Diaspora Ministry Responds to Asbarez

The homepage of the Virtual Armeian Diaspora Museum

On Tuesday, Asbarez Editor, Ara Khachatourian, in an article (Diaspora Ministry’s Affront to the Diaspora 3/13/12) criticized the Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum, which was unveiled this week by Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry.

The editorial board of the Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum sent an email to Asbarez in response to the article, the translated text of which is presented below:

Dear Mr. Khachatourian:

We are happy that you have visited the Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum and we are grateful that you are following the activities of the Diaspora Ministry. For us every remark, opinion and criticism is very important.

However, we are saddened that our undertaking was characterized as an “insult” to the Diaspora. Our ministry was created to cooperate with the Diaspora and make the Diaspora’s voice heard, and not to insult it.

We highly appreciate the Diaspora’s role in preserving the Armenian heritage and in the creation of the independent Armenian state. The Diaspora Ministry of the Republic of Armenia is open to address any issue with the representatives of the Diaspora. For us, constructive criticism is acceptable; criticism, which is directed at the betterment and not insulting or diminishing an effort.

During our more than three years of existence, we have attempted to establish relations with all communities of the Diaspora, all organizations, educational and cultural centers, editorial boards of publications and individuals. We inform [the public] about the ministry’s activities, among them plans for the Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum, through Armenia’s diplomatic representations, Armenian religious structures and pan-Armenian organizations. Let us also state that in informing about any program, we stress that we are ready to cooperate and accept criticism and suggestions about programs.

As it relates to the Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum Web site, we would like to state the within the parameters of the site, we will not engage in academic arguments about the creation of the Diaspora, its definition and other theoretical issue, because that is a matter to be addressed through other methods.

Political assessments about the Armenian Diaspora and developments in Armenia-Diaspora cooperation are pointed out by the President of the Republic of Armenia. This serves as a basis in organizing our activities.

As for the factual errors, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the site, we would like to stress that every day work is being conducted on the site, and through your suggestions we will correct each mistake and inaccuracy, and advance the technological capabilities. It is imperative to have cooperation in order to achieve all that. We are ready to cooperate with all those who have the desire to work together.

Taking into consideration your criticism that the Armenian press has not been incorporated in the site, we would like to stress in all the sections that introduce the communities all Armenian media have been presented. Aside from that, we greatly appreciate the role and significance of the Armenian press in our national reality and we have planned to dedicate a separate page about the press, for which our ongoing efforts have been intensified. If you have concrete suggestions about this matter, we would gladly take it into consideration.

We are confident that any project will benefit from the appropriate coordination of efforts and the proper guidance of resources.

Respectfully,
Editorial Board of the “Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum”

EDITOR’S RESPONSE: An Asbarez reader asked me why I did not enumerate examples of the inaccuracies and the inconsistencies in my article. My response was that to begin such delineation would require that I revamp the entire content of the Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum Web site, a task that did not fall under my purview.

The point I was making in my piece was that perhaps all i’s should have dotted and t’s crossed prior to unveiling this site. After all this is not a middle-school project but an effort from a government ministry. Imagine if the State Department goes live with a site and asks the public to fill in the blanks. Twenty years after Armenia’s independence, its government should be sophisticated enough to consult the proper people and compile factual information before presenting it to the public. This site is not for internal consumption only, but reflects our country and our nation. Perhaps a beta version should have been unveiled and circulated for comments and corrections, before fully launching the site.

Furthermore, this attitude of “we’ve attempted to do something good and instead of criticizing come and help us,” is for a bygone era. We, as a nation, are passed that. Hence my assertion that “the Diaspora is not a slogan to propel the creation of a haphazard Web site whose content is more an embarrassment than a showcase of our rich Armenian national heritage.”

This is not a game. The ministry cannot throw a ball in a court and expect those who want to play to converge around the ball. If the Diaspora Ministry is to be taken seriously, their rhetoric, which during the three-plus years of its existence has been patronizing at best, must change.

The letter to Asbarez clearly states that the Web site “will not engage in academic arguments about the creation of the Diaspora, its definition and other theoretical issue, because that is a matter to be addressed through other methods.” This means, that the masterminds of this effort are unwilling to identify the purpose of this endeavor and are content to have simply created a repository of facts and figures, not all of them correct.

The assertion that plans about the Virtual Museum were conveyed through “Armenia’s diplomatic representations, Armenian religious structures and pan-Armenian organizations” is simply false. Neither the Consulate General of Armenia in Los Angeles, nor the Prelacy or the Diocese have brought this plan to the attention of the public. For that matter, neither did the Diaspora Minister, Hranush Hakopyan, during a press conference last September in Los Angeles discuss any plan for a Virtual Museum.

