the Cafesjian Family Foundation. Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation (named for his two daughters) has financed over USD 170 million in major infrastructure and small and medium- sized loans and grants in Armenia since 1999. The Lincy Foundation was a major contributor (USD 45 million) to multilateral housing reconstruction efforts in areas affected by the 1988 earthquake including the northern cities of Gyumri, Spitak and Vanadzor. The most recent tranche of Lincy Foundation projects included refurbishing Armenia’s major highways linking the country to Georgia and Iran, a comprehensive program to restore urban roads and sidewalks in downtown Yerevan, rennovation of major cultural institutions (including state museums and theaters in Yerevan) and the completion of a Soviet-era tunnel project connecting Armenia’s northern regions to the Lake Sevan highway interchange. Lincy Foundation projects are managed jointly with the Government of Armenia, follow World Bank procurement procedures, and place the organization as one of the most significant foreign donors in the country.
25. (SBU) The Cafesjian Family Foundation, sponsored by Gerald Cafesjian (of Minnesota and Florida) has donated USD 40 million to a variety of NGOs and projects within Armenia over the past five years. The most visible of the Foundation’s endeavors was the 2002 agreement with the GOAM for the logistical control and dual ownership of Yerevan’s Cascade Monument and a large parcel of property adjacent to the structure. This agreement was a unique move for the GOAM in relinquishing majority control of one of the country’s most important public spaces to an Armenian- American foundation. The foundation has refurbished much of the public space within the monument complex and has announced plans for the construction of a multi-million dollar art museum that will sit atop the monument. Cafesjian is reportedly already bringing together art works from Diasporan collectors that will supplement his personal collection once the museum opens. Cafesjian’s projects make him and his organization a major player in Armenia’s cultural and urban planning circles.
26. (SBU) As with any community in the United States whose membership is based around social or ethnic connections, mapping out Armenian-American Diaspora organizations reveals as many contradictions as it does watertight theories. The major categories outlined above are quickly changing as new generations of Armenian-Americans with different socio- economic realities take on leadership roles in these organizations and mold their agendas. Despite the contradictions and amorphous borders that divide these groups, engaging the U.S.-based Diaspora as a whole remains an important aspect of the GOAM’s foreign policy, economic development and public relations strategies. The GOAM has increased its efforts to partner with the Armenian-American community through conferences, outreach products and by establishing a specialized office within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While most GOAM policymakers recognize the distinction between USG policy and Diaspora policy, they also appreciate the influence that the latter plays on the former. All indications point to a growing tendency on the part of the GOAM to capitalize on this dynamic as the U.S- Armenia bilateral relationship evolves.
US embassy cable – 09YEREVAN797
EXPERIENCE ENGAGING DIASPORA COMMUNITIES – ARMENIA
EAID OEXC OIIP PGOV PREL SOCI SMIG EINV AM
This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHYE #0797/01 3211244
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 171244Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9732
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 07 YEREVAN 000797
STATE FOR S/GPI AND S/P
STATE FOR EUR/CARC
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/17/2029
TAGS: EAID, OEXC, OIIP, PGOV, PREL, SOCI, SMIG, EINV, AM
SUBJECT: EXPERIENCE ENGAGING DIASPORA COMMUNITIES – ARMENIA
REF: A. STATE 86401
B. 04 STATE 1255
Classified By: Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch. Reasons 1.4(b & d).
1. (C) SUMMARY. The Armenian Diaspora is a well organized and well financed community within the United States. They have moved beyond their original purpose of maintaining their
Armenian identity and giving a political voice to the various communities, to providing humanitarian aid, development assistance, and technical advice to encourage the economic growth of Armenia. Post has long recognized the importance of engaging the Armenian-American community and has opened its doors and actively sought to strengthen ties with the Diaspora to better coordinate assistance activities. Post hosts Diaspora Roundtables in Armenia to learn of Diasporan activities, and Ambassadors travel to Armenian-American communities in New York, Massachusetts, Michigan and California to explain USG-assistance programs and USG policy in Armenia. Post also makes public outreach material on assistance successes available to all, including the Diaspora. Post though is always seeking new avenues of approach to the Diaspora to encourage even more involvement in assistance and as a means of disseminating its message.
