He is telegenic, multicultural, a Rhodes Scholar and liberal to a fault — the perfect candidate should the US turn its back on the Trump era in 2020 and shift to the other end of the political spectrum. But if Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti makes the run for national office many expect, he’ll have one of America’s smallest ethnic communities to thank for getting that far.
He is a Jewish Mexican-American, but it is LA’s Armenian-Americans who have delivered Garcetti’s most robust support. A former council member representing LA’s Little Armenia, in the heart of East Hollywood, the mayor, first elected in 2013, personifies the kind of clout wielded by the Armenia diaspora in America.
No other ethnic group comes close to the Armenians in terms of electoral activity and political consciousness. And in LA, they are, without question, a force to be reckoned with.
That hasn’t been lost on Moscow. For instance, in 2013, the Kremlin-friendly Russian insurance mogul Sergey Sarkisov was appointed Armenia’s Consul-General to 13 western states, based in LA, becoming one of the wealthiest diplomats in the world. But does he represent Armenia — or Russia.
As a community, the Armenian-Americans are extraordinarily united in political faith — almost invariably voting Democrat. In consequence, a political ecosystem has evolved embracing Democratic politicians and Armenian-American lobbyists, with many of the leading Democratic lights of Capitol Hill proudly boasting of their membership in the Armenian Congressional Caucus, organized by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
ANCA is one of the most influential ethnic lobbies in the US. Once headed by Mourad Topalian, who in 2001 was convicted and imprisoned on federal charges related to terrorism, it has been at the forefront of campaigns to persuade Washington to increase financial assistance to Armenia and to condemn Azerbaijan and Turkey.
And what of Mayor Garcetti? In November, the mayor announced his intention to pay an official visit to Armenia to, as the website Asbarez put it, “promote new opportunities for economic growth and cultural exchange between Armenia and Los Angeles.” Controversially, he plans to visit what Armenians call Artsakh — the breakaway Azerbaijan province that the rest of the world calls Nagorno-Karabakh, and recognized by most nations, including the US, as part of Azerbaijan. If he follows through on the plan he will be among the most senior American politicians to have ever made that trip, and it will be regarded as a huge moral and political triumph by both ANCA and the Republic of Armenia itself.
Oddly, not long after the mayor’s announcement of his Armenia visit, he played host to an important visitor himself — Armenian Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan, during the Defence Minister’s one day visit to Los Angeles on Nov. 14.
Armenia is a founding member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Nato’s Russia-sponsored rival, and its military is heavily funded and supplied by Moscow. It’s worth noting too that the Nagorno-Karabakh rebel forces, the so-called Artsakh Republic Defense Army, is regarded by many military analysts as little more than a branch of the Armenian military. Indeed the rebel statelet’s president, Bako Sahakyan, has acknowledged direct Russian involvement, including training by the Russian military.
“The deepening Armenian military alliance with Russia poses a direct threat to NATO,” the late Alexander Murinson of Israel’s Bar Ilan University observed last year in The Examiner. He pointed to a significant escalation of Russia’s engagement with the Armenian military in recent times, including increased shipments of drones, helicopters and missiles.
“The deployment of Iskander-M missiles significantly changes the military balance in the region. Iskander-M carries a warhead of 710–800 kg and has a range of 500 km,” Murinson wrote. “In February 2017, the Russians moved Iskander ballistic missile systems within striking range of anywhere in Turkey, Israel or Azerbaijan, some of the United States’ closest allies.”
So here we have a potential US presidential candidate holding a private meeting with the defence minister for a Russian satellite state and military ally, and reportedly planning a visit to territory whose government is not recognized by the US.
Objectively, Donald Trump’s visit to Moscow in 2013 to attend a beauty pageant pales by comparison