Archive for the 'USA' Category

Armenian Bloggers Hail Power Return

While most people know Samantha Power as an Obama adviser who has called Hillary Clinton a “monster,” many genocide awareness and prevention activists consider the Harvard professor a hope they can believe in. The Associated Press has noticed that Power, who officially resigned from Obama’s campaign during the Democratic primaries, is on US President-elect Obama’s transition team. This news has encouraged several Armenian bloggers who now feel assured that the author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” (2002) will remind President-elect Barack Obama to keep his promise of officially recognizing the WWI Armenian Genocide committed by Ottoman Turks.


Back with Obama, Power has reignited hope among many Armenians. But some have wished for more. Joseph at the ArmenianGenocide forum:

Samantha Power is back on the Obama team and will be working at the State Department. This is good for Armenians, as she will give a direct challenge to Hillary Clinton { Hillary WILL betray us} and will be a honest broker in a institution where honesty and integrity is a very rare commodity. Still, would have loved to have Samantha Power as our Sec. of State.

The full post is available at Voices without Votes.

Nagorno-Karabakh: From Ideal to Real Solutions

While I have been silent on the recent developments of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, it doesn’t mean I have not been following the news. My silence reflects a complicated mixture of cautious optimism, confusion, excitement, fear, cynicism, and a busy schedule (which includes observing the US presidential elections). We live in historic and unpredictable times. These unknown globalized waves can translate into almost anything in Nagorno-Karabakh – from long-term solutions to further conflict.


Internationally, Obama’s election, Georgia’s unsuccessful bid for South Ossetia, Turkey’s continuous struggle to join the European Union, and international – particularly US and Russian – interest in the South Caucasus have contributed to the recent developments in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, which was vocalized in a set of principles that Azerbaijan and Armenia signed in Moscow in early November 2008. One can only hope that Armenian and Azeri leaders will make tough choices and negotiate for a solution. Locally, both countries have a great chance to make the piece.




For those of you who don’t know, Nagorno-Karabakh is an indigenous Armenian region (called Artsakh by locals) within the country of Azerbaijan. This small territory declared its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1991, less than seventy years after USSR chief Joseph Stalin gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The conflict escalated into a war between Armenia/Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, killing thousands of people and leaving many more homeless.


Today, Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally unrecognized republic with a common border with mother Armenia. Nationalist sentiment is at peak high in Azerbaijan where most people see Armenians as invaders and aggressors. The sentiment was reflected in December 2005, when a contingent of Azerbaijan’s army reduced the largest medieval Armenian cemetery – Djulfa – to dust. (Official Azerbaijan until this day denies the destruction, even though it was videotaped.) While most Armenians are nowadays much less antagonistic against Azerbaijan, during the war, in 1992, armed Armenian groups massacred a few hundred Azeri civilians when fighting in Khojalu, although both official Armenia and some Azeri sources question some of the facts of the tragedy: particularly suggesting that Azeri forces deliberately banned Khojalu’s residents to leave through a humanitarian corridor the Armenian army had left for civilians. Furthermore, Armenians claim that the conflict itself started in Azerbaijan when mobs attacked hundreds of Armenian citizens, killing several dozen, in their homes in Sumgayit in 1988 while the Police stood by. Azeris claim that there were riots against their kin in southern Armenia at the same time.


Armenian and Azeri Attitudes:


In short, both Armenia and Azerbaijan see themselves as the victim and the enemy as the aggressor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And while abuses by both sides have been almost always symmetrical in the conflict, official Azerbaijan – until recently – has been using both verbal threats and disproportional acts of destruction. Threats have included official statements by Azerbaijan’s president to win Nagorno-Karabakh back by any price, including by war, and predictions by a senior Azeri military chief that Armenia will not exist in several years. Disproportional acts of destruction by Azerbaijan have included  total elimination of all ancient indigenous Armenian monuments on its territory, especially in the exclave of Nakhichevan (another region granted to Azerbaijan by Stalin). This is not only inconsistent with Azerbaijan’s self-promotion as “the world’s most tolerant country,” but is also an act of cultural genocide (what I call “genocidal vandalism” in my honors thesis) which in no way contributes to the peace process.


