BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry on Tuesday unveiled a Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum, which contains so many factual errors, inconsistencies and inaccuracies that if it were meant to bolster the image of the Diaspora, it does the exact opposite.
According to Armenia’s State Radio, “The aim of the Virtual Museum of Armenian Diaspora is to introduce the history of the Armenian people, the present and the future. The project will make the history, cultural heritage and achievements of the Armenian people available to the public, will develop and instill among young people of the Diaspora the idea of Armenian national identity, the feeling of pride for belonging to the Armenian nation, will make Armenian communities of Diaspora recognizable to each other. It also aims to strengthen ties between Homeland and Diaspora, as well as between Armenian communities of Diaspora.”
If this is the stated aim of the Virtual Museum it does more to highlight two very relevant problems plaguing the Diaspora Ministry and its minister, Hranush Hakopyan.
1. The inability to draw a distinction between the Diaspora as a political entity that was borne as a result of being forced to settle in foreign lands due to deportation, massacres and Genocide and the communities that have popped up as a result of individuals choosing—of their own volition—to leave the homeland and settle elsewhere.
2.Not fully comprehending the Diaspora as an entity that has kept the national ideals and aspirations of the Armenian people alive—in some instances, for centuries.
The content of the Web site is nothing more than an aggregation of information that can be culled from a quick Google search or a reworking of Wikipedia entries. It is apparent that there was no substantive research done to accumulate the information and build content for what could have been an extremely worthwhile effort.
Instead, the Web site is a depository of facts and figures, most of them inaccurate and diminishes our Diasporan reality to nothing more than pockets of Armenians living in different worlds.
If, 20 years after Armenia’s independence, the Diaspora is being viewed in such a light, then a critical component of our nation-building process has failed.
In unveiling the Web site, Minister Hakopyan explained that “Armenians are one nation regardless of their residence, and Armenia is the Homeland of all Armenians. This was the idea that became the slogan of the museum.”
Let’s look at the Western US community as an example. Today, this community, which numbers above a million, is a vibrant and diverse entity that has grown through the institutions that were established by those who first settled in the Western United States as survivors of either the Sultan Hamid Massacres or the Armenian Genocide. Even the newest of newcomers should realize that the church, in which they worship or the school they attend was a result of blood, sweat and tears of dedicated individuals who toiled to not only survive and provide for their immediate families, but to harness our national aspirations to build and create communities, in which Armenians can flourish as Armenians.
So, to Mrs. Hakopyan I say 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.
The Diaspora is a political entity that has played a critical role in the national liberation struggle and in state-building. Without it, perhaps many of the achievements of the last 20 years would not have been possible. (In fact, the Web site does not contain a definition of the term “Diaspora”).
The minister, in her message on the Web site, says: “We shall do everything to make the web-site interesting and cognitive, to reflect the phenomenon of Armenian Diaspora with its rich palette and deep essence. I am confident that Armenian specialists creating web-sites in different parts of the world will contribute to the process to make the web-site more interesting [sic.].”
Conventional wisdom would dictate that the aforementioned specialists would have been brought together prior to the launch of the Web site, in order to shed light that the Diaspora is not merely a “rich palette” but rather a critical force in our national identity.
A glaring omission from the Virtual Museum is the Armenian press in the Diaspora. In my humble opinion as the editor of this 104-year-old publication, leaving out the press is a virtual crime for this Virtual Museum.
The Virtual Armenian Diaspora Museum is an insult to the Diaspora. 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.