BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Progressive activists and intellectuals from North and South America gathered here on June 1-2 for a conference titled “Armenians and Progressive Politics in the 21st Century.” Organized by the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun’s Armenia Cultural Association, the conference sought to build on the enthusiastic discussions generated by last year’s “Armenians and the Left” project begun in New York and Boston. The conference was held in conjunction with the ARF organizations of the Eastern and Western US, and included prominent Armenian and non-Armenian participants from throughout South America.
The program began with an opening plenary on Friday, June 1, featuring renowned journalist Fabian Bosoer. A columnist for the Clarin newspaper of Buenos Aires, Bosoer explored what a progressive politics might mean today, focusing especially on South America. He noted that “progressivism” is not a fixed, static concept, but fluid and changing depending on the social context at hand. Bosoer’s comments were well-received by the largely Armenian audience, which stayed to discuss these points during a reception held afterward.
The bulk of the program took place in three panels held on Saturday, June 2, at Buenos Aires’s Cultural Center for Cooperation. The first panel was titled “Progressivism in the U.S.: Agendas, Protagonists, Perspectives,” and featured U.S.-Armenian panelists who spoke in English with simultaneous translation into Spanish.
Moderated by Antranig Kasbarian, the panel featured topics including 1) Neoliberal Economics and their Impact; 2) Armeno-Turkish Dialogue; 3) Globalization and U.S. Hegemony; 4) U.S. Development Assistance; and 5) The Role of the Armenian Diaspora.
These were presented, respectively, by scholars Ara Khanjian, Dikran Kaligian, Levon Chorbajian, Markar Melkonian, and Razmig Shirinian, who offered views alternative to—and sometimes scathingly critical of—U.S.-led mainstream approaches.
The second panel dealt with “Progressive Politics in Latin America,” and featured South American panelists who spoke in Spanish with translation into English. Moderated by Khatchik Der Ghougassian, the panel featured topics including 1) Argentina’s Socioeconomic Collapse and the Progressive Political Solution; 2) Electoral Processes in Latin America; 3) The Political Experience of the “Frente Amplio” Party in Uruguay; 4) The Political Experience of the “PT” Party in Brazil; and 5) Social Movements in Latin America.
These were presented, respectively, by Jorge Halperin, Wilfredo Penco, Armen Garo Sarkissian, Onnig James Tamdjian, and Julio Gambina, who are affiliated with various academic and governmental bodies in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
The third panel dealt with “Armenian Participation in Progressive Politics,” featuring many of the same participants as above. Here was a wide-ranging discussion of strategic and organizational issues in building movements on both continents—relating both to Armenian causes and to the wider politics in which they are embedded. Discussion was followed by energetic and sometimes contentious audience participation.
The conference closed with summary remarks by Pedro Tateossian of the host committee. He underlined that the conference served as a link in an ever-widening chain of outreach and discussion. With this in mind, organizers are now considering a publication based on the conference, as well as a larger, international gathering to be held in North America next year.
Asked by the Armenian Weekly about his impressions, Antranig Kasbarian said, “It was a refreshing experience. Our Argentinian counterparts are much more accustomed to placing Armenian issues in a wider social context, and thus issues of imperialism, globalization, class struggle, and social injustice were all on the table. Indeed, they interwove with Armenian issues in new, creative, and interesting ways.”