Armenia’s diplomacy in the conflict has been more moderate, which may be a reflection of the following: Armenia’s victory in the early 1990s war, oil-rich Azerbaijan’s military boom, and limited open international support for Armenia in the conflict. Moderate diplomacy, nonetheless, hasn’t resulted in worldwide condemnation against Azerbaijan for blockading Armenia (although until George W. Bush, the United States didn’t give military aid to Azerbaijan). And in general, the world has been very careful not to take sides in the conflict (neither in the case of the Khojalu massacre by  Armenians nor in the recent case of Djulfa’s destruction by Azeris): an approach which is difficult to determine as productive or not.


Ideal Solutions and Militant Positions:


One reason why it has been difficult to defend one position or another has been the polarized Armenian and Azerbaijani demands, a “normal” situation in every conflict.


Azerbaijan wants to return its borders to pre-1991, entirely reversing what the bloody war did before the 1994 cease fire. It says that Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will be Azerbaijan’s citizens, but that they will never have the right or the option to succeed from Azerbaijan. In short, the legal concept of “territorial integrity” has been the supreme law and the sacred doctrine in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has about a million refugees who live in horrible conditions. Azerbaijan hopes that all these people will return to their homes, now under Armenian control. Armenians say and an Amnesty International report agreed last year, that Azerbaijan is deliberately ignoring its refugees and making their lives even miserable in order to gain international support.


Armenia says that Nagorno-Karabakh’s return to Azeri control would mean giving 150,000 Armenian lives into captivity. If Azerbaijan reduces unarmed ancient Armenian graves to dust, what will it do with live Armenians? Many, if not most, Armenians insist on also keeping the seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenian forces gained control of during the war. While not many Armenians lived on these lands during the war, there are hundreds of ancient monuments that Armenians see as proof for their historic claim to the land. Some Azeris criticize Armenians for capitalizing on history and, thus, denying Azeri inhabitants the right to return to their homes. Some Armenians respond that Azerbaijan is trying to capitalize on rewriting history, and denying indigenous Armenians their right to self-determination.


On surface, Azerbaijan doesn’t agree to any solution that will let Nagorno-Karabakh be separate from it. In the same way, many Armenians consider the possibility of giving much of the seven surrounding territories back to Azerbaijan a loss. Neither party considers all the damage that has happened – and will continue to happen – to people in both countries because of the unresolved conflict. Nationalism has overridden cost-benefit analysis (with a human rights perspective) or mutual respect for the rights of the other.


Undemocratic regimes in both Armenia and Azerbaijan have perhaps contributed to the conflict. Wars unite populations, and perhaps the conflict has worked well for both Azeri and Armenian political elites. A few months ago, a former Azerbaijani serviceman (now studying in the United States) told me that Azerbaijan’s economic elite is using nationalism to hold power in the country. While Azerbaijan’s economy is booming due to oil exports, ordinary people are not experiencing change in their lives. Hatred against Armenia, some Azeris say, is the perfect tool for Azerbaijan’s rich class to distract the majority’s attention. And in Armenia, between 1992 and 1994, people would die from hunger and economic desperation. While the government was blaming everything on the war, several government-protected families were illegally becoming superrich. According to widespread claims, independent Armenia’s regime (both Levon-Ter Petrosyan’s and Kocharyan’s) elites stole billions of dollars from the people of Armenia through neoliberal privatizations of several industries and by other means.


Time for Change?


But even undemocratic regimes can solve problems, especially when their hegemony and reputation is at stake. In the last few months, there have been interesting developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. First, Azerbaijan’s ally and Armenia’s historic enemy Turkey demonstrated diplomatic will to cooperate with Armenia. Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul accepted his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan’s invitation to watch a soccer match between both countries in September 2008. The historic event, deemed as “football diplomacy,” was followed by recent meetings brokered by Moscow between Armenia and Azerbaijan where, for the first time, leaders of both countries seemed to be pleased. More surprisingly, Turkey has been reducing its pro-Azerbaijan rhetoric while trying to become a mediator between its two South Caucasus neighbors.


