Armenia has decided, but where is the Diaspora?

A postcard from 1919 reads “Long Live Free Armenia” in Armenian (Postcard: ARF Archives)

As we examine ways to better integrate the diaspora and the homeland, it is clear that the perceived attitudes of both parties is an obstacle. Granted these are generalizations, but if you have spent any time around the community, these are not new comments. There are thousands of diaspora Armenians who have a sincere love for Armenia and an earnest desire to make a difference. No argument. There are also many who have an overt distrust for the leadership and carry that perspective into their reluctance to participate. Given human nature, negative views always have a stronger impact and become part of the problem. 

In my travels, I hear two types of comments that bear reviewing. The first is a general commentary about how “backward” or “inefficient” it is to operate in Armenia. This view, at its best, reflects a frustration by “westerners” with the fledgling democracy of Armenia, and at its worst represents an unintended attitude of superiority toward fellow Armenians. The other set of comments are personal attacks towards leaders (“this one is a crook” or ”they are all ex-KGB.”) You get the point. I have engaged in many discussions with fellow Armenian Americans in an attempt to understand and build upon these perspectives. In order to make sense of this, we should first try to put our comparative comments in context. As Armenians Americans, our opinions on democracy are based on living in the greatest example of a democratic institution and, unfair as it may be, it is inevitable that we compare our experience to any emerging democracy.

The democratic legacy of the people of Armenia has been limited. For hundreds of years, prior to the First Republic, the Armenian people were subject to Turkish oppression in the west and limited national identity under the Persians and then Russians. There were precious few opportunities to develop democratic traditions. The first real opportunity came in 1918 with the fledgling democratic Republic of Armenia. Just as the roots of institutional democracy began to take hold during the next two and a half years, that process was put on hold with the Turkish/Soviet annexation. The priority instantly shifted to survival. When Armenians earned their freedom in 1991, similar to 1918, they were not prepared with professional technocrats, seasoned bureaucrats and a market driven economy. The previous system, along with its economy, collapsed leaving devastation everywhere. Have we forgotten the early years when heating fuel was unavailable and our brethren chopped down trees to survive? Similar to virtually every ex-Soviet nation, the system was manipulated by a series of oligarchs who were positioned to inherit the former state assets. The early days of “independence” were wrought with institutional corruption. Yet, we sit here in America and judge the infancy of democracy in Armenia. Can they and should they be better? Absolutely. We should never lower the bar and the quality of life for the citizens, but failure to meet those expectations does not justify abandoning Armenia because we don’t like the pace of improvement or the leaders. Our commitment is to the land, the common people and a continuance of our civilization. 

