Latest:

A Diasporan Minister of Diaspora: A Proposal

Special for the Armenian Weekly

When the Government of Armenia decided to establish the Ministry of Diaspora in 2008, the objective was to form a partnership between the Armenian state and Armenians in Diaspora and to help strengthen the ties between Armenia and Armenians abroad, by preserving the Armenian national identity in the Diaspora and the historic homeland. This was to be accomplished by developing multiple pan-Armenian initiatives in educational, professional, entrepreneurial, cultural, social, and sports fields, as well as by combining the talents, skills, resources and capital of both Diaspora and Armenia Armenians. Thanks to the strong personality and leadership of the first and only Minister of Diaspora, Hranush Hakobyan, the Armenia-Diaspora partnership has been founded on a solid base, with many success stories.

‘Diaspora is part of Armenia’ (Photo: Scout Tufankjian)

But there are also many failures, particularly in the areas of Diaspora investment. When Karen Karapetyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, sent an appeal recently to the Diaspora Armenians to strengthen their ties and commitment to Armenia, the response from several Diaspora organizations and activists within Armenia was mostly negative, citing several examples of failed initiatives due to corruption and bribery. Some even blamed the Armenian government for thinking of Diaspora just as a “cow to be milked” (ktan kov).

So, where do we go from here? Is there room for improvement? Are there better alternative ways of growing the Armenia-Diaspora partnership? Are there different ways of solving recurring issues related to mutual trust, confidence or cooperation between the partners? With the impending elections in Armenia next month, I believe it is appropriate to re-assess the form of governance for the Ministry of Diaspora.

Despite all the good intentions, goodwill, and accomplishments of the Ministry of Diaspora, there are serious problems between Diaspora Armenians and Armenia. The initial enthusiasm of the first few years is long gone, when Diaspora Armenians were much more willing to visit, live, work and play, and more significantly, invest in Armenia. There is now a general lack of trust and discontent by the Diaspora Armenians toward Armenian government leaders. When it comes to the issue of investing in Armenia, there is widespread conclusion that investments mostly disappear due to bribery and corruption. When it comes to the issue of governing Armenia, there is heavy criticism of the Armenian government leaders. Growing protests by a multitude of Diaspora intellectuals, celebrities, and artists against the Armenian government leaders is a testament to that.

Armenian government leaders, as well as Armenians living in Armenia may very well tell the protesting Diaspora intelligentsia: “If you want to make a difference, you better move to Armenia, come and live and vote in Armenia, instead of just complaining from abroad.” However, I suggest the Diaspora Armenians would have a much more defensible argument, if they focus on improving the relationships between Diaspora and Armenia. The very reason for the establishment of the Ministry of Diaspora is the Diaspora Armenians.

There is an absolute need to reverse the vicious cycle of mistrust, and as a first step, I suggest that the Minister of Diaspora be a Diasporan Armenian. Along with the additional suggestions given below, there should be confidence—building measures taken by the new government, in order to encourage Diasporan investment into Armenia again. If the government is successful in creating credibility and a level playing field for investors from abroad, the source of potential foreign investment would not only be limited to Diaspora Armenians, but would also attract international investors as well, without the need for appeals from the Prime Minister.

I would like to add the following points.

  1. The Armenian government does not and will not take seriously the Diaspora intelligentsia protesting against poor governance. However, it would seriously consider any proposal that would improve relationships and flow of investment from Diaspora to Armenia.
  1. The Diaspora organizations and, more importantly, Diaspora Armenians as individuals and investors, would have more control, trust and confidence if the “one window” into and from Armenia is an effective Diasporan, with all the facilitations and dealings handled transparently by the Diaspora Ministry, at least until the perception of mistrust has been eliminated.
  1. As the Diaspora is not a homogenous body and spread in communities worldwide with quite distinct resources, capabilities, and characteristics, it is suggested to have six deputy ministers to be responsible for Armenian Diaspora in Europe, Russia, North America, South America, Middle East and Far East/Australia. These deputy ministers would coordinate all activities related to investment, repatriation, cultural, educational, and social exchanges closely with the staff of Armenian Embassies in the countries where Armenian Diaspora communities exist. Two examples of already successful implementers in this regard are the Armenian Ambassadors in Canada and Austria.
  1. As an alternative source of funding the Diaspora Ministry activities and to lessen the burden on the Armenian government budget, the Diaspora Ministry could be financed entirely by Diaspora contributions. As an example of the resources required, for a million Diaspora Armenians, even a $10 annual dues could result in an annual budget of $10 million for Ministry staff and activities, much higher than the present finances of the Ministry. This alternative proposal would also trigger a healthy competition among the various political, cultural, and religious Diaspora organizations in membership drives.
  1. Appropriate Diasporan Minister (and deputy ministers) of Diaspora could be selected by the President and government of Armenia, chosen from candidates nominated by Diasporan organizations and public at large. The details for nomination and selection of the candidates can be adapted from a variety of tried and tested processes elsewhere, with obvious priority given to non-partisan, trustworthy and capable Diasporan individuals. Diaspora relations of Israel and India would act as successful role models.