Many Armenians, who are usually skeptical in international relations given their experience of genocide, are discouraged with the recent development. Skeptics see Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan, who came to power following a bloodshed during the March 2008 post-election protests, as trading his own presidency for a solution unbeneficial for Armenia. Turkey’s involvement in the process is less encouraging for the residents of Armenia, a country that Turkey has been blockading since the Karabakh conflict. 


While Turkey may not be a friend of Armenia, it sure has its interest in helping the Nagorno-Karabakh process. Turkey is under enormous pressure to open the border with Armenia (which Turkey thinks will help persuade US president-elect Barack Obama to back off from his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide). It will be very hard to open the border, though, without solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Thus, by helping to broker a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey’s current regime would silence the United States (and also its own ultranationalist deep state), have better prospects for joining the European Union, and make a claim to sort things out in the region (Turkey has surely expressed interest in brokering a deal between the United States and Iran, and unsuccessfully tried the same with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).


Azerbaijan may be more interested in solving the problem now than in the past. Authoritarian leader Ilham Aliyev, the son of Azerbaijan’s former, now deceased, president Heydar Aliyev, just won  a second (and final term) with the opposition boycotting the election (and giving him a perfect argument for a democratic victory). Not having to worry about reelection, Aliyev may be more interested in toning down his militant rhetoric. More importantly, the recent Georgian-Russian escalation over South Ossetia has likely demonstrated to Azerbaijan that war is not as good of a choice as Azerbaijan thought it might be. After all, Georgia not only didn’t win South Ossetia back, its attempt to get international sympathy faded away, if not being replaced with anger and distrust toward Tbilisi. Furthermore, the United States may want to partner with Azerbaijan even further more, especially in the case of an escalation with Iran, if it solves its problem with Armenia.


Armenia may be more inclined to change not only due to alleged pressure against president Sargsyan, but also due to the fact that an open border with Turkey will be a great asset for Armenia (Turkey thinks it may not be able to afford the border without a Karabakh solution). Furthermore, in two years, there won’t be many 18-year-olds in Armenia to qualify as soldiers. That’s because 1992-1994 are Armenia’s “dark and cold days,” when few families had children. So if there is to be war in the next four years, Armenia will have few bodies to fight. 


A fight between Armenia and Azerbaijan, nonetheless, is not desired (at least at this time) by any of the superpowers, especially by the United States. Back in July, when I met with the acting US Ambassador to Armenia, I heard extremely nice remarks about president Serzh Sargysan’s offer of watching football match with his Turkish counterpart. The United States is seeking stability, especially with the mess that the Iraq war has created. Russia is also interested in stability between Armenia (a strong ally) and Azerbaijan (an ally), especially since Moscow’s interest in the Baku oil. Thus, internationally speaking, prospects for a peaceful Karabakh deal are possible, if not real. 


Realist solutions:


Both sides need to accept that no solution is going to be perfect for either side. I don’t want to suggest what the solution should or will be, but it is clear what the solution cannot be. Azerbaijan cannot recover all the territories that it had before 1991; Armenia cannot retain all the territories that it gained after 1991. This is not a simple cliché, but a psychology that Azerbaijani and Armenian governments must start embedding in their populations. Any solution, though, would be a hard-sell both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The governments in both countries might want to employ the same tactic they have used for a long time – information wars. Instead of dehumanizing the enemy this time, Armenian and Azeri TV channels (both are government-controlled to a large degree) should broadcast stories that rehumanize their neighbors. This strategy hardly needs to be called ‘affirmative propaganda,’ because there are so many true stories of mutual help and respect that can help in bringing change. One thing that is clear is that a peaceful solution at this time would be great for Armenia, Azerbaijan, their neighbors and the world.

An Alabamian-Armenian Perspective on Obama’s Election

John Hughes, editor of ArmeniaNow, writes a moving column expressing his feelings about Barack Obama’s historic victory:

When, at 8:01 a.m. Wednesday in Yerevan, the television I’d been psychically tethered to all night announced that Barack Obama had been voted the next President of the United States, the image in my head replaced the broadcast on CNN with footage of a childhood that added relevance to the vast historicity of the moment.

