Posted on October. 26. 2019
“Rather fail with honor
than succeed with fraud”.
by Z. S. Andrew Demirdjian
Despite the chorus of fervent plea and loud protestations by many Diaspora Armenians, the Armenian National Committee of America- Western Region (ANCA-WR) has recently bestowed the Khrimian Hayrig Award upon Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America. With splendid pomp and circumstance, the event took place at ANCA-WR’s 2019 Annual Gala Banquet on Sunday, October the 20th, 2019.
Ignoring the vociferous objections of many Armenians, ANCA-WR has honored Arch. Hovnan Derderian with an award that places him in the league of great Armenian clergymen. As we all know, the Khrimian Hayrig Award is a prestigious accolade to merit. Frankly, the announcement was surprising to me since Arch. Hovnan Derderian has been embroiled in a controversy involving serious allegations of misconduct. Moreover, he has not attempted to clear his reputation since the inception of the controversy erupted a few years ago.
As I have said before in my last article, I am neither for nor against any Armenian Orthodox Clergyman. I have no proof of any one’s wrongdoings. Therefore, I avoid passing judgment on any one of them. However, a number of Armenian media (i.e., news papers, magazines, TV stations, and notably The USA Armenian Life Magazine and its Armenian Hye Kiank edition) have published a considerable number of letters to the editor, commentaries, and articles, alleging the wrongdoings of some of our high-ranking clergymen of the Armenian Orthodox Church.
Naturally, if you blinked, you may have missed reading the passionate, but objectively compelling, editorials written by Mr. Appo Jabarian, the Executive Publisher and Managing Editor of the USA Armenian Life Magazine and its Armenian Hye Kiank version. He has exposed most of the wrongdoings of some of our clergymen through his highly professional investigative journalism. Mr. Jabarian writes with brutal honesty, without mincing his words. He is always on target about the Armenian Orthodox Church leaders who have lost their moral compass in lieu of personal gains at the expense of the Armenian nation. When all is said and done, he will be remembered as the crusader against corruption of the Armenian clergymen. More specifically, three high-ranking individuals have been accused of misconduct. Among them is Arch. Hovnan Derderian.
The intent here is not to demonize Arch. Derderian, but rather to point out that we should be careful not to politicize Khrimian Hayrig’s Award by giving it to anyone whose morality is still being debated by many individuals.
Being a concerned Diaspora Armenian, I would like to comment on the morality, possible motivation, and the cost of credibility to ANCA-WR for honoring a person with a Khrimian Hayrig Award, who is currently accused of serious allegations of misconduct. Therefore, the focus of my discussion will be on the donors of the award rather than on the recipient of the honor.
Let us begin with getting acquainted with the concept and practice of kingmaking. The term “Kingmaker” was first coined long ago in the 16th century England. It was used to describe someone who himself could not become a king because he was not of royal blood, but had enough financial strength and social power to create circumstances and events that could affect positively a certain royalty’s political climb to the throne and the ability to stay on there.
History tells us that the term “kingmaker” was originally applied to the Machiavellian activities of Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick, nicknamed as “Warwick the Kingmaker” during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) in England. Richard Neville was an English statesman. During the War of the Roses, he fought first for the house of York and secured the throne for Edward IV. Later on, he changed sides to fight for the house of Lancaster and secured the throne for Henry VI (1428-1471). “A cunning canard,” you could justifiably say about this character. Invariably, kingmakers used political, monetary, military, and religious means to influence the succession.
In modern times, a kingmaker has retained almost the same meaning: A kingmaker is a person who works behind the scenes to bring leaders to power through the exercise of political influence. Most of the time, political leaders are attended by kingmakers and hidden fixers who engage in devious acts to promote their approved candidates for mutual benefits.
They say, for every successful celebrity, business person, politician, athlete or anyone in the public eye who became “rich and famous” in their field, there exists a “Kingmaker” that few people know about, working hard in the background, behind the scenes, to make it become a reality. In the entertainment industry, especially in Hollywood, a kingmaker is known as an “agent” without whom an actor, screen writer, etc. would stand little or no chance of success.
Incidentally, the practice of kingmaking must have existed since the beginning of mankind. Organized religion, group hunting and gathering, building water canals for irrigation for farming, teamwork in building shelters, mountain road paving, fortification for defending the tribe against its enemies, and so forth —all of these endowers of the early man on the Armenian Highlands required selecting a leader to manage their projects and maintain the division of labor. Thus, the necessity of selecting a tribal leader (later known in modern times as a king, president, prime minister, etc.), gave rise to kingmaking. Someone among the group rose to the occasion and helped another individual to become the leader of the group. Later on, of course, heredity played a great role in the selection of who should lead the group or become the next ruler, king, or the president.
