By Aram Arkun
BELMONT, Mass. — Former Massachusetts governor Michael S. Dukakis made a guest appearance at a Cambridge-Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA) panel discussion called Disabilities and Social Inclusion in Armenia held with the co-sponsorship of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research at the latter’s headquarters on May 26. His remarks focused largely on a trip to Armenia that he and his wife Kitty made in April of this year upon the invitation of the American University of Armenia (AUA).
The longest serving governor of Massachusetts, and the second Greek-American governor in US history, Dukakis was the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee. He is now a professor in the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University (Boston) and a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The governor, an engaging and relaxed speaker, began by pointing out that “the Greek and Armenian communities are close in many ways. They are part of the same clan.” He explained that he and his wife happened to visit Armenia because of a very close friend, Lorraine Alexander. He first met Alexander when she worked at the Massachusetts State House. She was recruited to UCLA to become the first Director of Development for the School of Public Policy there, where they became fast friends. She went on to Stanford University and other jobs, but now is the new Vice President of Development of AUA.
She introduced the governor to the president of AUA, Dr. Armen Der Kiureghian, while he was in the US, and the latter invited Dukakis to visit the university in Yerevan. The governor said, “I find the students to be very impressive—they are quite political in the best sense of the word. They are aware of things.”
As his wife Kitty already had been friends with Caroline Mugar, this led the couple to visit a tree farm of the Armenian Tree Project. They were able to be present during the awarding of the first Aurora Prizes, which Dukakis found quite interesting. His wife Kitty has been quite active on genocide-related issues over the years. Among other this, as a member of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and the Holocaust Memorial Council, she pushed to have the Armenian Genocide included in the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC despite some resistance.
He encountered some 15 Syrian Armenian youth at the university whose families were driven out of Aleppo. They were supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a protector of the Christian community and described their pre-war life in Syria as almost idyllic. Dukakis said, “This makes you pause a little bit.” He wondered whether the attempts to create change in Syria were worth the humanitarian catastrophe that displaced and killed so many. He answered himself, saying he did not think so. He concluded, “We [the US] have to be a lot more careful about what we do, and how we do it.”
The governor said that “we had a great time” in Armenia and hoped that he could go there again. He was surprised to see a number of Armenians from the Watertown area, both on the AUA faculty and at various events. One was Fr. Dajad Davidian, about whom he related a charming anecdote. Dukakis said that he and his wife would try to support a young student they met from Yerevan who wants to go to Northeastern.