U.S. Embassy Releases Study On Armenian-Americans (Part II)
by Harut Sassounian
Last week, we published excerpts from a "sensitive" internal study on the Armenian-American community, prepared by the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan. This week's column covers the second and third of the seven clusters of Armenian-American organizations as defined by this study:
2) "Dashnaks (ARF), ANCA, Prelacy" According to the Study, "the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) is a worldwide organization that reports affiliates in over 200 countries including a strong presence in the United States. The ARF is widely known by its nickname 'Dashnaksutyun.' Active since 1890, the organization is the most politically oriented of the Armenian Diaspora groups around the world and has traditionally been one of the most vocal supporters of Armenian nationalism. The ARF's U.S.-based political advocacy arm is the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). ANCA is the principal political spokesperson for ARF policies in the United States."
The study also states that "together with its vocal grassroots campaigns on political issues, the ARF has created one of the most successful networks of cultural and youth organizations among Armenian-Americans. The Armenian Relief Society (ARS) is a nationwide women's auxiliary association that serves as the ARF's charitable and educational arm. The Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) coordinates summer camps and political education programs for young Armenian-Americans in conjunction with worldwide ARF programs." The study next covers "the unofficial link" between the ARF and the Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church which "recognizes the authority" of the Cilician See in Antelias, Lebanon. "The ARF-Prelacy alignment coincided with the outbreak of the Cold War. With Diocese leaders based in Soviet Armenia, nationalistic ARF activists opted to operate through Prelacy congregations in the United States which they felt were less susceptible to Soviet influences and could best advance their cause for an independent Armenia. Prelacy congregations are by no means exclusively populated by ARF supporters. The perception exists among many, however, that 'Dashnaks worship with the Prelacy.' While there are fewer adherents of Prelacy congregations than Diocese congregations in the United States, this group remains a significant and active part of the Armenian-American religious community." The study also notes: "There are no liturgical or theological differences between the two branches of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Relations are cordial if not warm." "Making Sense of the AAA/ANCA Divide"
The study explains that while the platforms of the ANCA and AAA (Armenian Assembly) "are not diametrically opposed to one another, their different approaches on key topics such as relations with Turkey and the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict at times give the impression to observers both in and outside the Armenian-American community that they are competitors. While the two organizations often pool their resources for joint projects (including April 24 commemoration initiatives on the Hill, lobbying efforts aimed to increase U.S. Government assistance funds destined for Armenia et al.), the highest levels of their respective membership rosters rarely overlap. ANCA's grassroots strategy often appears to the public as more aggressive and politically charged than the AAA's. Professional representatives from two groups regularly hold informal consultations on key issues, but high-ranking representatives agree that significant rifts about where to invest political and human capital are commonplace." The study notes: "While the AAA might at times be critical of ANCA's methodology, it appears that AAA often benefits from the increased awareness or heightened visibility that ANCA's activities offer the Armenian-American community."
AAA: "Independent, but close to Diocese/AGBU Cluster" The study states that the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) "most often aligns itself with the AGBU/Diocese cluster on political policy issues. The AAA's membership is probably the most inclusive of Diaspora organizations because it has gone to great lengths to involve both the Diocese and Prelacy religious communities. According to [U.S.] Embassy sources, the AAA's dues-paying membership totals approximately 3,000 in the U.S. with 7,000 to 9,000 AAA 'activists' regularly volunteering on AAA grassroots advocacy efforts."
3) "Organizations Close to the 'Hnchaks' " The study points out that the "activities of the smallest, and yet of the most well-known politically based groups of Armenian-American organizations centers around the ideology of the Armenian Social Democratic Hnchakian (or Hnchak) Party. The party and its affiliate organizations in the U.S. (fraternal societies, a women's advocacy group and various youth groups) played an historically conservative role among Armenian-American groups during the second half of the 20th century. Disputes among party leadership and two subsequent splits in the party during the late 1990s weakened the party's standing in Armenia and consequently the influence of Hnchak-related groups in the U.S. Hnchak party leaders tell the [U.S.] Embassy that the party's aging membership in the United States, coupled with the recent internal disputes, have seriously weakened their influence as an arm of the Armenian-American lobby. The memory of the Hnchaks' historically large membership and the roster of influential Hnchaks in recent Armenian-American history, however, continue to lend the group a certain degree of clout within the Armenian-American community. Hnchak organizations support the weekly 'Massis' newspaper which claims the second-largest circulation among Armenian-American publications and posits 'traditional Hnchak' views on Armenian political developments." The study notes: "While both the Ramkavars and Hnchaks retain organizational structures and a public profile, they appear to be fading as significant forces in the Diaspora, including in the U.S."
(Next week: The final segment of the study covering Protestants, Catholics, professional and humanitarian groups)