In a Useless Diaspora

Special for The Armenian Weekly

I’m starting to feel bad for my father, since he has to put up with my debates about Armenian socio-politics almost daily. As a traditional Diasporan Armenian, he did his duty quite comprehensively—and passed on to his sons the love and care of our people. But it has begun to dawn on me that the context of his Armenian world and mine are quite different.

It was a sad and intimidating moment when a friend of mine recently remarked, “Our nation is boring. We are stuck between a corrupted state and a useless diaspora.” These words highlighted a very real situation that a growing number of young (and old) Armenians are waking up to: that our drifting existence is not getting any closer to a shore.

With these worrisome thoughts, I attacked my father’s peace full on. He, to me, is a good individual engrained with the principles and ideals of our traditional diasporan institutions and communities; unfortunately, this made him a target of my anger over where we stand today—or where we are not standing, where we should have been by now.

What has been the diaspora’s priority ever since its formal institutional establishment? Has it been the formal recognition of the genocide? The sustenance of Armenian cultural and social heritage outside of the homeland? The creation of an external powerbase of resources to assist the Republic of Armenia?

Perhaps it is not at first noticeable, but I did omit the most important supposed task: To formulate and execute strategies of gradually repatriating Armenians back to the post-Soviet, independent Armenia.

The change of context from my father’s world to mine has also offered a reinterpretation of priorities. Having lived a significant part of his life without an independent Armenian state, my father, along with his generation, primarily dealt with the Hai Tahd issue of formal international genocide recognition. They also took on the formidable effort to uphold our Armenian heritage in the expat communities around the world.

Those circumstances, however, are foreign to me and my generation. I do not know how it feels to not have an independent Armenia on the map—though I do, unfortunately, know what it’s like to fear its disappearance amid threats against its security and independence. Due to this experience in a different era, I recently began to propose a reevaluation of the diaspora’s priorities. And perhaps fairly enough, I haven’t received the most open of receptions.

We have an independent Armenia held hostage by its internal oligarchy, Russian Soviet-induced nostalgic schemes, self-satisfying EU economic interests, and most importantly a disenfranchised citizenry that is looking for some semblance of reason and change. And I’ve asked myself, What role is the diaspora playing in all of this? All I have stumbled upon is a wall of silence. Our diaspora has failed to engage in these matters to see the betterment of the only piece of territory we can call “ours and independent.”

Although one can compliment/criticize the diaspora for its various achievements/faults, the vigor used by its institutions to promote certain priorities—such as genocide recognition—has not extended to entering the existential debate regarding the Republic, and to sitting on our rightful seat as one of the societal pillars of this small country locked in a turbulent Caucasus.

The geographical distance between Diaspora and Republic should not be an excuse for social and political distance; rather, it should motivate proximity.

Tomorrow, and the day after, I will knock on my father’s door and barge in with the same questions on where our diaspora is headed—if anywhere—and to what end it is working to. His arguments will hold the subconscious hints of a world where an independent Armenia was not the first (and maybe only) representation of identity. But for me, the current independent state—of which I am not a citizen, and which has not contributed much to the world except for chess champions—is my only reference. Maybe it was my need for a full national identity that led me into a despair of arguments.

But it’s real to me and many others, who roam the many cities around the world, and when asked about where we are from, give only the address of a green mountainous land that, sadly, the majority of our compatriots have not visited. But it’s there. I’ve seen it.

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Apo Sahagian

Apo Sahagian is a Jerusalemite-Armenian musician and writer.
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18 Comments

