Summoning the Beads

Oct. 1, 2008 is a historic day for Armenians worldwide. On that day, the government of the Republic of Armenia introduced the Diaspora Ministry in charge of Armenia’s relations with its global diaspora. The ministry’s aim is to further strengthen the ties between the diaspora communities around the world and the homeland. Scattered beads can use guidance occasionally…

This law came into effect 17 years after the highly significant date for Armenia—Sept. 21, 1991—when the country gained independence from Soviet rule and became fully accessible to all diasporans. Seventeen years is a long time in waiting to establish such an initiative for a nation that depends largely on the human and financial resources of its diaspora. It is nonetheless better late than never. The decision was welcomed with some ambivalence both in Armenia and throughout the diaspora. Many argued that adding another ministry to the 17 already existing was unnecessary for such a small nation and increased the government’s financial burden. Others were simply eager to see concrete actions that would come out of this new initiative. Regardless of diverging opinions regarding the ministry, Armenia has always viewed its diaspora as a force to be reckoned with in good times and bad.

Over the years, with history, politics, and natural disasters taking their courses, Armenia and its diaspora have converged into an indivisible entity, functioning for each other, with each other, despite points of disjuncture such as politics, language, and spelling. Armenia largely thrives off of the input and contributions of various sorts hailing from the diaspora. The diaspora, in turn, lives off the psychological comfort of having a “home” now, after a tumultuous past, and the neatly packaged nostalgia Armenia so graciously offers, sometimes without even trying.

This interdependency established over the years has shaped both the dynamics of the diaspora and of Armenia. Within such an interdependent relationship, however, it is important to keep sight of certain boundaries, as well as opportunities. The diaspora cannot simply barge in and impose their mentality, beliefs, or savoir faire on Armenia, nor can Armenia remain closed to prospects and views from the outside that come to enrich the nation. Both sides have much to learn from each other, as they bring different perspectives and diverse backgrounds, lending to opportunities for extended cooperation. Armenia should have no qualms about wisely exploiting the already thriving global network of Armenians that exists on a transnational scale, nor should Armenians in the diaspora hesitate to share their knowledge and allocate their resources.

At present, this long-term relationship has been formalized by the state. This call of unity between Armenia and the diaspora is being spearheaded by none other than a woman. Armenia’s diaspora minister, Hranoush Hagopian, was in Montreal a few weeks ago. Without a split-second of hesitation she delivered her vision of the ministry with tremendous ease of expression and conviction. Through a dizzying array of programs and future conferences the ministry proposes, Hagopian is committed to the cooperation between Armenia and its diaspora, determined to unite Armenians all around. “The establishment of this kind of ministry isn’t aimed to controlling the diaspora, but to join all Armenian communities and to systemize their work,” said Hagopian, stressing the importance of Armenian communities’ willingness to work together.

The minister’s well-intentioned statement is commendable. Though how is one to ignore the existing control issues that trouble a number of diaspora communities? What is to be done about the nauseating nature of internal divisions afflicting our communities? The minister did not bring this issue to surface, though she shrewdly and subtly acknowledged its existence. With the advent of this ministry, it is perhaps a timely opportunity to reassess our stance and commitment towards Armenia. Deep down we all know that regardless of different affiliations and opinions, our collective consciousness as diasporans should allow for complete mobilization around Armenia’s well-being and development.

I used to take offense at the overly negative comments about Armenia, without being blind to the problems the country faces. Coming immediately to the country’s defense, my main argument was that post-independent Armenia was still just an infant of a country. Over time, it grows and matures—as long as we are all working together to help nurture it along the way. Yet, as years go by, the validity of this excuse dwindles. Today, Armenia is entering adulthood, the childhood phase is long gone, and hopefully the rebellion of early teenage years (corruption, a Parliament shooting in 1999, the post- election violence in March 2008) is also withering away. At this critical juncture between adolescence and adulthood, sustained commitment and effort for the improvement and development of Armenia will undoubtedly make all the difference towards a prospering, successful, and respectable nation.

Us beads are ready to answer your call, Minister Hagopian.

Lalai Manjikian

Lalai Manjikian

Dr. Lalai Manjikian is a humanities professor at Vanier College in Montreal. Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of immigration and refugee studies, media representations of migration, migrant narratives and diaspora studies. She is the author of Collective Memory and Home in the Diaspora: The Armenian Community in Montreal (2008). Lalai’s articles have been published in a number of newspapers and journals including The Armenian Weekly, Horizon Weekly, 100 Lives (The Aurora Prize), the Montreal Gazette, and Refuge. A former Birthright Armenia participant (2005), over the years, Lalai has been active in volunteering both within the Armenian community in Montreal and the local community at large, namely engaged in immigrant and refugee integration. She previously served as a qualitative researcher on the Armenian Diaspora Survey in Montreal. Lalai also serves as a board member for the Foundation for Genocide Education. She holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University (2013).

1 Comment

  1. Very informative Lalai. The notion of beads that are scattered is so intuitive. I look forward to many more of these articles. Your voice needs to be heard. Bravo my friend!

    Love, Elize

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