I stand by my initial conclusion that “It is the Diaspora Ministry’s responsibility to rectify this situation by immediately taking it down and, if the ministry is truly committed to creating this important repository, bring together experts to work on creating a Web site worthy of our national aspirations.”

Leaders of every organization mentioned in the Web site should diligently look at the information and accordingly respond to the ministry.

Nevertheless, I do appreciate the Editorial Board’s response. Perhaps, this can create a healthy discourse through which the real mission of the Diaspora Ministry will be identified, because until now that mission has been vague, if not nebulous.

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23 Comments

  1. Hay said:

    “This is not a game. The ministry cannot throw a ball in a court and expect those who want to play to converge around the ball. If the Diaspora Ministry is to be taken seriously, their rhetoric, which during the three-plus years of its existence has been patronizing at best, must change.”

    WELL SAID!!! Thank You.

  2. Vahe Y said:

    “Furthermore, this attitude of “we’ve attempted to do something good and instead of criticizing come and help us,” is for a bygone era. We, as a nation, are passed that.”

    Excellent rebuttal Mr. Khachatourian!!

    Allow me to add…another party line excuse pushed by the Armenian Government and its bureaucrats is “we’re limited on financial resources…we have a limited budget”…silly excuse!!! Really?!

    So you’re telling me you have the budget to finance cars and chauffeurs for every single DEPUTY minister and “chief or head of departments”…but you don’t have a budget to hire a professional team of consultants and developers? Indeed this is not a game. This is a reflection of our nation – be it in Armenia or the Diaspora.

    And another excuse by members of the Diaspora…”you guys are all negative…at least they are trying”…NO they are not trying! They are damaging…it’s better if they dont do anything. The Ministry of Diaspora should not be an event planning organization…putting together meaningless conferences full of ego hungry individuals dying for photo ops with this and that official….their mission should be simple and clear…their implementation should be to the point…we are no longer in the age where messages were delivered through pigeons…we live in a world where boundaries are broken with a click of a button…it’s not rocket science and the Ministry should not come up with excuses left and right.

  3. Krikor said:

    Why not get a new Diaspora minister who is actually from diaspora.Hopefully that will eliminate “misunderstandings ” from any party.Having said that diaspora ministry should be more inclusive and non insulting to us.The diaspora is NOT the milking cow for the motherland.

    • Hay said:

      “Why not get a new Diaspora minister who is actually from diaspora”…”The diaspora is NOT the milking cow for the motherland” …. i would say the same about All Armenia Fund. NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. Enough already!!! Diaspora has no voice in Armenia. The Armenian government officials treat us as if were are some kind of clueless, ignorant children.

      • Vahe Y said:

        First of all, before the Diaspora Ministry, the Diaspora “affairs” were handled by an agency/committee under the Foreign Ministry. For 10 years, the Foreign Minister was from the Diaspora…Mr. Vartan Oskanian…exactly how many times and to what extent was the Diaspora engaged with Republic of Armenia affairs? Diaspora-Armenia conferences do not count, because as always, conferences are ineffective show and tells, photo ops, and long speeches…nothing more.

        There has not been any real, effective engagement of the Diaspora at all. Even the President touring the Diaspora and “seeking” consultation for the Protocols was a big bluff. But then again, I dont blame his administration, because who does the President consult with? When we say Diaspora…what does that mean? The church? Organizations? Our Diaspora bodies are not even democratically elected and dont reflect our Diaspora.

        I am no big fan of the Armenian Government …but now you have an opportunity: apply for Armenian citizenship and bring about real change in Armenia through your voice and participation IN Armenia…not the comforts of your warm home in the Diaspora.

        • Hay said:

          “But then again, I dont blame his administration, because who does the President consult with?”

          with the same people he was ” consulting ” about the protocols – let’s start from there.

          “Our Diaspora bodies are not even democratically elected and dont reflect our Diaspora.”

          so do the government officials of the Republic of Armenia. who knew about hranush before she became a minister? how did the president got hold of the office?

          “apply for Armenian citizenship and bring about real change in Armenia through your voice and participation IN Armenia”

          this is the same argument the ministry of diaspora makes. what’s the point of getting a passport? will it give voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless?

          “not the comforts of your warm home in the Diaspora.” )))))))))) i just came back from Armenia. end of may or early june, i’ll be back there again.