New democracies should be the beneficiaries of past lessons. In theory, the “learning curve” should be reduced. This assumes, of course, an educated population and a desire to mature. Armenia has both. What has been missing so far has been the emergence of leadership with competence and patriotism. I believe those days are arriving with a new generation. Even with the geopolitical complications, Armenia is not starting at square one. The greatest asset of Armenia is its people. It is not the buildings, churches and mountains. They are wonders of our culture and beautiful, but the most valuable possession is and always will be the people of Armenia. This is why it is important when you go to the homeland to engage with its citizens. When you visit schools, meet the students. Talk to people on the streets, and experience the soul of Armenia in the villages. Despite the “advancement” of our world civilization, we know that democracy is under attack in many locations on this earth. We live in a privileged oasis in America. All nations, regardless of their historical perspective, have to grow into their identity. We live in the greatest democracy, yet when this country was formed, the voters of this new democracy were only white male landholders. The enslavement of another race led this country to a Civil War during which over 600,000 Americans died in a domestic war that wounded generations. Women were granted the right to vote in this country after Armenia secured that right with its new republic. The treatment of Native Americans is also a tragic part of our history. All nations learn and grow from their errors. We work to make America better despite its imperfections. We live for the ideals it stands for. This is all Armenia deserves. We should temper our judgments in the context of the slow path of development. The current generations have been blessed to experience independent nationhood since 1991. Perfect…no. Miraculous, yes. No Armenian from 1375 (fall of Cilicia) until 1918 and from 1921-1991 experienced the free soil of Armenia. We have that privilege. Stand with Armenia like a parent who loves his children. I understand the frustration and even criticism. There is a significant difference in criticizing when committed to the future of Armenia and open-ended commentary with “no skin in the game.” I prefer we shore up all our energy, our passion, our skills and our criticism (perhaps in the form of a solution) with our undying commitment. This is what has enfranchised those of us in the diaspora. Of course, that must be reciprocated by our brothers and sisters in Armenia, but it is always wise to start by looking in the mirror. Remember, the only real difference between us is that many of our grandparents were forced out of the west and rebuilt their lives in the Americas, Europe or the Middle East. Many of our compatriots in Armenia and Artsakh were either indigenous to those regions (eastern) or Western Armenians who migrated east behind the old Russian lines during the war period. That’s it. The rest is the cultural impact of generations living in different geographies. Those differences can be challenging, but what we have in common is a bond to the territory and a five thousand year-old civilization. It doesn’t matter if you live in LA or Boston, or where your ancestors came from, Sepastia, Kharpert or Artsakh. Look deeper to find the true links and apply that to your view on Armenia. Governments come and go. Leaders have limited tenure, but the mountains, the culture and the people are eternal.

I recently read an intriguing comment from a reader. His view was advocating for a personal commitment to Armenia (repatriation), but the implications of his comments were much deeper. He spoke to the need for increasing the population to counter the “brain drain” and national security risks. There are essentially two ways to grow Armenia’s population: an increase in the birth rate and repatriation from the diaspora. Both causes have an economic and quality of life component. The birth rate of Armenia is less than 2.0 which essentially says that it is below the sustainable level of 2.1. Most people factor in affordability when deciding to have children. When the economic environment is difficult and the political considerations are unstable, it does not promote an increase in the birth rate. The government can offer “promotions,” like tax incentives and other windfalls, but there is no substitute for creating a prosperous environment. The people of Armenia want nothing more for their children than any of us in the diaspora: a reasonable education and the opportunity for a good life. Migration occurs primarily when economic opportunities or societal issues become intolerable. Patriotism is noble, but it doesn’t feed the children and provide a future. A functioning government with policies that impact all the people in their daily lives is what counts. With the uncertainty created by the recent war, there is no greater immediate priority: housing, jobs and education.

Repatriation has many branches but can invigorate a nation. Again, a healthy environment is necessary for substantial repatriation. Yes, some repatriate for purely patriotic reasons to bring their skills and passion to the country, but the opportunity will always be understated if the environment is not healthy. Aside from the economic environment, legislative action is required to adjust residency requirements, tax laws and citizenry rights to allow Armenians from the diaspora to contribute to Armenia with full vesting. Obviously, the most desirable state would be moving to Armenia and earning citizenship, but there are large opportunistic gaps between full time diaspora and full time in Armenia. Armenia must start with a vision that it is a home to all Armenians in our global nation. This means that we can define a respected existence for those who may have a less than full time commitment but have substantial ways to contribute. The “snowbird” concept is recognized here as people who have joined another community in a warmer climate and have built an identity. Instead of climate being the motivation, our love for Armenia must be encouraged so that those who cannot move full time are offered a way to participate. Many may, of course, become permanent residents over time. The greater the options, the higher the probability of presence.

