Manjikian: A Post-Protocol Reaction: What Defines the Diaspora?

“Instead of being the coordinated crystallization of the people’s innermost aspirations, instead of being the most tangible, immediate product of popular mobilization, national consciousness is nothing but a crude, empty, fragile shell. The cracks in it explain how easy it is for young independent countries to switch back from nation to ethnic group and from state to tribe—a regression which is so terribly detrimental and prejudicial to the development of the nation and national unity.”
—Frantz Fanon

Armenians need to break free from genocide, but how? On Oct. 10, the inevitable happened. News broke and images surfaced of the Armenian and Turkish foreign ministers signing the controversial protocol agreement in Zurich, as Western and European powers encircled them like triumphant vultures. Many thoughts flooded my mind as I began to actively contain wounds—with the hope of them ever healing dwindling rapidly away.

At that moment, I thought of the fate of every nation, woman, man, and child who has ever felt helpless in the face of colonial rule or any form of political oppression. Another image I had was that of my grandfather on his frigid death bed, 90 years after surviving the wretched earth of Der Zor. After all, history does not rest alone in archives and books. Bodies and faces are also bearers of traumatic history, for future generations to either assume or reject. From Anatolia to Quebec, my grandfather’s life had come full circle, but the perpetrators of his unfathomable loss had not. Following the most recent developments related to the protocol process, the likelihood of the perpetrators’ descendents ever rightfully acknowledging their history has become even slimmer.

I despise feeling powerless (not to be conflated with surrender). I was overcome with that feeling as news of the signature began to sink in. What can one do when confronted with a done deal, especially of this magnitude? The impassioned claims did nonetheless echo from Paris to Los Angeles, from Beirut to New York. It was heartening to see the waves of dissent surrounding the protocols, as well as the organized and spontaneous protests throughout the diaspora and in Armenia. They were a testament to a national consciousness at work, the expression of a collective memory still pulsating, regardless of political affiliations or beliefs. Once uprooted and dispersed by genocide, today’s de-territorialized diaspora vocally challenged their homeland’s decision-making powers on a matter that continues to define the diaspora today, like it or not.

This contention inflicting the Armenian world over the past few months has left me pondering, once again, what it means to belong to the diaspora today, particularly in light of the newly approved protocols. With the stakes as high as they are now, what do we consider as the pivotal definers and pillars of our identity as Diasporan Armenians? We are certainly identified by our connection to present-day Armenia, but also defined as a people rejecting victimhood, yet forever condemned to remain the descendants of an unrecognized genocide. We likely embody both these characteristics in varying degrees. Today, however, more than ever, we face a struggle negotiating the two. Many assert that with time, future generations will cease to carry the remnants of a traumatic past, along with the urgency to speak up about it. Whether defeatism or realism propel this claim is debatable. Nonetheless, the diaspora remains in large part defined by its traumatic past, which has, in some twisted way, guaranteed its survival and
development until now. In many ways, it is up to us to either secure our existence or help others who push us to oblivion. 

I was taken aback by how many were ready to dismiss any anti-protocol position as being ultra-nationalist or extremist—stating that those who are staunchly against the signature are desperately trying to cling on to their identity, as the protocols are destroying what they have stood for all these years. What else are we to do as descendents of genocide survivors? Also, as diasporans don’t live in Armenia—though I would argue that in many instances, they live with and for Armenia—it was easier for some to condemn these so called “hardliners” reacting on emotion, rather than pragmatism—a much needed entity, given the political and economical instability in the region.

Emotion was surely in the equation, but the underlying guiding force was, in many instances, the principle and moral obligation. Again, some may even easily dismiss principle, but I saw it as a strong weapon deployed organically and nonviolently throughout the disapora over the past weeks. Principle can retaliate against aggressive denial, against induced collective amnesia rampant in Turkey (minus the brave exceptions), and against the desire to overwrite confirmed history. This organic force, as it grows parallel to scholarly research, lobbying, and politics, is in our reach. It is a movement that circumvents the possibility of complete erasure, so desperately sought out by some. Labeling individuals as being extremists is easy; embodying the moral pulse, amid cracks in national consciousness, is being responsible.

The protocol process unleashed a jolt in many of us, reawakening the semi-dormant rhetoric of the genocide throughout the Armenian masses. I am left wondering how to negotiate a deep compassion and commitment to support a free and independent Armenia, with the moral and humanistic obligation of pursuing genocide recognition.

I suppose scattered beads are used to confounded allegiances by now…

Note: The opening quote is from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1963).

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. An interesting and insightful article.  Thank you for this thoughtful expression of your views on the challenges to our moral and ethical principles as well as to our devotion to our heritage and homeland.  I would only add that the dichotomy between these two impulses is often presented as a false choice – one between our past/future, homeland/diaspora, republic/genocide, etc.
    Seeking justice for the Armenian Genocide is not only entirely consistent with supporting the security of the Armenian homeland, it, in fact, represents a vital element of Armenia’s very survival.

  2. The Armenian memory of Genocide is only memory! Genocide memory is not killing. It is Armenian collective PTSD. The real problem has a few names — Mr. Aghvan Hovsepyan, Mr. Radik Martirosyan, Mr. Sarksyan, Mr. Nalbandyan. Poor Armenia

  3. Azeri Defense Minister Warns Sarkisian

    BAKU (APA)—Azeri defense minister Safar Abiyev Thursday warned Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian about his recent visit to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
    “This will be his last visit there,” Abiyev told reporters adding that Sarkisian had no right to visit what he termed “occupied lands.”
    In speaking about the combat readiness of the Azeri military, Abiyev said “the Armed Forces are capable of liberating the occupied lands.”
    “We are aware of everything that has happened. The enemy cannot be active,” warned Abiyev when asked about last week’s exercises in Karabakh, inspected by Sarkisian and Nagorno-Karabakh Republic President Bako Sahakian.
    Abiyev also told reporters that the Turkish defense minister was scheduled to visit Baku on November 2

    Dear  President   Sargsyan   We  know  that   Ignoring,    blaming  and   criticizing  or  identifying   selfless   Patriots   of   Diaspora   Armenians are  very   easy   for you ?
    But   with  your   past   experienced  in  Switzerland   how    you  are  going   to   Ignore,   Confront   or  Respond     “the  armed   to the teeth”   of   enemy    who   with  support   of  your  new   friend  (turkey)   day   and   night   threatening   to  “liberate Karabakh”   And  you  pretending  that  everything   is   OK?                                                                                                                                                                                                          Mr. President are you  going  yield  ground  to  the  enemy  in   Karabakh    AGAIN ?   If  you can not  stand up  firm against   Western  and/or   Eastern   Pressures   and   realy  you  love  your  Homelands    The best way is,  to resign  honorably.

    Worry for  karabakh’s   future
    Dr. babajanian  (independent)

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