  4. Garbis Yessayan said:

    Ayss etche aytseladz em yev shad housakhap em… antratarts shad deghin eh…Spurki tankaran tche ayl kheghgadagoutyoun…AMOT Badrasdoghneroun manavant yerp kidenk vor Spurki nakhararoutyan dzerakir eh…shad me anhadagan gayketchner shad aveli hatchogh en manavant aveli gadarelakordzevadz.100% hamatsayn em hotvadzakrin negadoghoutyants…ANBAYMAN AYSS GAKETCHE ANHABAGH BEDK EH POKHVI!!!Barzabess Kheghdjoutyoun eh,pobigoutyoun…
    Abris baron Ara Khatchadouryan,yegrort badaskhanet al ampoghtchoutyamp gegrortem.Nouyn tapov sharounagetsek tser shinitsh yev artaratsi kenatadoutyoune.Vartskernit gadar.

  5. Michael said:

    Mer erkir ughaki cicaghi ararkaya darel enqan en tgetnerov u hastagluxnerov “karavarel” …es ughaki amachum em, Kocharyani jamanak gone inch vor luys er erevum, isk hima srikanerov u takanqnerov nstel en “knopka” en sexmum …anmakardak ezi gluxner…

  6. Vahe said:

    I moved to Armenia last year. Anything led by Hranush Hakopyan, the eternal bureaucrat, can be nothing but a disaster. Diaspora Ministry could have been a useful endeavor but in the hands of such a “leader” it turned to be a joke. “Patronizing” is what Armenian bosses are masters at.

  7. Arto said:

    Please delete the previous email as I sent it before it was compete

    I think that the characterization that this site is an insult to the Diaspora is overblown. However I can say that as a designer and website developer in Canada, this site is truly unprofessional and poorly done. Whoever put this site together does not know anything about creating a compelling website. The sad part is that there are very talented and capable web developers in Armenia doing really good work. To me, it looks like this job was awarded to someone due to connections or politics. Obviously, the Diaspora Ministry lacks vision and judgment.

    • Vahe Y said:

      Arto, I respectfully disagree – it IS an insult. As much as design and compilation are important, let’s not forget content. Putting a bunch of pictures of Armenian churches and genocide monuments in the Diaspora and labeling it as a virtual museum is definitely insult, let alone the factual errors. Whatever happened to the countless individuals in the Diaspora who have contributed to the development of their host countries and to Armenia…from scientists to doctors to diplomats to statesmen and on.

      Cutting corners and not taking the project seriously is clearly an insult to the Diaspora. Trying to do some sort of damage control and coming up with excuses is even worse!

  8. Saaten Maagar said:

    As much as the unprofessionalism of the Ministry is evident and the leadership engulfed in the old Communist system ways and practices, let us take a look at what the diaspora institutions look like, especially today. Most if not all of diaspora organizations compared with other similar ones in US or elsewhere are pathetic, unprofessional and insignificant as can be, not when they were established but today at this moment. The US became independent in 1776 and by 1796 not much was changed. So 20 years of independence, with multitude of prior problems and a lot of passed baggage is not that much time as we all like to see significant results. Criticism is important and needed but it is also the easiest thing to do.

  9. Edward Demian said:

    I repeat my earlier question: How many Hemshin Armenians have been resettled in Artsack so far? I continue to ascertain this job performance by the answer to this question.

  10. Hairenakitz on YouTube said:

    To tell the truth, the ‘Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum’ website should have been created by Diaspora itself or atleast in collaboration with powerful Diaspora resources. Not just by Armenian government which does not connect and endorse throughly with Diaspora as resourceful and equal entity.
    The website itself is not a ‘virtual museum’ nor strong representation of Diaspora, both in content and in language. It is also not an interactive nor attractiveand poor in English language.

  11. MK said:

    Diaspora Minister and Ministry has become the laughing stock of all the Armenian Diaspora.

    The Minister along with his boss Serzh only pay lip service to the Diaspora thats all,don’t ever expect anything more as first they don’t want the Diaspora in any way establish itself in Armenia,nor they have any interest in strengthening the links between Armenia and Diaspora,all they are interested is to line their pockets by hook or by crook.

    Very sad state of affairs the full blame lies with this corrupt regime.

