Whither Armenia and the Diaspora?

Mount Ararat (Photo: Rupen Janbazian/The Armenian Weekly)

It seems most times when I write a piece that I think is of great importance, the response is… crickets. Yet, I feel compelled to keep addressing such issues, even though they tend to be nerdy, wonky, geeky, etc. All the things that many people don’t care to read, but here goes…

This discussion is meant to be internally—that is, Armenian oriented. Great power games, Turko-Azeri foolishness, economics, etc. should be far from the focus of our thinking. It is born of a recent discussion with my two college roommates. It is only the very roughest of outlines, beginnings, in addressing the issues at hand. And even more, it is a series of inquiries, perhaps even probes. But, it may be that this matter is the most important long-term item on the Armenian agenda, our conclusions impacting us well into the future, probably for at least a century or two.

First, for clarity, let me define what I mean in this discussion when I use the terms Armenia, Diaspora, and Armenian (except if it refers to the language). Armenia refers to it all, the whole kit-and-caboodle—Greater and Lesser Armenia plus Cilicia. Diaspora means every Armenian living outside of Armenia as defined. Armenian means every human who says, in one way or another, “I am Armenian.”

Let’s proceed under the assumption that all Armenians want to persist as such, passing on what we have created over thousands of years so each future generation can add to that legacy.

The question becomes: How is that to happen?

One approach is that we must all, in time, reassemble in Armenia. Of course, this means liberation from Turkish occupation at least that part of Armenia, which has come to be known as Wilsonian Armenia. This has largely been the approach adopted by almost everyone to date.

Yet, because this approach associates nation with land and borders, it is seen as nationalist. The argument is that nationalism as “invented” in Europe through the 19th century is now a passé ideology, in part because it required borders defining a homeland for a nation. An alternative approach to Armenianness in this case is that each of the many diasporas (note the plural usage which seems to be ever more prevalent in scholarly circles) persists and develops in response to its own locale’s particular conditions.

Quick-and-dirty criticism of each of these approaches:

  1. Exceedingly few Armenians have any interest in ever moving from their current places of residence to Armenia, so that cannot be an organizing principle. The reality of Armenians living scattered the world over is being disregarded.
  2. If multiple diasporas are to evolve, what makes them Armenian? What connects them to one another and Armenia? When do the differences become so large as to make each one no longer Armenian? Why would any human living in country X want to be anything but a member of the local nation unless there is some greater purpose?

In either case, where and how do our irredenta and pursuit of reparations come into play? Who determines how to proceed? How do the Armenian Diaspora(s) and Armenia (especially with Artsakh being a separate republic threatened, albeit indirectly, by the occupying power—Turkey) coordinate on these crucial matters? What becomes of our language? Does the current direction and pace of technological development hold out the hope of answers?

I have some pretty well formed opinions about this fundamentally important matter, but it’s going to take a lot more discussion, both by experts and “mere mortals” before we can come to a consensus as to what our multigenerational direction should be.

What’s your thinking on this? Please contribute your thoughts.

Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
Garen Yegparian

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  1. Garen I’m so thrilled that you are willing and able to address this extremely important topic. It’s way overdue. Just take the time to notice the absence of 2nd 3rd generation American born, non-Armenian speakers in our churches and 20th century Armenian pretty much outdated community organizations. In a generation I think our Armenian Agenda in small Armenian communities will pretty much be over. The plight of this huge segment of our communities has pretty much been ignored. Unless they are harvested, it’s game over!

  2. Garen, instead of crickets, here’s a reading list with Armenian Diaspora references mostly from 2018, but a couple from 2012 and 2016. Yes, there’s suddenly a flurry of writing on this topic.

