Self-Appointed Armenian ‘Community Leadership’ vs. Elected Leadership
Posted on August. 31. 2019
BY APPO JABARIAN Managing Editor USA Armenian Life Magazine print/electronic editions Hye Kiank Armenian Weekly print/electronic editions armenianlife.com USA Armenian Life Facebook Page
On Aug. 16, a group of 20 Armenian organizations in Western U.S. formed a coalition reciting lofty- and noble-sounding ideas under a big sounding new umbrella name — “Pan-Armenian Coalition of Western U.S.”
The timing of this formation of this so-called ‘Pan-Armenian Council’ is peculiar in the sense that Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is scheduled to visit Los Angeles on Sept. 22, 2019. The predetermined two or three co-chairs from among the proxies of the masterminds —the oligarch of Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Vicken Hovsepian and Western Diocese’s autocratic primate Hovnan Derderian are expected to be misrepresented as the sole representatives or leaders of the Armenian community of Western U.S. during any possible meetings with PM Pashinyan.
Last weekend, in response to this writer’s August 23 article in USA Armenian Life titled “Two Self-Declared Autocrats in Los Angeles Attempt to Hijack Armenian Community Leadership Without Popular Elections,” Hovsepian appeared on Horizon TV/Asbarez TV and backpaddled on his and Derderian’soriginal covert ambitions to declare themselves as ‘community leaders’ of Armenian Americans of Western U.S.
However, he made a number of misrepresentations. In order to clarify the matter for the readers, on Thursday August 29 at 1:31 PM (PST), this writer sent a media inquiry to Hovsepian and Derderian, Ararat Home of Los Angeles Chairman Joseph Kanimian, Esq. and Western Diocesan Council Chair Adrienne L. Krikorian and asked: “As representatives of the ‘Council,’ Mr. Hovsepian and Mr. Sinan Sinanian appeared on Horizon/Asbarez TV and erroneously claimed that the 20 participating organizations have a total combined membership of 70,000-100,000 in Western U.S. Are you, gentlemen (Hovsepian and Derderian), trying to infer that the participation of tens of thousands of fellow Armenian Americans, marching in Hollywood and Wilshire District in commemoration of the Genocide each year, as being members of the 20 participating organizations?” It is common knowledge that a whopping 95-97% of Armenians of Western USA do not belong to any Armenian organizations. According to statistics the combined membership of 20 participating organizations is no more than 13,000.
As of Friday August 30, 11:50 PM, the media inquiry still remained unanswered. A glaring reminder to the community that this newspaper’s media-inquiries are consistently ignored.
Out of the 170 Armenian American faith-based and community-based organizations in Western United States, only a handful — about 20 organizations’ leaders got together and declared the formation of a quasi-privately-controlled umbrella organization under the big-sounding banner name “Pan-Armenian Council of Western United States.”
The total combined membership of the 20 participating organizations
amounts to around 1% of the total 1.2 to 1.5 million-strong Armenian American population of Western United States.
The Social Democratic Hunchak Party (SDHP Hunchak Party) and a number of other organizations have refused to join this self-serving body. The total combined membership of the 150 non-participating organizations is over 10,000.
In an August 29 commentary titled “‘Pan Armenian Council of Western USA’ Or Council of Armenian Organizations?” Publisher of The California Courier Harut Sassounian stated: “The name of the new Pan Armenian Council should have been something like ‘Coalition of Armenian Organizations of Western USA.’ Pan Armenian means that all Armenians in Western USA are members of this Council, whereas only members of certain organizations are represented in it. The great majority of Armenians, who are not members of any organization, are not represented in this Council. … The true Pan Armenian Council or an entity with a similar name should be elected by the votes of all Armenians in the Western USA or throughout the Diaspora, not just by members of several organizations. Only such a democratic entity can claim to represent all Armenians and speak in their name.”
In his appearance along with Hovsepian on Horizon TV/Asbarez TV, Sinanian boasted that “The goal of all our (‘Pan Armenian Council’) organizations is one: to preserve the Diaspora.”
This is gross misrepresentation of the facts by Sinanian. It is fraud. Sinanian’s Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) under its monopolistic leader Berge Setrakian has been systematically shutting down Armenian schools in the Diaspora and has been liquidating their real estate assets and nobody knows of the whereabouts of the funds.
