As We See It
By Prof. Osheen Keshishian

Patriarch Mesrob Mutafyan and Elections

Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, the 84th Patriarch of Istanbul, passed away March 8th, 2019. Since 2008, he had been incapacitated and was hospitalized for over 10 years, suffering from Alzheimers Disease. The Turkish government officials explained that he had not passed away, and was still alive, although he could not talk or remember anything, but he is still the Patriarch. Therefore, election of a new Patriarch was not permitted. In 2008, Archbishop Aram Ateshyan was appointed to fulfill the position, not as a Patriarch, but as General Vicar. Some years later, in 2016, the Patriarchate and the Clergy Council voted and announced Mutafyan’s retirement, but the Turkish government did not accept the decision repeating the same adage that Patriarch Mutafyan is still alive.

The minorities in Turkey – Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Assyrians, Kurds, and others – are constantly under pressure from the government and very careful about their actions. It is a difficult situation for all minorities to carry on a normal day to day life. Sometimes individuals are brave and they try to do whatever they want. A very difficult situation for minorities indeed.

Patriarch Mutafyan was one of the most erudite Armenian clergymen who had pursued his education in several universities in Europe, Middle East, and the United States. After attending Armenian schools in Istanbul, Mutafyan graduated from the American High School in Stuttgart, Germany, he received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Memphis, Tennesee. He did graduate work in Jerusalem at the Hebrew University, the American Biblical Institute. He constantly went to institutions to get more education. Between 1979 and 1981, he delved into theological studies at the Jerusalem Armenian Convent, and for another year he attended the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, Italy.

I have met Patriarch Mutafyan several times and we had talked basically about the church and the changes it needs. We met several times in Los Angeles while he was on an official visit. And the last visit was in Istanbul, January of 2010, when he was at the Patriarchate in his bedroom, where his mother was taking care of him and when I entered his bedroom, he did not recognize me.

He served in various capacities in the Istanbul Patriarchate. On October 14, 1998, he was finally elected Patriarch of Constantinople and when he got sick Archbishop Aram Ateshyan was appointed in 2008 to fulfill Patriarch Mesrob’s duties.

Since that day, the Armenian community has been in a turmoil and divided into various groups since the government was adamant about its decisions and many times would not let minorities to even think about elections, as several times the government would disband certain religious committees without explanations. Even Armenian delegates would not be permitted to go to Holy Etchmiadzin to participate in the elections of the new Catholicos.

There are groups who would like to listen to and negotiate with the government on certain issues. It will take some time before we see what will happen.

The election of the new Patriarch will take place 40 days later after the funeral. Several names of candidates have been mentioned, but is not official. According to Turkish law, the candidates have to be a citizen of Turkey or born in Turkey, thus limiting the number of candidates. It is not easy to be a community leader in Turkey.

We shall wait and see.

Posted in Editorials

We Should Also Support Our Schools

The recent Armenian Educational Foundation Oratorical Contest was held in Glendale, California on February 2, 2019.

It was a very encouraging and exciting to witness the ten student representatives from the five high schools in the Los Angeles area that took part in the contest (there were junior high schools as well).

This was the third year and the seriousness about the contest is augmenting every year.

The Armenian language topic was the preservation of the Armenian language. The participants spoke with such zeal and enthusiasm that made those present very, very happy and constantly applauded the students. The English language contest was about the Velvet Revolution, and similarly it was encouraging.

One of the students said that Armenian music, theater, clubs, associations, dancing and others are fine and important, but of the Armenian language is not used then all efforts will be in vain. Of course, the students spoke perfect Armenian and gave us some optimism that the Armenian schools are doing what they should.

Naturally, every student does not speak perfect Armenian.

A few Armenian Day Schools have closed for various reasons. Basically, the tuition at private Armenian schools is high. It can vary from $700 to $900 a month, which simply means that it will cost the family at least $10,000 annually. A family with two or more children may have more problems paying tuition. Of course non-Armenian private schools are more expensive but research indicates that most of them have large permanent funds to assist the students.

Also, sometimes the population decreases in an area and students are not available so the schools close their doors.

If we want to preserve our nation in the Diaspora, we should do more to help Armenian schools so they can reduce expenses and more students can attend them. It is true that many of the Armenian Day Schools opened because philanthropists donated large sums, but that is not enough. I remember one day philanthropist Alex Manoogian (God bless his memory) said that the point is not just to start a school, but more importantly, how will the annual budget be met if constant funding is not available.