The primary purpose of this article is to open up the subject for discussion by government leaders in Armenia as well as among Diasporan community leaders, political, religious, cultural organizations, and interested individuals. The problems have been discussed and argued for many years without any solutions, and it is my hope that by soliciting comments and constructive criticism of this proposal, we can perhaps strive toward a workable, achievable and fair solution to improve the Armenia-Diaspora partnership, for the mutual benefit of all Armenians in Armenia, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), and the Diaspora.

 

17 Comments on A Diasporan Minister of Diaspora: A Proposal

  1. A valuable dialogue and a great policy proposal. Thank you.

  2. A very nice article, and a tactful one. It should not have been tactful.
    I agree that the Diasporan Ministry should be run by a Diasporan, not some corrupt Hayastantsi.
    I am sorry to say that. Shall I be dishonest and not say that?

    When Serge came to Harvard University several months ago, he was asked publicly about Armenia’s relationship with the Diaspora. He replied, “We have not yet found the key.”
    Give me a break.
    Armenia’s leaders see the Diaspora as a cash cow. They think wrongly, that the Diaspora wants to “take over” when really all it wants to do it help.
    May I be frank?
    Armenia’s leaders are too stupid, self-centered, and unpatriotic to see that the Diaspora could help Armenia and Artsakh immensely.

    Serge and your buddies: wake up or go down in history as traitors.

  3. This article is a good first step on a much overdue and incredibly important topic. However, I strongly disagree with item # 5, the minister and deputies should NOT be chosen or nominated by ANYONE in the Armenian government…it will only encourage inbreeding, and putting in people that would further the interest of the politicians and the oligarchs that finance them.

    The diaspora ministry should be a quasi-public organization (like the US Federal Reserve bank, but not an exclusive financial organization like the FED) and they should cherish the organizations Independence and legally enforced it freedom from becoming yet another tool in the toolbox of the corrupt officials.

    Let’s also discuss the possibility of having a World Armenian Congress, with representatives from countries around the world, distinguished individuals and organizations (NGOs, businesses, etc). This forum would further the interests of the ministry (gathering ideas and best practices from around the world, and offer transparent investment vehicles like mutual funds that would raise capital for investing in a specific sector in Armenia, etc.). Imagine if the 10 million was raised not to fund the agency, but to invest in healthcare, making Armenia a destination for “medical tourism” (fly there, stay at a resort, have an operation, and yet spend only 30% of what that same procedure would cost in the US, etc.). Many industries, that’s just one: defense industries, alternative energy, semiconductor design, call centers for US/European companies, pharmaceuticals making generic drugs, etc.

  4. Dear Minister of Diaspora, Mrs Hagopian
    Fully agree on all your points, indications and suggestions…that could better our ties since after all, we do not have any further choices to decide where to look at and whom to follow: We have one “Hairenik” called Armenia and we are the sole members of so-called diaspora…
    I suppose Human Resourcing could be one of the best and initial solutions…because a good person…or a good Armenian…does not mean that he could be a good leader or “interpreter” that makes him collaborate as should be…
    Not always a very known person…with high degrees…or best public figure….could manage coordination between the two sides: Diaspora and Hairenik!!! let’s have the right personnel for the right and required results…
    In the worst case, trial remains the best way towards the required target.
    Let’s start. Am always with you for any local “armenian” info for the any required solutions.
    Hovig Nersissian
    Beirut, Lebanon
    +961-81-221546

  5. With all my respect to the Ministry, I remain always a good follower of event but never the ‘underground’ translations that make us present our comments.
    This is and should remain our best Ministry of highest priority because it deals with the world-Armenians who exceed our population in the Hairenik, Armenia…
    Let’s think for the best communication to reach the best results.
    Regards to all.

  6. avatar Movses Keoshkerian // March 9, 2017 at 5:30 pm // Reply

    Excellent idea Raffi, There are a lot of good ideas, the only thing I would like to comment is your laat statement:

    5.Appropriate Diasporan Minister (and deputy ministers) of Diaspora could be selected by the President and government of Armenia, chosen from candidates nominated by Diasporan organizations and public at large. The details for nomination and selection of the candidates can be adapted from a variety of tried and tested processes elsewhere, with obvious priority given to non-partisan, trustworthy and capable Diasporan individuals. Diaspora relations of Israel and India would act as successful role models”

    With due respect to the Armenia’s president, the minister of Diaspora or the deputies must be elected by the diaspora and approved by the diaspora, this is going to be more effective. The committee for the commemoration of the centenial of Geocide with the co-operation of all parties is a good examle of an effective diaspora co-operation.Also you say “with obvious priority given to non-partisan” No priorities. the individual must be assessed for his/her merit no other conditions. A member of an organisation or party is usually is a member who serves the armenian caause. You have ambassadors of different partis that are reprenting Armenia, no harm done.