2. (U) Below are post’s answers to Reftel A questions.
A. Armenians are an Identifiable Community and Very Well Organized
3. (C) Armenians began leaving their traditional homeland on the Armenian Plateau (i.e. eastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, and the current country of Armenia) in the eleventh century and have yet to stop. Invasions, deportations, mass migrations, and massacres have all pushed Armenians to seek safety in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, India, and, eventually, the United States. Worldwide, the Armenian population is estimated at 10 million people. Approximately three million are believed to live in Armenia, and the rest are scattered throughout the world, with the largest Armenian populations in Russia, the United States, and Lebanon. Armenian communities are found in almost every country in Europe, the countries of the previous Soviet Union, South America, and throughout Africa. The GOAM Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates the Armenian Diaspora population in the United States at 1.5 million, with the majority living in Southern California, New York, and Boston.
4. (C) Maintenance of Armenian identity plays a very important role in the Armenian Diaspora and through the centuries Armenians have maintained that identity and sustained their communities through the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian language, fraternal and charitable organizations, and widespread publishing of Armenian texts including newspapers and books.
5. (C) The Armenian-American community, which this cable will focus on, can be organized around sets of affiliated organizations: the Armenian Apostolic Church which in the United States is divided between the Armenian Church of America (also known as the Diocese) and the Prelacy, the Armenian Catholic Community, the Armenian Protestant Community, the ARF/Dashnak Community, Armenian General Benevolent Union Community, Hnchag Community, and independent institutions. While these organizations could serve as platforms for outreach, many have their own political agenda (whether expressed or not) or connections to political parties and/or politicians in Armenia that may conflict with USG foreign policy goals in Armenia.
6. (C) The Armenian Apostolic Church, also known in the U.S. as the Armenian Church of America, is divided into a Eastern Diocese, based in New York City, and the Western Diocese, based in Los Angeles. The Armenian Church is under the authority of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin in Armenia and so directly linked with the predominant religious organization of Armenia. The two dioceses provide monetary support to the charitable organizations run by the Armenian Apostolic Church which operates schools, community centers, soup kitchens, and other activities for the youth and elderly. The Eastern Diocese organized The Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) after the devastating Armenian earthquake of 1988 to deliver food and medical supplies, and continues to operate numerous humanitarian assistance projects in Armenia.
7. (C) The Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church recognizes the jurisdictional authority of the Armenian Catholicos (head of the Armenian church) based in Antelias, Lebanon. This is only for administrative purposes though, as, doctrinally, the Prelacy recognizes the theological supremacy of the Catholicos in Etchmiadzin in Armenia. The Prelacy is associated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF)/Dashnaks, founded in 1890, and constitute one of the three largest sectors of the Armenian-American Community and are considered conservative in nature. (NOTE: The term “Dashnak” in the United States is a generic term to apply to any supporter, while in Armenia it applies to a member of the Dashnak political party. END NOTE) The ARF/Dashnaks have two goals: recognition that the massacres of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 constitute genocide, and the recovery of the traditional Armenian lands in eastern Turkey. It also supports a ladies auxiliary association of the ARF known as the Armenian Relief Society (ARS), in addition to youth and cultural associations and a large media operation in the United States including newspapers, radio, and television.
8. (C) The Armenian Catholics are the smallest religious denomination in the Armenian community and the lead institution is the Eparchy based in New York. The Armenian Catholic Church supports a small number of schools and orphanages but has almost no activities in Armenia.
9. (C) In comparison, the Armenian Protestant Community is considered the oldest Armenian community in the United States and is very active through their Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA). This organization supports 140 different mission and service projects in 22 countries around the world. In Armenia, the AMAA provides support to orphanages, nurseries, children’s hospitals, and schools. They also staff health and dental clinics, provide relief to needy families, and give scholarships to students.