We published great news last month about an Armenian school being opened in Valance, France, costing $1.7 million, and fortunately a Lebanese-Armenian philanthropist Kevork Arabian donated 40% of the construction expenses (about $800,000).

Now, will they be able to meet the budget? That’s the more important issue and I hope that people will constantly assist the Armenian schools for the existence of the Armenian people and nation.

Posted in Editorials

New Era in Armenian History

The new positive era in Armenian history as already started and it had to come.

Definitely the “Velvet Revolution” had to take place so that a dramatic change would take place in Armenia and for the Armenian people. The movement was so well organized and peaceful, that everyone in Armenia (except some of the oligarchs) was happy and participated in the revolutionary movement. It sure was a peaceful revolution and there were no injuries or fights during the activities of the velvet revolution.

In fact, many people were surprised that something like this has not happened in history and many newspapers had editorials praising the change indicating that to make peaceful changes in a country, people should take a lesson from Armenia.

Thanks to Nikol Pashinyan and his comrades, the changes are taking place and people are positive towards the future. Democracy started to function in Armenia as the recent elections indicated. Of course, there are no great changes in international relations as Armenia continues to belong to several European organizations and partnerships and is contributing to the general world peace and prosperity.

Many European organizations have congratulated Pashinyan’s efforts since they were very successful and would last. Armenia is a contributing member of EEU, WTO and others.

United States President Donald Trump congratulated Pashinyan and stated: “Together we can make progress on deepening trade between our countries, strengthening global security and combating corruption.”

Similarly another world leader, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: “In line with your ambitious reform agenda, the UN expects to closely cooperate with you and your government…to strengthening of human rights and rule of law.”

Another interesting reality came about recently when 32 female lawmakers were elected to Armenia’s Parliament, an increase of 14 members. Females will comprise of 25% of members. In the Unites Sates Congress female lawmakers make up 20.6% out of 535 members.

Those who lost will never keep quiet and everyday a new embezzler’s name comes up. I hope it will continue as millions of dollars are being retrieved from thieves, many of them elected officials.

Some people are uneasy and expect positive changes and improvements to take place immediately. Of course, it doesn’t work that way. When some have been working in government for years, they are not going to change overnight.

A good example is the case of Berlin, Germany. It took 45 years to reunite East and West Berlin. Have this in mind why we cannot expect changes overnight.

Posted in Editorials

Nikol Pashinyan Will Lead the Country

Acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s Party won a very convincing landslide victory in the Parliamentary elections receiving just over 70% of the votes.

The elections were smooth, according to the rules and regulations, and garnered the broad trust of the population, on December 9th, 2018. It was expected that Pashinyan’s Party would win the majority of the votes, because the Velvet Revolution actually changed Armenia and the gave hope to the population. And it did. Many countries and organizations (United States, France, England and others, as well OSCE) praised the democratic elections and congratulated Armenia on the occasion.

Although many individuals who held high positions or had connections with the previous ruling party were apprehended for embezzling large amounts of money, and ruining the country, Pashinyan presented several plans for the future to put Armenia on the improving scale.

Recently he spoke about raising the budget of the armed forces and improve the conditions in the armed forces as well as the economic condition of the country, which started to receive new investments from overseas. His plans also included education, healthcare, business, construction, administration, and so on, whatever a country needs. And surely, Armenia has many, many areas which need basic improvements. It cannot be done overnight, It will take some time.

Naturally, there are three major issues which all countries have – employment, raise in salaries, and eliminating (or reducing tremendously) poverty.

In this context, there is a major issue which needs immediate attention in Armenia.

Today, unfortunately, there are close to 2,500 families who still live in metal-shack “homes” (“domiks”) for the past 30 years since the devastating earthquake in Spitak, according to the Armenia Fund Executive Director of Armenia Fund, Arshag Haikakyan. Every administration promised to eliminate the metal shacks, but still there are too many.

Although apartments were built in Gyumri and in the neighborhoods and many families moved into free residences, yet some of them moved out of their free apartments, rented them to others, and they moved back into domiks. The reason is very simple. Many of those homeless people do not work and the money they receive from the government is not enough to survive and they rent their free apartments in order to have a few dollars more to survive. It is a shame that this situation exists. The government has to do something so that the families would live in their free apartments and live as much as possible a normal life.

