President Sargsyan promotes Turkey protocols in diaspora meetings
ARF stages street protests in New York and Los Angeles
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Tuesday October 06, 2009
President Serge Sargsian meets with representatives of American-Armenian and Canadian-Armenian groups in New York, Oct. 3, 2009. Press Office of the President of Armenia
NEW YORK - At meetings in New York and Los Angeles on October 3 and 4, representatives of American-Armenian and Canadian-Armenian groups had an exchange of views with President Serge Sargsyan on the agreement on the normalization of relations initialed between Armenia and Turkey. The meetings were part of a longer presidential tour with stops in France, Lebanon, and Russia.
According to Turkish officials, the protocols on diplomatic relations and bilateral cooperation are expected to be signed by the foreign ministers of the two countries in Zurich, Switzerland, on October 10. Armenian officials have not yet confirmed that date.
Armenian officials requested that the diaspora discussions be treated as off the record, although many of the statements delivered by organizations were made public either before or after the meetings.
The October 3 New York meeting included representatives from the eastern United States and Canada, with representatives from the western United States and Latin America attending the Los Angeles meeting the following day.
The meetings were by invitation only. No public appearances were organized, and an anticipated presidential interview with three Los Angeles-area Armenian television channels did not take place.
Debate in New York
The New York event involved about 50 participants from the diaspora, representing several dozen organizations, sitting at tables arranged in a large square, with media sitting at a separate table. President Sargsyan's delegation included former president of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Arkady Ghoukasian, the chairperson of Armenia's Constitutional Court Gagik Harutiunian, Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobyan, and a dozen or more aides and diplomats.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, who handled the negotiations over the protocols and is expected to be the one to sign the documents on Armenia's behalf, was not in the delegation. Neither were any members of parliament; the protocols require parliamentary ratification to go into effect.
Diaspora organizations represented included this newspaper's parent company CS Media and the U.S.-Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC). In attendance were archbishops and other clergy from the Eastern and Canadian dioceses and prelacies of the Armenian Church, representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), Armenian National Committee of America, and affiliated groups in the eastern United States and Canada, the Armenian General Benevolent Union and its associated organizations, the Armenian Assembly of America and its affiliates, the Zoryan Institute, the Fund for Armenian Relief, the Armenia Fund, Birthright Armenia, and the Congress of Canadian Armenians.
Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Andranik Migranian, a Russian-Armenian community leader and former Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission member now working in New York, and Vahan Kololian of the Mosaic Institute of Toronto were also present.
Media representatives in attendance included the Armenian Reporter, the New York-based freelancer Florence Avakian, Ardzagank TV (which also reports for Voice of America Armenian Service), AGBU and Ararat magazines, the Boston-based Hairenik, Armenian Weekly, and Armenian Mirror-Spectator newspapers, and the Montreal-based Horizon newspaper.
The event began with on-the-record introductory remarks by the president. He reiterated his determination to proceed toward normalization of relations with Turkey, while also admitting to a number of reservations and concerns, many of which he had shared in his interview with the Armenian Reporter last week.
Mr. Sargsyan, who in the early 1990s was commander of Karabakh self-defense forces, compared the ongoing talks with Turkey to the war in Karabakh. The war was incredibly difficult and few initially expected Armenian success, he said, but it was also unavoidable.
Just as Armenians prevailed in the war, Mr. Sargsyan said, he fully expected to be successful in talks with Turkey as well, which he also described as difficult but unavoidable.
He also argued that the process of normalization of relations with Turkey was not an excuse for a curtailment of genocide-affirmation efforts.
On the subject of talks with Azerbaijan, Mr. Sargsyan confirmed the long-standing Armenian position that Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be made part of Azerbaijan and that any settlement required serious security guarantees for its Armenian population.
The president's 40-minute introduction was followed by more than 40 statements, remarks, and questions from various organizations and individuals that continued for nearly four hours uninterrupted.
The views expressed ranged from unreservedly supportive to highly critical of the president's policy on the Turkey protocols. There were a number of tense exchanges.
Following the diaspora presentations, and comments by Mr. Ghoukasian and Mr. Harutiunian, Mr. Sargsyan wrapped up the meeting by responding to some of the concerns and questions posed.
According to participants in the Los Angeles meeting, the event involved about 60 diaspora representatives, with the president responding to points raised after each of about 30 presentations. At that meeting, while a number of disagreements were voiced, the discussion remained civil.
Throughout the president's tour, the ARF organized street protests, with many thousands reportedly turning out in Los Angeles on October 4, while up to 200 were seen picketing in New York the day before.
