Leadership crisis? Look to the global Armenian nation.

The first 30 years of the Republic of Armenia demonstrated the struggle to produce credible leadership that can address the economic, social and national security needs of the nation. As Armenians, we tend to react to this in a myopic manner. The facts are that almost every post-Soviet nation has been plagued with corruption, border disputes and economic stagnation. The leadership challenge is rooted in the slow evolution of these nations producing individuals that rise through the political system with competence and self-serving intentions. Given Armenia’s current challenges, it doesn’t have the luxury of mediocrity of other more powerful and established countries with deep rooted political systems. As America goes through its current political crisis, stability is maintained by a longstanding system of checks and balances.

Armenia has one advantage that few nations its size can claim. The creation of the diaspora, as a direct result of the Armenian Genocide, began as a scattering of survivors and has evolved into a powerful asset of the Armenian nation. We all are the beneficiaries of its earliest sacrifices which was the establishment of the global infrastructure of schools, churches and organizations that have maintained identity and contributed to the growth of our nation. The diaspora has always been generous in supporting other areas in distress, and since the 1988 earthquake, has been particularly active in the nation building process in Armenia and Artsakh. There are endless dimensions to defining the relationship of the homeland and the diaspora: repatriation, dual citizenship, nonprofit service, frequent visits to name a few. The extent and depth of the relationship asks a question: just what is the vision we collectively hold of the relationship between the diaspora and Armenia? Certainly this relationship has changed since 1991, but will the walls be maintained preventing oneness in our nation?

The Genocide followed by the scattering of our people and the Sovietization of what remained territorially created a fractured nation. We became eastern Armenians in the homeland, and western Armenians became the diaspora. We became pro-Soviet and anti-Soviet. Many rallied around Holy Etchmiadzin while others chose the diaspora-based Antelias (Cilicia). The emergence of an independent state created many new opportunities for the Armenians, one of which was to become whole again. The nation was free and accessible. The Soviet arguments, in large part, ended. Even the church schism showed signs of thawing with new channels of communication. We are a fortunate people. Many diaspora people do not have a homeland that they can call their nation. The Kurds are a clear example. Scattered within at least four nations (Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran), they are indigenous but without a sovereign state. Their struggle is to evolve from oppressed to autonomous to independent. Instead of comparing ourselves to the powerful, let us think about the stateless. The question remains: what are we doing with our opportunity? Our leaders thus far have failed to articulate a vision that all Armenians can identify with and thus provide optimal security for this moment in history. This question is particularly relevant as we experience a low point in our recent history with political challenges, territorial loss and human sacrifice. It is a grand opportunity for us to adjust our thinking not simply to react to mistakes, but to build a foundation that has strategic impact. 

Last week, we discussed the criteria for leadership based on the needs of the nation and the impact of failing to deliver such. In order to develop such capabilities, we need to address one of the missed opportunities of the last 30 years. The diaspora lost its indigenous status to the homeland over 100 years ago with the expulsion of our ancestors, but it did not lose its eternal connection to the homeland. If Armenia is to thrive and prosper and not simply exist, it must become the center of the Armenian universe for all Armenians, particularly those who populate the diaspora. This is a mutually beneficial relationship. For the diaspora, it becomes a vehicle for identity fulfillment…to contribute to the sustaining of a civilization and erase the dark cloud of dispossession. For Armenia, which has enjoyed only a fraction of what the diaspora can offer, it can acquire solutions to many of the challenges they face. In the 1920s, the diaspora was a remnant of proud survivors who existed with modest means. Their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren have become incredibly successful and relatively wealthy with remarkable proficiency in every profession on this earth. Our ranks are blessed with lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, politicians, diplomats and military veterans who have a healthy identity for their ancestral homeland. What have we done both in Armenia and the diaspora to enable the integration of our global resources? The sheer amount of volunteers through visitations and nonprofits is encouraging and a good start, but in most cases they are still considered outsiders whose offerings are gratefully accepted. It is woefully suboptimal.

