Perj Zeytuntsian

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Writer Wants Diaspora Focus On Rule Of Law In Armenia

By Anna Saghabalian

Perj Zeytuntsian, a respected Armenian novelist and playwright, urged on Tuesday Diaspora groups around the world to press Armenia's leaders to protect human rights, respect laws and hold democratic elections.

Zeytuntsian, himself a former Diasporan, said international recognition of the 1915 genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and compensation demands addressed to modern-day Turkey should not be the only focus of their activities.

`I believe that Diaspora must have demands concerning not only the lands which we lost but also the Armenia which, thank God, exists now,' he said. `We must constantly hear friendly statements like `What the hell are you guys doing?' That's what is missing.'

Leaders of the Armenian communities in Europe, the Middle East, the United States and elsewhere in the world rarely speak out on the difficult process of political reform in Armenia and usually avoid openly criticizing controversial actions of its rulers. Some of them have reacted negatively to international criticism of the Armenian authorities' human rights record and handling of elections.

Problems like government corruption or vote falsifications have rarely been on the agenda of conferences discussing ways of strengthening ties between Armenia and its affluent Diaspora communities. One such conference took place in Lebanon last week. According to Hranush Hakobian, a senior member of the Armenian parliament who attended it along with Zeytuntsian and other prominent intellectuals from Yerevan, organizers' efforts to skirt thorny issues did little to change local Armenians' `disappointment' with their historical homeland.

`We stressed that it's better to talk more about positive than negative examples,' she told reporters. `But unfortunately, we also heard negative examples of Diaspora Armenians making investments [in Armenia] that went awry. The Diaspora very quickly became disappointed with what it heard from those business people.'

Zeytuntsian, who was born in Egypt in 1938 and moved to Armenia with his parents in 1948, complained that Diaspora leaders still do not want to bring to task the authorities in Yerevan. `They consider that embarrassing,' he said. `But that is wrong. They must have demands. They must say [to Armenian leaders], `Behave yourself.' Some people here may sober up as a result. They won't necessarily listen, but at least they will be more careful.'

(Photolur photo: Perj Zeytuntsian.)