One of the challenges the government will undertake is to eliminate extreme poverty in Armenia and significantly reduce the poverty rate,” Pashinyan said and added “we have the mandate of the citizens and must be able to solve these issues first of all by the promotion of work and creation of necessary conditions for this work.”

Posted in Editorials

Improvements Are Taking Place in Armenia, Slowly, but Surely

The Velvet Revolution in Armenia definitely brought changes and improvements tot he country and the people’s everyday life, thanks to Nikol Pashinyan’s courageous leadership.

Naturally, improvements cannot take place overnight. It will take some time, and the changes have started to take place in an amazing manner. Everyday we become aware of someone being arrested from the old regime or people who have worked with the former leaders who have embezzled millions of dollars from the government, from contracts, from foreign services, and so on. Again it takes time to investigate and prove misdeeds, because many documents are not available, they are either stolen, burnt and destroyed, and it will take some time to provide proofs.

Nevertheless, the Pashinyan government is working very hard to provide changes as much as possible and the people are aware of it.

Some items are worth publishing to show as to what is going on.

Criminal investigations of corruption this year is more than double the number of last year and about 75% resulted in criminal cases.

The Armenian State Revenue Committee has received $1.8 billion over a period between January and August 2018 as taxes. Several big companies have been charged with tax evasions and have been announced — Spayka Freight, Catherine Group (1.24 million) to mention a couple.

Armenia and Georgia will increase their bilateral trade to $1 billion, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said. Armenia’s trade turnover with Georgia in 2017 grew by 1.5% from the previous year to $248.9 million.

The government announced that it will increase pensions of 80,000 citizens, not very much but still, it is an increase.

Payments to medical institutions assisting with childbirth will increase; Obstetrics in Armenia is free.

Affordable Housing for young families will be amended and the age threshold will increase by five years to 70 instead of 65.

Just a few items in social life and it seems very little, nevertheless it is a change, it is an improvement.

Similarly, issues in business, economics, politics, international relations are improving, slowly, but there are improvements going on.

Posted in Editorials

Democracy Being Implemented Because of Nikol Pashinyan

Since the Velvet Revolution and Nikol Pashinyan’s election as Prime Minister, many positive charges took place and are taking place continuously. After the protests, the former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan resigned in April of this year, saving Armenia from a bigger catastrophe. Most of the people in Armenia are very happy, except former government officials and some oligarchs. It really was unexpected that a positive change could take place and the process is still going on, giving hope to the population who suffered for year because of absence of justice, anarchy, and illegal activities by the governments and people in charge.

Time Magazine’s July 23, 2018 issue featured Nikol Pashinyan as one of four activists who prove that the fight for democracy endures. And Pashinyan has said: “All I wanted to was to win freedom and happiness for my homeland and people.”

The demonstrators were mostly young people, and they took a great risk, but thank heavens, they succedeed and Armenia is on the way towards democracy.

People expect quick results. It’s going to take time, when the people who worked for the government are still working and since they have been used to the former system, they cannot change overnight.

“However, many unexpected changes are taking place. Every day a new criminal who has betrayed his people and country, is arrested. Every day a former leader is trying to escape from the country and is caught, Every day someone is resigning from his post.

Former President Robert Kocharyan’s recent arrest was little surprising, but it does show that the government is trying to bring justice and equality to Armenia. Naturally, others were arrested as well – General Manvel Grigoryan, Artur Asatryan, Yuri Khachaturov, Mikael Harutunyan, and many more. Some have paid bail and are temporarily free.

The Pashinyan government is collecting unpaid taxes almost every week – $600,000 from one company, $1.247 million from a fruit company, and so on.

After studying the work situation in Armenia, Pashinyan gave raises to medical staff and physicians, although not much, but nevertheless it is starting.

Recently, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Culture, and Minister of Diaspora visited the United States and met with people everywhere, including California, and we heard live from these officials about the programs proposed by the government.

We are happy that there is hope for the future of Armenia. Let’s hope for his efforts, someday Pashinyan is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Posted in Editorials

Governor George Deukmejian: An Icon of the American and Armenian Community

California Governor George C. Deukmejian passed away on May 8, 2018, and saddened thousands of people. We extend our prayers to his wife Gloria and three children – George, Leslie, and Andrea, plus their children and relatives.

