Commentary: ‘Armenian Power’ in Reverse


By Edmond Y. Azadian

The late writer, publicist and community activist Antranig Antreassian had a favorite anecdote reflecting the collective Armenian moral high ground. Whether it was true or anecdotal does not make much of a difference because it referred to Armenian self-respect. The story goes like this: a judge in Fresno faces a defendant with an Armenian last name who is brought to the court with a minor offense. The judge gives a tongue-lashing to the defendant, adding that in his 20 years at the bench he has never met an Armenian defendant. He advises this sole sample: “Get lost, and do not tarnish the good reputation of your fellow Armenians.”

It would have been an ironic twist for Antreassian, and, for that matter, for the judge, if they could raise their heads from the graves to witness the Armenian name dragged into the mud.

No one knows the exact numbers of Armenians in California prisons for offenses ranging from petty thefts to major crimes. Once in a while, the news media reports sensational stories about Armenian crime syndicates and massive arrests, always playing up the ethnic origins of the defendants in order to embarrass the entire community.

Last October, authorities arrested 52 members of an Armenian crime group, charging them with a $160-million nationwide Medicare fraud. At that time Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) made it clear that the members of that crime syndicate were Armenian Americans. Recently another sensational scandal was brought to light and Reuters, Associated Press and Canadian Press did not fail to play up again the ethnic origins of the criminals.

As reported in the media, two federal indictments and state cases have charged a total of 99 defendants with a wide range of crimes — including kidnapping, extortion, bank fraud and narcotic trafficking. The majority of 74 arrested members are linked to the Armenian Power (AP) group. If convicted, the defendants indicted as a result of Operation Power Outage face varying prison sentences. The defendants named in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) court face up to 20 years in federal prison for their offenses, and those charged in the marijuana-related offenses face mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years on narcotics charges.

These criminals resort to these types of crimes not because they need to survive, but because they aspire to enjoy the exciting lifestyle of the rich through shortcuts. Those who arrive on these shores from Armenia and are in search of a livelihood know pretty well the addresses of the welfare agencies.

The members of the Armenian Power gang do not lack the skills to be gainfully employed. On the contrary, they have to be highly skilled in order to be able to defraud the system. The financial fraud crimes committed on behalf of Armenian Power have been highly sophisticated, targeting hundreds of victims and resulting in millions of dollars of actual and intended losses to banks and individual victims.

All the members of this crime syndicate called Armenian Power are from former Soviet Armenia and unfortunately have still some ties to the “thieves-in-law” (orenkov gogh). These individuals are highly skilled in technology and instead of using their skills for gainful employment, they resort to crimes, to climb fast up the social scale, without realizing their dangers and traps.

Too much religion may lead to violence and extremes, as we witness today throughout the Muslim world, but moderate religion can define moral parameters for individuals to become law-abiding and responsible citizens in a society. For 70 years, Armenians have been fed with the gospel of Lenin, who professes that religion is the opium for the masses. And when they are relieved from the oppressive Soviet system and live in free societies like the US, these individuals are under the impression that freedom is a license to break the law.

It is ironic to think that all these criminal elements would have ransacked social and economic life in Armenia, had they decided to remain there. However, they are tempted to operate in traditionally free societies, where affluence is very visible and attractive.

They are never guided with any moral compunction for themselves or for their fellow Armenians, because the system they have been brought up on has encouraged survival of the fittest at the expense of others.

There are many immigrants from Armenia who put their talents and skills to good use in exchange for a decent living, but they are not visible; they live under the radar. Their lives are not highlighted in the news media, until one member or a group of them produce a scandal to spread its stigma over all the immigrants and native Armenians.

News media also play a nasty role. Of course, there is no censorship in free societies. But there are invisible red lines that media people do not cross, in a kind of self-censorship. For example, when the Bernie Madoff scandal broke out the criminals’ ethnic origin was not played up as in this case and in the case of other ethnic groups who fall behind the prescribed red line in the media.

However, there is no justification for these crimes. If the community can do something over and above law enforcement agencies, in terms of moral pressure, we should not fail in our responsibilities. But we should not be embarrassed for the crimes of the few and we should get back to the media who seem to harbor hidden agendas concerning unprotected communities.

Unfortunately, the criminals, in their turn, are not disguised under other fancy labels and they seem to enjoy the title of Armenian Power, without realizing the shame associated with it.

Armenian Power does not bring any glory: it only tarnishes the Armenian name, because it is Armenian Power in reverse.