Diaspora to be Represented in Armenia’s Senate: Many Questions, Few Answers

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

The Republic of Armenia plans to amend its constitution in order to create a new legislative upper house — a Senate — that would include representatives from the Diaspora, according to a January 30 announcement in Los Angeles by Hranush Hakobyan, Armenia’s Diaspora Minister.

This news spread like wildfire throughout the Armenian world, and the reaction was mixed. Pro-government circles welcomed the proposal with great enthusiasm, while opponents severely criticized it. In my view, both praise and criticism were premature, as the Minister’s announcement contained few details about the proposed Senate.

Interestingly, despite Minister Hakobyan’s declaration about President Sarkisian’s intent to establish a Senate, the President’s spokesman Armen Arzumanyan cautioned that this is one of many such proposals deserving of serious consideration. He went on to explain that amending the constitution is a complicated and long process. A week later, Parliament Chairman Hovik Abrahamyan further downplayed the Minister’s announcement stating that it will not be considered until after next year’s Parliamentary elections, given the legislative body’s crowded agenda.

At this early stage, one can only ask questions, because of the Minister’s assertion that there would be extensive consultations in Armenia and the Diaspora before any decision is taken on the structure and responsibilities of the proposed Senate.
Here are key questions that individuals, organizations, and government officials should consider, before deciding to amend Armenia’s constitution and establishing a Senate:

  • Would Armenia’s citizens feel comfortable about the presence of Diaspora Armenians in their legislature or view them as foreign citizens, albeit Armenians, meddling in their domestic affairs?
  • Should the Armenian government include hand-picked Diaspora representatives in the Senate, would this be viewed as an attempt by Armenia’s officials to exercise undue influence over the Diaspora?
  • Instead of establishing a Senate, why can’t Diaspora Armenians be included in the existing Parliament?
  • What would be the Senate’s legislative mandate, and how would it be different from that of the existing Parliament?
  • Since the majority of Armenians live outside of Armenia, would the proposed Senate consist of many more Diaspora representatives than those from Armenia?
  • How would Senators be chosen? Would they be elected by the public or appointed by the government or major organizations? If elected, what should be the qualifications of voters and candidates, who sets the criteria, and who organizes the elections?
  • In case the Senators are elected, what steps should be taken to ensure that there would be free and fair elections?
  • Can Diaspora Senators maintain their current citizenship, become dual citizens or be forced to give up their foreign citizenship?
  • Would Diaspora members be obliged to move to Armenia to participate in year-round sessions or would they come to Armenia for brief periods for meetings dealing only with pan-Armenian issues?
  • Are there any plans to undertake a comparative study of countries with Diaspora representatives in their legislatures?
  • In order to maintain Diaspora’s independence and Armenia’s sovereignty, would it not be better to create a separate Diaspora structure in line with the process I proposed during last November’s USC conference? Armenian communities worldwide would elect representatives to a transnational assembly which would then select delegates from its ranks to serve in Armenia’s legislature.
  • Was it mere coincidence that ARF leaders had publicly discussed the idea of creating a Senate that would include Diaspora representatives, long before Minister Hakobyan’s recent announcement? Interestingly, the ARF promptly announced its support for this initiative, while the Heritage Party opposed it, and the Armenian National Congress, led by ex-President Levon Ter Petrossian, called the proposal an “absurdity!”

The good news is that at long last the Armenian government has recognized the need to involve Diaspora Armenians in pan-Armenian decision-making processes and structures. However, before rushing to judgment, it would be wise to wait and see what exactly Armenia’s leaders have in mind in proposing Diasporan representation in a new Senate. The final decision should be solely based on whether this or any other arrangement is in the best interest of Armenians, both in Armenia and Diaspora.

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7 Comments

  1. Bruce Tasker said:

    If I am not mistaken, Karabakhis are also members of the Armenian diaspora. So a point worth considering is that this might be yet another ploy by the Karabakh regime to further strengthen their grip over the Armenian society. The Karabakh issue will sooner or later be resolved and the already steady stream of Karabakhis to Yerevan will intensify. These Karabakhis will not have the credentials to become members of Armenia’s Parliament, which in any event is already dominated by the Karabakhi regime and their cronies, so this resolution will create the opportunity for them to take up seats and dominate the newly proposed Senate.

