For the last several months, the City Council of Santa Monica has been considering which taxicab companies will be allowed to operate within its bounds. The issue has become a source of controversy and protest, especially among Armenian taxi companies who say the selection process has been discriminatory and unfair.
On October 12, ANCA-WR and AYF representatives were on hand with Armenian taxi drivers for a City Council meeting where a procedural motion on the issue was considered. The Council heard remarks from the public and set aside November 9th as the date of a public hearing solely dedicated to this matter.
After looking into the concerns of Armenian taxicab companies over the lack of transparency and suspected discrimination in the franchise recommendation process, we decided to get involved, said Nora Hovsepian, an ANCA-WR Board Member who attended the Council meeting. We have been communicating both in writing and in person with members of the City Council asking for responses to the unanswered questions which are fueling these suspicions, she explained. The City’s response, or lack thereof, will guide our future efforts in this regard.
Displeasure over the process arose in late June, when city administrators released a recommendation listing five companies they suggested be given the sole right to operate in Santa Monica. Out of these five companies, only two were locally-based and none Armenian owned or operatedin a city where the majority of taxi drivers and the plurality of companies which applied for the franchise are Armenian.
Several Armenian companies joined together to stage protests against the recommendation. They maintain that they meet and exceed the criteria required by the city for the franchises better than several of the five companies which were chosen.
Requests for the city to alleviate these concerns by making the selection process transparent and revealing the itemized scores each company received have yet to be met. There has been a marked reluctance by the city to release such information or provide an explanation beyond the overall rankings.
What we are talking about here is the livelihood of up to 300 Armenian families, said Serouj Aprahamian, Executive Director of the AYF. With one fell swoop, Armenian taxi workers face the potential of being excluded from a city where they have served for years. The least they are owed is an open process and proper explanation for what is being decided.
The City Council meeting on October 12 served as one of the first opportunities concerned parties had to address the Council. Armenian taxi workers and their families were in attendance alongside representatives of the ANCA-WR and AYF.
Even before public comments began, City Council members themselves raised questions and concerns. They asked the City Attorney what they were allowed to talk about during the meeting and whether they could make changes to the recommendation as it stands. Several times, council members openly stated that the process has been confusing for them. They were unclear about how the procedure for deciding on franchises works or how to move forward with alternative solutions.
When the floor was opened for comment, Hovsepian took to the podium and delivered remarks as both a Santa Monica resident and ANCA-WR Board Member. These suspicions of discrimination have yet to be alleviated despite numerous requests for disclosures from the city as to the selection process, stated Hovsepian. It is our hope that the November 9th date will not simply be a rubber-stamping process.
Virtually all of the other comments presented were critical of the recommendation, as well. The impact of the decision on local businesses and the cloud of secrecy surrounding the franchise selection were repeatedly emphasized.
All of this pointed to the likelihood of a highly charged public hearing on November 9th. The meeting is expected to bring the matter to a head before the Council makes its final decision on the city staffs recommendation.
There is no legitimate reason behind the staff recommendation and the dislocation of Armenian companies, said Varouj Kouzikian, representing an alliance of Armenian taxi drivers in Santa Monica. Our intent is to go to the public hearing in large numbers and make our voice heard. We want a fair allocation of franchises in a way that avoids the discrimination of the Armenian community. We’re willing to take this struggle all the way to the end.
The taxi franchise public hearing set for November 9th will take place at 5:30 PM at City Hall, 1685 Main St in Santa Monica. Concerned community members are being encouraged to attend.
As part of her recent visit to Southern California, US Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch held a two-hour, closed-session discussion with AYF activists this past Monday at the Glendale Public Library.
The meeting was organized by Ambassador Yovanovitch for the purpose of creating a closer dialogue between the AYF and the US Embassy in Armenia. It is one of many gatherings she has called with Armenian-American organizations on her visit.
“We appreciated the invitation to sit down with the Ambassador and have an intimate conversation, said Caspar Jivalegian, a member of the AYF Central Executive. The AYF-Western Region is active both here and in Armenia so we welcome any opportunity to engage on matters of US policy as it relates to our homeland.
The meeting began with an overview of the AYFs Youth Corps program in Gyumri. After expanding upon the details of the summer day camp the AYF runs for underprivileged children in the city, possible assistance for aspects of the project were discussed.
Yovanovitch went on to outline the activities of the US Embassy in Armenia and the main areas which have been prioritized; namely economic assistance, democratic development and security. She gave detailed insight into various initiatives supported by the US such as trainings for judicial professionals and work with local civil society groups. She also spent time discussing US support for the Karabakh peace process and Turkey-Armenia relations.
Having this exchange with Ambassador Yovanovitch further highlighted the nature of engagement the US has in Armenia, said AYF Executive Director Serouj Aprahamian. On the one hand, there is a great deal of talk about democracy and dialogue, which we welcome. Yet, the weight given to such principles noticeably diminished when we raised matters such as Karabakh, the Genocide, or the Turkey-Armenia Protocols.
AYF members asked the Ambassador several questions related to Karabakh, including why representatives of the Karabakh Republic are not included in the peace process and why the US has not championed self-determination for the people of Karabakh as it had for Albanians in Kosovo. The issue of the Armenian Genocide and US refusal to speak truthfully about this crime against humanity were also raised. Other topics in the question and answer period included Turkey-Armenia relations, economic assistance, and sustainable investment in human capital.
The Ambassador engaged each of the questions and attempted to adequately address the audience members concerns. For the most part, participants felt the responses reflected a continuation of past US positions on such matters, without the signs of change the community expects. At times, even Yovanovitch prefaced her comments by saying, I know this may not satisfy you.