10. (C) The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU), established in 1906, is the second major sector and is the largest charitable organization in the Armenian Community. AGBU seeks to preserve and promote the Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural, and humanitarian programs. They are affiliated with the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL), also known as Ramkavars, which is active (but marginal) in Armenia, the American Diaspora community, and in the Middle East, such as Lebanon. In Armenia, AGBU supplies funding for the Armenian Apostolic Church including a seminary, the American University of Armenia, medical centers, and the Armenian Virtual College which provides on-line classes to Armenians around the world on Armenian language, history, and culture. They offer programs for youth of all ages that encourage the youth of the Diaspora from every country to visit Armenia. These programs range from Scout Camps for the youngest, to Discover Armenia trips for high school students, to internships for college students. They also publish their own journals and a newspaper.
11. (C) The Hnchag, or Armenian Social Democrat Party, is the third of the politically based Armenian community cluster of organizations and the smallest Armenian-community based political party. It functions as a political club in California and publishes a weekly paper.
12. (C) In the last 30 years, members of the Armenian-American community have formed a number of independent organizations that are non-partisan in character and address contemporary issues and problems. These independent institutions form the third major sector in the Armenian-American community. Many of these organizations are composed of professionals and function only in the United States. These organizations include lobbying groups such as the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), a non-profit organization promoting awareness of Armenian issues; the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which seeks to influence and guide U.S. policy on matters related to Armenia and is generally recognized as the lobbying organization of the Dashnaks; and the newly formed U.S.- Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC). There are professional organizations such as the Armenian Bar Association; Armenian Medical Association; and Chairs of Armenian Studies that fund centers in various American universities. There are also private charitable organizations such as the Lincy
Foundation, the Cafesjian Family Foundation, the Tufenkian Foundation and others who provide aid for development projects and for people in need.
B. Armenian-American Community Has A Strong Connection to Armenia
13. (C) As detailed in the description of the Diaspora organizations in paragraphs 5 to 12, the Armenian-American community maintains strong ties to Armenia in almost every area of endeavor. While much of the Armenian-American Diaspora work in Armenian previously focused on humanitarian or charitable projects, new connections are being formed in the areas of assistance that claim to promote economic development, strengthening institutions and civil society, and advocating for an independent media. Private-public partnerships are becoming more common as non-government organizations in Armenia learn to tap both the USG foreign assistance funds and the Armenian Diaspora organizations to finance their projects. Examples include AGBU providing additional money to a group of young farmers that also receives funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, and FAR implementing a water development project financed by USAID.
14. (C) Members of the Armenian Diaspora have returned to Armenia since independence in 1991 and have served at almost all levels of the Armenian government, including both the executive and legislative branch. Other members of the Diaspora have returned to run local businesses or as representatives of international businesses wishing to establish a foothold in Armenia. Professionals, such as priests, professors, and lawyers, have also returned to contribute their skills for a year or longer to develop the country.
15. (C) Remittances are a vital element of the Armenian economy and comprise approximately 15 percent of Armenia’s GDP. In 2008, Armenians overseas sent over USD 2.5 billion to Armenia. However, approximately 80 percent of those funds came from Armenians temporarily working in Russia who cannot be considered as part of the Diaspora. Much of the remaining 20 percent, USD 500 million, came from the Armenia Diaspora community in the United States.
C. Activation of the Diaspora Community for Humanitarian Relief
16. (C) On December 7, 1988, an earthquake struck the northern region of Armenia, killing over 25,000 persons and destroying Armenia’s second largest town. Local officials could not provide sufficient relief and the Soviet government allowed in foreign aid workers. The Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, based in New York, along with respected members of the Armenian Diaspora in the United States, formed the Fund for Armenian Relief to deliver relief supplies to the wounded and homeless. FAR continued to operate a food aid program even after independence in 1991 and served as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organization of choice for distribution of food supplies. Since 1988, FAR has channeled over USD 265 million in humanitarian assistance to Armenia. The lobbying group AAA also established its office in Armenia at this time and advocated in the U.S. for support for the earthquake’s victims.