    • sako said:

      We dont know what “karabakhis” are, their are only Armenians of two types: those who live in their homeland on the Armenian Plateau (be that Yerevan, Artsakh or Javakhk), and those forced into exile in Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East by the barbaric crimes of the invaders from mongolia. And for the record, Armenians solved the Artsakh issue in May 1994, life is peachy on our side of the border. If you want to make the region better, help free the oppressed minorities (Tats, Talish, Udi’s, Lezgins, Kurds, ect…) from the aliyev khanate

  2. Hratch Tchaghatzbanian said:

    Here are a few more questions to add to the list:
    – Historically, we have heard of “taxation without representation”. So is it at all rational to think that today there will be representation without taxation? In other words, how is it that we diasporans will be able to have a delegate when we don’t give our “tax”?
    – How are “home countries”, in our case, the United States, going to feel about our DIRECT involvement in Armenian politics? Notice, this is different from merely being US residents/citizens who have an Armenian background who care about such issues. THIS suggestion is that we are involved in the political PROCESS of another country. So, isn’t this basically a legal or at least a PR disaster waiting to happen?
    – And here is the real question… the-dzoor-nsdeenk-sheedag-khoseenk (Let us sit crooked, talk straight) question: Mr. President, could it be that you are so angry about the protests against you last year when you wanted to make deals with Turkey at the expense of national interest, that you are willing to divide and conquer the Armenian diasporas by bringing them into a 10-way election battle with one another? If not, then why the sudden change of heart? We heard direct reports of you saying that you were not very interested in our opinions just days ago… and now this?

  3. manooshag said:

    Hratch, does not all the monetary, volunteers, and other assistance – all this and more – to our Haiastan are all these not worthy of being considered aid and assistance to fledgling Haiastan? As patriots, Diasporans support has been given for the love of our nation… for the love of our Armenian citizens in our own homeland!! It is the misdirected leaderships from a derBedrossian until today’s Serge and cohorts who have diverted self centeredly filling their own pockets – for themselves – unpatriotically!! Manooshag

  4. Avetis said:

    Mr. Sassounian poses very good questions. This is the start of something than can be good – if handled properly. Although the intention of better integrating the diaspora to Armenia is wonderful in theory, in practice, however, it may prove to be somewhat difficult. I would like to again thank President Serj Sargsyan. From his cementing of Armenia’s crucially important strategic alliance with Russia to his farsighted embracing of our vast diaspora, from attempting to start a dialogue with Turks to establishing better relations with Iranians, he has gradually been putting in place the foundations of a powerful nation in the Caucasus. Under his leadership, Armenia’s and Artsakh’s borders have never been more secure and Armenia’s top leadership has never been more professional. But he does have a long way to go. Although our self-destructive peasantry will not appreciate all that he has already done for our republic, the fact is, in many respects, Serj Sargsyan is our first real president.

  5. manooshag said:

    Serge and cohorts are not equipped for honest leadership of Armenia, too busy stealing from the citizenry – filling their own pockets. The Protocols are/were a foolish and inane agreement with a turkey who lies and worse has not the capability to maintain any and all of their connections with other nations – much less with Armenians!! Fledgling Armenia today needs prepared and intelligent leaderships – all the leaders of Haiastan until today have been self-seekers, beginning with Der Bedrossian until now, Sargisyan. Fledgling Haiastan’s leaders shall be patriots which the citizens of Haiastan are worthy. Not such as the agricultural minister developing the elimination of the honest farmers of Haiastan, who fed themselves and their brethren citizens of Haiastan as he is developing and planning to establish that which will eliminate the honest farmers – but – will benefit himself and his cronies – Sargisyan style. Pavets!! Haiastan’s citizens deserve honesty and patriots in their newly formed nation today – not leaders who deprive our Haiastan from reaching its aspirations and advances for ALL its citizens. Manooshag

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