Tow-headed and not yet mindful that a world existed outside the narrow one in which I toddled, I stood on a stool in an Alabama public square to drink from one of two water fountains. Turns out that the one I’d chosen for refreshment from the summer heat was marked “Colored”. Had I known, I’d have stepped to the “Whites Only” bubbler. Children don’t know. Bless them.

Laughing, pointing and notifying my parents of their youngest’ violation of custom and law my older brother and sister shamed me for reasons that still baffle me. I’d picked the fountain designated for Negroes. For me, it was just a cool drink.

In that year, the man I happily now call MY president, was born far from Alabama prejudice, and closer to the heart of whatever is right in this world whether there or here.

And when, from the home state of Abraham Lincoln, President-elect Obama addressed the divided nation I have left behind for this developing nation, his message referenced the most famous speech of his hero and mine: “. . . we will get there . . . ”

It is a speech I memorized for a high school project in public speaking, but did not practice aloud for fear that I’d be overheard in a household where Martin Luther King Jr. was a devil, and a future in which a Barack Obama fulfilling Rev. King’s vision was not only inconceivable but horrifying.

It was a world that put me at odds with every form of authority to which I was subjected, whether parent, teacher or sports coach. A minister I idolized in the church I attended told me, earning laughs from those around him: “I’m not prejudiced. I just don’t like niggers.”

It shouldn’t have surprised me, then, when tears welled in my eyes as with those on that CNN broadcast, on realizing that the America that taught me to look beyond the reality of my environment had delivered a dream for an apparently deserving servant and his beautiful and elegant family.

I watched Michelle Obama embrace Vice-President elect Joe Biden, and recalled that for most of my childhood, it was forbidden for American TV to show a white person and black person kissing.

Barack Obama is not America’s right choice because he is black. Nor is celebration of his achievement reserved only for the African-American community. Without white voters, Hispanic voters, Asian voters, Native American voters, this son of Kansas and Kenya would have been another history footnote rather than history maker.

The election of this new American president, beyond all the dangerously Pollyanna reactions to the moment (including mine), represents far more universal ideologies than race or nationality or age or gender. Profoundly simplistic, yes, the November 4 American election revived belief that should not be owned by Americans only.

Listening to Barack Obama’s graciously reserved acceptance speech, I heard a message for my new Armenian wife, whose hope of a better Armenia gets crushed again and again each time an election here goes wrong. I heard a message for my new Armenian children – about the same age as the Obama daughters:

Give democracy and human decency a chance, and a way will be found to fulfill your aspirations.

As an Alabama child I saw dogs released on those whose sacrifice made a way to Barack Obama’s stage in Chicago’s Grant Park, and watched TV coverage of white firemen blasting black protestors with blistering water hoses. In this new home of my middle age, I have seen water cannons turned on those who – for reasons other than race – sought change in this society; have heard minorities of every stripe cursed for either their color, their sexual persuasion, or their ethnicity, among these people who should know better than most the evil of ignorance-based hate.

Whether in the Alabama of my youth or in this Armenia of my current reality caught between socialism’s failures and democracy’s promises; wherever discrimination and doubt muffle the heartbeat of hope, the election of Barack Hussein Obama turns campaign jingo into a dogma that I wish these children of mine to realize, as did I, in the early Wednesday Armenia hours: “Yes. We Can”.

Native America and Barack Obama

Image: A poster on University of Colorado Denver Professor Glenn Morris’ door.


While Native Americans are United States citizens, they are also considered part of the Fourth World – the Earth’s often invisible indigenous peoples. In a way, Native Americans don’t have much voice in the United States. That’s largely because the “one person, one vote” form of democracy doesn’t always adequately reflect the ideas of the aboriginal people who didn’t really give consent to become part of the United States. But in 2008, Native America seems excited about the US elections more than ever.


I interview Prof. Glenn Morris, a long-time American Indian Movement (AIM) activist and director of the Fourth World Center at the University of Colorado Denver a day after the election.