17. (C) The Department of State’s Humanitarian Program “Operation Provide Hope” began in 1992 and has flown 109 airlifts to Armenia, delivering over 2,500 containers of humanitarian aid. These containers are full of medical supplies, clothing, bedding, and other necessities donated by private volunteer groups, including those of the Armenian Diaspora. Some of the containers are distributed to needy families by NGOs, while others are stored in warehouses to be used in case of another natural disaster. These deliveries continue today with the help from the Lincy Foundation. Also, in March 1992, the GOAM, by Presidential Decree, created the Hayastan All Armenian Fund to collect contributions from Armenian communities worldwide and channel those funds to the reconstruction and economic projects in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Under the fund’s charter, the President of Armenia serves as the ex-officio President of the Board of Trustees and other government officials serve on the Board. Affiliate offices of the fund exist today in Los Angeles, New York, and in third countries where there is a concentration of Armenians. Annual telethons are held to raise money for the organization.
D, and E. Diaspora Engagement in Long-Term Investment and Institution Building
18. (C) Although no structured mechanism exists for Diaspora involvement in Armenia’s economic development plans, a number of Diaspora organizations and individual Armenian-American’s have invested in Armenia with the goal of developing the economy. Among the most significant is the Lincy Foundation, a non-profit organization established by Kirk Kerkorian, an Armenian-American, which has donated over USD 300 million in the past ten years. These funds were used for major infrastructure repair, earthquake zone recovery, renovation of schools and other buildings, and lending to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Armenian-Americans have purchased stakes in local companies or businesses in the areas of manufacturing, banking, high technology and tourism. Members of the Diaspora have also served as facilitators to assist multi-national corporations in developing their presence in Armenia, and as experts on markets and investment funding. The National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia is an independent organization founded through a partnership between the GOAM and businesspeople from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the Middle East. It works with businesses, investors, Ministries and development agencies to develop public-private partnership projects aimed at achieving strategic objectives towards national competitiveness. The Foundation is headed by the Armenian Prime Minister and includes the Ministers of Economy and Foreign Affairs along with other government officials and businesspeople from the private sector on its Board.
19. (C) The Diaspora is engaged in a much smaller number of initiatives in scientific or educational institution building. AGBU and private Armenian-Americans are heavily invested in the development of the American University of Armenia and are promoting the university both as an American-style education institution that teaches American cultural values to Armenian students, and as an option for Diaspora graduate students either for an advanced degree or a “year abroad” program. On the scientific side, Armenian-American owned engineering and IT companies outsource software development and other R&D issues to local Armenian companies. The GOAM is very interested in developing the IT industry in Armenia and sent representatives to the ArmTech Congress in San Jose, California this year to meet with American IT companies and representatives of the Diaspora communities to attract investment in Armenian IT and encourage high tech companies to locate their offices and factories in Armenia.
F. Conflict Resolution is a not a Priority with the Diaspora
20. (C) The Armenian Diaspora has attempted to influence the GOAM’s foreign policy since independence. Two previous GOAM Foreign Ministers were members of the Diaspora: one was an
Armenian-American, and the other was born in Syria but studied in the U.S. and participated in the Diaspora community. The Armenian-American Diaspora, although primarily grouped around different political, religious, and social agendas, tend to be nationalistic in nature. The groups pay close attention to the GOAM’s foreign policy decisions and are quick to mobilize their supporters against the GOAM if the Diaspora groups believe the GOAM is not acting in Armenia’s best interests. Many group oppose the GOAM’s regional reconciliation efforts on the grounds that such reconciliation does not include resolution of the simmering conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh or recognition that the Ottoman Empire engaged in genocide in 1915. Other groups though, such as AAA and AGBU, have publicly supported the GOAM’s policies of regional cooperation and an end to Armenia’s isolation in the Caucasus. In September, AAA, AGBU, the Eastern and Western Diocese Churches, and the Ramkavars issues a public statement supporting President Sargsian’s foreign policy to normalize relations with Turkey.
