International Experts Discuss Critical Issues Facing Diaspora

The ARF-organized Diaspora conference

LOS ANGELES—Experts and scholars from four corners of the world were joined by hundreds of community members on Saturday at the University of Southern California’s Davidson Conference Center for a one-day academic conference called “Independence and Beyond: In Search of a New Armenian Diaspora after 1991,” which tackled critical issues facing Diaspora-homeland relations.

The conference was organized by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Western US Central Committee in collaboration with the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, the Armenian Cultural Foundation and the Armenian Review.

Through its various presentations and discussions, the conference examined the impact of the independence of the Republic of Armenia and subsequent processes of nation-building on various facets of Diaspora life, such as political ideologies and cultural narratives, linguistic and literary production, organizations and institutions, economic investment, remittances and affiliation, and hybrid identity formation.

The four thematic panels featured leading scholars of Armenian, Diaspora, and Transnational Studies. Using their expertise in fields that range from political science and history to literature and journalism, the conference participants charted new frameworks and definitions in conceptualizing “Diaspora” in the Armenian context.

Dr. Talar Chahinian of the ARF Western US Central Committee and Dr. Richard Dekmejian of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies presented welcoming remarks, in which they outlined the mission and purpose of the conference.

The first panel, entitled “Revisions of the Narrative of Return,” was chaired by Dr. Houri Berberian of the California State University at Long Beach. Dr. Sossi Kasbarian of the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom discussed “Return to Homeland: Challenging Concepts and Realities,” while Dr. Chahinian of CSULB made a presentation titled “The Real, the Imagined and the In-Between: Homeland Revisted.” Dr. Viken Yacoubian of Woodbury University rounded out the session with a presentation entitled “Convergence through Diversity: The Diasporic Experience of Ethnoracaial Identity Development.”

The second panel, “Cultural Narratives: Subjectivity and Language in the Evolving Diaspora,” was conducted entirely in Armenian and was chaired by Dr. Anahid Keshishian of UCLA. The panel featured professors Hagop Gulludjian of UCLA and Marc Nichanian of the Sanaci University in Istanbul. Gulludjian discussed “The Illusion of Survival: Whose Survival? What For?” and  Nichanian answered the question “Subject or Sovereign?” A third presentation, “Endangered vs. Enforced Identity,” which was to have been presented by Father Levon Zekiyan of Universita Ca’Foscari of Venice, Italy, was instead read by Dr. Myrna Douzjian, as Father Zekiyan was unable to attend the conference due to an accident.

“Online Space and the Politics of Information Exchange” was the third panel moderated by Dr. Hayg Oshagan of Wayne State University. Experts from the fields of information technology and journalism discussed the evolvement of the Diaspora in the information age. The panel featured Asbarez English Editor Ara Khachatourian, Armenian Weekly Assistant Editor Nanore Barsoumian, the proprietor of the Ianyan blog Liana Aghajanian and the director of the Groong news aggregator site Asbed Bedrossian of USC.

The conference concluded with a tour-de-force panel entitled “(Re)Defining Diaspora and Nationalism” moderated by Dr. Khachig Tololyan of Weslyan University. This panel featured Dr. Asbed Kotchikian, the editor of The Armenian Review and professor at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass; Dr. Razmik Panossian, the director of the Armenian Communities Department of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon; Dr. Stephan Astourian of the University of California Berkley; and Simon Payaslian of Boston University.

Each session saw the active participation of conference attendees through thought-provoking questions and discussion.

Asbarez will provide more details about the conference in upcoming editions.

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