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Armenia Needs Both Charity & Investments, Not Only Investments

Pashinyan UN-2018

 Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan addressing the United Nations General Assembly for the first time (September 23, 2018).

By Harut Sassounian

Throughout the years, since Armenia’s independence in 1991, I have had the unique opportunity of spending hundreds of hours with the country’s three previous Presidents, discussing privately with them Armenia’s many problems. I offered them my professional assessments and frequently my criticisms of the way they were running the country. Although the Presidents were not pleased that I was pointing out their shortcomings and mistakes, they understood that my intent was not to disparage them, but to help them improve the living conditions of the population.

Ever since the earthquake of 1988, I have been doing charitable work in Armenia and Artsakh, initially as President of the United Armenian Fund (UAF), subsequently the Armenia Artsakh Fund (AAF), and as Vice Chairman of Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation, delivering over $800 million of humanitarian aid to Armenia and Artsakh by the UAF and AAF, and managing $242 million of infrastructure projects funded by Lincy. Despite all the corruption prevailing in Armenia during those years, I fought hard to protect the humanitarian supplies and funds, persistently bringing to the attention of the Presidents the abuses by high rankling officials, and demanding that they be disciplined or fired.

During my 58 trips to Armenia and Artsakh, I saw firsthand the miserable conditions of most people in our homeland, deprived of money, food, medicines, clothing and other basic needs. Seeing the Presidents’ neglect of the people’s deprivations, I frequently and forcefully brought their dismal situation to the attention of the country’s leadership. I was particularly upset when I heard government officials speaking about Armenia needing investments, not charity. I found such remarks to be callous of the people’s suffering. After each such pronouncement, I confronted these officials explaining the negative effect of their statements.

Consequently, I was surprised when Armenia’s new Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, a man of the people, during his remarks in New York on September 23, 2018, announced that in the context of Armenia-Diaspora relations, work must be encouraged, not charity: “Armenians can assist Armenia only with one option: carry out economic activity in Armenia, establish any business, and work. Today, Armenia’s understanding is the following: It is a country where it is possible to carry out economic activity, establish a business, earn profits, get rich and enrich. Our message to all of you is the following: get rich and enrich. We want Armenia to be known as such a country. Not charitable, but developmental projects must be implemented in Armenia….”

To be fair to the Prime Minister, in his speech, he also spoke about many other topics which I agree with whole-heartedly. He has tremendous support both in Armenia and around the world! He has practically eliminated corruption in Armenian society and has represented the voice of the people who had remained voiceless for more than a quarter of a century since independence. However, just as I have told the previous Presidents, I would like to provide the following explanations to the new Prime Minister:

  1. I fully support the Prime Minister’s initiative that Armenia needs economic investments in order to create jobs and expand exports. By creating jobs, not only the people will have the income to pay for their daily expenses, but the government will also have the tax revenues to support the country’s and population’s multiple needs.
  2. However, the Prime Minister’s urging that “work must be encouraged, not charity,” would deprive hundreds of thousands of poor people of their basic necessities. Investments take time to trickle down to the people and produce results. In the meantime, if charitable efforts are discouraged, many poor people will not survive.
  3. Not all Diaspora Armenians can invest in the Armenian Republic. There are dozens of charitable organizations which by law cannot get involved in economic activities, as they can only do charity. Since the earthquake and Armenia’s independence, Armenian and international charities have provided a large amount of aid to Armenia and Artsakh. If it were not for this humanitarian assistance, the standard of living would have been even lower, jeopardizing the survival of many Armenians. By discouraging charity, we are simply asking charitable organizations not to help the needy people of Armenia.
  4. Armenian governments so far have been unable to meet the many needs of their population due to lack of money. Diaspora’s charitable organizations have provided the aid that the government could not. If there were no charitable assistance in Armenia ever since independence, the people’s many needs would not have been taken care of and Armenia would have been a poorer country.
  5. Even if the Diaspora would start investing in Armenia today, that does not mean that the influx of new funds would take care of all the needs of the people overnight. Certainly, a large number of people would eventually be employed, but many others, such as the elderly, would still be left with hardly any income from their negligible pensions. Those who are unaware of the extent of appalling poverty in Armenia should read the Guardian newspaper’s Sept. 29, 2018 article by Nick Danziger, titled: “‘It’s better to die’: the struggle to survive poverty in Armenia.”
  6. There is the mistaken notion that if there were many investments in Armenia, there would be no need for charity. In almost all countries, even in the most advanced ones, there are hundreds of charitable organizations that tend to the needs of the poor. In the United States alone, billions of dollars are provided annually to needy individuals and families by charitable organizations. If the Americans require charity, Armenians would certainly need charitable assistance for a long time to come.

Paradoxically, Prime Minister Pashinyan’s wife, Anna Hakopyan, recently launched her own charitable organization “My Step Foundation” to support educational, healthcare, social and cultural projects. She is doing what’s absolutely necessary because the people of Armenia desperately need help.