  1. Sad to say, because of articles such as this, I feel that our work is really going no where and is a waste of time. Thanks to articles such as this, I am hanging up my gloves and am just going to live my life. Some of us unfortunately cannot go to Armenia and help Armenia, but we as diasporans are trying our hardest to keep our local communities happy and cater to their needs, we cannot solve issues in the homeland from here. We need more Armenians who are capable of moving to Armenia to help and make a change there, and to help the Armenians with their issues, instead of having people constantly criticize us in the diaspora for doing nothing to help Armenia. Maybe Apo can lead the way by moving there and helping to make a difference. Social media has its place and is a great way to raise awareness, but it really does nothing by the way of action in the homeland, all talk, sometimes gossip, and no action. This task does not fall on the political parties or a body in particular, which is easy for all to point a finger at and say “well they are there let them do something”, this falls on the will of the people, the society there and what they currently need, current solutions for current problems, not a dream of what we envision Armenia to be in the future, or for us to tell Armenians in Armenia how to live (imagine if Armenians from Armenia told us how to live as Armenians here? This action is similar to how the United States sometimes feels that forcing “democracy” on Middle Eastern countries, since the US knows what is best for the Middle East and they force their ideals on them remotely). Seems like this generation is always dreaming of what Armenia should be instead of looking at what it currently is and what they can do to guide it with today’s issues. People must work with and listen to society, not their ideals in my opinion.

  2. The generational context is VERY INTERESTING, illuminating, and not something that had occurred to me. Thank you.

    I would hasten to add that from my mixed (I think) generational context, I argue the Diaspora, for the forseeable future (2-3 generations) must remain and develop as an independent and counterbalancing pole of Armenian existence, identity, and most of all- political power.

  3. Apo, reading the words of wisdom in your article gives me hope that we are not so useless after all. As long as there some of us who genuinely strive for improvement in our homeland and are actively working on educating our future generations to be active creators of the Armenian reality and not passive participants in the existing norms, there is hope. I pray for a strong Armenia filled with strong Armenians like you. Keep questioning the status quo, since it is our greatest adversary. But thank your father for raising you with the spirit of the “Armainian warrior” in you.

  4. Let us know when you’ve bought your first flat in Yerevan. Lofty ideals and words are in fact meaningless; your friend would probably add this article to that list. Instead try writing about a particular avenue/method by which Armenians could directly benefit Armenian/Karabakh/Javakh. This article sounds like the musings of a dreaming college freshman.

  5. Thank you Apo for articulating what a lot of us are thinking about privately. The issue is generational and I would argue transparency-related… One must ask the ultimate the question, of what would become of “the diaspora” without a vibrant and healthy Armenia (the republic)? We don’t have to try too hard to imagine that future… The core problem is one of leadership transparency both in the republic and in the diaspora. In both places the current leadership acts and feels like an “entitled class” and its about time to pass the baton to a new generation of leaders (such as Apo) that have new ideas and new vigor and energy to develop a mew list of our national priorities, develop strategies for their achievement and transparently report on progress. All of can participate regards of our geography. Imagine a simple global website that allows all Armenians to participate in voting for these national priorities. Allows them to identify their expertise and how much time they are willing to devote to Armenia every month, and from Armenia we can list specific projects and match resources to each project. ALL of Armenia’s problems are solvable… We just need 5 things: Caring & Compassion, Commitment, Creativity, Competence and Community-mindedness.

    As an entrepreneur and engineer, all I can say is that there is a VERY POSITIVE movement towards building companies and actually creating value in Armenia for world consumption. Please see below.

    (Just for background: I have been engaged in Armenia since 1999 and am the co-founder of Integrien that was acquired by VMWare employing nearly 100 scientists and SW programmers in Yerevan now. Our product is now used by 50,000 of the worlds largest companies… I am now the co-founder of IconApps, publisher of popular iPhone Apps Intuitio+ and Inlight, again with developers in Yerevan. My wife and I built a yoga retreat in the village of Aghtsk (InnSerenity.com), and co-creator of the the Yerevan StartUp Mixer Facebook group with 535+ members to develop the Tech Entrepreneurship culture in Armenia,… etc.)

    There are tremendous positive stories that need coverage and perpetuation. We in the diaspora have five things to do to help develop our republic.

    1. CARE: Really care and not give lip service. Care enough to see in every Armenian child the greatness that you are seeing ion your own kids. After all just a couple of generations ago most of the Armenians in the world were in the same precarious situation. Just ask yourselves what would you want if the tables were reversed.

    2. COMMIT: Time and money. With a Skype connection one can commit to teach a whole village-full of kids English, or Sciecne, or whatever… Armenia has 900 villages and 1440 schools. May be get a groups of your friends and adopt one of those villages and actively create opportunities by creating jobs there… Take a look at what Berdbears.com was able to accomplish. Check out Homeland Handicrafts…

    3. BE CREATIVE: All projects won’t succeed but who cares… The value comes from continuously experimenting and coming up with better ideas. In dialogues and trying is where great ideas/projects come up.