The economy generating opportunities and a stable prosperous nation will continue to dominate the challenges. Casual statements of criticism and mistrust from afar do not contribute to the solution. The greater our commitment to solutions, the more credibility our commentary carries. When we take “shots” at Armenia, it’s leaders or other stereotypes, most of us perceive these casual dialogues as harmless. They are not! At this critical stage in Armenia’s development, all of our resources should be focused on adding value. If we criticize, it should be coupled with a potential solution. Public discourse that reflects a disconnect between the diaspora and Armenia helps feed the aggressive and criminal behavior of the Turkish alliance bent on the total destruction of our nation. Diversity of thought and debate have critical roles to play in a democracy, but much of the “informal public” commentary lacks proper channeling. We can never abandon Armenia. We do this for the brave residents in Tavush, our resilient compatriots in Artsakh and for generations yet to be born.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Columnist
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.
Stepan Piligian

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13 Comments

  1. Diaspora army units? Why is that never ever a topic of possibility? Sorry to say the diaspora after being ripped off, shunned or ignored has still maintained a true purposeful honest attitude towards Armenia’s best interest. Lets be clear: Its the people that have historically run Armenia that are either indifferent, self serving, and or have total incompetence that have lead to loss and separation and gotten us to this point. That is evident by mass emigration creating more diaspora and the recent massive loss. Dont blame the diaspora for the disaster that is the Armenian leadership.

    • Agreed 1,000%. The diaspora is told “don’t tell us how to run our country… but continue to donate.”

      This bit about “a young democracy” is an insult. A criminal is a criminal… every Armenian leader and all the people in the government that look the other way for their own pecuniary gains and Luxembourg bank accounts.

      Armenian “leadership” had plenty of archetypes to view and from which to learn about how to run a nation. They just chose to be criminals… and less united at that. It’s the reason there was a genocide… #1 and #2… and #3 coming… ’cause the leopard doesn’t change its spots… and clearly nothing has changed. They’ll feel the blood gushing from their throats as Azeris slice them, wondering what happened.

      How can the diaspora do anything if the government won’t let us?

    • I agree with you 100%. In fact the only way forward is to create diaspora army units and be prepared. If the thought entertains you then please be in touch. We cannot rely on the Caucasian Armenians anymore. This was not a war it was a Russian scandal and the idiots bought it. We can easily raise 35,000 soldiers from the cilician diaspora rather than these ex-soviet morons. Sorry to say this but we have had enough.

  2. Shahe you and your comment are the problem. Short-sighted and full of false bravado. No diaspora military units can defeat the combined might of turkey or azerbaijan. It is foolish to even suggest such a thing. Armenia had several years to develop its economy, to find ways to integrate the diaspora, and to develop the citizen-solder concept. It did not. Instead it bought into western fairytales about democracy, and other canards. It’s elected officials claimed to be allied with Russia but went out of their way to flirt with the collective west, which has always placed more value on turkey and azerbaijan. And by never agreeing to Russian peacekeepers in Artsakh we helped create a geopolitical vacuum that the turks and israelis were more than happy to fill. The result is what you see now. If Russia had not put an end to the war in November all of Artsakh plus Syunik would have been gone and there is not a darn thing you or any other big talkers could have done about it. So learn a bit about basic geopolitics and Armenian characteristics before you make outlandish statements.

    • Russia didn’t put an end to the war. If they wanted to they could have directly jumped in and helped Armenia from the beginning just like Turkey directly helped Azerbaijan from the beginning. But they didn’t. Russia made excuses even needing clarification during the war, as to what point our “best caucus ally” would actually help. The end of the war came as the incompetent traitor capitulated and Russia, being the big pretender, conveniently stepped in as the “savior”. This was after 5k kids died and ancient lands lost. What useless POS of a country Russia is. Its no ally and no friend to Armenia. That is clear.

  3. As a repat Diasporan Armenian, the discussions here are comical. Cilician Armenians? What on earth are you talking about. Diasporans aren’t prepared to live in Armenia yet want to form army units? What on earth are you talking about? Why aren’t you in Armenia investing your knowledge, your labour, your wealth into our only country? People sitting in Glendale, Beirut or Paris making salty comments. Get over it. Come here, and own it. The diaspora is dying anyway, maximum 2 more generations before it’s whitewashed completely. We waited 70 years to have a state, but people still want to dictate to it from the other side of the world, wake up.

