Old Ramgavars join forces in Armenia
Armenagan-Ramgavar Party holds founding congress
Published: Thursday July 02, 2009
Yerevan - The three traditional Armenian political parties in exile made their way back to Armenia as the Soviet Union began to collapse. From 1990 to 1995, both the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL or Ramgavars) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF or Dashnaktsutiun) had blocs in Armenia's parliament. The blocs were not formed prior to the elections but later, inside parliament.
The Dashnaktsutiun in the last two decades has been a serious political force in Armenia, both as a leading opposition party and as a part of the government. The Ramgavars, on the other hand, have had few occasions to savor political moments in the sun.
In fact, the party has split a few times in the past years. The party is divided today as well. The Armenian Democratic Liberal Party in the diaspora and the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party of Armenia (ADLA) have no great following or serious influence in politics.
The leader of the ADL today is Mike Kharabian (who is based in Canada). That of the ADLA is Harutiun Arakelian. The last assembly of the ADL took place this spring, in Amman, Jordan.
Plans a unity congress
On June 19, at the Tekeyan Cultural Center in Yerevan, the Armenagan-Democratic Liberal Party (Armenagan-Ramgavar) held its founding congress. This new party consists of former Ramgavar activists, including Ruben Mirzakhanian, who had long served as the chairperson of the ADLA.
The new party has announced plans for a "unity congress" in the fall, where "the relocation of the center of the diaspora ADL to the mother fatherland will be on the agenda." In the interim, the acting chairperson of the party will be Armen Manvelian, a historian who works as a political analyst at Azg daily.
At the founding congress of the new party, a congratulatory message from President Serge Sargsian was read.
We spoke to the veteran Ramgavar activist and editor, Hakob Avedikian, who is the editor-in-chief of Azg.
Armenian Reporter: In your speech at the founding congress, you said efforts have been made to reach out to Mike Kharabian, but in vain. If cooperation with the ADL chairperson had been achieved, is it fair to say that the Armenagan-Ramgavar Party would not have been created? In other words, why was the new party formed?
Not running in elections
Hakob Avedikian: The question has two sides, the Armenia side and the diaspora side.
First, about the Armenia side: Three national elections have taken place in Armenia since 2003, but the ADLA has not participated in any of them. This is a concern for all Ramgavars who have an interest in the existence of the party. Under Armenian law, if a party fails to run in two consecutive parliamentary elections, it is either dissolved or becomes a nongovernmental organization. Thus, under the current leadership, the very existence of ADLA in Armenia is endangered.
They aren't even able to participate in the elections in conjunction with another party because no one gives importance to the ADLA. Who would want to ally with you when you have neither political weight, nor voters? The number of Ramgavars in Armenia today is several times larger than the number in the ADLA. These people say that it is no longer possible to continue like this. The May 31 municipal election in Yerevan showed that hundreds of thousands of citizens don't participate in elections because they are neither with the government nor with the opposition. That means there is a large arena for activity.
AR: What is happening with the ADL in the diaspora? The ADL congress took place recently in Amman and reelected Mike Kharabian as party leader, with ADLA leader Harutiun Arakelian as vice president.
HA: In the diaspora in recent years the party is in a de facto schism.
A schism in the U.S. and Canada
One of the Ramgavar regions is called the Eastern United States and Canada region. This single region, with 11 clubs, is the party's largest, and has the people with financial means and lobbying abilities. This region is currently left out of the larger party and is in opposition. The current leadership has divided this region; in every city, you find one or two people who are your supporters, declare the rest dissolved, and form new, entirely artificial executive bodies with your friends and acquaintances.
The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, which is one of the most respected Armenian-American papers, and Abaka in Montreal do not obey Mike Kharabian's executive body.
Let me give you additional examples of dividing the party up. They have split Canada into four parts. When the Eastern United States and Canada was a single region, it was entitled to four delegates in the party congress. Mr. Kharabian has divided Canada into four parts – north, south, east, and west – so they elect boards and delegates.
Syria and Jordan together were a single region; they divided it. There is some logic to this, because they are two countries, and they don't always get along. It is possible to divide Syria and Jordan, but he has also divided Syria into north and south. In past congresses, Syria and Jordan plus Jerusalem sent two delegates. Now Jerusalem is separate from Jordan, Jordan from Syria, and Syria is split in two, and each gets to elect a delegate.
Alliances in Lebanon
They want to lead through arithmetic a party that has an important role to play in the life of the Armenian people with its moderate position, its ability to balance and to bring good things to Armenian life.
Take Lebanon. The current leadership assessed, perhaps correctly, that an Armenian bloc should be created. In the past there has been an Armenian bloc in the Lebanese parliament, led by the ARF. But if we look at this through the prism of Lebanon's domestic politics, then we will see that creating an Armenian bloc is very dangerous because Lebanon is polarized, and an Armenian bloc with 5 or 6 votes means that at critical moments you make half of the country your enemy. But in Lebanon when you let the Armenian parties freely join one or another large alliance – Hezbollah or Saad Hariri's alliance – no community can accuse Armenians collectively for their position.