A Period of Disunity: The ADL Experiences Difficulties in Overcoming Division in Its Ranks


Hagop Vartivarian

Hagop Vartivarian

The division in the ranks of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL) still continues, despite the efforts made by the ADL Reform and Unity Movement. The Reform and Unity Movement convened two consultative meetings in Yerevan in October 2015 and April 2016 at which ADL representatives from all regions of the world were present. In light of profound developments in Armenian life and motivated by imperative and immediate needs, they decided to cooperate with various factions of the ADL. Unfortunately, another convocation was convened in Yerevan in May 2016 which continued to pursue the unhappy policy of political party division.

Meanwhile, following the April 2016 Reform and Unity Movement conference, the French-Armenian newspaper Nor Haratch printed an interview conducted by Jirair Tcholakian with American ADL leader Hagop Vartivarian, who is also chairman of the Press Committee of the ADL District Committee of the US and Canada, on May 21. The same interview appeared on June 11 in the Istanbul Armenian newspaper Jamanak, with introductory comments by the editor of the latter paper, Ara Kochunyan.

The interview is published below in translation. It contains, in addition to information on the ADL division, reflections on important contemporary issues concerning Armenia and the diaspora.

From April 19 to 21, the ADL Reform and Unity Movement held its second conference in Yerevan. A communiqué was published on this occasion which announced that the negotiations between representatives of the Reform and Unity Movement and the leaders of the previous ADL Central Executive did not yield results. Could you express concisely why there is this issue? What is it in historical developments which has taken an irreconcilable course?

To be honest, over the last 25 years, or, in other words, since the independence of the third Republic of Armenia, the ADL has not been able to regain its balance. It took decades, under the political conditions of the diaspora, for us to be able to establish amicable cooperation with the state authorities of Soviet Armenia despite the well-known obstacles of the Cold War. The rapid collapse of the Soviet order surprised not only our Armenian political and philanthropic institutions which were close to the homeland, but even the population living in Armenia.

Despite these conditions, the ADL established its structures in Armenia and turned into the second largest political force in the National Assembly. Unfortunately, the political authorities of the time in Armenia played a negative role concerning the traditional Armenian political parties, and as a result, we remained distant for a long time from the true political arena of Armenia. We were unable to rally our structures and rank and file under a single flag with the necessary force and instructions because the internal disciplinary structure of the ADL is more liberal and democratic. Slowly, the relations we cultivated for years with likeminded collaborating organizations fell apart, and, as a consequence, unfortunately an internal crisis began to take form. Even after eight consecutive representative assemblies, it remains unsolved.

The crisis does not concern a division in ideological views — fortunately. Otherwise, the party would have been divided into two a long time ago. Taking this as a point of departure, the two main factions over at least the last three years have had consultative meetings in order to seek paths or means to restoring the unity of the party. Let me also say that serious breaches of the bylaws were made by the ADL central executive through the unnecessary and unlawful geographical division of districts in order to assure the majority vote in the representative assemblies, which further aggravated relations between the two sides.

This sad state of affairs plunged our members into despair, and, even worse, indifference. The economic power of the party remains in the hands of other structures not subject to the central executive. Consequently, the central executive does not possess great financial means and is condemned to inactivity. It does not have influence on the press and other important mass means of communication to the extent that it does not even have an address for its physical headquarters. On the other hand, our ADL structures in Armenia continue their close collaboration with bodies not subject to the party center. It is under these conditions that in May an attempt will be made to convene the 27th General Representative Assembly of the ADL. They had already postponed the convoking of a general assembly which was to take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina last fall.

Meanwhile, in April [2016] the second convocation of the Reform and Unity Movement was held in Yerevan, and had positive results. The Movement could have announced the formation of a central executive, considering the majority of representatives present from various districts, but because those present were more concerned with the future of the ADL, they did not take this step. They instead wished for dialogue to continue, and lead to the desired final unity.

The ADL has always been supportive of the authorities of the Republic of Armenia, irrespective of the regime. Since independence, taking into consideration the political vicissitudes of the country, has the unfailing support of the ADL for the Armenian authorities altered at all? Has it been affected by internal divisions or questioning?

It is a proven fact that the ADL, whether during the first, second, or now, third Armenian republics, has demonstrated unreserved and devoted cooperation. With no connection with the psychologically unhealthy state of wanting to be a part of the regime, we have extended our fraternal hand with the concern to be helpful to Armenia and our people regardless of any ideological differences with the people who are at the head of that regime. You know that in 1920, the ADL planned to purchase a fleet of 20 war planes from England which it was going to send to Yerevan, but the change in regime led to the failure of this plan [because of the English], and so we lost what was a very large sum of money for that time.