Deukmejian was born Courken George Deukmejian Jr. in Menands, New York. His parents emigrated from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900s to escape the Armenian Genocide. His father, George Deukmejian, who lost his sister during the Genocide, was a rug merchant born in Gaziantep. Deukmejian’s mother, Alice, was born in Erzurum and worked for Montgomery Ward and later for New York State.

Deukmejian graduated with a B.A in sociology from Siena College in 1949 and received his J.D from St. John’s University in New York in 1952. From 1953 to 1955, he served in the U.S Army as a Captain.

He moved to Long Beach, California in 1955 and met his future wife Gloria. They got married in 1957.

After serving in private business for a few years, he ran for office and in 1962, he was elected to represent Long Beach in the State Assembly.

In 1966, he was elected as a state senator, serving from 1967 to 1979. By 1969, he was Majority Leader of the California State Senate. He won the election for Attorney General in 1978 and served from 1979 to 1983. He was elected Governor of California in 1983 and served until 1991.

He served the government of California for almost 30 years.

He was an admirable and great man, full of integrity, honesty, decency, truthfulness, responsibility. During his tenure he was constantly for law and order, against crime, and unnecessary spending. He was for equality among people and he fought against apartheid in South Africa in support of Nelson Mandela and reversed the position of divesting funds by University of California. His fiscal responsibility put California on the map for erasing budget deficits. Another interesting thing that Deukmejian did, he sold California rice to Japan, surprising many business people.

And many more. Of course, some people did not agree with some of his stands on issues and he never got angry against them.

Almost the entire new media in the U.S and overseas, particularly in California, reflected on Deukmejian’s legacy.

He was also involved in Armenian community activities as time permitted. He was the keynote speaker at the event honoring His Holiness Vazken I, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, in Los Angeles at the Sports Palace.

I was honored when Deukmejian was the keynote speaker at a banquet on my 35 years of community service in 1991.

In Long Beach, a $343 million Court House was built in 2013, in his honor and named Governor George Deukmejian Court House.

Thank you Governor Deukmejian for all you have done for California and the Armenian community, by instilling pride in the people.

Posted in Editorials

Thank You Nikol Pashinyan

The change of government in Armenia was inevitable and coming, as the opposition was gaining momentum during the past few years. The volcano had to erupt one day, and finally it did erupt, with unbelievable massive demonstrations during the past few weeks, by the people and particularly by the young generation.

Led by Nikol Pashinyan, a member of the Yelk Political Party and a Parliamentarian, fortunately the demonstrations were very peaceful, with over 250,000 people demonstrating in the street of Yerevan, and other cities, like Gyumri, Vanadzor.

In fact, the demonstrations were peaceful and particularly meaningful, that even during the last few days, many soldiers joined the mass rallies.

Pashinyan’s fiery speeches were very logical and provided practical solutions to the undeniable catastrophic conditions in Armenia. Many non-Armenian newspapers from China to Kuwait, from Europe, Lebanon, to Canada and the United States attracted the attention of leaders. Some editorials suggested to follow Armenia’s example if people want to make changes in their governments. I have even talked to past President Serzh Sargsyan when he asked my views on Armenia, and I suggested a few improvements, but to no avail.

We should congratulate hero Nikol Pashinyan for his audacity, bravery and commitment to change and hopefully improve the catastrophic situation in Armenia. Many world organizations have already announced their intention to continue their assistance to Armenia in various spheres and have suggested ways and means.

Naturally, the change will not take place overnight. It will take some time, because the problems are so, so many.

The most important issue for Armenia is the establishment of a middle class infrastructure which Armenia and other countries do not have. Of course, to do that there are several issues to be improved from their roots.

I have pointed them out a few times as others have done too. — Lack of justice and lack of punishment for those who break the laws. And because of this there is no improvement in the economic, political, social spheres for the average person, and also there is not hope for the future. To improve your life, the standard saying in Armenia has been for years that you should have in-laws, relatives and friends in the government. What a shameful mentality, which is based, unfortunately, on facts, and I can enumerate some…

Lack of transparency in the government. Lack of freedom of the press. Free and fair elections. Removal of oligarchs from government authority. Public service corruption, and in general corruption in many services. Lack of powerful armed forces. Equal opportunity for all.

