As a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs Zareh Sinanyan was obligated to cancel upcoming visits to Armenian Diaspora communities. However, maintaining a connection and working with the Diaspora remain at the top of the High Commissioner’s agenda. To this end, the Office of the High Commissioner has launched “Diaspora Connected,” a program which will connect representatives from Diaspora communities from around the world to our office through online video conferences, aiming to maintain connections, identify and address problems and deepen cooperation.
The first conference took place with representatives of the Armenian community in Spain. High Commissioner Sinanyan welcomed the participants and emphasized the importance of maintaining and cultivating a strong Armenia-Diaspora connection regardless of the situation in the world.
During the conference, members of the Spanish-Armenian community discussed the realities of the Armenian community in Spain, the scope of their activities and the problems they face. They noted that the Armenian community has supported local authorities in fighting against the virus by coming up with a number of initiatives, including preparing free protective masks, providing food to vulnerable communities and organizing free transportation for medical workers. They also noted that there are infected people among the Armenian community who are undergoing treatment. Under these conditions, the local one-day school, chess and painting groups take place remotely.
Representatives of the community emphasized how important the office’s initiative is to the community especially during such conditions, since a sector of the Armenian community has felt neglected by the previous administration. They also expressed particular concern that the assimilation of Spanish-Armenians is progressing at an increasing rate. On the one hand, recent immigrant families often are not diligent in this manner. On the other hand, the community does not have traditional structures, such as cultural centers or daily schools to prevent assimilation. Despite all this, many local Armenian youth want to return and work in the homeland.
Additionally, community representatives raised a number of concerns, in particular, with the lack of organization among the community, preventing assimilation, delays in the delivery of textbooks from Armenia, dual citizenship and conscription.
The next video conference featured the Armenian community of Belgium. Dozens of representatives from various community, educational, cultural and political organizations took part. Nicolas Tavitian, chairman of the Committee of Belgian-Armenians, chairman of “Inside Europe,” and director of the AGBU Europe Office, introduced the community, noted that 50 Armenian organizations operate throughout Belgium and that the Belgian-Armenian community will celebrate its 100th anniversary in two years.
High Commissioner Sinanyan praised the community’s organization and exemplary unity. Afterwards, the Commissioner touched upon the situation in Armenia, including restrictions, economic challenges and social impact of the coronavirus. Presenting the programs of the office and possible changes to them, Sinanyan noted that the implementation of the “Step to Home” program of young leaders may be postponed, a number of community visits have been cancelled and that the conferences will probably be held online. The iGorts program, for which 800 Diaspora specialists have applied, has been postponed until September. The High Commissioner also touched upon the goals of the office: strengthening ties between Armenia and the Diaspora, maximizing mutual collaboration and cooperation, creating the necessary conditions for repatriation, promoting investment and improving the investment sector.
Afterwards, community representatives asked the High Commissioner questions, especially pertaining to repatriation law and strategy, privileges offered to repatriates, investment support and preservation of the Armenian identity.
In response to a question about the relationship between the diaspora and the state, Sinanyan noted that a strong Armenia is the guarantee of the Diaspora’s longevity and that the continued development and strengthening of the country will help resolve challenges within the diaspora.
Regarding the preservation of Western Armenian, the Commissioner stressed that it should be widely taught in Armenia as well, and that the homeland should become a center for teaching the language.
Follow-up connection is maintained with all participants of the video conferences, and cooperation is continuous.