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California Courier Online February 7, 2002 Second Diaspora-Armenia Conference Should Be Results-Oriented; Not a Show Commentary By Harut Sassounian California Courier Publisher The Foreign Ministry of Armenia just announced plans to convene the 2nd Armenia-Diaspora Conference in Yerevan, on May 27-28. This would be a sequel to the first conference held in Yerevan in September 1999, which was attended by more than one thousand Armenians from 50 countries. Tragically, the Armenian nation suffered a grave setback just a month after that conference when five gunmen burst into the Parliament and assassinated the charismatic Prime Minister Vazken Sarkissian, the highly respected Chairman of the Parliament Garen Demirjian, four other parliamentarians and one cabinet minister. With the elimination of two of the top three leaders of Armenia, the country came close to plunging into total chaos. Even though the murderers were arrested on the spot, their seemingly endless trial has provided daily fodder for continuing mutual recriminations between the supporters of President Robert Kocharian and his political opponents. The Armenian courts grind slowly, and often imperfectly, giving rise to accusations of undue interference and manipulation. The resulting internal instability is one of the main reasons why the envisioned 2nd Armenia-Diaspora conference had been postponed. As the Foreign Ministry is soliciting comments and suggestions for the upcoming conference, I would like to provide some preliminary observations based on the initial information released by the Armenian government last month. TIMING It would have been preferable to schedule this conference later in the year in order to allow more time for the planning of the agenda and the selection of delegates from Armenian communities worldwide. Since the intent of the organizers is to hold a conference that can make concrete decisions on specific issues, a hastily planned gathering may not accomplish the desired objective. Furthermore, the end of May is not the ideal time to invite more people to Armenia when a large number of tourists from the Diaspora usually visit the country to participate in the celebrations of May 28, the independence of the first republic in 1918. Major international conferences should not be organized at a time of the year when all of the flights to Armenia and the hotels in Yerevan are already fully booked. April 24, May 28 and September 21 (Republic Day) are the most crowded days in Armenia. The country's hotels, restaurants and touristic sites would benefit much more from a steady stream of year- round visitors rather than getting over-run by crowds for a few weeks and remaining mostly empty the rest of the year! SELECTION OF DELEGATES Given the decentralized and disorganized nature of the Diaspora, the process of selecting the delegates to attend the 1999 conference was the cause of many disputes. To make matters worse, each community was asked to select one representative to address the conference on. Needless to say, serious arguments ensued as to who should be the spokesman for each community. Such disagreements should not happen this time around, because the session for remarks by community spokesmen is cancelled. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian announced that in addition to representatives of various organizations, the government is planning to invite key individuals and specialists who are not affiliated with any established group. The Foreign Minister also stated that just about any diasporan who wants to attend the conference would be allowed to do so. Regrettably, this wonderful gesture of inclusiveness may not have much practical value as the flights to Armenia and the hotels in Yerevan may not be able to accommodate all those wishing to attend. Since native Armenians don't have to worry about the availability of flights and hotel accommodations, and because they were underrepresented in the 1999 conference, it may be a good idea to correct this imbalance by inviting the participation of a large number of locals. In order to avoid accusations of exploiting the conference for campaign purposes, prior to the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, the government should go out of its way to invite as many representatives of the political opposition as possible. FORMAT The 1999 conference consisted mostly of a plenary session with over 1,000 delegates listening to dozens of long speeches for two days. The Foreign Minister announced that the new conference would consist of smaller, simultaneous panel discussions covering specific topics. This makes the conference more interesting and more goal-oriented. Each panel is supposed to adopt one or two concrete projects and decide how to implement them. The are 5 broad categories: business and economy; science, culture and education; information and media; political relations and advocacy; and organizational/structural development. The success or failure of this conference depends on who sets the agenda and who ends up selecting the projects to be implemented. Whereas the 1999 conference was mostly a show -- maybe the first one had to be that way -- the second conference has to be much more pragmatic. It has to deal with realistic issues and focus on achievable goals. This conference should not be just another social gathering for Armenians from around the world. It should have measurable results with fixed deadlines. ************************************************************************** The California Courier On-Line is a service provided by the California Courier. Subscriptions or changes of address should not be transmitted through this service. Information in that regard should be telephoned to (818) 409-0949; faxed to: (818) 409-9207, or e-mailed to: Ccourier@compuserve.com Letters to the editor concerning issues addressed in the Courier may be e-mailed, provided it is signed by the author. Phone and/or E-mail address is also required to verify authorship.