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    1. Kopalyan, Nerses (2018) Bound by Duty? The Diaspora’s Normalization of Armenia’s Political System

    1,705 WORDS
    2. Galstyan, Areg (2018) Armenians should become a transnational political nation | Mediamax.am

    1,172 WORDS
    3. Atanesian, Grigor (2018) In wake of Armenia’s peaceful uprising, diaspora’s clout is questioned | Eurasianet

    1,325 WORDS
    4. Cavoukian, Kristin (2018) Can the Armenian Diaspora Bring a “New Management Culture” to Armenia? | PFA Blog

    21 PAGES
    5. Cavoukian, Kristen (2012) Soviet Mentality – The Role of Shared Political Culture Between Russia and Armenia

    371 PAGES
    6. Cavoukian has written intelligently on the subject. Here’s the link to her 2016 PhD.
    • Cavoukian, Kristen (2016) Identity Gerrymandering: How the Armenian State Constructs and Controls “Its” Diaspora Armenia https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/76371/3/Cavoukian_Kristin_201611_PhD_thesis.pdf

    868 WORDS
    7. Avedian, Lillian (2018) Reflections on the “Armenia – Diaspora” Panel at the “Armenia 2018: Realities and Perspectives” Conference – Heqt

    3,391 WORDS
    8. Aravot interview with Jirair Libaridian (2018) – Ժիրայր Լիպարիտյան. «Բոլորս պետք է ամեն բան անենք, որ Նիկոլ Փաշինյանը հաջողի եւ ավարտին հասցնի այս գործը» https://www.aravot.am/2018/06/02/961383/
    One question asked of historian Jirair Libaridian in this interview is about representation of the diaspora in the new Armenia. He notes it is an interesting question, a good idea, but sees little possibility for it. While stating he is uncertain, the reasons he gives are: (a) the lack of representative democracy in the diaspora; (b) the lack of umbrella organisations beyond temporary April 24 commemoration unity; and (c) who would do it or allow it to be done?

    2,719 WORDS
    9. Cheterian, Vicken (2018) Armenia-Diaspora: The Conservative and the Revolutionary https://www.evnreport.com/politics/armenia-diaspora-the-conservative-and-the-revolutionary

    VIDEO – 11.5 MINUTES
    10. Papazian, Taline (2018) Interview on CivilNet – Time For a Horizontal Relationship Between Armenia and the Diaspora

  3. My problem is I cant stop worring about, and have a difficult time getting use to all this change. I the city I live , the Jehovah witness church is snatching up all the Armenians from the Armenian orthodox church, and i see big Armenian letters on the Jehovah witness church ware no other Armenian is aloud to meet those Armenian unless the convert to Jehovah witness, and leave there original Armenian orthodox faith.

  4. Garen, seems the airwaves are full of Armenia-Diaspora conflations and also disconnects given the dramatics of the recent Armenia VR (velvet revolution) and the subsequent outpouring of emotions and thoughts on all things “Armenia” (I had an indelible experience on Republic Square the day Nikol became PM). Having lived, worked and visited Armenia off and on since 1995 and now resident in Yerevan I have a few salient and valid points to propose. I wrote a Reply to an Op-Ed in this website on June 23 (the article was about the Diaspora needing more Velvet – it needs more than that, as I said, it needs “moral backbone”). I received only 1 tepid response. My personal thesis which might find a forum for publishing (this site?) is entitled: “Where Armenian Realities and Diaspora Dreamscapes Collide”. In short, the Diaspora has been fiddling while the Armenian State (nearly) burned to the ground (it certainly depopulated). It did so because all the usual vices of power and greed took control of the nation; no initial civil society experience to counter it (but having grown dramatically); contemptible association with Russia which offers little to no role modeling except how to home-grow an oligarchy, become a predatory state and then steal the future from its citizens; and finally and all the while a host of donors, NGOs, diaspora, interested parties ready (certainly now) to jump on the VR bandwagon and claim they want to help, i.e., charity mentality. Check the sites such as EVN Report and CivilNet: where was the Diaspora during 25 years of corrupt Republican rule? The silence was ear-shattering. All those foreign “folklife” festivals, speaking events, T-shirt sales, endless Genocide commemorations, travel stories to the “homeland”, etc., ad nauseum, while the hard realities of Armenia’s decline, puny rule of law, no “democracy”, went only slightly noticed thru the long, grim years. Things are still grim as the new Pashinyan administration uncovers endless corrupt and entitled examples of crimes against the humanity of the innocent and deserving Armenian population by self-serving Republican “rats” and their cronies. While I respectfully acknowledge the varied and widely dispersed, opinionated and multi-faceted “Diaspora” that can hardly be generalized in one voice, I do suggest with some validity that its silence regarding the debilitating/declining realities of the Nation of Armenia since 1991 are in conflict with Diaspora dreams of what being “Armenian” means and have ultimately not served the country in the optimal way (some revolting celebrity “Armenians” who claim nationality when it suits their fame and finances are the ultimate in moral criminality; there are lesser examples such as cableways for tourists, the execrable Northern Ave. for throwing away money and good taste, “Top 10 Reasons” to visit Yerevan, etc.). Based on lack of advocacy, the Diaspora cared less about how embedded the HHK kleptocrats were or how charity to Armenia actually subsidized corruption. It has mostly been about greater Armenia(n) dreams without the inconvenience of having to live the hard realities in Armenia itself. Thank you.