Then as now, Kingmakers have three main objectives on their agenda: seeking out potential candidates, creating their path to power, and utilizing the new leader to further either their own personal agendas or to promote national goals and objectives. The Armenian media have indicated that there were several individuals at ANCA-WR who were instrumental in carrying out plans to honor Arch. Hovnan Derderian. Notable among them were Mrs. Nora and Dr. Viken Hovsepian. They seemed to have worked diligently to resuscitate the tarnished image of Arch. Derderian.
Despite Arch. Derderian’s current situation of being accused of many serious offenses, primarily the Hovsepian couple and their clique who had offered the award seemingly would be the kingmakers and the award recipient would naturally reciprocate the power given to him or her. We would have a case of “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. This is a blatant act of Machiavellianism no matter from which angle you would look at it.
As you know, Machiavellism is always carried out in the shadows and the outcome of the intrigue is often surprising. As most people know, the principles of government analyzed in Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which political expediency is placed above morality and the employment of craft and deceit to maintain the authority/power and to carry out the policies of a leader is fully described.
In fact, Machiavelli advocates rules which are characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty. We say one resorted to Machiavellian tactics to get ahead. Most of the time, the procedure involves techniques of political manipulation.
After months and months, commentary after commentary, article after article of exposing the alleged wrongdoings of Arch. Derderian by reliable sources, ANCA-WR must have had a hidden agenda to select Arch Derderian for the Khrimian Hayrig Award. Under the circumstances, it is only natural to doubt the sincerely of the act being no more or less than Machiavellism.
Kingmakers do not just put candidates they agree with on the map. Often, there is a tacit collusion in kingmaking, in endowing a person with a high office or honor. The kingmaker expects a return on his or her efforts (i.e., investments, so to speak) to secure a person with a high position or an award. The return could be other than monetary, such as loyalty of the “crowned king” or supremacy over the kingmaker’s enemy, personal advancement to mention a few incentives. All sorts of things could motivate a kingmaker to make a candidate win a position of high office or honor. Although politics is the art of the possible, it does not have to be a dirty profession.
The ANCA-WR’s “kingmakingship” could spring from the spirit of betterment of the Armenian nation by honoring a dedicated clergyman. Well, but the public has not been living under a rock. Most people are not oblivious or ignorant to what happens in the community. By now, people know that Arch. Derderian has been charged with a number of serious transgressions. A lot of people are not withholding judgment on the matter of his innocence until they have proof of his guilt. Unfortunately, they already consider him guilty as charged. Yet, ANCA-WR insisted on honoring Arch. Derderian and in the process must have lost credibility with many members of the Armenian community.
In a nutshell, the cost of credibility is the loss of trust. Credibility is everything for a person, a group, or an organization. Credibility (i.e., The quality of being trusted and believed in) is built on the slow-moving wheels of “Trust” (i.e., Is the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something). When people begin to mistrust an entity, credibility immediately disappears out of the window. Therefore, credibility is dependent on the presence of trust. Trust is the input in a person’s attitude and credibility is the output. A lot of people have lost credibility in ANCA-WR on account of having experienced lack of trust for playing Machiavellian tactics in honoring an accused clergyman before he had established his innocence. A blunder like that will do its (ANCA-WR’s) credibility a lot of harm when people’s firm belief in the integrity or character of its leaders (i.e., trustworthiness) is compromised.
Credibility and trust or trustworthiness is the two sides of the same coin. Then, how does credibility relate to trustworthiness? Trustworthiness concerns the degree to which a person can be relied upon, both in what they say and what they do. On the other hand, credibility concerns not one’s trustworthiness, but other people’s perception of your trustworthiness. ANCA-WR leaders may be trustworthy, but if they are not credible then people still will not trust them. In contrast, someone may be downright dishonest, but can appear credible and therefore win people’s trust.
Honesty, the virtue of universal value, does not enter the kingmaking calculus. The dynamics of promoting a candidate for an office or honor largely center on political maneuvers. As such, the process is basically Machiavellian. In other words, corruption is used at every stage of the process in “crowning” someone for an office or recognition.
I have always kept a healthy attitude toward our three traditional political organizations. They all have had good intentions for the Armenian nation and have been working hard to accomplish their noble objectives for their countrymen. Likewise, I have formed a deep respect for ANCA-WR over the years despite the fact that “National” was included in their organization name without my vote to represent me as one member of the Diaspora Armenians.
At the end of the day, ANCA-WR representatives will be basking in the glory of their success in crowning an accused man of serious misconduct as “king”. They may be oblivious of making a gross mistake in trivializing our beloved Khrimian “Papa’s” name conferring his namesake award on a clergyman publically accused of a litany of serious allegations of terrible wrongdoings. The loss of credibility will weigh heavily on their image and projects.
To earn our trust again, ANCA-WR Committee members should follow my old man’s little advice: Do the “right thing” even if you will lose rather than do the “wrong thing” to win —if you want people to continue respecting you and to avoid the high cost of eroded credibility due to lost trust.