(Photo: Scout Tufankjian)

What needs to change to enable this direction? Let’s start with the key stakeholders in Armenia and the diaspora embracing a vision of integration for the nation. In the context of egos, power and control, this is no small task but certainly one we are capable of completing. With a common vision, we can initiate the public and private collaboration that holds great promise for Armenia. For this level of global investment, each party must make tangible progress in addressing the fears of the other that limit progress. Right now, Armenia fears being run remotely by the diaspora with its vast resources. It demands respect for its sovereignty and limits “foreigners” to investment and outside of political decision-making. We are all aware that this is an artificial barrier as “influence” takes many forms in the dynamics of nationhood. The diaspora fears the walls that limit their influence as investors, volunteers or visitors. Certainly some progress has been made with repatriation (full citizenship) and dual citizen status, yet a diaspora model requires a hybrid approach where the talent of the global nation and its resources can be fully utilized without self-imposed limitations. Even with dual citizenship and improved investment legislation, the “outsider” culture persists and limits breakthrough. The diaspora is a convenient single term, but in reality represents numerous disconnected entities. The diaspora must organize itself so it is easier to engage with and not left to countless individual relationships. When relationships become essentially financial, they are fraught with risk. I would suggest that the next Armenian government include qualified individuals from the diaspora that can establish a successful precedent, quell these fears and position Armenia for a surge in talent. The Armenian people have successful individuals in a vast array of professions in nearly every nation on this planet. Applying a fraction of that talent in the areas of defense contracting, diplomacy, economic development and national security will only happen when Armenia is led by people who understand and embrace the term “Armenian nation.”

Today we have literally thousands of diasporan volunteers who work in or for Armenia and Artsakh. They participate with a pure heart and love to contribute to their motherland. Often, they are self-motivated and work diligently to earn the trust of the government. This must change. There should be a pull as well as a push. They should be embraced not only as financial contributors or service patriots, but as the sons and daughters of a proud nation welcoming them home. Thousands of young Armenians should be organized to serve in Armenia not simply to add short term value but to establish a sense of emotional identity with the homeland. The focus should be on the integration of a generation without barriers or artificial limitations. The experiences of the youth “returning” and their perspectives are the barometer of success or failure.

Often we hear the debate in Armenian politics of how to find the balance of competence and experience. Many of the politicians are a product of the Soviet system, and the younger educated generation are inexperienced. As outlined in earlier columns, this is the current dilemma of the political system. Engaging talent from the diaspora could provide a valuable bridge of success by providing experienced and proven talent in areas of great need. It is not a replacement but rather a supplement to accelerate and stabilize a functioning society. The success of Armenians from the diaspora will also encourage repatriation. The “cultural” concerns, real or imagined, are the biggest issue for most considering repatriation. It is even larger than employment because a job or career is easier to answer than concerns that impact your happiness or quality of life. Witnessing the success of others you consider “identifiers” offers real encouragement. When some Syrian Armenians migrated, others looked for their success as part of their decision. I look for the next government to answer the question: who is Armenia for and do we have an inclusive greater vision? This is somewhat analogous to the  shameful limitation of women in the political process for decades. Why would a society intent on greatness limit itself to one half of its citizens and eliminate the value of diversity? Armenia, if it chooses, has a resource pool of nine to ten million people, not three. Diversity offers great opportunities, but it is usually constrained by the powerful. Our narrow vision of Armenia freezes our global definition as post-genocide. Our recovery in dispersion and the needs of Armenia and Artsakh demand a reevaluation of our direction. If we manage this opportunity like the disgraceful church schism, then our suboptimal vision will have prevailed. We can teach each other for the benefit of Armenia. Our brethren in Armenia can teach us how to properly integrate in Armenia. Armenians from the diaspora can provide a refreshing replenishment of talent and resources while demonstrating that authority and corruption are not an inevitable package. Our biggest weakness as a nation—our inability to subordinate our individual views for the betterment of the whole—is facing us directly at this time. Will we continue to tolerate a fraction of our capabilities or will the invigorating light of a new vision emerge?

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.


  1. Diaspora Army units NOW! Massive body of trained ready and capable soldiers to retake our ancient lands and rid this horrific useless nation destroying agreement that the incompetent traitor put us in. To be fair the past self enriching Armenian thief presidents that stole elections would never consider it either as they promoted emigration. All useless. Besides this plan of adding direct security, most would stay after service to repopulate and talk about real investments from the diaspora as having your kids on the front lines would bring real motivation like nothing else will. ITS A WIN WIN WIN!. Its the only long term answer as relying on the 17 useless divisions that compose the current political system is total disaster.

  2. Mr. Piligian is correct. Armenia today has not touched the depths of what could be the support of the Armenian diaspora. The corrupt politics, the pettiness and the bickering deters many from doing more. There is no conviction that Armenia has its act together, that it has a coherent strategy for embracing the future. When you are an Armenian in the diaspora you want to point to Armenia and say these are my roots, look at this magnificent nation, its victory of survival against all odds, the wars it fought, the culture it created, the bedrock of its religious belief. Look how it stands out as a model of governance to the world. If only those in power could lift their eyes to lofty goals, the diaspora of the world would unite.

