Commentary: Snow Storm or Snafu?


It is not everyday that the government of the most powerful nation on earth invites the representatives of one of the smallest minorities for a 30-minute session to discuss issues of mutual interests. The US State Department had invited a group of Armenian community representatives to meet with the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC.

Since Mrs. Clinton has taken personal interest and leadership in the protocols signed between Armenia and Turkey, it is safe to assume that she would have addressed that issue primarily. But, that was the opportunity for the Armenian community to raise other issues of concern, whether included in the agenda or not — the specter of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the dramatically dwindling US assistance to Armenia, the Bush-era leftover policy change regarding section 907 of Freedom Support Act banning direct US aid to Azerbaijan, waived by the previous administration or House Resolution 252 on the Armenian Genocide, just to cite a few of those crucial issues.

Unfortunately, all these problems  — some of them of life-and-death significance — were sidetracked to give way to petty bickering as to who should attend the planned meeting. This is a perennial problem, which will always arise, because our community is fragmented and because there is no consensus on who can represent the Armenian community.

If we had mature leadership across the board, perhaps some group leaders would subdue their selfish showmanship to the importance of the occasion and allow the community concerns to take center stage with the hope of success.

Unfortunately, once again crucial divisions came into play to miss this very rare opportunity to voice our community concerns to the State Department in a united stance.

Negotiations were being conducted behind the scenes to finalize the list of participant organizations, when the Dashnag party decided to go public, in a provocative editorial in the Armenian Weekly, triggering a blaming game, which marginalized the issues of paramount concern.

The Weekly editorial (Confronting the Politics of Exclusion, February 4, 2010) directed its first criticism at the State Department, which had extended the invitation to the following organizations: the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, the Armenian Assembly of America, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, the Knights of Vartan and the Armenian National Committee of America.

The editorial states that “in response to this move, community protests came almost immediately.” In fact, no one protested except the ANC, with the presumption that it represents the entire community.

Then comparisons began between the Diocese and the Prelacy, the AGBU and ARS and so on.

To put the facts straight, the State Department knows, as does everybody else in the Armenian community, that the ARF is the most militant group, which has groups unified under its umbrella, walking at locksteps.

Be they the Prelacy, ARS, Hamazkayin, ARF or any other title, they will be in line with party leadership. Therefore, it would be ludicrous to parade those colorful titles uselessly, especially when Mrs. Clinton was not planning a popularity contest at the State Department.

The Prelacy wants equality with the Diocese of the Armenian Church, when it represents a dissident group affiliated with a political party. The fact that the community is tired of infighting over the church division does not legitimize a dissident group by default.

Similarly, the AGBU has such a track record and impressive name that it cannot be put equal to any group.

There are certainly groups which could have been included in the meeting, but they have not made their participation an issue, because more important problems are in the balance.

We learn that ANC has even threatened to withdraw its participation if the like-minded groups are excluded.

That would have been a favor the other groups couldn’t turn down, because otherwise this ugly bickering would have reached the State Department, which would draw its sad conclusion on the state of affairs in the Armenian community.

While this turmoil was brewing in the Armenian community, the snowstorm blanketed Washington, DC and the February 9 meeting was postponed (or cancelled).

Perhaps this was a providential intervention to give time to Mrs. Clinton to sort out her priorities and also offer an opportunity to the Armenian community to sober up and seize the opportunity to raise the real issues afflicting all Armenians in the homeland and in the US.