    4. COMPETENCE: If we engage in projects that we have some expertise and experience, we mitigate the risks. Matching what we know by what is needed is the best way that I have found to engage in sustainable projects.

    5. COMMUNITY-mindedness: Someone once said, “In getting we make a living, in giving we get our LIVES!”

    Ultimately, we must BELIEVE and act accordingly. ALL of our issues are solvable. But we must CARE to work for their manifestation.

  6. {“Let us know when you’ve bought your first flat in Yerevan.”}

    Don’t hold your breath: the young man “turned his back” on Armenia, in his own words; read his previous articles.

    And why buy a flat in Yerevan when one can feast on lasagna and red wine with an unusual collection of posh English students in London ?

  7. I am sure Mr. Sahagian’s remarks come from a place of sincerity and good intentions. But I wonder if he really knows what he is talking about. For instance, Mr. Sahagian may know just what he means when he calls his father “a traditional Diasporan Armenian” and when he refers to “the principles and ideals of our traditional diasporan institutions and communities.” He may, but I sure as heck don’t. Even less can I comprehend a question like “What has been the diaspora’s priority ever since its formal institutional establishment?” Is Mr. Sahagian under the impression that the diaspora is an organization with a headquarters building and letterhead and a board of governors that meets monthly and votes on its priorities, as opposed to a worldwide entity of made up of people and organizations of greatly varying culture and experience that has been in a continual process of making and remaking for a long period of time? I fear that the main difference between Mr. Sahagian and those Turkish nationalists who rant and rave about their favorite bogeyman, the Armenian diaspora, is that Mr. Sahagian says he loves Armenia, and that is supposed to make everything else ok.

    Mr. Sahagian should educate himself a bit about Armenian history and culture and he will realize that however important Armenia is as a country, for it to be his only reference point for Armenian identity is pathetic and limiting.

  8. Dear Apo Sahagian,
    I shall answer some or more than some of your queries,as best I can.-
    1.We have 3 Diaspora(s).A.The very old(which is there to stay whether in N.or S.Americas France Europe or elsewhere.These formed more thana 100 yrs ago.B- thew Second one after the Middle Eastern Revolutions wars civil wars that formed around 50 yrs ago.This one may stay on in their thrid adopted countries or (hopefully ..) see more ahead.
    The C.Third one is the one that has left Armenia after its re-independence.And quite a big lot too!!!!
    We are to help re-direct this latter one(the near abroad9 within present day RF to RA/Artsakh, if…….
    We begin to think , make an effort and establish a NATIONAL INVESTMENT TRUST FUND-FOUNDATION.Note.- An Investment one that does not cross with any of those funds fundlings presently there and TO BE FORMED…for…unfortunately the Armenian mindset is to alwyas introduce one new one in memoirum of fahter/mother etc., or just plain in order to be like Ara Baliozian dubbed them as BBB´s Bishops Benefactors and Bosses.
    O.K. One the envisaged by me Nat´l invest. Trust F. is formed ()Nucleus by our 8/9 magnates,a Billion dollra working capital one.Their monetary experts re investing the Funds (always formed in geneva and ..reinvested in secure Govt. bonds to render some 475 % intersts per/annum.half ot investrs half to Armenian issues that NEED FIUNDING. BTw after Nucleus is formed all the way down from million dollar invdestors to A ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS SHARE CERTIFICATE.The oother hafl first to be applied in a priority fashion to REPATRIATION.
    How do we organize the whole doggone cabb odle?
    Git a load of this. We in parallel( the non partisan or partisan) Dual ,memberhsip acceptable oin PCAS´Professional Coleagues assoc. 5 on the scene( the Health Med. the Engineers & sci, the BAR, the sportive and the Jewlleres(this latter to be extended to include the furnishign s and EN mpore Professiona fiedls as transport/trravel banking and finance the Construction field etc.,
    This is where more than 100,000 person of our compatriots today are, NOT THE 374 % in the present establishemnt.With all due respect to them
    BTW i am not in any way suggesting that we drop them .All the contrary <may god give them more power to go on with the compatriotic,benevolent and political parties. May they succeed more .We intend to work along side them.
    BTW am presently (my last effort) to do some REAL work.To join up with a NEW8rather comparatively new org.in Eruoep that will then branch out to all Diaspora countries .We wish to work along with all those exisiting in PARALELL.
    What else was there on your mind?
    Oh yeah.Cooperation with arm,enia.Indeed!!! I am suggesting have been at it for quite a while to have 5 permanent Delegates from our 5 main continent Diaspora(N. and S.Americas, the RU.RF and the Middle east in the Minsitry of Diaspora(that we from Diaspora prompted them to establish latter ) and now the delegates therein and cooperating on a day to day basis with thempartnering in many projects such as building NEW Tpownships in Armenia .Been there more a dozen time, Road to Gymri from Yerevan goes through near barren land.There!!! not in yuerevan Vanadzor or Gymri.NEW townships with Diaspora(s) Funds ours and indeed hiring local workers..capiche?
    Also indeed all of our expertice to them.Repatriating those near One million if not all 2 million latter day immigrants back HOME
    All gain thus.the invdestors you,me and indeed all.While helping our brethren go back settle down there.some of us, the 2nd category like self can be more than regular visitors , stay there 6/7 months of yr there or more then back .Or anyone wishes to stay on just fine.
    The old diaspora plus the semi old one (do not you ,me or others deceive yourselves,are there to stay….These can also be of much help to Patria!!,shall I say? like the Jewish well organized one why not? even better!!! so take care don´t be so easily disappointed.Just
    try hard to form of the AUXILLIAR bodies of the Young Armenian Professionals a-above mentioned and start new ones all over the world.Respect not hate or down grade our old one.They have done what they above been able to do.Thanks again to all of them BUT WE CERTAINLY NEED MORE NOW, the 100th Anniversary of our genocide approaching fast and the Diaspora as yet unorganized.Oh yeah one last comment.This can go on and on….please think of what I have written and pass on.Hope it is `published by AW though…..

