'If you see him, tell him I support him'
Published: Friday, January 16, 2009
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
You would think Yerevan in Armenia is too far to be impacted by Barack Obama's message of inspiration, hope and call for change. Not so.As early as last January, during the US primary election season, the son of Kansas and Kenya already earned the time and interest of 44 percent of Gallup's Armenian respondents. Apparently when there is hope on the horizon and urge for change - even thousands miles away - it's difficult to stay impartial.
Every call to a friend back home during the primaries and later in November always ended with a serious request: "If you see him, tell him I support him!"
Armenians traditionally care about the outcome of presidential elections in the United States; home to the world's second largest Armenian community.
"I guess in Armenia, just like anywhere else in the world, there has been so much disappointment with George W. Bush that people were hoping for someone new to take over the office, so there was a lot of hope (among Armenians) that Obama will win," said Tatev Davtyan, 27, an advocacy and gender specialist.
"The energy around U.S. Presidential elections and especially Barack Obama's candidacy was very emotional during the race," said Ruzanna Amiraghyan, 29, a politician and journalist who closely followed the races, "but without any sober arguments."
Ruzanna believes that Obama's example proves to the world that the notion of Democracy is something realizable, not just theory. This required maximum effort from his vast network of supporters and acute political aptitude from the candidate himself. "He (Obama) used his resources appropriately and realized their full potential," she said.
Armenia, a country roughly the size of Maryland and nestled between the Black and Caspian Seas, has always been surrounded by adversarial neighbors. The country gained renewed independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has been a close ally and strategic partner of the United States since then.
For the past 18 years, Armenia has stagnated between its Socialist legacy and the unfulfilled promise of Democracy. With the Americans endorsing a complete image transformation as a state, many Armenians feel that, despite numerous obstacles, a mirage of Democracy can become an oasis for their own country. Its recent political history is full of disappointment and mistrust toward its leadership, which explains the skepticism among many.
"I fear that president Obama will not be able to meet all the challenges that are currently present for his administration and himself personally," said Babken Juharyan, 26, IT Manager at ArmenianNow online weekly.
"I fully understand that his rise to power was no magic or coincidence, so in a way it's still pure politics played out in a very emotional manner!" said Tatev, who has been studying political science and international relations for the past 10 years.
Ruzanna added to the skepticism "Despite his image of a new man, not WASP, I fear that people expect way too much from him," shared Ruzanna who has reported on elections for a number of years.
Obama's pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide if elected president has won him the support of the Armenian-American community. Two Diaspora action groups were set up to support Obama: Armenian-Americans for Obama and Armenians for Obama.
"I have no hope or expectation about the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, as it has always been an overly sensitive political issue due to Turkey's traditional alliance with the US," said Tatev.
"The perspective of having the Armenian Genocide recognized (has) inspired most Armenians here to support Obama without any pragmatic glance on the sensitivity of the issue and the potent opposition to it by the Turkish lobbyists in the US," said Ruzanna.
"Whether in my newly adopted home or my native Armenia doubt and fear can rapidly erode hope and exhaust President Barack Obama's powerful campaign message of "Yes, we can" if he misdirects the strong tailwind escorting his vast sails."
(Ruzanna Tantushyan is a graduate student in the College of Communication.)