  12. Nora Armani said:

    The Ministry of Diaspora is a sure way of assigning a Marginal position to Diaspora Armenians in the affairs of the Republic of Armenia. While Diasporas are very important in the development of their respective nations, the only serious way their real importance can be emphasized and tapped into, see used, in the constructive development of a Nation is by studying them ACADEMICALLY and involving them directly through the mainstream institutions! Anything less comes with an in-built condescendence and patronization.
    If Armenia wants the serious involvement of Diaspora Armenians in the affairs of the Republic it should consider serious representation of the Diaspora in the Armenian Parliament itself (even if this means for the individuals in question to move to Armenia for the duration of their tenure); not confine Diaspora contributions to a marginal involvement by channeling these through the Diaspora [Ministry], nor a Senate… (read: Harut Sassounian on the matter- http://www.armenianweekly.com/2011/02/08/sassounian-diaspora-to-be-represented/)
    The Diaspora Ministry currently operates more like an NGO on a communal level. Diasporan involvement should not be limited to making substantial donations to build churches, libraries, schools, art centers and the like either, without a definite say in their operation during the process and once completed… (this excludes business endeavors such as the Airport, Viva Cell, etc…)
    Currently the Diaspora Ministry operates like a parent with many children, who creates little games to keep the offspring busy and feeling important, while it goes about more crucial tasks that it considers ‘above the level of the children’s comprehension’. In that sense it is an affront [if not an insult] to the intelligence of many Diaspora Armenians who are highly qualified experts in their fields.
    Diasporans do want, can and should get involved in the RA. Their expertise should be tapped into and channeled toward the mainstream official institutions and not be limited to gathering around a rhetoric not very different from that of parochial communities. An NGO or a well run not for profit organization will do the job if this is the purpose.
    On the other hand, EVERY Ministry in the RA should (and I am sure already does on individual levels) engage the involvement and expertise of Diaspora professionals in their respective fields.
    I personally have had a long-standing collaborated with the Ministry of Culture and with Armenian film and theatre institutions directly and find this very gratifying. Doing the same through the Ministry of the Diaspora would feel like backtracking into a limited scope for me personally.
    Also, it is about time that we Diasporans stopped walking on eggshells when addressing sociopolitical issues in Armenia. If we are to have a healthy dialogue we need to be able to speak freely and most of all to listen to each other attentively. That is why it is called Dialogue. So far the Diaspora Ministry has been engaged in a Monologue.

  13. Maro Matosian said:

    Ever since the fiasco of the Protocols and on other occasions before, it was pointed out to the Armenian government the need for consultations. One would think that at least the Ministry of the Diaspora would consult with Diaspora ….the least it can do, since everything else they do is a complete fiasco with programs that emulate soviet era. What a waste of money!!!!

  14. ArdeVast Atheian said:

    The Diasporan critics should always maintain a friendlier and a humbler tone much as the Diaspora Ministry Board has. There is no justification for these scathing rhetorics. I see the condescending attitude coming only from the Diasporan critics.

    • Vahe Y said:

      Armenia declared its independence in 1991…the country is 20+ years old and I think there are ALOT of people who are fed up with the status quo and this indifferent attitude of the Armenian Government.

  15. Alvard Gasparyan said:

    The first question I have regarding this website is – why to call it a museum ? the freedictionary.com gives several definitions of the concept ‘museum’, e.g.:
    – A building, place, or institution devoted to the acquisition, conservation, study, exhibition, and educational interpretation of objects having scientific, historical, or artistic value.
    – (Social Science / Education) a place or building where objects of historical, artistic, or scientific interest are exhibited, preserved, or studied.
    – [Latin Msum, from Greek Mouseion, shrine of the Muses, from Mouseios, of the Muses, from Mousa, Muse; see men-1 in Indo-European roots.]