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Samantha Power to Armenians: “I am very sorry”

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Editor

Yesterday, Samantha Power became the first Obama administration official to apologize to Armenian Americans for not recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

“I am very sorry that, during our time in office, we in the Obama administration did not recognize the #Armenian Genocide,” Power posted on Twitter.

In a series a tweets on April 24th, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, Power also discussed “Turkish denial” and expressed empathy for the “slaughter that wd kill 1.5 m.”

Samantha Power served on President Obama’s National Security Council from 2009-2013, and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013-2017.

She is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which focused on the U.S. response to 20th century genocides, including Armenia in 1915.

While the emphatic expression may be welcome to some, many Armenian Americans share the feeling of betrayal by Power, and President Obama, given the multiple statements and meetings they held with community members during the 2008 campaign.

“This is more insulting 2 our ppl than 8yrs of ignoring our requests.U sacrificed ur own conscience on the altar of geopolitical correctness,” FLArmenians Editor Arsine Kaloustian replied on Twitter.

The Obama administration’s moral laryngitis on the Armenian Genocide was compounded in 2015, the centennial anniversary, when Power and Vice President Joe Biden attended the international commemoration at the Washington National Cathedral.

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 07: President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power attend the Armenian Genocide Centennial (NCAGC) Ecumenical Service at Washington National Cathedral on May 7, 2015 in Washington DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for NCAGC)

Power’s re-acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide came moments after President Trump’s first statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day was released yesterday morning.

President Trump’s statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day echoed President Obama’s use of the phrase “Meds Yeghern,” and invoked language similar to President George W. Bush.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about President Trump’s omission of the word genocide during the daily press briefing. “The statement that was put out is consistent with the statements that have been put out for at least several of the past administrations,” Spicer said.

From Crimea To Kessab: Did the West Approve the Attack on Kessab?

April 3, 2014
By Hagop Koushakjian

The March 21 attack on the historic Armenian coastal town of Kessab was a shock to the Armenian nation worldwide.

Kessab seemed a peaceful, sleepy town far removed from the Syrian civil war that has been raging for the past three years. Then, early on Friday morning, the majority Christian Armenian populated town awoke to the sounds of rockets and gunfire, forcing 670 Armenian families to flee in haste to nearby Latakia, leaving behind the sick and the elderly. From what we know now, the town was attacked by Al-Qaeda related Al-Nusrah Front Islamist terrorists that crossed the Turkish border with the support and approval of the Turkish authorities. Turkey’s role was clearly evidenced by the fact that the Turkish military shot down a Syrian fighter jet that was providing air support to the regime’s forces. The downing emboldened the jihadists to carry out their raid on Kessab Armenians.

A rebel fighter checks a launcher near the village of Kessab and the border crossing with Turkey, in the northwestern province of Latakia, on March 23, 2014. Rebels seized Kessab a day later. Amr Radwan al-Homsi—AFP/Getty Images

So why was Kessab a target and why now?

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s decision on September 3, 2013 to join Russia’s Customs Union instead of the EU Eastern Partnership, after two years of negotiations, was not welcome news to the West. Then the referendum in Crimea to have that region join with Russia was assessed positively by Yerevan, hailing the self-determination right of the regions Russian majority. Then on March 27, the UN General Assembly voted 100 to 11 on a non-binding resolution declaring the Crimean referendum invalid. Armenia, considering the Karabakh factor, was among the 11 nations. In addition, the Republic of Armenia has developed close economic ties with Iran offsetting the 20-year blockades of Turkey and Azerbaijan.

All this was viewed negatively by the West, it appears, prompting US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern to call Armenia’s UN vote “regrettable.” James Warlick, the US representative at the OSCE Minsk Group, also voiced his displeasure for Armenia’s pro-Russian stand vis-à-vis Ukraine. Taken together, this latest move on Crimea seems to have irritated the US. It is as though Armenia has crossed a red line.

On March 29 the US State Department called last week’s unprovoked attack on innocent Armenian civilians “deeply troubling.” Deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said, “we have seen some statements by groups fighting in Kessab saying they will not target civilians and will respect minorities and holy places. We expect those commitments to be upheld.” Interestingly, spokesperson Harf was careful not to use the word “terrorists” when referring to the foreign fighters that attacked Kessab. She referred to them as “groups,” downplaying the terrorist element of the attackers.

The Syrian civil war is ground zero for the latest East vs. West international proxy war and it is well known that NATO member Turkey is providing Al-Qaeda terrorists and other foreign fighters with arms, medical supplies and safe border access to Syria. Which begs the question, is the West calling the shots in Kessab while offering assurances that these jihadist butchers will respect minorities and their holy places of worship?

Kessab is located in the far northwestern part of Syria with no military strategic significance.

Which brings us back to the question, why Kessab, why now? It can easily be argued that Kessab was the price the Armenian nation had to pay for their close ties with Russia and Iran.