As far as the contemporary authorities are concerned, let me say that during the days of the signing of the Protocols with Turkey, we expressed our agreement concerning it. Meanwhile, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which today collaborates with the Republican Party [of Armenia], greeted the president of our republic, Serzh Sargsyan, with hostile demonstrations when the latter came to Los Angeles. In large cities like New York, Cairo, Montreal and Los Angeles, the ADL organized meetings in support of the president. I am sure that when final unity is reestablished within our political party, we will again fortify our presence in the government as a positive force and a well-balanced political manifestation.

As a member of the executive of the ADL, how would you imagine the economic revival of Armenia? What are the prospects?

We must accept that the economic crisis in Armenia is not a unique situation. I am sure that you are well aware that it is a consequence of the depressed world economic condition, without even taking into consideration the unique difficulties of our homeland connected with the blockade, the fighting in Artsakh, the penalties being exacted against Russia by the West, and other factors independent of Armenia.

Despite all this, unfortunately the indifference of the oligarchs concerning this situation continues. They continue to exploit the wealth of the country in a one-sided manner without consideration of the rights of the people. As in the case of other formerly Soviet countries, in Armenia during a very short period of time, a handful of people who came to head the government or were connected to the regime controlled the natural resources and real estate of the country.

Weak laws were never applied and many of them remained unpunished. Patriotic Armenian businessmen from the diaspora immediately after the proclamation of the third republic came to Armenia but returned emptyhanded and disillusioned, sometimes having lost their capital investments.

Time brings experience, and today too a group of diasporan Armenians continues to make investments, with the hope that these mistakes will not be repeated. I am sure that these difficulties will be overcome eventually, and people will freely establish new businesses in Armenia.

Fortunately, Russia has opened its doors wide before Armenia’s workers, and they send the money they earn to their families. Here at the risk of being repetitious, it is necessary to remind our compatriots that Russia remains Armenia’s sole reliable friend in the region. Political figures who advance anti-Russian sentiments are simply unrealistic people.

How do you envision the future of diasporan Armenians, and Armenia-diaspora relations in the economic, educational and cultural spheres?

The experience of decades shows that the ADL has always fostered sincere Armenia-diaspora relations. I am happy to say that Minister of the Diaspora Hranoush Hakobyan is well aware of its sincerity. She is very familiar with our leaders and with the founders of the Tekeyan Cultural Association. Again at the risk of being repetitious, let us recall that throughout the years of McCarthyism and the Truman doctrine during the Cold War, we fearlessly retained our ties with Soviet Armenia. We encouraged Diaspora Armenians to have a part in the homeland’s successes and achievements, in its cultural, educational, scientific life. On the one hand, we familiarized diasporan Armenians with the great names in Armenia, and, reciprocally, the Armenians with diasporan ones. It should not seem strange if we say that 25 years ago when the third republic was born that the diasporan Armenians were already familiar with its achievements.

These relations must become closer over time. Political party or factional interests must not guide them — they must be led by pure patriotism. It must not serve to create zones of influence in diasporan communities for otherwise, this will cause the generation born and brought up in foreign countries to grow distant from the ideal of the homeland.

The activity of the Church of Armenia has also always been a special focus of attention for the ADL. How do you evaluate the church’s actions in Armenia and the diaspora from the perspective of the strengthening of faith, spiritual, educational and cultural activity, and the cooperation among the hierarchical sees?

It is not possible to have serious cooperation among the hierarchical sees or between our traditional political parties, the ADL, ARF and the Social Democratic Hunchakian Party, and the hierarchal sees, as long as the church crisis remains unresolved. Let people not pretend that this crisis does not exist. Some of the dioceses traditionally and legally belonging to the Mother See — the three dioceses of Iran, divided Greece, and three dioceses of North America — still remain separated from Echmiadzin, and in addition to Antilias, they are under the immediate supervision of the political authorities of the ARF. Though the serious events and national developments of the last 25 years, such as the great earthquake, the birth of the third republic, the Artsakh war and the liberation of territory, changes in the diaspora, the sad state of Syrian affairs, and the commemoration of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, temporarily froze the church crisis, it still remains the sad pain of the Church of Armenia. It is not possible to assure the unity of the church without restoring a lawful structure. This is the result of the Cold War. Now that the latter has ended, and Echmiadzin is living a golden age compared to the history of the last six hundred years, there is no reason for the division to stubbornly be perpetuated. Our church’s spiritual, cultural and educational activity will become much more evident and fruitful if we appear before Armenians and the world as a single, undivided church.

It must be recalled that this division had, and still has, its negative effects on the peaceful coexistence of Armenian communities. Large sums are being wasted in vain in order to maintain two diocesan seats and related institutions in the same communities. The separated church does not have the right to spend these sums collected from the people for the same purposes, if there already exists, for example, a legitimate Armenian diocese established for over one hundred years in the same city.

All of this becomes the reason for faith to gradually weaken among the new generation — the faith of the Armenian, respect toward the church. The church must not remain politicized and serve as a stage for political party and factional activity. The holy altar must serve the faith of the Armenian, as a symbol of love and unity.