Armenian News Network / Groong

The Assembly's Remarks at the Armenia-Diaspora Conference, 1999

    Remarks On Behalf Of The Armenian Assembly Of America
    For Delivery at the September 22 Session of 
    The Armenia Diaspora Conference in Yerevan, Armenia

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I wish to thank the organizers of this conference for inviting me,
    on behalf of the Armenian Assembly of America, to address you
    today. My remarks will necessarily be brief but I wish to discuss,
    respectfully but candidly, three issues of special concern to my

    First, the diversity of the audience gathered here today
    dramatically reflects a critical reality about the Armenian
    Diaspora. overseas Armenians represent one of the widest dispersals
    of any national group into foreign societies. We are worldwide, but
    we are largely unconnected and increasingly different from one
    another. Therefore, it seems to us that the proposal to create a
    study group on an umbrella organization at this conference to
    represent the Armenian Diapora is unrealistic and premature.

    Instead, we recommend that the authorities in Armenia organize
    separate collaborations with Diaspora groups and select individuals
    on the basis of function. Armenia's problems should be clearly
    identified and evaluated. Only then should programs be developed
    with specific organizations and individuals whose experience and
    function coincide with identified needs. For example, medical
    experts and groups should be recruited to address public health
    problems. Joint programs for social services should be developed
    with philanthropic groups. Professional assistance should be sought
    for business investments from successful entrepreneurs. And,
    cooperation should be developed with Diaspora advocacy specialists
    to gain international support for Armenia and karabagh.

    Second, for those conferees not familiar with the Armenian
    Assembly, I note that political action is the core reason for our
    organziation's existence. We now have the experience of 27 years
    advocating Armenian community interests in the United
    States. However, in 1988 we shifted our focus to Armenia. We
    undertook efforts to obtain relief and reconstruction aid for the
    victims of Armenia's tragic earthquake. We also sponsored the
    building of a modern, six million-dollar home construction factory
    in the earthquake zone and recently transferred our rights to this
    plant to the Hayastan Fund.

    With the independence of Armenia, we refocused our agenda to
    political advocacy as well. We worked to gain foreign aid support
    from the American government for the new republic of Armenia and
    public support for the right of self-determination for the
    courageous people of Karabagh. In the past eight years much has
    been achieved. the United States government has allocated more than
    800 million dollars for assistance to Armenia, and, we hope to add
    over eleven million to an already allocated 8.3 million dollars for
    aid to the Republic of Nagorno Karabagh. These successes have been
    achieved because of the efforts of the Armenian Assembly, other
    Armenian-American advocacy groups and key individuals. today our
    efforts reach beyond foreign aid. We are engaged in a major effort
    in support of Armenia's and Karabagh's political rights. And these
    actions are opposed in the United States by an alliance of powerful
    opponents composed of large U.S. oil companies, lobbyists for
    Turkey and Azerbaijan, the American state department, and even a
    group of prominent Jewish-American organizations. Despite this
    serious competition we have, so far, prevailed. With the leadership
    of our many friends in congress, we have succeeded in retaining
    Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act which denies some forms of
    government-to-government aid to Azerbaijan until Baku's blockade of
    Armenia and Karabagh is lifted. We have also lobbied the American
    government to initiate and support regional economoc programs in
    which Armenia will be an active participant and equal
    beneficiary. These actions have been coupled with the Assembly's
    continued efforts to gain official American re-affirmation of the
    Armenian Genocide. The most recent development on the Genocide
    Question is the state department's agreement to urge Turkey to
    negotiate the return of bank and insurance assets of Armenian
    victims of Genocide that are held by Turkish financial

    In all our efforts we endeavor to cooperate closely with the
    governments of Armenia and Karabagh. However, we function as an
    independent, non partisan American organization supported by more
    than 5,000 commited organziations and individual activists from
    every state of the United States. Non partisanship is the source of
    our appeal to the majority of American-Armenians and the basis of
    our collaboration with the Armenian-American commuity, as well as
    with non-Armenian political, ethnic and human rights groups in the
    United States.

    While the Armenian Assembly cannot be a precise model for Armenian
    political interest groups in other countries, our agenda, our
    non-partisan approach, and our independence is valid for all
    Armenian communities. In addition, we are scrupulous to avoid
    intruding into the internal political process in Armenia and
    Karabagh. We believe that partisan intrusion from Armenians abroad
    is unhealthy for the development of democracy in Armenia and

    Third and finally, I wish to address the vital assistance Diaspora
    Armenians can and must offer for the economic development of
    Armenia and Karabagh. We can all agree that the Diaspora should
    play a key role to obtain and provide foreign aid and capital
    investments, and to develop export markets for Armenian products
    and services. However, the current economic, social, and judicial
    climate in Armenia is a serious impediment to effective
    collaboration. Unfortunately, economic corruption is believed to be
    systemic here. Widespread allegations from within Armenia, Repeated
    by many foreign investors, points to coercion by bureaucrats for
    bribes and personal favors to obtain permits, licenses, and other
    services to conduct business in Armenia. In fairness, these
    practices are not unique to Armenia. Corruption exists in all
    societies... But the level of corruption throughout the Former
    Soviet Union is smothering the development of viable market
    economies.  Corruption also corrodes the people's confidence in
    their government. In truth, among all the republics of the Former
    Soviet Union, Armenia can afford economic malpractices
    least. Therefore, we urge that the Armenian government at all
    levels implement comprehensive reforms without delay.  reform is
    the only way to stimulate economic growth that will, in turn,
    provide tax revenues to meet Armenia's domestic and foreign
    objectives.  Moreover, successful collaboration with Armenians
    abroad will depend, in large part, on how soon a fair, transparent,
    and friendly investment climate emerges in armenia. Logically,
    investors will hesitate to enter armenia until capital safety,
    regulatory consistency, and tax fairness become the norms in

    Tragically, the lack of economic opportunities has resulted in the
    emigration of thousands of talented Armenians to foreign countries.
    Ambitious, educated, and confident young people are Armenia's
    greatest assets. They are needed here. even at this difficult
    moment in Armenian history, we must together plan ahead for the
    return of those who have left the homeland. More than that, we must
    offer the right of return to all Armenians living abroad. and when
    the return of Armenians becomes a reality, it will be final proof
    that Armenia's statehood is secure, and that its people prosper in
    freedom. at that moment, the slogan that the Diaspora and Armenia
    are one nation will ring true.

    Thank You

    [Groong note: Remarks were delivered by Mr. Ross Vartian.]

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