  5. Globalisation whilst a great tool for spreading views it also facilitates debate and as with all history after a multitude of re-writings becomes fact on Wikipedia. We surely accept globalism as the tool for creating world peace and with that comes forgiveness and acceptance that we are all flesh and blood and as humans have feelings which can be hurt in varying degrees but can also be healed by an open minded approach to shared learning. Go with peace in any language and ıt will be met with peace. The most powerful nation on earth is still no stronger than its weakest link – mankind.

  6. Garen –You are raising fundamental questions which will take prolonged discussions to resolve. I feel that in 2 generations the Armenian diaspora in democratic countries (USA, U.K. Australia, e.g.) will be like the Irish or the Italians are in the USA today. They will know that some ancestor came from Armenia, but will not feel particularly attached to that country.The freedom of association in those countries, inter-marriage with non-Armenians at increasing rates all will lead to a loss of Armenian identity..They will enjoy the ethnic food, and some of the customs, but will not feel particularly related to Armenia any more than an Irishman in the USA in 2018 feels related to Ireland.

  7. What has happened to the old Armenian Weekly? We used to get news of Armenians living in Armenia & developments taking place there eg political & social developments in Yerevan, new school & housing in Artsakh & news of war casualties – these young men at least should be honoured in our thoughts. The diaspora is important but please let us know what is happening in Armenia because we can’t learn everything when we visit briefly on holidays.

  8. “Exceedingly few Armenians have any interest in ever moving from their current places of residence to Armenia, so that cannot be an organizing principle.” Yes, interest is weak in general, but it can be strengthened as the home country becomes more stable and economically stronger, and then this will become a guiding principle. Israel is a living example. Just like the Jews and every other people, we need a homeland, our ancestral homeland, and we must get it back and keep it. That is and always must be our goal. How we get there is work in progress, but we must always strive for that goal. Everything we do must work to get us closer to that goal. Diasporas are the temporary forced condition we have found ourselves in after the weakening of the Armenian nation after Christianity took over and left us vulnerable to various occupying forces and eventually left us mostly as sitting ducks, mostly helpless victims of the genocide that explicitly wanted our people physically eliminated or dispersed outside of our ancestral homeland and our identity erased and forgotten. Living in a diaspora is temporary. We must return to our homeland. In the meantime, we in the diaspora must help Armenia become stronger.

  9. Additionally, your readers may be interested in this research article, which addresses the topic: Avakian, Knarik. The Prospects of the Generation Changes in the Diaspora in the Context of Strategic Interests of Armenia. “Preserving Armenianness” without “Land-Preservation” is Meaningless. “Fundamental Armenology,” Yerevan, 2017, 2 (6), pp. 7-23.

  10. It is impossible to predict the future. One does best with what is available at present (our culture and religion) and leaves the future to the coming generations. After all who thought 50 years ago that Armenia would become independent and the Soviet Union would collapse.

  11. I disagree with Shant in that the younger generations feel detached from Armenia. My father and his siblings and cousins did not foster an interest in Armenia or Armenian culture or traditions in our family. When my grandparents and great aunts and uncles passed away all of our family history passed with them and I am heartbroken (and a tad resentful) that my father did not take any interest in preserving it. I would love to visit Armenia….I don’t know the right way to go about it because I want to visit as an Armenian and not a tourist. Moving there is not an option for me but I want to establish a relationship with Armenia that I can pass along to my children. I felt a huge loss of indentity when I took my husbands last name so the least I can do is keep our culture alive in my family. I wasn’t raised with an Armenian community, I was not raised in the Armenian church, I did not go to Armenian school, this comes from within and I have a handful or Armenian friends who feel the same.

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