G. Diaspora Organizations Try to Meet Needs of the People
21. (C) Quite a number of the Diaspora organizations described above conduct social programs in Armenia. The AGBU, the Fund for Armenian Relief, the Children of Armenia Fund, and the Jinishian Foundation are all engaged in delivering assistance to vulnerable populations, especially in the education sector in the rural areas. These organizations fund school renovation and construction, teacher training, school equipment, and provide scholarships for students to continue their studies either in Armenian or abroad. The organizations also fund orphanages and provide basic items such as clothing and food to those institutions. Other organizations have more defined goals, such as the Armenia Tree Project which provides economic support to rural areas through its reforestation and other environmental programs, and the Armenian Eyecare Project which supports eye clinics, a mobile eye medical center, and medical education and training in Armenia.
22. (C) In the health care sector, members of the Diaspora community and Armenian health care professionals have established professional networks and have cooperated since independence. Diaspora organizations fund the construction of health clinics in addition to providing medical equipment and clinical training programs to local health care providers. Armenian-American doctors and other health care professionals travel to Armenia on their own and contribute their time and expertise to the treatment of Armenians. Diaspora groups have provided significant support to medical centers specializing in eye-care, cardiac surgery and women’s health.
H. Little Interest in Democracy Promotion
23. (C) The Diaspora Community has shown limited interest in the promotion of democracy, electoral reform, and civil society development in Armenia. No Diaspora group funds non-partisan NGOs engaged in those areas. Individual Armenian-Americans, however, provide financial support to
Armenian policy think tanks such as the Armenian Center for National and International Studies which focuses on foreign and public policy issues. The Civilitas Foundation, founded by former Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian, and which focuses on leveraging international resources in the areas of education, media, rural development, and environmental awareness receives individual support from the Diaspora community. Two U.S.- based foundations, the Kanach Foundation, which supports environmental protection, and the Tufenkian Foundation, which claims to support human rights, consumer protection and arts projects, are also supported by individual contributions.
24. (C) Opportunities do exist for the Diaspora Community to support democracy promotion and electoral reform if they so desire. Numerous NGOs in Armenia, such as It’s Your Choice and the Freedom on Information Center of Armenia, could use the financial support and backing of Diaspora organizations. In the area of civil society development, the Diaspora organizations could provide for the continued sustainability of numerous USAID-supported projects, including the eleven anti-corruption centers, Association of Legal Clinics, and the three regional Intermediary Service Organizations that provide support to local NGOs. There is great potential for collaboration between the USG and Diaspora organizations in the area of civil society development.
I. GOAM is Dedicated to Developing Relationship with Diaspora
25. (C) The GOAM has long recognized the importance of a strong relationship with the Armenian Diaspora. Previous administrations utilized a Diaspora Relations Department within the Foreign Ministry, but in June 2008, current President Serzh Sargsian created a separate Ministry of Diaspora. Its publicly stated purposes are (1) Preservation of Armenian identity in all its forms; (2) Utilization of the Diaspora to empower the homeland and bring about progress; and (3) Repatriation. The Ministry began work in October 2008 and intends to make itself the liaison between Diaspora organizations and the GOAM as well as the coordinator of Diaspora assistance and development projects. The Ministry is trying to develop links to all the Armenian Diaspora communities in the world, and has held conferences, such as a recent one for lawyers, to bring Diaspora professionals to Armenia to discuss strategies for developing Armenia. The Ministry has a number of broad goals to entice more Diasporan involvement in Armenia and to encourage members of the Diaspora to return and invest in Armenia, preferably permanently. As the Ministry has been active for only a year, they are still defining their strategies to fulfill their stated purposes. Post will continue to follow the development of the Ministry and their engagement with the Diaspora Community in the U.S.
