YEREVAN (News.am)—Canadian actress and producer Arsinee Khanjian speaks to News.am about relations between Armenia and Diaspora, Diaspora’s participation in Armenia’s domestic life, the attitude toward the Armenians from Diaspora in Armenia, and other issues.
News.am: What should be the relations between Armenians living in Armenia and Diaspora? To what extent should Diaspora be involved in Armenia’s internal political processes? Is it possible to ensure the full involvement of Diaspora from outside or there should be established mechanisms for them to return home and participate in Armenia’s domestic developments?
Arsinee Khanjian (AK): “It seems that the Diaspora made efforts to return and settle in Armenia, after Armenia had declared independence. The Diaspora made those attempts; some people returned to Armenia, but conditions did not allow them to stay. First, they weren’t citizens, and, as it seems, they visited to participate in Armenia’s activities like guests. Unfortunately, they have remained guests. When I go somewhere with an intention to get involved in a process, there are always people who make me feel like a guest. It means, tha I either have to accept the situation to be allowed to stay, or say, that I ‘will help myself’ and soon will go back.
I think that Diaspora is currently in a difficult condition, because of different experiences we have had together, interacting with each other for 25 years or without it. I have some ideas, in this regard. However, I do not want to reveal them, since they need to be well developed, and first of all developed with the will of the colonies and the people who are there. It should be made clear, what return to Armenia means, and how people can come to Armenia. For the new Diaspora, it’s a return, whereas for the historical Diaspora, it’s their first visit. But, in which way? For example, the Prime Minister urges and allows the Diaspora to come to Armenia and get involved in business activities. Is it the only participation of the Diaspora, though? Shall it be the business sector only? Doesn’t Diaspora in Armenia have a role other than that?
I think it is a narrow-minded approach towards Diaspora’s duties and capacities. We have resources, which Armenia needs. It is not true, that Armenia still survive alone. Armenia has founded itself in a very difficult situation, taken into account the Armenian reality, not only individual interests but the interests of Armenia – accepting, that there are people and their voices should be respected. And, this is because of internal pressures.
Over the last 100 years the history of Armenia and Diaspora has been manifested in different forms. Why can’t we create a relationship with each other? Look at the example of Israel. Today Israel, being an independent country, is called Israel, not the Jewish state. There are many Jews in Diaspora, but these Jews, regardless of their citizenship, French or Italian, apart from providing material support, fully enjoy the created conditions, in which their opinion is respected.
News.am: How can these circumstances be molded? There are many forms. The Ministry of Diaspora, which was established in 2009, has been unable to develop any, though. All the created platforms are cosmetic and, in general, rather weak to unite Armenia and Diaspora.
AK: I believe that the reason is not the weakness, or ignorance. There exists a policy beyond it, which does not necessarily imply the importance of uniting, but the position, that ‘you can only take part in this way, and when we honor you, you must feel delighted.’ This approach is no longer tolerable. It is not a matter of powers’ coercion, but of national survival.”
News.am: What is your vision of the future of Armenia, taken into account nowadays’ Armenian reality?
AK: Twenty-five years is a long period. A child turns into 25 years old during this time and becomes an independent person, who should make decisions for his/her future. There took place a lot of good things in Armenia, but there are still a lot of problems. I think, that there can be [a positive change], if relationship becomes ‘modest’ from both sides. I say it ‘modest,’ because, apparently, there is an issue of glory. Everyone wants to establish and maintain its strength and will.
It cannot be the case. Armenia’s authorities should address this issue for the sake of the people and the state, so that the state, the people, and the government have their own identity and independence. There should be a relationship between them, which is not enforced, but rather clean and clear.
If the Armenian government refers to this issue, it should be the same in Diaspora. The Diaspora institutions should also realize, that we have a lot of young people who are Armenians, but they do not want to be instructed, how to prove their identity. Today, there are many ways of proving it, but also necessary conditions should be created. I think that in the next 25 years, the situation will either improve or get even more complicated.
Why do I think so? Look at the history and development of humanity. We shouldn’t think that if we are Armenians, we are different. In fact, we aren’t different, and it’s us, who inflict the most damage to us. I hope that we will be able to create an environment, in which we will be able to listen to each other without a fear of danger.
It is unacceptable, when we are offending each other. I say it directly, since what I witnessed…I saw people, citizens around me, who would approach and say: “Please, go back and tell Diaspora not to send us financial assistance. We do not need your assistance.” When I hear this, I cannot leave my responsibilities.
My best experience over the years in Armenia has been with people, who on different occasions approached me in the street and said: ‘Mrs. Khanjyan, we all love you very much.’ What a beautiful phrase is it, I thought. It is the greatest gift that I have ever received. The word ‘love’ is very delicate and beautiful. Then, I thought, that I should have an answer. I replied that I was grateful, but I didn’t feel, that it was enough. Today, I can say, that I am very fond of you. I am very fond of my people, because I feel, that Armenia is my country, no matter if I am granted a right, have an Armenian passport or not. I do not know, whether it creates discomfort for the government, but I think, if one lives with a sense Armenian identity, one should also feel free to express oneself.
Now people are approaching and saying: “We love you very much” as well. But, they also have a message, which they didn’t before. And this message is addressed to the Diaspora. They feel that the Diaspora is an inseparable of Armenia. A large number of people from Diaspora have Armenian citizenship; they have families in Armenia. Therefore, it should be make clear, that if I preserve the right to speak, I am doing it not for myself, but because I feel people’s expectations.
If I can feel these expectations, there is no way that the government doesn’t know about them. I am neither a governmental representative, nor have a wish to be. However, if I have a possibility to address this issue, how can I refrain from doing so, and how the government can refrain from listening and addressing the needs of the people.”
News.am: Do you feel in Armenia like a guest, or like a citizen?
AK: “I do not feel like a guest in Armenia. In the first years of independence, when I was coming to Armenia, I was like a guest, since I knew, that I should return. Being a western Armenian, I don’t feel I belong to somewhere specific in the world. I’ve lived in Canada for more than forty years. I am a Canadian citizen and have an Armenian identity. Thus, no matter, whether I am in Lebanon, the US, or France, I feel that my identity is different.
When I come to Armenia, I feel that I am in a natural environment, although there is still much to learn to understand, what it really means to live in Armenia, by live everyday Armenian life. I don’t know, if I will ever have a chance to come and live in Armenia; there are people, who did it. I would never think that today I could be here and talk about these things. I also feel that I belong to Diaspora. This relationship is a major of me, and it is this relationship, which I now develop.”