Commentary: Armenians Don’t Need Any Foreign Enemies


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Every time we recite the unsavory adage that Armenians are their worst enemies, a new case emerges to confirm that unfortunate statement. As if we had not suffered enough embarrassment with the exploits of the Armenian Power gang, now we have to face other public scandals, this time hitting the very core of Armenian interests, and not merely reputation, like in the first case.

For a long time, the scapegoats and the bad guys in the community were the political parties, who supposedly fomented antagonism and in-fighting within the community.

But times changed and new players entered the scene, this time with even worse records. One such case is the issue of the Armenian Genocide Museum. The community was elated that a full century after the destruction of the Armenian nation and loss of our historic homeland, some kind of restitution would come to do justice to the memory of 1.5 million Armenian martyrs.

A few generous benefactors had come forth with unusually large contributions to build a Genocide museum in Washington, DC, a few blocks from the White House. We were led to believe that this was a dream come true. Finally Armenians had demonstrated the vision and the fortitude to make an eloquent statement in the heart of our nation’s capital, to the chagrin of Turks who continue to deny the 20th century’s most monstrous atrocity.

After the initial euphoria, a period of eerie silence reigned, followed by accusations and lawsuits between the Armenian Assembly and Gerald Cafesjian.

The dream soured, as the accusations and counter-accusations continue flying in the media.

It looks like money and wisdom do not always go together.

Today the museum project remains in limbo and only the combatants’ egos carry the day.

Late this winter Judge Kollar-Kotelly handed victory to the Cafesjian Family Foundation, which was to receive back the funds donated for the project, in addition to the enhanced value of the property with a dangerous proviso: “While the court hopes that the properties can be used for (the museum), the court recognizes that the (Cafesjian Family Foundation) is not legally obligated to use the properties to build a museum.”

This means that the destiny of this landmark edifice will be hanging on the whims of the Cafesjian family, which admittedly has helped the cultural life in Armenia tremendously. Without getting into the legal complexities of the ruling, the ordinary people will understand that Gerald Cafesjian can do anything with the property awarded to him. We hope, of course, he will still put it to its originally- intended use, a museum to honor the legacy of our martyrs.

Now comes the counter suit: “A rancorous legal fight over a proposed Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial is flaming up once more amid claims that a glass-loving federal judge might have been biased in the decision-making” writes Michael Doyle in McClatchy Newspapers.

Indeed the Armenian Assembly has come up with a countersuit stating: “It has come to the Armenian Assembly’s attention that Mr. Gerald L. Cafesjian and the Honorable Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who oversaw the trial late last year, appear to have failed to disclose that they were familiar with each other” … “the shared interests and familiarity between Mr. Cafesjian and the judge may very well explain why undisputed facts and clear conflict of interest issues were overlooked and decided in Mr. Cafesjian’s favor.”

Therefore, another lawsuit with piling legal expenses, which could be put to more productive use, if good old common sense were exercised. The Armenian Assembly is a major advocacy group with a solid record of contribution to the Armenian cause.

If we discount the arrogance of the litigants, we are left but a conspiracy theory. Someone somewhere must be conspiring to destroy the prospect of a monument which is meant to memorialize the destruction of a nation and cry out loud from the heart of Washington, DC, the justice denied to the Armenian people. Yet, at this point Turks couldn’t be happier with this fiasco.

The centennial is around the corner and there is no end to this legal battle.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly has said at the end of her 190-page ruling, better than any Armenian could have said, “leave the bickering aside and build the museum.”

Another scandal which is brewing is the lawsuit brought against the attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan for defrauding the insurance settlement funds.

In a CN dispatch from Los Angeles, it is reported that “Two attorneys claim their co-counsel in two class actions that won insurance benefits for the victims of the Armenian Genocide diverted and laundered almost $1 million from the settlement meant for charities to help the Armenian community.” “It is with deep sadness that plaintiffs bring this action,” Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck say in their Superior Court complaint. Mr. Yeghiayan has denied the allegations made in the lawsuit.

When the New York Life and AXA cases were won and the settlement benefited several Armenian organizations, there was a sense of relief that finally partial justice was awarded to the survivors of the Genocide.

The legal victories inspired confidence among the Armenians to go after the Federal Reserve to claim the gold confiscated from Armenians by the Ottoman government which had made its way to the Federal Reserve. Similarly, lawsuits were underway for the illegal use by the Turkish government of the Incirlik air base.

All these were initial minor steps to build the case for a major settlement with Turkey one day. But we are already mired in the mud at the outset of this long legal battle and attorneys who are supposed to defend the case of the Armenian people have already tarnished their reputation. How can we pursue further claims from Turkey when there is a dark cloud hovering above the reputation of the claimants?

At this point it is irrelevant who wins the case, because the ultimate winner is Turkey, which can ridicule us, armed with the scandal at hand.

There is an ironic statement issued by ARF in Yerevan about this case. The statement says: “The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Central Political Council (Armenian Cause) issued a declaration calling on attorney involved in cases related to Genocide survivor settlement to immediately submit all records to an independent audit.” Indeed, a fair request.

Of course every Armenian has to call for accountability. The ARF, which is the least transparent organization, should be the last one to make that call. The organization has yet to account for the funds collected to benefit Armenia’s earthquake victims of 1988.

All these cases indicate how Armenians can shoot themselves in the foot.

With all their struggles and the infighting the political parties in their 126-year-history perhaps have not damaged the fundamental Armenian interests more than the above cases have.

We don’t need any foreign enemies to destroy us. We have already enough among ourselves.