Morris, who received his law degree from Harvard several years before president-elect Barack Obama did, seems cautiously excited about the next leader of the United States. The indigenous professor says he is happy that he has been proven wrong about his prediction that racism wouldn’t let Obama get elected. He’s worried, though, about false perception of overcoming racism.


Image: Prof. Glenn Morris at the Fourth World Center (University of Colorado)

“My concern has been the tendency to suggest that Obama’s election demonstrates a post-racial era. The danger of defining race as black and white allows the United States to ignore the country’s original sin – the Doctrine of Discovery.” Morris says that racism will be prevalent until the country “looks at the foundational injustice in the creation” of the United States, with a reference to the genocide against Native Americans.



Image: Obama in an indigenous Kenyan dress


The professor says that there are different Indian voices in the elections. But the Navajo nation, explains Morris, had a role in delivering Mexico (and almost Arizona) for Obama. And while the restless activist says he’s excited about Obama’s idea to have a presidential adviser on Native American issues, he hopes that “Native participation will translate into policy.” In Canada, for instance, the federal government often makes decisions affecting aboriginal communities by consulting with First Nations. Morris thinks that consent, not consultation, should be the level of such communication.


Was the Native vote numerically or symbolically important for Barack Obama? Morris says Obama’s outreach to Americans Indians was “partly personal, partly ideological, and partly tactical.”

Obama “may not understand [Native American issues] entirely,” says Glenn Morris, but America’s 44th president seems the only leader so far “who may kind of get it.”

Voices Without Votes on The Armenian Effect

Voices Without Votes, a Global Voices and Reuters project, has just published my post summarizing some Armenian reactions to the U.S. elections. The post is available here. It is also linked on Reuters:

US Elections: The Armenian Effect

Photo: Obama’s largest campaign rally in Denver, Colorado, on October 26, 2008


Today I took my Mom to a Lady’s Night at an Armenian friend’s house in Boulder, where in lieu of birthday presents the host had asked guests to donate to the Barack Obama campaign on her personalized page. Although not a citizen just yet, this was not the first time my Mom made a donation to the Obama campaign. In fact, proportionally speaking, she is perhaps a top Obama donor.


While sometimes it feels that to be part of the “real Armenian community” in the United States one needs to live in Southern California, actually right now Colorado is the Armenian-American political center – at least through Tuesday.


I learned from local Armenian-American volunteers for the Obama campaign that there are approximately 3,000 registered voters with “ian” and “yan” last names (the common ending of Armenian names) in Colorado, a swing state. This basically means that Armenian-Americans in Colorado could decide the U.S. elections.

Sarah Palin on Armenia

Alaska, America’s 49th state where the current Republican vice presidential nominee hails from, and Armenia, a country the Obama-Biden ticket is vibrantly supportive of, have something in common – they are both a heartbeat away from Russia.

As Armenian-Americans overwhelmingly support Obama in this presidential race, the McCain-Palin ticket is trying hard to reach even a few Americans of Armenian heritage.

The Republican ticket’s not-so-profound support for Armenian causes aside, one wonders about even the awareness of such issues in the ticket. Senator McCain, who has been to Armenia, is definetly aware of issues that concern Armenian-Americans. But what about Governor Palin? Does she even know if such a country exists?

According to The National, Sarah Palin does know at least one Armenian-American. Here is the latter’s story:


Andrée McLeod is shouting into the phone from a desk set up in her bedroom as I wait for her at a kitchen table annexed by stacks of paper. “She’s only powerful if you think she is! This right here, if it turns out to be true, is a bunch of bull****!”

It is because of McLeod, a lovably obstreperous woman of Armenian descent somewhere in her fifties, that the world knows of Governor Palin’s preference for Yahoo over .gov – one of the little details from Alaska that suggest uncomfortable parallels between the modus operandi of the Palin State House and the Bush White House, which also liked to transact government business on private e-mail accounts.

