In 1994, when I was the PFP’s nominee for State Treasurer, I had repeatedly sought a resolution from the State Central Committee of the party to take a strong stand against the Turkish-Azerjaijani blockade of Armenia that was literally killing Armenians. The party had twice tabled a resolution I’d proposed and I was getting insistent upon having the matter heard. Over dinner with Tom Condit at the Oakland Airport Hilton, where I’d stopped for a campaign appearance in the Oakland area, I outlined the issues for him and he promised that he would use his influence for me to get a fair hearing on the matter from the PFP’s executive committee.
This was when I first found out that people I’d thought of as friends, ideological allies, and comrades were in fact back-stabbing, sectarian, and incompetent fruitcakes who were completely out of touch with real issues that were important to real people. Not only did Condit later deny that we’d even discussed the matter, Bob Evans — a then perennial party candidate for Attorney General — later denied knowing what the party position was even though he’d been on the conference call that decided the issue. But Kevin Akin’s role in the whole affair was even more insidious.
Various party activists had gathered at different locations around the state. In Los Angeles we were at the Paul Robeson Center in South Central L.A. linked with the other sites.
The one really choice bit of insanity that is seared into my memory during the Alice in Wonderland type discussion that emanated from my request to go on record for having the Commerce Department apply the anti-boycott law to Armenia to protect it from corporations that were complicit with the Turkish/Azeri blockade was the one by Kevin Akin. Let me preface his statement by explaining that PFP, which was founded by people with a real concept of opposing racism and bigotry of all sorts, had degenerated into a clique of sectarians who only had a concept of anti-racist struggles if they were radical chic as in Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic and Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers. Because there was no existing left-wing radical chic movement about dealing with the Turkish genocide of World War I in which 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered, and the ongoing legacy of that conflict, most of the PFP leadership couldn’t grasp what to average people who read the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times or virtually any daily newspaper would understand.
Let me also point out that under the leadership of Kay McGlachlin and Marilyn Seals, two eminent leaders of PFP during the seventies, PFP had adopted novel parliamentary procedures including points of racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. that could be called during meetings just like more traditional “points of order.” Unfortunately for me, since I wasn’t a voting member of the executive committee, I wasn’t in a position to invoke a point of racism against what Kevin said.
The inane (and insane) discussion that ensued on my proposal for a resolution centered around everybody else’s ignorance of the history of the Caucusus region and the issues surrounding Armenia’s relations with Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and the United States role in the area. So, people like Kevin would insert tid-bits of misinformation that they’d heard from lord-knows-where as though they were contributing to a sensible discussion. But the worst was not even the substance of what Kevin said, but with the language that he prefaced it with: “….all the Armenians I ever knew…..” believed or espoused thus and so.
Now, if he’d substituted the word “Blacks,” or “Chicanos,” or “Native Americans,” for Armenians, everybody on the call would have been up in arms because it would immediately be apparent to them that he had maligned a radical chic cause celebre group of people. Not one word of protest, not one point of racism, not one gasp was to be heard from the assemblage, who apparently considered that this was some sort of wise and legitimate comment, i.e., what Kevin had heard anecdotally from “all the Armenians” he ever knew.
Bottom line: I had to repudiate PFP’s leadership position because what they came out with was an abomination that placed the party to the right of Dick Cheney, and that was really hard to accomplish given that Cheney, as President of Halliburton, had received the Azeri-American Chamber of Commerce “Freedom Support Award” around that time. In fact, the position they took was to the right of the position of the Turkish embassy. They wound up calling for ‘sanctions against both sides” in the dispute, which, since under Section 901 of the Freedom Support Act there already were sanctions against Azerbaijan under American law, put PFP in the place of supporting extension of sanctions to Armenia for the crime of the nation’s having been blockaded by its neighbors (which led to the death of 1% of the population in a single year). Whereas Dick Cheney and the Turkish government wanted Section 901 sanctions taken off Azerbaijan, not even they advocated sanctions against Armenia.
Now, Kevin claims to be a somewhat religious Jew. I on the other hand am a thoroughly secular and blasphemous Jew at best, even though I’m the great-great grandson of a Rabbi. But at least I understand the concept of why Jews traditionally call themselves the “chosen people.” Being the “chosen people” is not a privilege. It’s a duty. Supposedly, god chose us to do his/her bidding and to bring justice to Earth. So, if we have any duties imposed on us by history in the spirit of our tribal mythology, then we should assume the duty to speak for all other nations, like the Armenians, the Roma (Gypsies), the Garifuna and all other peoples who like the Jews live for the most part in a diaspora and who have been routinely persecuted.
A Photo from the World
War I Turkish slaughter