    Keep on the good work,

    Movses Keoshkerian, Ottawa

  7. avatar Serop Bedrosian // March 9, 2017 at 7:35 pm // Reply

    This is long overdue I hope the government of Armenia and Diaspora Leaders are listening

  8. avatar Proud to be an American // March 9, 2017 at 10:22 pm // Reply

    As Alex said, some great ideas. Howeve, I think the apDiaspora, not the Armenian government, should select its own ministers. There are many benefits to ministers independent of the government.
    Additionally, the Diaspora should have some form of voting rights along the idea of Jewish diaspora voting in Israeli elections.
    There should be discussion and acceptance of the idea that it may come to a need for the Diaspora to exert its economic muscle to effectual change in the culture of corruption and in bringing about womens’ rights.

  9. Proposal for a new phase, which seems worthy of serious consideration.

  10. avatar Ared Misirliyan // March 9, 2017 at 10:42 pm // Reply

    Thank you, Raffi. Your proposal makes much sense.

  11. avatar GARO BORNIAN // March 9, 2017 at 11:35 pm // Reply

    I am very sorry to add that for diaspora investment and involment,90 percent of armenians of Armenia have to change their mentality and behavour. This is a long story and I do not know how it could be achived.

  12. The embassies in each country should be addressing this task. There is no need to spend 10 million dollars to set up another set of organisations. It is up to Armenia and its government to create an atmosphere where companies are willing to invest. This is lacking at present. As a first step Armenia needs a new government void of oligarchs. Perhaps the forthcoming elections will be the first step to achieve this.

  13. money talk, walks and opens a lot of doors,
    if the diaspora want positive concrete changes they need to be involved in the government and contribute financially, no taxation without representation…if the diaspora finances the diaspora ministry to start with, and then continue to lobby to and support diaspora friendly members of parliament, step by step rules, and laws will change, investments will grow steadily, and not just for high roller diasporans, it is very important to encourage middle class Armenians to be engaged in the bridge building process, and most important, diaspora investments need to go through an overseeing agency packed by powerful international lawyers signaling to the corrupt elements of the government that siphoning money from diaspora investors will have a heavy price in the international courts, and if the ongoing trends don’t self-correct, the negative publicity will ruin Armenia’s image, and deter others from investing, but above all the best deterrent and the ultimate guarantor for diaspora is to demand stiffer punishing laws for anyone who cheats as steals, assuming the courts/judges are not bought

  14. Thank you Raffi its an excellent article.
    Armenian government has to look at the big picture, the fuel they need is existed in diaspora they just have to rebuild the right engine for it.
    If Israel can do it we can do it too.

  15. We are one nation and we need to break all artificial boundaries created through no faults of our own but by our tragic past at the hands of our racial and genocidal enemies that have not changed in a thousand years.

    One way to accomplish this is through power sharing with common goals that puts the interests of the Armenian nation, both the homeland and the diaspora, first and foremost. We need leaders who will serve our people and not the other way around. We need to become one so we can be whole again. One for all and all for one.

  16. Thank you Mr. Bedrosyan for this excellent article and proposal.
    You have probably heard of a young Diasporan-Armenian, living in Armenia, who has made a proposal similar to yours last year, in an open letter to new PM Karapetyan. Here is a recent interview given by this namesake of yours to tert.am: http://www.tert.am/am/video/2017/03/02/eliot/74322

  17. avatar vart adjemian // March 11, 2017 at 10:46 am // Reply

    An interesting article with proposals to ponder about. I do not intend to be negative but they are not practical and achievable solutions.
    1- Hranush Hakobyan has not been a really effective minister. She does not have a major accomplishment other than many photo-ops. She is a puppet.
    2- For Diaspora investors to invest in Armenia, what is needed are clean transparent laws, a court system that works, that levels the playing field, eliminates monopolies and puts an end to corruption. Simply put a healthy economic environment.
    3- A Diasporian appointed as Minister will not make a meaningful impact or difference. The ultimate decision makers are the President and after the upcoming elections the Prime Minister.
    4- Any serious investor needs to be close to his investment. Managing your investment in Armenia you have to move to Armenia and live there. Long distance investments in tangible assets,property,operations rarely are well managed or profitable.
    5-Proposal to have Deputy Diasporian Ministers is not pragmatic. The Diaspora is deeply fragmented, not united. How and who will be appointed. Heavy overhead burden will doubtful results.
    It is the job of the Embassies and the “Commercial Attaches” if they have one to develop and pursue investments,
    6- How do we impose a $ 10 annual dues on the one million diasporians? Who collects the money? how is it spent? who controls the funds? How is it enforced?
    Bottom line- Change is to happen in Armenia. Hopefully it does.
    Vart Adjemian

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*