Diaspora-Armenia Relations Require Forward-Looking Vision That Stems From Mutual Respect

‘Diaspora is part of Armenia’ (Photo: Scout Tufankjian)
‘Diaspora is part of Armenia’ (Photo: Scout Tufankjian)

‘Diaspora is part of Armenia’ (Photo: Scout Tufankjian)

BY VIKEN YACOUBIAN, Ph. D.

While in the age of the coronavirus pandemic and its calamitous implications it might seem a bit indiscreet to focus on issues that do not address the immediate crisis, it is nevertheless beneficial to explore certain topics of national interest whose relevance must be sustained in service to exploring and finding long-term solutions. In this respect, the Diaspora-Armenia relationship continues to be a topic that requires further refinement and crystallization.

The paradigm embraced by respective governments vis-à-vis the Diaspora from the day we became an independent republic indicates, at best, a lack of understanding of the Diaspora. Sadly, instead of taking the necessary steps to correct the course, structural solutions were sought to effectuate change, the net result of which has been the perpetuation of a broken system. And with the current administration, the decision to dismantle the Ministry of Diaspora all together has brought us to a new threshold, that of a more stagnant point as it relates to an Armenia that transcends borders and functions with its absolute and full potential.

It is really secondary and irrelevant what the structure is. When the underlying understanding lacks and the structure is built on a false premise, it will then undoubtedly falter, as it has over the decades since Armenia’s independence. A dichotomous and hierarchical understanding of the relationship between the Republic of Armenia and the Diaspora flies in the face of historical reality. The diasporic identity has formed in the context of survival, which by definition is adaptive and hence designed to accustom to its environment. This aspect of the diasporic identity is flexible, assimilatory, pragmatic, goal-driven, and absent of much nationalism. At the same time, the diasporic identity has also developed in the context of a sociocultural anchor, where ethno-racial identity serves as a common thread that gives individual experiences a collective framework. This aspect of the diasporic identity is expressed through a vast, multilayered, multifaceted organizational network where the individual yearning for community is translated into a national aspiration. As noted above, these organizational networks or structures are vast, highly organized, multilayered and multifaceted. As such, they have an impact on the individual narrative to varying degrees and serve as overarching barriers against acculturation and to some degree assimilation. The diasporic identity assumes a continuous evolutionary flow and is never static. Any linear definition of it would be false and misleading. For instance, a journalist in Armenia recently suggested that the diaspora can be divided into “institutional” and “non-institutional” entities, hence Armenia-Diaspora relationships can be understood based on this notion. This, at best, indicates a naïve understanding of the diaspora, not to say one that deeply undermines its rich historical evolution. Individual membership in any diasporic organization cannot define a diaspora along some binary scheme because diasporic organizations do not fit the traditional concept of an “institution.” The genesis of the diaspora is, above all, an experience which has ultimately evolved into a highly sophisticated, community-driven infrastructure that is reflective of this experience. Therefore, traditional structural markers do not apply to the Armenian Diaspora as they would to a nation-state. Hence, conceptual misapplications, such as “institutional” versus “non-institutional,” or statistical attributions, along the lines of percentages of individuals who are members of this or that organization or political party, could only lead us down the wrong path. There are zones of influences and community-driven “rules” and “protocols” of political engagement that make the simplistic interpretation of the diaspora an obstacle to any long-term and constructive cooperation between Armenia and the diaspora. The diasporic organizational networks are invariably a part of any unassimilated individual’s ethno-racial identity in the diaspora. Organizational membership plays a role in the degree of involvement and activism; however, it does not define the national identity of the individual in the Diaspora. Diaspora cannot be understood unless it is viewed systemically, as a gestalt, and not as simply something that can be deconstructed into a series of unrelated parts.

The Diaspora-Armenia relationship should start from a perspective of mutual respect. A willingness to understand the historical reality, the dynamics involved, and Diaspora’s place as an independently functioning, empowered, highly sophisticated national force that needs to be systemically integrated into the new reality of Հայոց Աշխարհ rather than be perceived as a tool of bilateral cooperation. In the initial years when Armenia had become an independent republic (after the immense calamity of the Spitak Earthquake and the continuing Artsakh conflict), one may call it its formative years, it was necessary for a unified Diaspora to engage in a supportive role. In those years, survival trumped all else. In the following years of relative stability and expansion however, it was necessary for this relationship to evolve into a higher plane, one where at least an identifiable road map could be achieved that leads to a boundless nation anchored by a nation-state. A Հայոց Աշխարհ based on mutual respect, genuine appreciation of diversity, parity, equality, equitability, intranational democracy, and so forth. Unfortunately, we were not able to move beyond the benefactor-beneficiary relationship which over time achieves nothing more than mutual resentment and distrust, be it overt or covert. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Diaspora and now the reformulated office of the High Commissioner were not able to become agents of positive change or catalysts/facilitators in this regard.