In 2005, without any justification and through blatant violation of custodial trust of the the Melkonian brothers, AGBU has shut down an educational jewel institute, The MelkonianEducational Institute (MEI). Setrakian wanted to sell off the real estate assets of MEI at around $100 million. Lucky for the Diaspora the Cypriot government halted the process. Diaspora Armenians and Armenia owe a debt of gratitude to the government of Cyprus. USA Armenian Life has just learned that Cyprus has placed an encroachment on the property effectively barring Setrakian’s AGBU sale of the MEI property that is located in the heart of Nicosia, capital of Cyprus.
One of the largest Armenian channels in Diaspora, ARTN TV’s Executive Producer Robert Oghlakhchian said in Los Angeles: “I respect all political parties,” but what do they mean by calling themselves Pan-Armenian Council? Usage of such big terms or names without popular election is incomprehensible. It is indispensable to navigate out of narrow partisan circles and join the community in making reality elected leadership through universal suffrage. If they really want to establish a coalition of some organizations without democratic elections, they don’t have the right to call themselves ‘Pan-Armenian Council.’”
Both Viken Hovsepian and his underling, Hovnan Derderianare increasingly becoming target for criticism within their own organizations locally and globally. Many rank-and-file ARF members along with supporters are frowning upon Hovsepian’smotive in forming his pyramid within the ARF Western U.S. aiming to perpetuate his grab of power within the party. His wife Nora Hovsepian is now known to be a virtual dictator at the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Western Region. There are no democratic elections within the ANCA to elect national or regional leadership. In the Western U.S., they’re all hand-picked by Mr. Hovsepian and his cronies in the party leadership.
Hovsepian’s chock-hold on power in the “Armenian Wild, Wild West,” enables him to wield considerable amount of influence onto the national leadership and/or other regional ARF central committees in U.S. due to the fact that the Western U.S. Armenian community is the most powerful, most populous and most prosperous in the entire Armenian Diaspora.
According to reliable sources, there is mounting disdain of Vicken and Nora Hovsepian not just from within U.S. but also from other regional ARF bodies such as Canada, Lebanon, South America, Artsakh (Karabakh) and Armenia. The Hovsepians have turned the ARF, ANCA and all the remaining ARF-affiliated faith-based and community-based organizations — Western Prelacy, Armenian Relief Society (ARS), Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), Homenetmen and Hamazkayin their personal playground. Now, covertly. he is on the pursuit to make the entire Western U.S., his clansmen’s playground. In order to achieve that, Mr. Hovsepian has taken Hovnan Derderianunder his tutelage. It is safe to conclude that the Hovsepian-Derderian duo is vying to regress, pushing an entire community back into the dark age of a new form of organized Feudalism at all cost.
Referring to the Pan-Armenian Council of Western U.S., former Deputy Director for policy to California Gov. George Deukmejian and a long-time leading member of the Armenian American community in Western U.S., Helen Haig has stated: “I attended the most recent gathering of the Pan Armenian Council and believe, it could be positive for current leaders of existing nonprofit organizations, to work together for the benefit of our youth and the community. At the same time, I believe that it’s important to set up a system of democratically elected representation for the implementation of uniquely valuable new initiatives that elected community representatives could develop based on a mandate of their constituency.” Ms. Haig is currently a board member of the World Affairs Council-OC. She has worked with two White House administrations (one involving international economic development). As Soroptimist President, she has participated in developing Soroptimist non-governmental organization (NGO’s) initiatives for the United Nations.
Commenting on the formation of the Pan Armenian Council of Western United States, Cal State University, Long Beach, Political Science Prof. Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian stated: “Self-perpetuating oligarchy is the thing of the past. We live now in the 21st century with the aim of abolishing the old ways of the 17th-18th-century schemes of running social, business and government affairs. We need to be represented by elected members of the community by means of a popular vote so that each citizen would have the power to replace, when the need arises, the deadwood representatives serving on the council. Without democratic elections, the Pan Armenian Council of Western United States leaders would be considered illegitimate representatives of the Armenian community by hijacking the prerogative of every Diaspora Armenian’s unalienable right to vote for their preferred candidate. Those who are guided by strong convictions of democratic principles would abhor the camouflaged usurpation of power by a small group of ego-driven, self-serving individuals.”