In New York the protestors came from as far away as Boston, Chicago, and Washington. They held placards saying "Voch" (no) to the protocols, telling the president "Mi Davachanir" (or Mi tavajanir, Do not betray), and announcing that Mr. Sargsyan was "not welcome in New York."
According to the Armenian Weekly, a smaller group of protestors at one point entered the New York hotel where the meeting was taking place; the protestors' chanting briefly became audible inside the meeting hall, before the New York police and the U.S. Secret Service intervened.
Video reports available online indicate the Los Angeles protest included similar slogans and also involved a brief attempt by protestors to cross the police barricade, but no serious incidents.
According to Asbarez, some 200 activists set up a human barricade around the Armenian Genocide monument in Montebello, as activists in Paris had done two days earlier, in order to prevent President Sargsyan from laying flowers there. The president did not show up at Montebello at the time the demonstrators had expected him.
Also, a hunger strike, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation, kicked off on Monday, October 5, at midnight, and was to last for 96 hours until midnight Friday.
In Paris on Friday, October 2, the president had lunch with crooner Charles Aznavour, who serves as Armenia's ambassador to Switzerland. He met with representatives of community organizations, after which he was scheduled to lay a wreath at the Armenian Genocide memorial on the banks of the Seine River.
French police spent an hour dragging some 300 French-Armenian protesters out of the way, Tatul Hakobyan reported from the scene. Once the protesters had been removed, the president approached the statue, spent a few moments there, and placed a small wreath.
In Lebanon on October 6, Mr. Sargsyan met with over 100 individuals representing various organizations operating in Middle Eastern Armenian communities, including Egypt and Iran. Before the meeting, the president met with Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, who has been critical of the protocols.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the president's hotel.
Hagop Pakradouni, one of six Armenian deputies in Lebanon's parliament, said the community supported improved ties between Armenia and Turkey - but not at any price, according to AFP.
Rostov on Don
In Rostov on Don, Russia, the next day, the president met with representatives of Russian-Armenian groups and discussed Armenian-Turkish relations.
Armenia's former deputy defense minister and chief of general staff in the early 90s, General Norat Ter-Grigoriants, said, "The nation is opposed to the protocols. You could just not sign them, and you will be treated as a national hero."
Ara Abrahamian, the president of the powerful Union of Armenians in Russia, suggested that more time was needed for expert analysis of all the consequences of the protocols, warning that the deal would probably shelve the international recognition campaign for years to come.
In a September interview with the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Abrahamian had expressed concerns about the terms of the protocols. Regarding the proposed intergovernmental commission on the "historical dimension," he had said, "If you want to bury an issue, give it to a committee." He had also expressed reservations about the recognition of existing borders between Armenia and Turkey.
Armenian president to discuss Turkey protocols on diaspora tour
by Emil Sanamyan
Published: Thursday September 24, 2009
WASHINGTON - President Serge Sargsian will visit Armenian communities, including those in Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Rostov-on-Don in Russia, and Beirut starting at the end of next week, according to diplomatic sources involved in organizing the trip.
The visit is intended to outline Armenia's policy vis-à-vis Turkey. On August 31 Armenia and Turkey announced their intention to sign protocols on diplomatic relations and bilateral cooperation after six weeks of domestic discussions. Under the protocols, Turkey agrees to open the land border with Armenia.
Some major Armenian-American organizations have endorsed the protocols while expressing concern about certain provisions. Others have been more critical. In recent days, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation has organized protests at the Armenian Mission to United Nations in New York, as well as in Los Angeles.
Mr. Sargsian's visit to New York is expected to include a meeting with representatives of Armenian-American groups on October 3. That would be followed by a similar meeting as well as a televised press conference in Los Angeles.
The Armenian president's trip comes just ahead of yet another summit meeting between him and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, which is expected to take place in Moldova on October 8 or 9. The signing of Armenia-Turkey protocols by the foreign ministers of Armenia and Turkey is due on October 13.
Turkish leaders have said that implementation of the protocols is contingent on satisfaction of Azerbaijan's concerns in the Karabakh dispute. Armenian officials for their part reject the link, noting that the published protocols make no reference to the Karabakh conflict.
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated the Karabakh linkage during his meeting with Jewish-American groups in New York on September 22, Today's Zaman reported, citing the Anatolia news agency.
The United States has reemerged as an informal facilitator of Armenia-Turkey talks, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussing the issues in a phone call to President Sargsian on September 19, the Armenian president's office reported.
U.S. officials have called for progress on both the Karabakh and Armenia-Turkey tracks but they have formally opposed a direct linkage between the two.