If we want democracy in Armenia, we should improve these and other issues. It sure will take some time.

I have the feeling that if they let Pashinyan work for the benefit of Armenia, he will succeed.

Posted in Editorials

PM Sargsyan’s Decision to Resign Was a Good Step for the Good of Armenia

Following huge public demonstrations (more than 200,000 participants) for over a week in Armenia, Yerevan and various cities, against the nomination of Serzh Sargsyan as Prime Minister, the situation subsided and close to 400,000 marched for Victory, because Serzh Sargsyan resigned on April 23, 2018 and left the country, according to reports.

Opposition and demonstration leader, Member of Armenia’s Parliament Nikol Pashinyan, spearheaded the movement. with his determination and planning, Pashinyan was able to meet with the leaders of the country — President Armen Sarkissian went to the demonstration and met Pashinyan. Later on, PM Sargsyan wanted to meet with Pashinyan to find a solution to the quagmire in Armenia. Pashinyan said to the Prime Minister that his resignation is the only item on the agenda and eventually it was realized. Sargsyan resignation was a thoughtful, wise, and a practical decision and it appeared that it was the only way to save the country from disaster and the only way to bring calm and hopefully normalcy in the coming months.

Armenia needs a lot of reforms, mainly, the objective enforcement of the laws.

It will take some time to really establish democracy in Armenia, and unfortunately the country had been in an autocratic situation — and the only way to succeed for an individual was to have connections. Of course bribery is also a major road for success. The oligarchs control the country in a way and the average person has been suffering for years for lack of employment, services, very low retirement payments and so on.

The most important issue in Armenia, in my opinion, is the lack of justice. Although the laws are written but justice is not enforced equally for all. I can enumerate personal cases which had happened to me, particularly as a Diasporan Armenian. Similarly, an American Armenian who has dual citizenship (American and Armenian) is jailed and his lawyer was not given permission to enter the court to defend his client.

Following the demonstrations, people stood up against the ruling Republican Party, expressing their discontent for ruling the country according to their wishes.

It is not easy to speculate as to what will happen in the near future, whether the government will give in or continue in the same manner, despite the fact that many international organizations and countries, including the U.S continuously pointed out that Armenia needs to be more democratic and treat every citizen equally. There is a meeting between the Prime Minister and Nikol Pashinyan and we hope that the suggestions to improve the country and its system of governing will not be out of line and unrealizable, otherwise no changes will take place for along time. We need concessions on both sides and that is the only solution in this important and historic times.

Will there be change? I am sure there will be, but it will take some time, and hope people will have patience to wait, and not demand reforms overnight.

Posted in Editorials

Thank You, Vatican

The relations between the Catholic Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church are getting more cordial as the years go by, basically because of the Pope’s Christian spirit and camaraderie.

Pope John Paul was the first Pope to visit Armenia at the end of September 2001 and on September 26, the Holy Father visited the Armenian Martyrs Monument in Dzidzernagapert and paid a very moving tribute to the more than 1.5 million Armenians who were killed during the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman government. Thousands attended the event, including Charles Aznavour and yours truly. Pope Francis also visited Armenia and Dzidzernagapert in June 2016. His remarks were well received by the thousands of Catholics and people in general, around the world.

The Vatican issued stamps commemorating the visit of Pope Francis. Designed by Daniela Longo, the stamps shows Pope Francis at the Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument in Armenia. The Pope decided to erect a bronze statue of Saint Gregory of Narek (Krikor Naregatsi), the 10th century world renowned Armenian monk, philosopher, poet, and intellectual. On April 5th, 2018, the Pope consecrated the St. Gregory statue in the Gardens of the Vatican in front of religious, political, and community leaders. On April 15, 2015, in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter, the Pope declared Gregory of Narek the Doctor of the Church.

This cordial and deserving relationship gives pride to both churches, and the Armenian Apostolic Church becomes more and more in the public eye because of the Vatican’s efforts.

Thousands visit the Vatican every year, and now that they can go to the Vatican Gardens, they will be introduced to Narekatsi’s statue. They will learn about the Armenian people, their history, their religious and intellectual life and contribution to civilization, all because of alert Popes. A public relations well deserving.

Thank you, Popes, for all you do to inform the people of the world about Armenians who have existed for centuries.

Posted in Editorials