US Government’s "Sensitive" Study Of Armenian-Americans Made Public
By Harut Sassounian Sassounian’s column of Nov. 30, 2006
Publisher, The California Courier
The U.S. government recently made public a fascinating internal study on the Armenian-American community. The study, prepared in June of 2004 by the American Embassy in Yerevan, carries the following classification : "Sensitive - Please Treat Accordingly." It is titled, "Deciphering the Armenian-American Diaspora," and was recently released by the Department of State at the request of the Armenian National Committee of America, under the Freedom of Information Act.
While the study relates commonly known facts about the Armenian-American community, it reveals for the first time the views of the U.S. government on the Armenian community, its assessment of major Armenian-American organizations and their impact on U.S. - Armenia relations. As the study contains some inaccurate facts and misjudgments about some segments of the Armenian American community, I would urge the groups concerned to send a letter to the editor and set the record straight.
According to this study, around 1.5-2 million Armenians, out of an estimated 8-10 million Diaspora Armenians, live in the United States. This is the second largest Diaspora Armenian community after Russia which reportedly has 2-2.5 million Armenians. The study lists "some of the largest Armenian Diaspora populations" as living in France, Lebanon, Syria, Argentina and Turkey. The large Armenian community of Iran is not mentioned at all.
The study contends : "The Armenian-American Diaspora continues to wield considerable influence upon the foreign and domestic policies of the Government of Armenia [GOAM]. The influence ranges from the obvious connection of U.S.-born and/or trained GOAM officials, the influence of private and public U.S. assistance funding and the more nuanced impact of person-to-person relations between the GOAM and the Diaspora."
The study specifically mentions "a number of current and former high-level GOAM policymakers [who] were born, raised or trained in the United States with long-term connections to the Diaspora community in the U.S. Current examples of this connection include Armenia’s Foreign Minister, both Deputy Foreign Ministers, various Presidential Advisors, including the Chief Advisor on Economic Issues, the Minister of Trade and Economic Development and a number of deputy ministers in other ministries."
According to the study, while it is not certain whether Russian-Armenians or American-Armenians wield greater influence in Armenia, "it is impossible to underestimate the impact of the Armenian-American community on the GOAM." Its influence is measured in terms of being the wealthiest community of the Armenian Diaspora, the most diverse, providing the largest amount of assistance to Armenia, and the most organized. The study asserts incorrectly : "Roughly fifty Armenian-American organizations claim nationwide membership somewhere in the thousands."
The unknown authors of the study have grouped the Armenian-American community into the following seven "clusters" or "broad categories that involve intersecting political and religious affiliations and historical considerations" :
1) "The AGBU, Ramkavars, Diocese" 2) "Dashnaks (ARF), ANCA, Prelacy" 3) "Organizations close to the ‘Hnchaks’ " 4) "The Armenian Protestant Community" 5) "Armenian-American Catholic Organizations" 6) "Professional and Cultural Organizations on the Rise" 7) "Humanitarian Groups and Private Foundations"
1) "The AGBU, Ramkavars, Diocese"
The study states : "This grouping captures roughly 30% of those active in the Armenian-American community. While often less politically active than the two largest advocacy organizations in the Diaspora (the AAA and the ANCA), the AGBU and its affiliated organizations exercise considerable influence upon grassroots thinking about Armenia-related issues."
The study describes the AGBU as "the largest worldwide charitable organization in the Armenian Diaspora and constitutes one of the three largest groups of Armenians in the United States today. While the AGBU claims a non-political agenda and concentrates its programming on educational or humanitarian pursuits worldwide, it also touts itself as the ‘mainstay of Armenian liberalism’ among Armenian-Americans."
It describes the ADL or the Ramkavar Party as "the second largest political party" in the Armenian-American community with "considerable connections with the AGBU. Historically, the majority of AGBU donors and board members were members of or sympathized with the Ramkavar Party to some degree. The Ramkavars represent one of the most politically conservative elements of the Armenian-American community.... While generally less nationalistic than some of their ANCA counterparts in the U.S., the ADL’s political agenda includes a major push for worldwide recognition of the events of 1915 as a ‘genocide.’ "
The Knights and Daughters of Vartan, which the study describes as "a service organization whose recent activities are based loosely upon models such as the rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, is one of the most active Armenian-American fraternal associations based in the U.S. This organization claims membership in the tens of thousands and sponsors humanitarian activities in the Republic of Armenia including the renovation of schools and health facilities in rural communities."
Stating that the AGBU and affiliated organizations such as the ADL and Knights/Daughters of Vartan are generally linked with the Diocese of the Armenian Church, the study describes the Diocese as "the largest branch of the Armenian Church.... Diocese congregations make up the majority of Armenian religious groups in the United States. While it would be inappropriate to state that all AGBU or ADL members worship as part of a Diocese congregation, there is a tendency for these groups to align with one another on political issues. The humanitarian arm of the Diocese, the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR), raises and distributes millions of dollars in humanitarian relief aid to the Republic of Armenia each year." FAR also carries out humanitarian projects in Artsakh, the study states.
(Next week : The Armenian Assembly and the six other organizational clusters)
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