As We See It
By Prof. Osheen Keshishian

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.

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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.

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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

Aliyev May Claim Washington D.C

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev made a statement at the VI Congress of the Ruling Azerbaijan Party on February 8, 2018, ridiculing himself and upsetting many, many government leaders around the world, as well as the new generation in Azerbaijan. During his political party’s meeting he said: “Yerevan is our historical land, and we Azerbaijanis, should return to these lands.” As if that was not enough, he also mentioned that “Yerevan, Zangezur and Sevan are Azerbaijan’s ‘historic lands’”.

There were reactions from many, many countries around the world, some ridiculing him, including new generation Azeris, blaming him for not being able to settle the Karabach issue, finding silly reasons and evading the problem. It is a historic fact that Karabakh voted legally to become an independent state.

Naturally, the United States’ State Department reacted and issued restrained reactions saying that the parties should refrain from inflammatory statements and provocative actions. That’s not enough U.S! Similarly, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Sakharov said on February 15, that the statement did not clearly contribute to reducing tension. France, similarly said: “Refrain from any further provocative action that can only increase tensions.”

Of course these statements are not enough and the are politically motivated.

Did any ask if Aliyev has ever read anywhere that Yerevan belonged to Azerbaijan? 100 years ago, there was no Azerbaijan. As a country, it appeared 100 years ago in history. Where was it before? After 1917, following the Russian Communist Revolution, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and other territories were created. Armenia had lost close to 90% of its territory. History is written and history is available.

International government officials are cautious and instead of saying Aliyev go learn some history, they his statements “provocative.”

President Donald Trump should be very careful. Aliyev can say that Washington, D.C was the capital of….Azerbaijan,

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Thank You, Armenian Assembly and New Members of the Armenian Caucus

Recently, five members joined the Congressional Caucus on Armenian issues thanks to the diligent work of the Armenian Assembly.

Since its establishment in 1972, the non-partisan Armenian Assembly has been promoting Armenian and Armenian issues to the governing bodies of the United States. Many elected officials knew very little about the Armenian community in America and it was through their neighbors, the planned and continued efforts and activities of the Armenian Assembly, public awareness flourished and Armenian issues re-started to be discussed officially. The Armenian Assembly with a large qualified staff in Washington, D.C has accomplished a lot. The Armenian Assembly has offices and representatives in various states, particularly in California, and in other 30 states across the country. It also has offices in Armenia and Artsakh to create more contacts with officials.

The Armenian Caucus was established in 1995 and now has 117 congressional members who work together for Armenia and Armenian affairs.

Recently, the Armenian Assembly had many meetings with Congress people and their office staff to continue spreading news related to Armenian affairs, Armenia and Artsakh.

Last month five new bi-partisan members added their names to the Armenian Caucus membership. They were: Ken Buck (R-CO), Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Grace Men (D-NY), Ruben Gallegos (D-AZ), and Anthony Brown (D-MD). We like to thank these new members for joining the Armenian Caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. David Trott (R-MI), and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL).

The work does not end here. There are several other gatherings to take place about continued aggression by Azerbaijan, the Sumgait Issue and others.

Our heartfelt thanks and appreciation goes to the Armenian Assembly Board of Directors and staff for their dedication and continued alertness, also for their efforts in enlarging the list of the Armenian Caucus.

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Thank You Armenian Bar Association for Reacting to Noah’s Insulting Remarks

A few weeks ago, on January 8,2018, Trevor Noah insulted the Armenians during the television program “The Daily Show” by calling the Armenians “filthy Armenians”. He was criticizing US President Donald Trump for writing on Twitter the following. “Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being like, really smart, not smart but genius and a very stable genius.” Fine, criticize the President or anyone you want. But don’t insult others at the same time. Trevor Noah said: “This is like really funny. Only Donald Trump could defend himself and in the same sentence completely undermine his whole point. It would be like someone saying ‘I am the most tolerant guy out there, just ask any filthy Armenian.’ said Noah.

Wow. He did not have to say the last part of his sentence and it would have been okay. I cannot answer because I am a clean Armenian like ALL Armenians and…nobody asked me and nobody will ask…

But, the Azeris, taking advantage of Noah’s untrue, impolite, erroneous, shameful and insulting remarks by Noah wrote three days later that Mr. Noah has “expressed one more time the real face of Armenians.”

Fortunately, the Armenian Bar Association was alert, immediately reacted in a polite manner and wrote two letters to the vice president of communications at comedy Central and asked for a meeting with the producers, staff writers, and Mr. Noah. Unfortunately, it has been three weeks and according to the Armenian Bar Association no answer has been received yet and the association will continue a feasible follow-up. We express our thanks to the association for being alert and responsive. Thank you.

The Daily Show should have apologized by now, yet there has been no response or apology on television. The Armenian community will continue to correct the statement and we hope that Comedy Central would apologize and announce that it has retracted the “Filthy Armenians” comment.

Posted in Editorials

Some Thoughts

When a year ends and a new one starts, individuals and organizations, I believe, sit down and ponder about the past year and the mistakes they made maybe inadvertently, or the accomplishments they recorded. But most people try to point the negative and try to improve the situation for the future. Naturally, organizations, groups, institutions, churches, political parties, government and others weigh their mistakes, sometimes objectively, and try to plan a better way or method to improve the situation for the following year. There are some who think they never made a mistake!

Of course, people do not have to wait for the New Year to think about improving themselves and change the way they carried on during the previous year. Nobody sets a deadline except for the persons involved. They do not have to wait for a weekend to change things on Monday, or the first day of the month, indeed, if they are serious, the can think about the situation any day and plant to change it the next day. In these cases, people should be more objective and more serious about vital issues.

We have to approach issues personally and ask ourselves, if we have been a member of a board of directors of an organization, political party, church, cultural group, school or any institution, were we honest with ourselves and expressed our minds and opinions politely during the meetings? Or, not to upset the chairman, or please him and others, we knowingly became a “Yes Man”, by agreeing blindly with the decisions taken at meetings without believing in them, thus burying our personality and honor in the mud. Naturally, others have their opinions, too, and we should respect their views and criticism.

There are so many people who were put out of committees or boards, because they usually expressed their views and politely criticized their decisions…for a better solution of an issue, but to no avail.

There are also individuals who cannot put up with the “dictatorship” within an organization and they quit and, unfortunately, sometimes, they do not get involved in Armenian life any more.

Did we bring our contribution (not necessarily financial) to the betterment of our organizations, churches, institutions, or our country or we kept farcically quiet and did not express an opinion? Were we honest with our opinions and had we done our homework before voting on an issue about which we did not know enough? We should be honest with ourselves and have patience to accomplish anything.

Self-criticism paves the way for the future and we should have been more attentive if we want to accomplish something.

Let us be more honest and truthful with ourselves and assist our family, our organizations, our country as much as possible for the betterment of our lives and the world.

Posted in Editorials