When it comes to Armenia and Armenians, there are actually things worse than Holocaust/Genocide denial. Before I get to that issue though, let me recount my own history of dealing with Armenian international and domestic issues and explain how I came to be the only non-Armenian founding Vice President of ARAMAC, the Armenian American Action Committee (an affiliate of the Armenian Assembly).
In the early 1990s during the Bosnian civil war, tens of thousands of women were raped primarily by Serbian forces. The issue is explained in detail in Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_during_the_Bosnian_War which states in pertinent part, “Estimates of the number of women and girls raped range from 12,000 to 50,000, the vast majority of whom were Bosniaks raped by Bosnian Serbs. The Serb forces set up “rape camps”, where women were subjected to being repeatedly raped, and only released when pregnant. Gang rape and public rapes in front of villagers and neighbors were not uncommon.”
San Fernando Valley/Northeast Los Angeles NOW (my National Organization for Women chapter) launched a demonstration at the federal building (11000 Wilshire Blvd Westwood) demanding American government action to put a stop to these and other atrocities in that horrendous war. We were joined in this action by Amnesty International, the Coalition Against Ethnic Cleansing, the League of Croatian Women, the Muslim Womens League, and many other human rights groups, including as it turned out, an ad hoc group of Armenian feminists led Tara Petrosian, who would later become my great friend and comrade in arms. I was in charge of public relations for the event and many of the logistics. I arranged for the Armenians to have as a speaker for the event, Yelena Bonner, (half-Armenian half Jewish) human rights activist and wife of noted Soviet dissident and physicist Andrei Sakharov.
Following this event, how I would initially become involved in Armenian American activism was recounted to the Los Angeles Times [July 7, 1996, Valley Man is a Rebel with Disparate Causes] by Tara Petrossian. Reporter Henry Chu wrote:
It was at a NOW rally a few years ago in support of rape victims in Bosnia that Tucker met restauranteur Tara Petrosian, president of the Armenian American Action Committee Western Region, and now one of Tucker’s biggest fans.
Impressed with the media coverage Tucker helped generate for the NOW event, Petrosian telephoned him soon afterward to enlist his help for her own committee, which wanted to publicize Azerbaijan’s blockade of Armenia. Tucker readily signed on.
“I really agonized calling this strange person and asking for favors. However, he was very open,” Petrosian said. “I asked if he would help us. ‘He said yes, he would.’ I said we have no funds and he said ‘no problem.'”
My next question was, “Why would you do this for nothing.” There was a long pause and he said, “‘I’m still one of those crazy people who believes in living life according to principles.’ He’s a great humanitarian. He’s always for the underdog.”
Over lunch at what was already one of my favorite restaurants, Chez Nous, Tara gave me a mini-course in Armenian domestic politics. I summed up by saying, “so what you’re telling me is that there are two major Armenian American political organizations: the Armenian National Committee and the Armenian Assembly. Because unity is of course out of the question, they have two competing resolutions in Congress. The ANC, the more militant of the two, has a resolution which has Congress asking the State Department to ask the Turks and Azeris to be nice to Armenia. The AA, as the more moderate group has its competing resolution asking Congress to ask the State Department to politely ask the Turks and the Azeris to be nice to Armenia, because of course, they’re more moderate.”
I then told Tara: “I won’t get involved with the existing strategy. It’s bullshit. I’m a Jew and we’ve learned not to go begging for our rights; the last time we tried that it cost six million of us. However I’m not suggesting that we reinvent the wheel. Let’s take a page out of how we ended Apartheid in South Africa: hit them where it hurts, in the pocket book. Who’s investing in Azerbaijan?”
Tara told me that AMOCO and UNOCAL were investing in the Azeri Caspian Sea oil fields. “Oh great,” I said. “UNOCAL is headquartered right here in Los Angeles.”
The strategy I hatched and unleashed is the reason why UNOCAL eventually had to sell their 5th Street downtown Los Angeles headquarters building and move down to Buena Park. Within months we put together a coalition with everybody under the sun who had grievances against UNOCAL, including Burmese Pro-Democracy activists (UNOCAL was destroying their rain forest using slave labor and women forced into brothels to service the slave labor); the Cree Indians of Canada (UNOCAL leased their reservation supposedly to explore for oil then put a mustard gas plant there instead); the Quechua Indians of Ecuador (where UNOCAL was screwing up their rain forest), and so on and so forth.
Within months we had 300 screaming Armenian high school students parading around and blockading UNOCAL headquarters.
CAL STRS—the State Teacher Retirement System, our state’s second largest pension fund after CAL PERS, turned out to be the 10th largest investor in UNOCAL stock. I ran for State Treasurer in 1994 and 1998 on a platform demanding divestiture of UNOCAL stock by STRS and testified before the STRS corporate governance committee on the issues. Along with Glendale College Professor Levon Merashlian and Tara Petrosian, I wrote a militant resolution demanding STRS divestiture which unanimously passed the Representative Assembly of California’s largest teacher’s union, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) without debate or amendment.
Now while all this was going on, aside from personal friends I enlisted in the cause, I can’t think of one single American Jew or one single Jewish politician who was willing to raise a finger in support of these efforts, or of another strategy I came up with, a demand that the Department of Commerce designate Armenia as a friendly nation targeted by a boycott (it is a reasonable premise that a blockade is wholly inclusive of a boycott and then some). The so-called anti-boycott law which was passed to protect Israel from Arab economic boycott doesn’t even mention Israel and can be applied to any friendly nation.
