By Aram Arkun
LONDON — The Reform and Unity Movement of the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL), after three conventions, recently announced that its headquarters would be moved to the Republic of Armenia. In order to shed some light on this movement and the significance of its actions, Dr. Hratch Kouyoumjian of London, the secretary of the Reform and Unity Movement, spoke at length with the Mirror.
Dr. Kouyoumjian was born in Beirut and went to the Armenian General Benevolent (AGBU) Hovagimian-Manougian School there, at which his father was a teacher (as well as a leader of the ADL). After obtaining his first degree from the American University of Beirut, he went to England for his doctorate, which he obtained from the University of Hull, England. He graduated as an expert in management, which led him to sustainable development and then science, technology and innovation policies.
Kouyoumjian became a high level civil servant at the United Nations. For the past 10 years, he has been working in his fields of specialization, and the promotion of Agenda 21, a UN action plan. He has been a consultant with UNESCO in Paris, and a research scientist at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Monaco. He speaks Armenian, Arabic, English, French and Turkish.
He is active in conferences and travels frequently for work in Europe, the Middle East, Armenia and the Far East. Over the past ten years he has been an active member of various oceanographic networks, and has held various positions in the Middle East, such as member of the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research. He has established scientific journals, and published books, articles and reports in his field.
In the Armenian realm, he has been very active in recent years. In the fall of 2015 Kouyoumjian was elected as the chairman of the Mihran Damadian chapter of the ADL in London. He was chairman of the London chapter of the Tekeyan Cultural Association (TCA) in 2011-13 and served as the honorary secretary of the Armenian Genocide Centenary Commemoration Committee of the United Kingdom from 2014 to 2015. He has of course been involved in Armenian life in earlier periods too. He joined the AGBU in high school, and the TCA and ADL in his late 20s. He has been a member of the AGBU District Committee in Lebanon.
He has accolades from a number of countries, including France and Lebanon. In 2014, he was awarded the Grigor Narekatsi medal by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia. That year, he transferred the only surviving manuscript memoirs of General Antranig Ozanian to the National History Museum in Yerevan. In 2015, Kouyoumjian translated and edited a volume titled Ethnic Armenian Civil Servants in the Ottoman Empire in 1909.
ADL Reform and Unity Movement
Kouyoumjian explained the origins of the Reform and Unity Movement as follows: “Your readers know the deplorable situation the ADL found itself in the last 20 years. A few years ago, a number of concerned members, veterans, decided to get together and reform and unify the party. We had the first meeting in Yerevan in October to November last year. There we set the tone. Then in Yerevan in April of this year, we analyzed the situation the party found itself in. We worked on a new vision for the party, and more importantly we conducted a SWOT [Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats] analysis. That coupled with a new vision was the critically formulated starting point for reforming the party.”
While the strength of the ADL is its presence in many countries throughout the world, its weakness primarily lies in personal rivalries and divisions, which Kouyoumjian pointed out were not dogmatic, but rather due to the clash of personalities and personal ambitions. He added, “Like the Hundred Years’ War in France and England, the color of the dispute eventually changes, and nobody even remembers today how it started.” This situation in turn allows the threat of outside interference to be realized, but there are also tremendous opportunities for the party, he continued.
An open invitation for an extraordinary meeting which was jointly sent by the Reform and Unity Movement was very well received by the rank-and-file, he said. In Yerevan, there were 65 members attending in April, he said, from different regions and ADL chapters. Negotiations began with the ADL of Armenia to see if the ADL could have its worldwide center there. He said, “The future is in Armenia. It is an independent country, and politics is to be conducted there.” Lebanon, for example, he added, is another place where the party has to be present, since there is an opportunity to play a political role through the parliamentary elections.
In New Jersey, in June of 2016, the Movement held a consultative meeting to draw up the road map to make the party Armenia-centered. He said, “We were extending our hands in friendship, saying, let us come, debate, and discuss. Many joined but others decided to stay away. We avoided legal jargon from day one by not calling our meetings badkamavoragan zhoghov’s, as no respect remained for the current bylaws and moral authority had completely vanished.”
Finally, in October of this year the much anticipated meeting in Yerevan (informally called Yerevan 3) took place, and there the ADL was declared to be “Armenia-centered.” Kouyoumjian described the structure of the reorganized ADL as “a network where the cells of the party are based in towns and cities. All these units or cells join together in four major regions. The major region and the pacesetter naturally will be Armenia, with the other regions being the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.” The coordinating body for this network is to be called the Supreme Council.