The stacks covering the table are the fruits of McLeod’s request for e-mails and phone calls between Palin and two aides, whom McLeod suspected of working in concert to oust the Alaska Republican Party chair, Randy Ruedrich – a violation of the state executive ethics code, which forbids conducting party business on state time. It might seem a venial sin – but it was also precisely the accusation Palin had earlier wielded to eject Ruedrich from the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission– with the help of Andree McLeod herself.

McLeod emigrated from Beirut with her family in 1963, and moved to Alaska from Long Island thirty years ago. She was apolitical until 1995, when she spied an opportunity to earn money for grad school by operating a falafel cart in Anchorage. The town fathers squashed her plans, declaring fried chickpeas “potentially hazardous.” She took the fight to city hall, wound up running for mayor, and her local state house seat twice, losing the last time in a tight race that required a recount.

McLeod told me that she’d met Palin shortly after her own failed state house bid in 2002. They’d stuck up an unlikely friendship, the home-grown beauty queen and the cerebral but scrappy and energetic import. Palin complained to McLeod about Ruedrich’s penchant for doing party work from his office at the AOGCC, where Palin also served – appointed by Murkowski after her losing bid for Lt. Governor marked her as a “comer” in the state party. McLeod got tired of Sarah’s ceaseless complaints and told her to do something about it already.

“She didn’t know how to go about it,” McLeod says. “I would guide. So that reporters would ask her, but there was a role I played in the background, making sure all the information was correct. But she did the exact same thing she accused Randy of doing. Had I known that I wouldn’t have given her the time of day.”

The takedown of Randy Ruedrich was Palin’s first public scalping (of a fellow Republican, no less) and it helped cast her as a dogged reformer.

“It’s true, Andrée’s almost responsible for creating Sarah Palin,” Rick Rydell, an Anchorage talk radio host and 2004 Alaska Republican Man of the Year, tells me over sushi a few days later. Rydell has just finished his show, which airs weekdays from six to nine in the morning. His Harley is parked out front and we’re sampling some hijiki and gyoza, talking about the Palinistas – his disparaging moniker for those still “drinking the kool-aid.”

McCain’s Letter on Armenia

U.S. Presidential candidate John McCain has sent a letter to Armenian-American groups. Senator McCain’s letter is available at

Lawsuit filed Against US National Archives To Obtain Documentation

Los Angeles, Calif.–A civil action against the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States was filed yesterday seeking documents as they relate to the Armenian Genocide (1914 to 1925). (Vartkes Yeghiayan v. National Archives and Records Administration of the United States of America, Case No. CV08-16248, U.S. District Court, Central District of Calif., Sept. 23, 2008).
“Repeated efforts have been made to procure these documents, but the National Archives has been non-responsive,” says Mark MacCarley, partner with Glendale, Calif.-based MacCarley & Rosen who is representing plaintiff Vartkes Yeghiayan. “Its actions are in violation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”
The initial request by Yeghiayan occurred in April 2006. “The National Archives acknowledged receipt of the request, but has not provided the information despite repeated inquires from my client,” says MacCarley. “The National Archives, without explanation, has exceeded the generally applicable 20-day deadline for processing FOIA requests. We simply want the requested documentation.”
Yeghiayan is an attorney who has successfully litigated lawsuits in State and Federal courts against U.S. and foreign businesses for Armenian Genocide asset restitution. More than 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the genocide with millions more deported from the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). Yeghiayan filed the FOIA request because he believes documents are being held by the U.S. government that would identify countries having either direct complicity in the Armenian Genocide or profited by the Ottoman Turks actions against Armenians.
“This lawsuit is on behalf of Armenian-Americans who are seeking documentation and information that could shed light on what happened to their loved ones during the Armenian Genocide,” says Yeghiayan.

Azerbaijan: Dick Cheney on Nagorno-Karabakh

According to the official White House website, America’s Vice President Dick Cheney has underlined Azerbaijan’s “territorial integrity” while discussing the Armenian-Azeri conflict during a meeting with Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president Ilham Aliyev in Baku:


America strongly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. We are committed to achieving a negotiated solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — a solution that starts with the principle of territorial integrity, and takes into account other international principles. Achieving a solution is more important now than ever before; that outcome will enhance peace and stability in the region, and Azerbaijan’s security, as well.


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