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Fresh Page at Historic Sèvres
Exclusive Special Report, 22 December 2011

Armenian activists from all corners of the far-flung Armenian communities converged Dec. 10 on Sèvres, a suburb in southwest of Paris, to launch the Third Congress of Western Armenians and to open a new and optimistic page in the contemporary history of Armenians.

Following the introductory remarks by Dr. Hagop Kerkiasharian, president of the Organizing Committee in France, Rev Bartev Parseghian of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Rev. Haroutune Bzdigian of Mekhitarists Congregation welcomed the participants.

The gathering, attended by more than 80 delegates and independent individuals from Argentina, Armenia, Canada, France, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States, was characterized by remarkable equanimity as participants unanimously and with alacrity voted “yes” to the draft statutes and to the goals of the Congress.

Intellectuals from Armenia and the Diaspora, an Armenian general and leader of the Artsakh army during the war against Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, a colonel, an MP from Armenia, several authors, businessmen, lawyers, economists, professors, delegates representing Armenia and Russia-based patriotic unions (‘hayrenagtsagan meeyoutyoun’), several journalists and professionals from various fields mingled between sessions to exchange views and to make practical suggestions on how to enhance the Congress as a leading voice of the Armenian nation.

While close to two-thirds of the attendees came from Armenia and Russia, this group identified itself as descendants of the martyrs and survivors of the Genocide of Armenians.

The conference venue was rich in symbolism. It’s in this quiet suburb that the Treaty of Sèvres was signed (10 August 1920). The conference took place at the Mkhitarian Samuel Moorat Catholic College, a long-time Armenian educational centre in Europe.

Among the half-a-dozen attendees who addressed the gathering was Ashot Aleksanian, deputy of Armenia’s Ambassador to France. He said, “You have to do it [represent the rights of Western Armenians]. We [the Republic of Armenia] are prepared to provide you with data for your projects. I hope the conference is followed by actual work.” He then wished victory [‘Haghtanag’] to the Congress.

The historic conference was the culmination of more than four years of work following the creation in Paris, on Aug. 20, 2007, of the International Organizing Committee (IOC) and its registration as a non-governmental organization (NGO). In accordance with its statutes, the goal of the NGO was to organize meetings, which would lead to the establishment of the Congress of Western Armenians. Some 12 such meetings were held, in addition to several gatherings with lawyers. Furthermore, a symposium was held in Cyprus (2009), an IOC representative participated in the "Unity Symposium" in Montreal (2010) and a scientific symposium was organized in cooperation with the University of California at Berkeley in 2011.

According to its unanimously approved statutes, the goal of the Congress is to act as representative--at national and international bodies--of Western Armenians, descendants of the former Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire. As such, the Congress strives to be the legitimate representational institution that can negotiate for the rights of the victims of the Genocide and their descendants.

The Congress would also promote internationally the conservation and the awareness of Armenian civilization, the national and cultural identity of Armenians. It would initiate and monitor all activities related to the maintenance and safeguard of Armenian cultural heritage in Turkey in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne (ratified in 1923) as well as their restitution to their legitimate owners.

While during the meeting there were no public discussions about the relationship of the Congress with Armenian political parties and organizations, the goal of the Congress is to “harmonize, to the extent possible, its activities and initiatives with other Armenian organizations and institutions in building consensus on the pursuit of the Armenian Cause (‘Hye Tadd’).”

In the long term, the Congress intends to contribute towards enhancement of civil society and strengthen the democratic base of Armenian endeavors.

Another key long-term goal of the Congress is to facilitate the safe return and reestablishment on their free will of Western Armenians in their historical locations of their residence.

While the Congress’ founding conference proceeded with enviable smoothness, on occasion there were objections, especially from Dr. Dikran Abrahamian of Canada, that the voting on Congress’ aims and the elections of officers had been undertaken with undue haste and sometimes without concern for democratic process. He cautioned the gathering that the founding conference was particularly responsible to set an example to the future activities of the Congress so that all decisions are made with transparency and accountability in mind. Dr. Abrahamian’s objections were considered valid by the chair and attendees.

The Congress of Western Armenians then elected a National Council, a 28-member group to implement the Congress’ plan of action and meeting the goals of the new political entity. This was followed by the election of the Executive Committee from within the National Council consisting of a chairperson, three deputies, a secretary general and the head of the legal and judiciary department. Souren Seraydarian from France was elected chairperson. Sona Yacoubian of AGBU-‘Hye Geen’ organization (California), Karen Mikaelyan from Moscow and Gen. Norat Ter Grigoryanc were elected as deputies. The Council convened the following day to discuss details of quarterly plans.

The Congress will also have a board of trustees, following the establishment of the Legal Defense Trust Fund. It will be composed of persons who contribute $20,000 or 14,000 Euros and other members nominated by the Council.

Among attendees who addressed the gathering were Raymond Kevorkian, professor at Institut Francais de Geopolitique, Université Paris, author of the 1,030-page “Genocide of Armenians: the Complete History”; Roberto Malkassian, professor of international law at the University of Buenos Aires; Karen Mikaelyan, the executive director of the former International Organizing Committee for the preparation of the Congress; MP Arakadz Akhoyan from Armenia and economist Ohan Hekimian from Marseille.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Seraydarian, the newly-elected chairperson of the Congress of Western Armenians, stated, "Descendants of refugee western Armenians are [today] able, settled, cultured citizens of mostly progressive countries, and present a powerful potential to build, with the motherland, a hopeful and secure future for the Armenian nation." He then said, " If Armenians attain collective will, unanimity, concordance of spirit, we believe the 21st century will be recorded as Armenians' century."

After the conference was adjourned, attendees celebrated the historic gathering by sampling Armenian dishes, Armenian brandy and French champagne.

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