J. Post is Actively Engaged in Outreach Efforts to the Diaspora Community
26. (C) Post has actively engaged with the Diaspora through Ambassador-led Diaspora Roundtables and Ambassador trips to Diaspora communities in the United States. The goals of these outreach efforts are to improve communication between the mission and the Armenian-American community about USG assistance in Armenia, possible public/private partnerships for development projects and coordination of assistance efforts. Previous Ambassadors visited Armenian-American communities in New York, Massachusetts, California, and other states. In the past, the U.S. OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs would travel to local communities and brief on the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations.
27. (C) Ambassador Yovanovitch revived that tradition and conducted her own trip to those communities in June. During those trips, the Ambassador met with private charities, religious organizations, businessmen, and professional associations. The meetings and events were organized by local Armenian-Americans who also opened their homes to her for receptions and other social events that allowed the Ambassador to meet the leaders and influential members of the Armenian-American communities. The Ambassador answered many questions regarding USG policy in Armenia, foreign assistance funding and programs, and the business environment in Armenia. Her impression was that the Armenian-American community is always looking to do more in Armenia and that a large pool of resources, both financial and professional, can be tapped to complement the ongoing USG assistance programs.
28. (C) Post has also hosted Diaspora Roundtables when Armenian-Americans who are in Armenia are invited to participate in discussions with representatives from Post and USAID on USG foreign assistance programs. As with the Ambassador tours, the Roundtables seek to improve communication between Post and the Diaspora community and to exchange information on their respective development and assistance programs. Roundtables have been held for a number of years and Post is planning to host similar roundtables in the summer of 2010, when many Armenian-Americans will travel to Armenia. Post has also held roundtables for Diaspora NGOs to discuss possible cooperation on foreign assistance projects with USAID, and meetings with individual Armenian-Americans to strengthen ties to the Diaspora and hear their views on the U.S.- Armenia relationship. Post found the roundtables an effective means of disseminating information on USG assistance in Armenia and promoting USG goals for Armenia.
K. Unsolicited Requests from Diaspora
29. (C) Post receives 10 to 15 unsolicited requests each month from Diaspora groups and local NGOs for financial or material assistance for their programs. Post’s Assistance Coordination Group meets bi-weekly and, as part of its regular agenda, reviews the requests for assistance and responds to each one. Many of the requests are directed to one of the implementing partners for either Humanitarian Assistance or Democracy Commission grants for further assistance. The requests for equipment, the most common being for computers, are retained and later reviewed when Post has excess equipment available. This is another area of possible collaboration and Post is actively pursuing ideas for public-private alliances between USAID and the Diaspora requestors. In addition to the unsolicited requests, Post funds a number of Diaspora groups through the Humanitarian Assistance funding and other programs.
L. Public Diplomacy Programs
30. (C) Previously, Post created English language videos, newsletters and posters describing the extent of USG assistance in Armenia for the Diaspora audience. The loss of funding ended those activities in 2006. Post is wary of targeting the Armenian-American community with information on USG activities and assistance efforts in Armenia due to possible violation of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 which prohibits the USG from disseminating within the United States any information about the United States and its policies prepared for dissemination abroad. However, Post does prepare a newsletter on its assistance programs and maintains a website detailing successes that are available to public and so also to the Diaspora Community if they desire to seek out that information.
M. Planning Future Programs
31. (C) The GOAM’s newly formed Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia (NCFA) are both grappling with how to create information systems to promote stronger links with the Pan Armenian world, particularly in the United States, Russia, France and Lebanon. Given the large and varied Armenian Diaspora community in the United States, it is difficult to imagine that the Department of State’s global information system would be sufficiently granulated to reflect Armenian Diaspora organizations and individuals unless its system was created in active collaboration with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and the NCFA. However, the Department is well-positioned to disseminate information about strategic, cutting-edge or innovative initiatives worldwide in the field of diaspora engagement, and possibly provide TDY support in the field designing and implementing such programs. Embassy Yerevan would be interested in best practices of information systems and outreach approaches of other governments with diaspora communities such as Ireland, China, India, Chile, Mexico and Israel.
32. (U) Post’s Point of Contact is Charles Lobdell at LobdellCA2@state.gov or IVG 996-4697.