  3. The days of the diaspora only being regulated as a ” cash cow” must end. Most in the diaspora want to make a difference, if we only were allowed to be part of the true process of nation building. As rightly pointed out, use the 10 million of Armenian heritage to our advantage. Ignoring this reality will doom our future as a nation.

  4. I always enjoy Mr Piligian’s articles. He is pragmetic, logical & practical in his views. This important artical “Leadership Crisis” is both timely & useful. I as former Minister of Energy & later as Minister of State of Armenia, from the Diaspora, clearly apprentice his point of wiew. We perhaps could take a lesson or two from the state of Israel how to engage the Diaspor in this regard. The potential of Diaspora Armenians is not fully appritiated by the Government of Armenia forom day one of the Third Independence. There are many flaud reasons for it that is a subject all on its own. I was resident of Armenia, from Los Angeles, during the first Artasagh war Armenia won with virtually poor military resources.There were many Diaspora volunteers on the front lines.
    We Armenians are truly very fortunate to have our own country sprending over two millenniums. To protect it is the sacred duty of every Armenian worldwide.Diaspora represents two thirds (2/3) of Armenians worldwide & most Diaspora Armenians will be gladly willing to serve Armenia when asked. To ignore this pool oh talent is almost criminal. I left my family in Los Angeles in 1992, for nearly five years, when called to serve Armenia’s new Government without any second though & regrets. My monthly salary was six (6) US Dollars. Later, in two years, when I was promoted to State Minister my salary increased to twenty (20) US Dollars a month minus taxes. No one cared all we did is work 24/7 without any complain.
    Conclusion: most Diaspora Armenians are willing & ready to serve in Armenia when asked.

  5. As a diaspora Mr Pashinyan created a massive schism in our society. Soon there will be 2 armenias. The days were diaspora is a cash cow is over. 160 million USD was donated lately this again will go down the pockets of generals and the elite. We need a new constitution and a senate to oversee the corrupt. We are frustrated with the politicians and this has to end.

    • you are correct.. nobody wants to talk about this. And now, everyone is talking about more investment in Armenia. This follows the definition of insanity.

  6. I always got the feeling that Pashinyan looked down at the diaspora, except perhaps the U.S. diaspora which he probably viewed as the realisation of his ambitions to have closer ties with the West (rather than the East, under his nose, which is now teaching him a harsh lesson). And, as others have mentioned so aptly, a ‘cash-cow’ to milk away. If we are going to look to the Diaspora to find a suitable leader, according to the Armenian Constitution (correct me if I am wrong) that person should be a citizen of the Republic of Armenia. I am sure this can be fast-tracked, but…I feel Armenia looks down at the Diaspora because for some reason we are viewed as a lesser Armenian than they are, living in the Fatherland, unless of course we are pumping $$$ £££ into the country. And, there is also the other thing: we speak ‘funny’ Armenian. Let us not go there, please, especially the one spoken in Armenia…

  7. Definitely agree that more Armenian women must step into leadership roles across the private and government sectors. Look where the past leadership pool has delivered us. The stealthy influential Diasporan Armenians who were complicit in steering Pashinyan in the wrong direction need to step aside, they failed all of us. In looking forward, it’s disappointing to me witnessing how the Artsakh war has ‘woke’ countless Diasporan Armenians who are passionately looking to help in any way they can, a great thing, but are shunned by none other than the very Diasporan Armenians who think they can make a better difference. A total pathetic embarrassment. Our people have arguably been divided politically through history, I’m not certain if this is our doom or why we persevere.

  8. Our misfortunes are due to the absence of trustworthy and farsighted political leadership, independent from outside influences, which could unite the nation behind clear goals for recuperation, sustenance, and prosperity of Armenia and Artsagh, relying solely on our own capacities and efforts. Within the actual situation, this is an urgent and imminent need.

  9. – The diaspora all want to see Fedayei patriotic politicians, this in world globalization does not exist anymore; Those born in the diaspora will not change their stay in their nation, on the contrary, those born in the Rca will seek new horizons due to corrupt and inept governments; What was the use of the millionaire blood spilled since 1892/2020, FOR NOTHING … Miguel Angel Nalpatian (1942), Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina .-

  10. IT’S IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER: I do not think there will be a situation where the proverbial half full or half empty class will not be a metaphor. Stepan Piligian looks at the proverbial class Armenia is being half full but fillable. There sure can be substantiative arguments to the contrary as well. At the end it’s in the eyes of the beholder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.