At the same time, he said, “We have to make sure that the legal jurisdiction of the Republic of Armenia is respected. Consequently, the party’s leadership based there must be local citizens. The Central Committee of Armenia therefore is composed of Armenian citizens and those from the diaspora who have dual citizenship; while in the Supreme Council, anybody can join.”
The other major decision taken was to draft a new set of bylaws in order to reflect these changes. At present, the party in Armenia has its own constitution, while the ADL in the diaspora has a separate one, repeatedly modified since 1921. Kouyoumjian noted, “The two are not compatible at present.” Thus, there is an urgent need to merge and harmonize these two sets of bylaws.
The Supreme Council’s primary role is to set the political agenda and prioritize, while assisting the various cells of the network in applying the new bylaws, and thus maintain unity and complementarity. Kouyoumjian said, “In Europe, for example, once the major political lines of the party are drawn, we can focus on promoting our vision primarily through cultural activities. In Armenia, they can do that, and much more, since they are an integral part of the political, social and cultural fabric of the country.” The Central Committee of Armenia accepts the overall tutelage of the Supreme Council, while at the same time maintaining its independence as regards the political scene. In an Armenia-based party, the duty of the diaspora should be to lend moral and tangible support to the Central Committee in Armenia in fulfilling its political goals and aspirations.
Kouyoumjian said that these new bylaws, and the democratic consensus of all supporters will establish the new ground zero. In other words, he exclaimed, “2016 will be a landmark year like 1921. In 1921, five constituent parties came together, reformed, and complemented each other, thus paving the way for the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party as we know it today. The process now is very much similar. A major section of the diaspora joins the party in Armenia to formulate this new platform and vision.”
Most members of the Reform and Unity Movement, according to Kouyoumjian, are from Canada, US, London, Athens, Cairo, Lebanon, and various other chapters, aside from Armenia. He said, “We claim the majority of the rank and file of the ADL. This is my modest opinion.” Kouyoumjian during recent visits to Athens and Cairo explained the nature of the movement and listened to the opinions of the local ADL chapter members.
In the Republic of Armenia, the ADL was the second largest group in the first parliament. It was the first diasporan political party to establish itself there, acquire premises, start the newspaper Azg, and initiate cultural activities through the Tekeyan Cultural Association, but the “deep state,” as Kouyoumjian calls it, then interfered and the party weakened. Recently a reorganized ADL emerged, and during the most recent elections for self-governing committees of municipalities, 10 out of 11 ADL candidates were elected. After a hiatus of over 15 years, Kouyoumjian, said, the ADL is now getting ready to participate in the Armenian parliamentary elections once again.
As far as the other camp of the ADL, he said, “After 20 years, there is a glimmer of hope that has been catalyzed by our timely actions. We hope we all shall join together. There are negotiations in place…and we are always open to suggestions. There are no preconditions.” The other camp is not Armenia-based at present, but Kouyoumjian said that he believes most party members in the diaspora have the same or similar aspirations.
He was hopeful that a committee of specialists would be formed with the other camp to look into the bylaws to reflect these changes. He said that there is a need to draft new forward-looking bylaws ensuring good governance, and promoting the ADL’s core values of democracy and liberalism, especially in Armenia. He continued, declaring, “We believe in independence, democratic values and good governance. That implies not just elections with majority rule but transparency, accountability, the independence of the judiciary, and the rights of the minorities. Fighting corruption is one of these elements as well. …These are the pillars of good governance. In this context, we have always kept our right to criticize when something is wrong, and to support and promote when things are rosy.”
Helping in the development of Artsakh, Armenia and the mother church, while promoting Armenian culture and history in the diaspora, Kouyoumjian said that the ADL must be ready to deal with new issues in the Armenian context after putting its own house in order. The major trauma of the Genocide continues to be an important issue but, he said, “the way we look at the Genocide and target our activities shifts continually.” Focusing on defending the rights of peoples who have been victims of genocides seems to be a major consideration in this context.
Kouyoumjian concluded, “We can’t do things the old way, as everything around us is changing and in a dynamic state. We have to modernize and look forward to continue to be relevant.”