Why wouldn’t American Jews get involved with my crusade? Very simply because their blind support of Israeli foreign policy made them turn a blind eye towards Armenia, because of Israel’s long time alliance with Turkey which at that time was at a high point. Even with Israel’s relations with Turkey strained, Israel still won’t even admit that Turkey’s World War I massacre of Armenians constitutes genocide [http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.636058]:
Israel does not plan to recognize the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey, Rafael Harpaz, Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, told Azeri website Trend.
“Israel is a democratic country, everybody has two opinions, not one opinion,” Harpaz said. “The government has a very clear opinion.”
He said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had made Israel’s policy clear.
Harpaz told Trend he hoped Israel’s troubled relations with Turkey would improve.
“There are enough common interests and issues in the world for us to cooperate,” Harpaz reportedly said. “I would like to take an example of Turkish Airlines. Turkish Airlines is the biggest foreign airline which is active in Israel. Istanbul is the biggest hub for Israelis. The same goes for tourism, trade which is up. We hope that our political relations with Turkey will improve.”
This Israeli foreign policy trade-off is unconscionable. It makes me thankful that I am a Jew first and not an Israeli or an apologist for Israel, because my Jewish sense of right and wrong makes me come to a very different conclusion.
More recently, I went to the neighboring City of Carson where I joined hundreds of Armenians confronting hundreds of Turkish Americans in opposition to the City accepting an offer of a monument to war criminal Mustafa Kemal Ataturk….for the City’s Peace Garden! See http://asbarez.com/132718/carson-city-council-unanimouly-rejects-ataturk-monument-measure/ My old friend Levon Merashlian spoke eloquently explaining why Ataturk was completely and thoroughly inappropriate for commemoration in America.
So, coming full circle, what exactly could be worse than Armenian genocide denial? Well, the position that the leadership of my own political party, the Peace and Freedom Party, took on the issues involving the blockade of Armenia, are far worse than genocide denial. Their position was (and remains to this day) de facto support for the continuing blockade of Armenia, a blockade which in one year alone in the early 1990s resulted in the death of 1% of the entire population of the nation.
As the party’s candidate for State Treasurer in 1994, I repeatedly tried to get a resolution on the agenda for State Central Committee meetings to join me in supporting (a) amendment of the Freedom Support Act to strengthen it with additional sanctions against Azerbaijan for blockading Armenia, (b) demanding Commerce Department designation of Armenia as the target of an illegal corporate boycott, and (c) divestiture by CAL STRS of stock in UNOCAL. I also attempted to enlist PFP perennial candidate Marsha Feinland, a member of the teacher’s union in Berkeley, to get her union to join UTLA in calling for STRS divestiture. I figured that as a fellow Jew, Feinland ought to understand that like Jews and Roma (Gypsies) Armenians are kindred peoples who have faced both genocide and diaspora. Feinland didn’t lift a finger to help.
Even worse, when I finally got a hearing on my proposed resolution from the State Executive Committee, I was met with outright racist anti-Armenian statements like one from later PFP State Chair Kevin Akin, who justified his opposition by saying stuff like “All the Armenians I ever knew……” If he had said “All the Blacks” or “All the Chicanos” or, or, or it would have been intuitively obvious that it was a prejudicial, bigoted and racist statement, but the voting members of the SEC ….. well it went past them like water in a stream without protest.
Given that Kevin’s son, Isaiah, is a senatorial aide and is now chief foreign policy wonk for Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) I’m now no longer surprised: Wyden is considered to the right of Likud when it comes to anything to do with Israel or its foreign affairs.
They wound up adopting a resolution whose sole actual effect if implemented into law would have imposed sanctions on Armenia for the crime of having been blockaded by Azerbaijan and Turkey. On February 17, 1993 HR 86 was introduced and some of its “whereas” clauses explain just how unconscionable this position was:
To express dissatisfaction with the Republic of Azerbaijan’s failure to work toward a peaceful and fair settlement to the dispute over Nagorno Karabagh by continuing the devastating blockade and economic boycott of the Republics of Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh.
Whereas the Azerbaijani government has failed to terminate the blockade and other uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh, as set forth in the Freedom Support Act;
Whereas the blockade of Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh by Azerbaijan has directly resulted in extreme hardship, loss of life and economic devastation in both Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh;
Whereas the lack of medicine and adequate health facilities in Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh has resulted in an alarming increase in the mortality rate among the elderly and newborn infants;
Whereas the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has identified tens of thousands of Armenian refugees to be at risk of exposure and starvation this winter, due to the Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia;
Whereas the European Parliament has passed a resolution condemning the Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh and demanding that Azerbaijan immediately cease the embargo
“Loss of life.” Let me explain that in human terms. During the year preceding the introduction of HR 86, 1% of the population of Armenia died from the cold and starvation. Then-Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA) described to me at the time as an eyewitness of how babies died as soon as they were born because it was 40 degrees below zero in obstetrics rooms in hospitals. Every single tree in the capital city of Yerevan had already been cut down for fuel. Kennedy and his staff had to sleep in the Embassy van with the engine running to keep themselves from freezing.
The PFP leadership position on Armenia is reprehensible as well as unconscionable. It is so extreme that it is to the right of the Turkish embassy’s position and even to the right of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who as former CEO of Halliburton (profiting from the blockade and his company’s operations in Azeri Caspian sea oil) received the Azeri American Chamber of Commerce “Freedom Support Award.”
This is just one reason why over the next couple of years I will do my little part to support Armenia’s right to live in peace and for recognition of the historical wrongs the Armenian people have endured, by running for the PFP nomination for Vice President (I want to be Roseanne Barr’s running mate) on a platform as I originally proposed it in 1994. If you want to help me in this quest, contact me at your earliest convenience at firstname.lastname@example.org.