As an investigative journalist and author of books chronicling the state of affairs within the faith-based and community-based Armenian organizations, Los Angeles-based VosganMekhiatrian said: “What I have witnessed within the past 50 years in Los Angeles, is the monopoly of the so called ‘leadership’ that has been kept within the same circle, alienating the new educated generation obstructing their right to be part of the solution. THE MONOPOLIZED LEADERSHIP IS TOTALLY CORRUPTED AND HAS ABSOLUTELY NO RESPECT FOR LAW AND ORDER. If not today, when are we going to unite our genuine efforts to establish a democratically-elected leadership in order to save the diaspora from liquidation?”
Now that this movement is in full swing, concerned members of the community realize that staying quiet, serves no one. Now that the yoke has been removed from their shoulders, they feel free to step forward from their self-imposed gag-rule. They still have hope for the betterment of their fellow Armenians.
Lt. Col. US Air Force (Ret.) John Keusseyan wrote to USA Armenian Life: “Thank you for keeping me in the loop for these activities. Finally, people with courage, are bringing these types of things into the open. I always questioned how our leaders were elected. I called them ‘people in leadership positions’ because they are not leaders. A true leader would have the foresight and would predict the future before it happens. Throughout our history we have been reacting after-the-fact, instead of acting and preventing the problems before they occur. … I have sent letters like this to other Armenian newspapers but for whatever reasons, they never published it. Now I know why. They are the mouthpiece for these oligarchs.”
In his August 26 commentary titled “Revolution Is Essential Specially In The Diaspora,” Kevork Yazedjian, a historian, stated: “In Los Angeles, the announcement of the formation of the so-called undemocratic ‘council’ is anything but unity. In fact, it undermines real unity and it’s designed to silence independent Armenian voices in Western States because these autocrats perceive the emerging independent thinkers as mortal danger to their very existence. But these reactionaries seem to forget the basic truth: THE WHEEL OF HISTORY CAN NOT BE REVERSED NOR STOPPED. In the 21st century it is impossible to continue to work with outdated methods and old ways of thinking.”
A representative of a member-organization in the ‘Council’ who asked to remain anonymous, acknowledged that the new entity headed by Hovsepian and Derderian is not viable,primarily because it does not have a popular mandate. “It’s just a few organizations getting together for just consultations. If the mounting criticism continues to grow, I am certain that the top leadership of our organization will have to move out.”
On August 31, in response to the latest developments relating to the self-proclaimed ‘council,’ Social Democrat HunchakianParty Western United States District issued a statement: “Representatives of the SDHP attended the first consultative meeting of the Pan-Armenian Council of Western United States and found the opinions on the need of a permanent body insufficient. Likewise, the scope, the purpose and the mission of this effort were not clear to us.On the contrary, we noticed that there was a pre-determined plan and a desire to take over the leadership of the whole community.
SDHP leadership also stated: “As a political party with a 132-year history, the SDHP cannot submit its independence to any other organization or individuals, whether they be church clergy or another (political) party. We consider the creation of such a permanent structure as unpromising and untimely.”
Among world Armenians, there has always been separation between church and state. Armenian clergy in any capacity are barred from interfering in Armenian people’s political affairs. Therefore Arch. Derderian has no business in meddling in the Armenian political affairs. He is just supposed to be a spiritual servant. Alas! He is not even a “devoted spiritual servant” that he claims to be. If he really wants to get involved in Armenian political affairs, he should put an end to his embattled tenure as primate at Western Diocese and return to civilian life. Then, and only then, he can participate in Armenian political life.
The overwhelming majority of Armenians in the Western United States are against this idea of the self-styled Armenian autocrats and are in support of a democratically elected leadership.
On February 25, 2010, this writer noted in an article that while the idea for elected leadership is not new, the democratic approach and the prospect for a better common future are reassuring, inspiring and empowering. This viable proposal deserves every Armenian’s active participation and support.
Realistically speaking, Armenian Diaspora is bound to continue its centuries-old journey. So, it can be very helpful if our transnational community adopts a long-term-approach for the Diaspora’s longevity and effectiveness.
A united Diaspora is indispensable, first and foremost, for its own healthy existence which can become the engine for a politically, economically, socially and militarily stronger Armenia; thus, re-energizing and revitalizing the Diaspora with a formidable economic and political clout in the corridors of power in important capitals around the world.