    • Diaspora army units makes total sense. It should have started decades ago. The leaders unfortunately would not entertain such an idea as they didn’t want outside influence as they were too busy plundering the country. Im convinced many would have enlisted from all over the world, Yes tens of thousands of trained ready professional soldiers that understood the system in case of war, Many would have then stayed after service and either directly repopulated Armenia or invested in its future by bringing outside resources.. Further imagine the diaspora motivation that would be generated if your kids were on the front line? Massive. Its a win win win. Yet this important plan is ignored by the useless leaders.

  4. A diaspora army?? What on earth can an untrained diaspora army do in front of deadly top of the line drones and artillery? Armenia is a country that has no natural resources or anything to sell to make money. Azerbaijan’s military budget alone is 3 times more than Armenia’s state budget. You cant run a country with strong military with diaspora donations. You cant run a country by relying on Russia only and you definitely cant run a county if you brainwash your citizens for 30 years that your enemy cant fight. You diaspora armenians are the biggest problem with today’s Armenia not the citizens living in the country. Sitting in Glendale or Paris and dictating what ordinary people in Armenia should do is easy; but, living in Armenia is not. No armenian asks himself why the regime occupied the surrounding 7 cities that never ever belonged to Armenia or had any armenians living in them that had nothing to do with Nagorno Karabakh. This was the biggest mistake and the world knew it and that is why did not even lift a finger to help Armenia in this war. Truth hurts but so does stupidity

    • Sorry the biggest problem is one useless Armenian leadership after another of either ultra thieves that constantly stole and plundered as a result of their position, which created mass emigration causing more “Glendale diaspora”, with now the ultra incompetent loser Pm pretending. The diaspora was never included or welcomed ever. Other then sending money or donations of course. Also your comment of “Armenia occupying 7 cities”? Really? What are you a traitor or a Turk? Those are all ancient Armenian lands stolen. Same with eastern turkey: All Armenian lands that are currently occupied BY TURKS. That’s the TRUTH.

  5. We all need to become civilized human beings and look to the future, put aside these tribal hate games. Make friends and look to trade. Trade ends wars. Also your lobby and diaspora is just as strong as the jewish one. Why are they in a much better position then you guys? Investments pour into one country while the other runs on handouts from it’s diaspora. Get yourself a well educated, patriotic leader for once. Your previous leaders seem to be ‘takers’ and this current one turned out to be a clown. When does his ‘hammer revolution’ begin against Azerbaican I mean his own people? Not starting wars is one thing but allowing another country walk in/out of your actual borders is another.

    I am not on my high horse here, I recognize Turkey’s problems as well. Hopefully with Imamoglu replacing Erdogan Turkey can fix it’s economy.

    • You call for civilized human beings and to look for the future and to put aside hate? Fine, your country and government should take your words seriously and start by recognizing the genocide, make just reparations and normalize relations with Armenia. We all know the turkish government’s plan is to eradicate Armenia and create a pan turkic state. they should give up this plan and reach out to make the ammends i’ve mentioned. Armenia does have many problems like you said but they will respond favorably if the turks make the proper steps. So far the turks have done nothing but work to advance their plan to eradicate Armenia; with the joint attack on Artsakh, closed borders and denial of the genocide. Until then, your words ring hollow.

  6. The house cat thinks he is a ravenous lion…
    Qaj Nazar thinks he is Sassountsi Davit…

  7. Instead of army units, we need a cohesive diasporan worldwide organization. A central committee that provides education in Armenian language and culture (including cooking, and homemaking), assists Armenians in business and proper business techniques, gets Armenians involved politically for Armenian causes – and works with the Armenian government to implement or reinforce this education and political learning in that country as well, we should be sending engineers, judges, teachers, even enforcement officers to Armenia and create a solid dual citizen program for the diaspora so they know they have a real stake in Armenia with certain rights. Right now we have alot of organizations but nothing cohesive or nothing that successfully draws or engages the masses of Armenians…that would make them feel part of one Armenian nation – that needs to change. The diaspora has the funds to create and run such an organization – we just need the organization and motivation.

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