    The Ministry describes the purpose of this project to ‘ to introduce the history of Armenian people, the present and the future’…..thus, this museum appears to be more about ‘exhibiting’ and does not have any scientific or educational intentions. Even so, the idea of ‘presenting Armenian people’s history, present and future’ sounds rather lofty and meaningless. Is it at all possible especially if you are inclined to take one single perspective? There is that soviet mentality that any sort of knowledge can be conveyed in the form of single truth by someone on the top. This feeling of top-down centralised hierarchy is deeply embedded in the whole message of this website, where top is the Ministry acting on behalf of the Armenian government who believes to know everything about Armenians, ‘Diaspora’ their needs and also their future. Inevitably the whole project appears to be no more than a collection of mostly boring facts one could easily get from the internet or Wikipedia. If the ministry indeed wants to do something useful then they should be willing to put some extra effort to make the website a source of knowledge. And this is possible by incorporating discussion forums and research papers and articles coming from diverse sources, including researchers not necessarily affiliated with the government. For example, cultural critical Hrach Bayadyan wrote an article about the subject of ‘Diaspora-Armenia’ relationships discussed in programs of the presidential candidates. He speaks about the stereotypes and unsubstantiated and lofty patriotic discourse that dominates this field. And one easily finds this mindset in the message of Ms H. Hakobian. For example, she says: ‘’ But the destiny had not broken down us: even in the far side we created our Home, each of us created his own little Armenia, kept and protected it for years.’’. Is it so? What is that little Armenia I wonder?….why not to admit that there are significant cultural differences and barriers between different Armenian groups? Why we tend to generalise and see Diaspora as something that can be put in the museum as an icon?….
    I do not know how to perceive her final expression ‘For the sake of glory of Armenian people and Armenian statehood…’ The whole world is struggling to tackle various economic, cultural and social challenges and this is especially difficult for small countries like Armenia. We cannot even manage to provide the basic rights and welfare of Armenians living in Armenia because of corruption and incompetent government and yet have to think about Glory?….
    She speaks about Armenian spiritual and cultural values that the website intends to convey and I wonder what are these values? First, perhaps you need to sponsor certain researchers who could analyse and try to understand what kind of cultural changes Armenian culture is undergoing at the moment. Armenian culture is not just about ‘Dolma’ and architectural icons of middle ages. The culture is much more versatile and vague notion that needs debate and research based on the field study as well as desk study of contemporary cultural literature. For example, there is the argument that Armenia is a postcolonial society and we do not see it because we are postcolonial. Social media and Internet, western education and many other factors are shaping new Armenian youth in many different ways. Wouldn’t it be right if the website presented also the new youth groups that are currently emerging and fighting for the public space and environment of Armenia?
    One simple fact that one immediately observes from her speech is the discrepancy between her words and the actual website: She says:
    So that the image of a weeping and suffering Armenian which has become a stereotype, break down and the world face a fighting and winning Armenian, an Armenian-creator and intellectual, so that the world get acquаinted with the results of many-century works of faithful Armenians, our ancestors, the results which had never been destroyed by time or merciless enemy, as nothing could break the spirit and will of Armenians.’’
    But when you enter the Exhibition Hall, one of the two major directions of the website, you find this message: • Exhibition hall: Monuments of pain, memory and struggle.
    Thus, there is not much of a joy to present. And to be true, there is very little of joy you can find in the lives of many Armenians whether in diaspora or in Armenia – many are struggling to survive in the hands of few Armenian oligarchs or because of being marginalised and poor in the western or other societies. The fact that today the Diaspora is more expanding and Armenia decreasing in the number of population because of the constant emigration is a big Tragedy that needs to be discussed and tackled properly.
    Along with these content issues, the website has many technical deficiencies. It is rather basic and inflexible, often the Armenian and English or Russian versions do not match (e.g. the story about Russian diaspora is not fully translated in English and Russian versions, her own speech has unfinished sentences due to bad translation, ettc.), it is almost impossible to read the titles of many pictures – what are those monuments and who are these people?…..
    Internet provides a good knowledge basis for evaluating websites. One such source (http://eprints.qut.edu.au/8740/1/8740.pdf) summarised existing approaches and presents a number of criteria for assessing the quality of the government website. These criteria include: • Security and privacy, Usability, Content, Services (services for citizens, and services for businesses; Citizen participation & Features, the last two described as:
    – Citizen participation: examines the extent to which citizens are able to communicate both with the government agency and with each other through the Website. The availability of opinion polls, bulletin boards and satisfaction surveys is observed.
    – Features: Included within this category are assessment for: availability of personal pages and the degree to which the government agency allows each citizen to create their own space

    Thus, Ms Hakobian should invite technical specialists as well as people – citizens, scientists, critics, everybody who has a say on this subject and for this purpose they need to create proper tools and forums.

    Overall however I think that she should reconsider the overall approach and concept of this website which is out of touch with the reality and has little informative or any other value for Armenians. I deeply doubt she can handle this because however she tries her thoughts and her work reflect her beaurocratic, soviet mentality which is also the mentality of the whole Armenian government which ignores scientific effort and public discourse and believes by some virtue they possess the single truth about complex issues surrounding Armenia, Diaspora and the changes that they are facing in this global world.The first step would be stepping down from the lofty and stereotyped position and trying to understand and discuss what is diaspora, what are the issues and services needed and how a website can address some of these issues in a truthful and humble way, by trying to incorporate diverse perspectives in this effort.

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