The Diaspora, as a vibrant and dynamic socio-cultural and political entity, is clearly misunderstood. Furthermore, policymakers and influencers in the government of the Armenian Republic continue to propose structures and action plans that aim at “organizing” the Diaspora and defining its role in the larger context of the Armenia-Diaspora relationship when there still is a real confusion as to where the road is in the first place. I have yet to see one proposal that is objective, evidence-based, that even makes an attempt to synthesize a significant number of studies that have looked at various aspects of the complex Diasporic experience. To make things even more complicated, many of the conclusions drawn by individuals in the Diaspora are also far from being evidence-based and therefore often misguided. It is important to resist the urge to propose solutions before a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics that have brought our people to this important and exciting juncture in history is reached.

Notwithstanding lessons learned from the past, effective change requires a forward-looking vision. A shift in the social order can bring about significant and long-lasting change if the past, which instigated the shift in the first place, is, at some point, permanently laid to rest and a clear vision of a new future emerges. A vision that aims at achieving real unification, at leveraging our capabilities and resources, and at maximizing our potential as a nation. As we once again remember the independence, against all odds, of our first Republic, we must ensure that our choices reflect our hopes and our actions reveal those hopes. Otherwise the shackles of the past rather than our vision for the future will define us.

Dr. Viken Yacoubian is a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau.

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6 Comments

  1. Barséghian Ardachèce said:

    Dear Friend, your analysis imbues a strong intellectualism has exceeded by good points my understanding. Since you are an executive of our Party could you with the same analytical force of national interest and concern, introspect you, that is to say what our Party has not understood and knew how to adapt from the implosion of the Soviet system that has violently liberated our country from structure to the political, social but above all cultural level in the herite practices of this criminal past. What our party did not understand about this situation and the faulty decisions that have kept the Nation in this dangerous dichotomous policy, or successive rulers have considered, as a “beautiful” Soviet epoch “Armenie is us, intra muros” others, diasporic political organizations, our accessories. It seems to me that in the political concept of the intellectuals of our Party it was written that “from the independence of the country the Tachnaktsoutioun must, DEVAIT, dissolve and rebuild itself” while considering the maintenance of the Ideas Revolutionary and Socialist according to the democratic interpretation to the sercice of the people and the nation. Greetings to Vahe

  2. Dr.Hermon Mihranian said:

    True the Diaspora is part of Armenia. But Pàshinyan government thinks atherwise. Yerevan must provide armenian passport to any Diaspora Armenian who applies for it without conditions.

  3. Mike Avedisian said:

    Finally, it’s about time for a constructive approach from an ARF Bureau member, it’s very commendable. Hope this gets the full support and involvement of the Armenian Diaspora a Armenian population. As usual ideas and concepts are abound, and “the devil is in the details”. Lot of attention is needed for coming up with requirements, regulations and implementation processes, which is a difficult task. Hope Dr. Yacoubian will have the determination and energy to publish his next steps on achieving this long overdue plan, and see it through its fruition and realization.

    • Barséghian Ardachèce said:

      Dear Friend, I share your point of view because there is absolute urgency at the national and security level. We cannot suffer any longer permanent, economic, social, political upheavals in “our” country by isolationism, immaturite cuts itself from its diaspora with its brilliant personalities, experiments. It is clear, 30 years are gone we are still in the system of intolerence to each other, of the unique thought that leads our Society and our Governors towards violent behaviors, besides herites of the past and amplified by an immesurable thirst for dollar by all means. It is obvious, 30 years have passed, the 4th President, I am witness to live in the country, without this unitary conception on national objectives, “our’ country will not be able to find and apply the principles and concepts that are necessary in order to erase this heritage of neo-communist, neo-Soviet habits and traditions. We must help this young politician, voluntary, inexperimente, to find the way of economic CONCEPTS, SOCIAL AND DIPLOMATIC in the sense explained by our friend Garen, especially since there are intelligences and intellectuals of high rank in the country who are just waiting to cooperate WITH THE POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS … OF THE DIASPORA, I mean the diaspora. Ami Yacoubian, executive of our Party, STOP the speeches and come and reach out to this young, full of good will, before …

  4. Telo & Co. said:

    The Armenian Diaspora that grew out of our Great Dispossession, the Armenian Genocide, is NOT WELCOME in our ancestral Western Armenia (under Turkish occupation) nor ANYWHERE else in the world, since our Just Cause is considered a nuisance to business as usual. We live in PERMANENT EXILE.

    • Barséghian Ardachèce said:

      Don’t be defiaitiste my brother, there are more and more activists, generation generation, intellectual, political scientist, diplomat and powerful states that then sold us and today recognize their faults and want to resolve by accompanying us in the reconstruction of our nation, but grace, you are Armenian, brave, you know rebuild, then come, let’s unite , we are intelligent, dignified, we will be strong in adversity and we will return to VAN MOUCH SASOON, ZIM GILIGIA … CONSTANTINOPLE with our faithful friends GRECS

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