Posted on March. 3. 2019
BY APPO JABARIAN
EXECUTIVE PUBLISHER/MANAGING EDITOR
USA ARMENIAN LIFE MAGAZINE
On August 12, around 250 guests gathered at Western Diocese’s Kalaydjian Hall for a banquet honoring Mr. Ara Abrahamyan. The banquet was reportedly sponsored by Drs. Aramayis Paronyan and Natella Lalabekyan-Paronyan. (A news article appearing on page E4 of this issue of USA Armenian Life Magazine is reprinted from Diocese website: armenianchurchwd.com)
The main objective of this article is to focus on a troubling issue — an unprecedented use of Western Diocese, an Armenian Diaspora religious establishment for campaigning in favor of (or against) a possible candidate for political office anywhere.
Before further elaborating, it’s important to underline that this author neither endorses nor opposes Mr. Abrahamyan’s candidacy for Armenia’s Parliamentary elections in May 2017.
It’s noteworthy that Mr. Abrahamyan has made a major contribution toward the construction of a church under the jurisdiction of Western Diocese headed by Primate Arch. Hovnan Derderian. However, It would have been more appropriate to hold a banquet in his honor without converting the Diocese to a political campaign venue.
Many members in the audience were concerned that Arch. Derderian has facilitated such political pronouncements by an imminent candidate for a political office in the upcoming elections in Armenia.
During my conversations with a number of individuals at and outside the Diocesan hall, several guests expressed concerns about the fact that such political campaigning was taking place at the Western Diocese under the auspices of their Primate — Arch. Derderian.
One may argue that the event was not held inside St. Leon Cathedral and that the banquet was sponsored by a third party. So far so good!
Although he didn’t endorse him outright, but how can one justify the fact that Arch. Derderian has made the official introduction of Mr. Abrahamyan as a warm-up to the latter’s campaign pronouncements?
The Primate said: “Our guest of honor is the legendary figure of our modern-day nation’s history – Mr. Ara Abrahamyan, a patriotic person with a gentle and kind heart who has touched the hearts of millions through his vision of rebuilding Armenia. I have personally known Mr. Abrahamyan for close to 20 years. The most important characteristic which has inspired me tremendously is his Christian Faith, the root of which has been his beloved mother, of blessed memory. … Tonight’s banquet pays a tribute to the national benefactor who for the past many years has been the president of the Union of Armenians of Russia, UNESCO’s Ambassador of Goodwill, and the President of the World Armenian Congress. He has been named the Man of the Year in the Russian political arena in 2001. … Our esteemed honoree is a globally recognized economist and a winner of the national award in the field of international politics. For his keen interest and contributions in the field of science in the Republic of Armenia, Mr. Abrahamyan has been awarded the Gold Medal by the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia.”
Arch. Derderian’s introduction of Mr. Abrahamian was so lengthy and so elaborate, in both Armenian and English, that it sounded more like a pep talk and a ringing endorsement of Mr. Abrahamian’s intended political campaign rather than simply the presentation of a guest of honor. Furthermore, how appropriate was it to launch the candidacy for a political office in Armenia, thousands of miles away in Burbank, California, at the Western Diocese?
To make matters worse for Arch. Derderian, several members of the audience knew beforehand to the run-up to the event that the Wednesday evening banquet was going to serve as a venue for the declaration of Mr. Abrahamyan’s possible “candidacy for President of Armenia.”
Arch. Derderian’s actions amount to a blatant disregard of separation of church and state in Armenia, Armenian Diaspora and the United States. “Separation of church and state” (sometimes “wall of separation between church and state”) is a phrase used by American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, whose metaphor of a wall of separation has been cited repeatedly by the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to the United States Constitution, The First Amendment provides that and Article VI specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
During his remarks, Mr. Abrahamyan touched upon various issues concerning Armenia as well as his World Armenian Congress.
But the main part of his message came when he announced his possible candidacy for Armenia’s Parliament in May 2017.
He noted: “I have to start a new movement; a movement that would reinforce the ties (among Armenians); and the most important thing is about Armenia – today’s Armenia…. Armenia is trying to find its position; is trying to develop the industry, education; is trying to develop democracy. How successful have been these efforts? You may know the answer better than me: they have not been sufficient! Armenians here (in Diaspora) are established. … However our people in Armenia are condemned to poverty… Something is not right; … it’s not being well-managed. … So it has to change. There has to be change. Who is going to change? The people! When the people cast their ballots in favor of candidates; (in essence) they’re giving up authority to the elite circles.”
While Mr. Abrahamyan sounded friendly toward Pres. Serzh Sargsyan’s administration, he claimed that Armenia “has failed.”
He stated: “The time has come (for us) to help Armenia. Do you know how many people are coming out of Armenia? … I cannot say that the situation is grave. But the situation is such that, suddenly, we could lose control. We shouldn’t act in a way that it (the situation in Armenia) goes out of control. What shall we do? We should be ready. First, we, ourselves, should be united in America, Russia. We, ourselves, should become stronger and attempt to help Armenia. Of course in order for assistance to be achieved, big changes have to take place in Armenia by way of constitution; and economic system. … You know, today, our people need change; new direction; new pathway. Of course our government has done its best. You can give evaluation. Of course my evaluation is very simple. Of course I am not blaming anyone. I am blaming ourselves; all of us. … Diaspora is not engaged in a dialog with Armenia. Each segment is living on its own. … That’s not good. Diaspora should have influence on Armenia. On a number of occasions I have proposed that Armenia’s Parliament include fifty five Members of Parliament representing the Diaspora.”
He added: “There will be parliamentary elections in 2017. They’re very important. It seems like we should participate in those elections. I am thinking one thing that; I should participate in those parliamentary elections. I will decide in March. Now I would like to conduct consultations in all communities (including the Diaspora communities). In this regard, will the communities take on responsibilities in my favor? Can I create a team? Can I create such a plan in order to help that country (Armenia)? And make it so, that, instead of the people working for the authorities, let the authorities work for the people; so that it becomes beneficial for all of us; so that the citizen in Armenia can have security; be comfortable; not think that tomorrow the war may start and his son may not be able to return home from service in the army; so that all of us go there and be happy with our homeland; so that when the President of Armenia comes here (in Diaspora), we all get to be proud and receive him with joy.”
He underlined: “Now I am holding consultations. You know? Of course I have plans. How is it necessary to proceed? Believe me, it’s a great responsibility. … God has given me everything. … I have only recently made the decision to serve my people. Many think that I am making a long trip in order to come and tell you these words. That’s not so. It’s only recently that I have thought about this, Why not participate with you? Why shouldn’t we have all of us participate? Each and every citizen of Armenia has the right to participate in an election. Why not tell the people one more time that ‘We have come to help you!’? Let the people decide.”
He continued: “I was told that I could not receive a great number of votes. That’s not a problem for me. They did not insult me with those remarks. In the opposite, I am willing to proceed forward and try. Whenever I succeed in earning your trust; when they elect me as a responsible individual in Armenia, you come and support me in Armenia making your investments. .. If I decide to participate in the elections … In any case I have great plans. I’ll come back in December and distribute the plan pamphlets to you.”
To my knowledge, never before the August 12mevent, any Armenian religious establishment in Diaspora has been officially engaged in serving as a political platform for or against any candidate.
The Armenian Church has always abstained from serving as a political campaign venue in favor or against political candidates.
It’s hopeful that this political misstep on the part of Arch. Derderian does not serve as a precedent for future perverse actions by himself or other religious leaders and servants.