  9. I knew there was something personal in this lost soul’s moral exhibitionism. There are plenty of posh Russian students nowadays in London – he should ask them about Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons novel while feasting on pickles and a glass of vodka;)

  10. Apo Sahagian,
    Don’t you think it’s rather insulting to classify the Armenian diaspora as being useless? After all, year after year, the diaspora contributes enormous assistance to the Armenian homeland. Therefore, the diaspora is indeed useful to Armenia.

    In terms of bringing about political change within Armenia, this is something that’s out of the hands of the diaspora. Exactly what sort of strategy do you propose for the diaspora to pursue in removing Armenia’s oligarchy government? It’s only the citizens of Armenia, who have the ability to dismantle their government. And, in order to achieve this objective, they will need to firmly unite as one gigantic group, and proceed to march down to Yerevan’s government square, demanding the resignation of those oligarchs who’ve been impeding the domestic progress of Armenia for so many years. Those guys in the Armenian government will certainly never agree to such a demand, so as a result, the citizens of Armenia would have no choice other than to use force in removing them. Whatever way you look at it, this whole entire matter rests in the hands of the citizens of Armenia. It’s ultimately their decision to rid themselves of their oligarchy government, and replace it with a type of government which they desire.

  11. Mr. Sahagian,
    Armenia, actually has a lot more to offer than just green mountains. What about all those beautiful ancient Armenian churches, monasteries, and chapels? Were you aware that there are over five thousand of these Christian monuments within Armenia? In addition, there are over twenty thousand khachkars in Armenia. What about the Lake Sevan area? Have you ever seen it? What about the city of Yerevan, with all its history, statues, fountains, museums, majestic old buildings, elegant shops, theaters, restaurants, and parks? The capital city of Armenia by itself, has a lot more to offer than the boring British city of London, and certainly has a lot more to offer than all those cultureless, colorless American cities stacked on top of each other.