Although it was interesting to meet with the Ambassador in this setting, it was disappointing not to hear much of anything new, said Sevag Tchekidjian, a member of the Glendale Roupen AYF Chapter. The answers seemed very politically coated and constrained.
The exchange ended with further discussion of the AYFs plans and projects in connection with Armenia. The Ambassador and her staff genuinely encouraged participants to use the gathering as a springboard for continued future communication and dialogue.
One year ago today, the Armenian government put its signature on a tragic document aimed at compromising the interests of its people.
The so-called Protocols for the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between Armenia and Turkey, signed in Zurich on October 10, 2009, sought to squeeze out of the Armenian nation that which it for so long refused to surrender: justice, restitution, and self-determination.
With its stipulation that bilateral relations be subject to the creation of a sub-commission on the historical dimension to carry out a scientific examination of the historical records, the Protocols were a clear attempt to cast doubt on the veracity of the Armenian Genocide.
The provision in the Protocols requiring recognition of the existing border between the two countries was an overt demand for Armenians to forfeit their legal and moral claims to their historic homeland. Signing on to such a capitulation would mean accepting the criminal dispossession and exile Armenians were brutally subject to at the hands of the Turkish government.
Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the ill-fated Protocols, however, was its repeated emphasis on territorial integrity, the inviolability of frontiers, and non-intervention in internal affairs of other states. This languageand the absence of any reference to self-determinationwas unmistakably geared toward undermining the freedom and security of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. As expected, Turkey subsequently used the Protocols as leverage over the Karabakh negotiations and linked ratification of the agreement to concessions to Azerbaijan.
Despite euphoric talk of normalization without preconditions and an end to Turkeys illegal blockade, the Armenian people recognized the Protocols for what they really were: a detrimental threat to our national interests.
The nation stood up in all corners of the world and sounded a collective NO to the evident signing away of Armenias security, viability and future. Major demonstrations took place in virtually every major Armenian-populated city; leading Armenian academics and Genocide scholars voiced their dissent; two former Foreign Ministers of Armenia came out against the documents; countless political parties and organizations stood against ratification of the measure; and every poll which was conducted on the issue showed a majority of Armenian citizens opposed to the signing.
Here in Los Angeles, the AYF and countless Armenian youth took to the streets in a show of force against the Protocols. We pledged to do everything in our power to prevent the Protocols from being pushed through. We engaged in community lectures, meetings, demonstrations, hunger strikes, official delegations, leafleting, and outreach against the dangers of the agreement.
Finally, in April, the Armenian government officially suspended ratification of the Protocols, citing Ankaras preconditions and stonewalling. We know that the unprecedented outcry of the Armenians worldwide influenced this step from Yerevan. We know that the witnessed mass opposition served as a check on the schemes of the ruling elite who put their signature on such a flawed document.
Today, we recommit ourselves to the defense of our national interests. We pledge to stay vigilant against any similar attempts to sign away our collective rights.
As such, we call on the Armenian government to fully renounce and withdraw its signature from the Protocols, once and for all. The damage done by this process has already proven to be costly enough; hanging on to such a failed endeavor only opens the door for the future pursuit of this detrimental agreement.
Furthermore, we call on the Armenian people to realize its strength and fulfill its potential by organizing, uniting, and taking more concerted action in pursuit of the Armenian Cause. Only by standing together will we forge a better future.
AYF Executive Director, Serouj Aprahamian, talks to high school students at Rose & Alex Pilibos Armenian School about the Yes, Its Genocide campaign.
LOS ANGELESGrammy Award-winning artist Serj Tankian is offering fans and activists a free download of his new song Yes, Its Genocide in an effort to call attention to the cycle of genocide. The release is part of a broader campaign initiated by Serjical Strike Records, the Armenian National Committee of America, and the Armenian Youth Federation.
The song, which is the eighth track off of Tankians new album, Imperfect Harmonies, is a solemn tribute to the victims of genocides past and present. It is available for download on the AYFs website, www.AYFwest.org.
Students pass out Serj Tankian posters distributed as part of a presentation aiming to raise awareness about the cycle of genocide.
Serj took a bold step by featuring this moving song on his album in its natural statein Armenian, said Arek Santikian, Chair of the AYF-Western US. We stand for the same message the song conveys and are excited about the opportunity to spread its message to fans and activists worldwide.
AYF members have been busy over the last several weeks visiting high school and college campuses, talking to students about the song and the joint campaign. Some of the various campuses which have received presentations include Ferrahian High School, Mesrobian Armenian School, Rose & Alex Pilibos High School, Glendale Community College, and Woodbury University.
Speaking out against the scourge of genocide is not an act reserved solely for the month of April, said Serouj Aprahamian, Executive Director of the AYF Western US. The AYF took this unique opportunity to work with Serjical Strike and the ANCA in order to raise awareness all year round.
Members of the Pasadena City College Armenian Student Association plan to submit a group video after listening to a presentation about the Yes, Its Genocide campaign.
Concerned citizens are being urged to lend their voice to the campaign by visiting www.anca.org/yesitsgenocide and sending a free ANCA action alert directed to President Obama. The AYF is also calling on youth to submit 1-minute video clips calling on Obama to recognize the Armenian Genocide and take decisive action to end the atrocities in Darfur.
In addition to making the song available online, the organizers of the campaign have been distributing posters, fact sheets, and official Yes, Its Genocide t-shirts at campuses and community events. The t-shirts will soon be available on the AYFwest.org website, with all proceeds from sales going to genocide recognition activities.