By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Armenians woke up on April 30 to the breaking news: “Ruslan Tsarni Apologizes to Armenian Community,” as reported by Alin Grigorian, editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator of Watertown, Mass.
Prior to this apology, Tsarni had been telling the international media that “an Armenian convert to Islam had brainwashed” his nephews -- Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- the Boston bombers. By linking an Armenian to such a heinous crime, Uncle Tsarni had infuriated Armenians who suspected dubious motives behind his outlandish claim.
Armenians were naturally relieved upon learning that Tsarni had told the Mirror-Spectator: “Armenia has a very strong culture, therefore, I want to stress that his [Misha’s] ethnicity has nothing to do with it. I wish I had never said it. I felt for you [Armenians] and wish I had never done it.” He went on to apologize for linking the Armenian community “to this evil event.”
While this apology was a good start, it was inadequate compared to the magnitude of the damage Tsarni had caused to the good name of Armenians worldwide. Merely apologizing to an Armenian newspaper could not undo that harm, unless he repeated it on CNN or other TV networks.
I contacted Tsarni asking him if he would issue a similar apology on national television. He responded affirmatively since he regretted dragging the Armenian name into “this sad episode.” Tsarni stressed that he did not “speak about all Armenians, just one man of Armenian descent. I never had the intention of harming Armenians or anyone else. I feel sorry that the name of the Armenian people was used. I feel somehow guilty. I would like to apologize. No one likes to be brushed with an act like this.” Tsarni asked me to report that he felt terrible about mentioning Armenians in his TV interviews.
Given his willingness to make a new public statement, I offered to assist him in drafting the text of an apology for a possible future network appearance. He first welcomed the idea, but later informed me that he would neither accept my suggestion nor issue his own statement, claiming that his earlier remarks were accurate, since Misha was of Armenian descent, overlooking the fact that Misha Allakhverdov, born in Azerbaijan, was of mixed Armenian and Ukrainian parentage. Tsarni further advised that he never meant to refer to “the entire [Armenian] ethnicity. It was a simple technical characteristic of the person whose name I did not know at the time. Had I known his name was Misha, he would be Misha, not an Armenian or anyone else.” He justified the use of the phrase ‘a new convert to Islam of Armenian descent,’ by claiming that his intent was “to help the media, reporters, and law enforcement agencies to locate that person.” He, therefore, decided not to issue an apology on television, as he had promised.
Furthermore, he disputed Mirror-Spectator’s report of his apology, by claiming that he was “misquoted.” He asserted: “I never said, ‘I wish I never said it.’ I said that I had no intention to have the name of Armenians used in association with the bombing. I spoke about the certain individual who I was told about and that information was confirmed as true information.” Despite Tsarny’s belated denial, the Mirror-Spectator stands by its story and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of its report!
I reminded Tsarni of his unfulfilled commitment to appear on national TV and set the record straight on his allegation about ‘the Armenian’ Misha. He has yet to respond, as he has been busy making funeral arrangements for his nephew, Tamerlan.
There are many unanswered questions about Tsarni. Although the internet is replete with all sorts of allegations about his background, we prefer to concentrate on questions of more immediate interest to the Armenian community:
-- Why did Tsarni apologize to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator and then turn around and claim that he was misquoted? Could it be that he had felt sorry for his earlier statements to the media, and then backtracked after being advised by ‘unknown interests’ that he should not apologize to the Armenians?
-- Why did he make a personal commitment to me to appear on major TV networks to apologize for maligning Armenians, and then refuse to do so?
With these unanswered questions, one can only wonder about Uncle Tsarni’s mysterious motives and enigmatic connections.