  12. I was very impressed with Apo. We all should be working towards the betterment of our country. We have been talking for a very long time and if we keep on talking and not acting immediately we can kiss goodbye to Armenia before or after the Diaspora I dont know which one comes or goes first. I have read most of the comments and there is not enough place for me to beg Armenians to get stop talking and immediaetly start acting. I myself was born in famous Middle East city became a refugee forgot my Armenian language received help from the UN lived in a desert then villages then back to cities until I finished in Australia. For over 50 years I served my community then from 1988 the devastating earthquake I became involved in my country. In 1992 I was involved in the Emergency Rescue Fund ( Winter appeal) in 1993 in Hayastan All Armenian Fund for over ten years. In 1995 I bought my flat in the middle of Yerevan.In 2000 I joined two local Armenians in developing a very large piece of agricultural land with a unique irrigational infrastructure adjacent to the border. Same year I joined four other Australian Armenians in building one of the first hotels in Karabagh. At present I am in the committees of four major Armenian charitable organizations to help Armenia. I am not writing this for thank you or recognition because I do not need anybody to thank me or is entitled or in a position to thank me, for trying my utmost to help my country. As the scientists say it is in my DNA inherited from my father. For over twenty years I visit Armenia while all my friends travel the world. Like most of the commentators I admire Apo for bringing this subject of patriotism into the for. I have recently written an article under the heading the Roadmap to improving Armenia’s economy and preserving some of the wealth of the Diasporan Armenians. The article has been published by Hetq in Armenia and the local Armenian newspapers. I am not am economist and or a journalsit my knowledge in English is enough for me to communicate my message. I received my information from reading the Armenian media about our economy. I would like very much if your newspaper can publish the article. In my interview on two radio stations I urged parents and grandparents to remind their children where we all came from where isour roots and what we would have had the same fate as our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Armenia if we wree not accepted in the coutries we have adopted. Therefore we shoud do our utmost to help them in their time of need. Like when our parents and grandparents wer e helped by others when they were orphaned. Please let me have your answer regarding publishing the article.

  13. When your established institutions have given up on the diaspora, such as AGBU who have embarked on the path of gradually closing all Armenian diaspora schools in return of virtual Armenian studies because it is the easy way out. This is what happens when such institutions that belonged to the people have been transformed to private clubs. Personalities are in charge of our diaspora unfortunatly and they are the ones who encourage indiferrance so that they can operate in the vacume that they thmselves created unopposed.

  14. no comment…. It’s just amazing that we have so many realiites, everyone in my opinion is right because everyone is projecting a little bit of their own very valid experiences out there, and it is absolutely their reality. Now the question is why can’t we all be on the same page. Right or wrong there seems to be no one source or system or leader for people to rally around. our ideas and solutions are very fragmented. Lot’s of good things happening on a small scale, but many bad things are continuing as well, so perhaps if we all focused in a couple of areas rather than trying to fix everything at once we might be able to make better progress. As for the diaspora we have our own leadership that has not been held accountable. We have an opportunity to help settle 10 Thousand Syrian Armenians and we’ve been fumbling around. What happened to the mighty AGBU that attracts so many wealthy Armenians under the guise that their foundation is what will be there when our people are in need. What about the AMAA, and Armenia Fund. Here we have an opportunity like never before, let’s tackle this problem immediately as a diaspora. If we can help this new community integrate into Armenia and Karabagh this will be the break the diaspora has been waiting for, to establish a foothold so that others turn towards rather than away from repatriation.

  15. Apo, people are just people, whether they live in the country of their origin or otherwise. Everyone has a right for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
    Unfortunately people don’t get the feeling of being happy in Armenia, that is why they are choosing to live somewhere else.

    As for generational differences, it is pretty normal and natural. Our parents lived in different societies and brainwashed differently than we are, hence the differences.

    You are trying to find something that is not there. There is no duty to anything in this life. There are values which we acquire during our lifetime, everyone acquires different values.

    You simply cannot force someone acquire a foreign value. Armenia is becoming a country with foreign values to all of us living outside of it. Unless we actively keep our ties with the country (read visiting often), we will soon find ourselves treating it as something foreign. Its sad, but it is normal and natural course of a life.

  16. Our fathers also passed on to us the one single factor that is preventing the diaspora from speaking with one voice, united and strong, the idealism of communist and against communist that has strangled us up til now. Why can’t we come up with an organization much bigger than what the ANC is doing, something like an AIPAC that is so powerful.

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