By Seto Boyadjian–Esq.
Let us start with a simple fact. Armenia’s forcibly settled outside their homeland to live and work in the Armenian diaspora.
Though we naturally realize this fact–it is only instinctively–and that is not sufficient–because it lacks the practical awareness and cognizance of our diasporan condition. There was a time–at least until the early 1990s–when our diasporan awareness was a dominant factor. In those days–the task of overcoming the diaspora’s difficult conditions constituted the starting point of our national agenda.
During the past decade–we developed new national priorities that demoted the diaspora to an accepted routine. We began taking our diasporan existence for granted. Perhaps this was a natural consequence of the new priorities. Because the liberation struggle of Artsakh–the reestablishment of Armenia’s independence–and later on–the new political–military–and economic challenges of the homeland became the pivotal points of our collective thinking and concerns. Under these circumstances–it was natural for us to relegate the importance of the betterment of our diasporan conditions. It is true that we did not forget the diaspora; yet–we ignored the vital prospects of its collective existence. We must concede that the perpetuation of such attitude would ultimately jeopardize the very existence of the Armenian diaspora and its mission.
The liberation of Artsakh and the independence of Armenia did not bring an end to our diasporan existence. That is–they neither solved the Armenian diaspora’s problems nor terminated its mission. It would be an unpardonable error to be content with our homeland’s liberation and independence at the expense of discarding the needs for the diaspora’s collective existence–political objectives–and organizational structures.
Evidently–our national life today–both in the homeland and the diaspora–has undergone fundamental changes. Armenia and the diaspora have been encumbered with further obligations. Both now have to carry out a dual duty. Armenia–along with caring for our homeland and its people–has also to assist in the preservation of the Armenian identity of our diasporan communities. The diaspora–while lending support to the welfare of our homeland and its people–will also have to strengthen its collective and organizational existence.
So far–the diaspora has been sufficiently fulfilling the first part of its obligation–helping Armenia and its population. It is now time for the second part–the task to strengthen the diaspora’s collective life–organizational structures–and their efficient operation that has–for understandable reasons–been discarded during the past decade.
Now we have to restart that task because it has been a fundamental source in securing a healthy and vitalized diasporan collectivity. Should we continue to fall behind in this task–our collectivity will gradually weaken and lose its vitality. A weakened and inert diaspora will be unable to fulfill its obligation to support the homeland.
The development and strengthening of the expatriate collective and organized life depends on our daily practical awareness of diasporan conditions. This awareness requires that issues such as the expatriate Armenian existence and its numeric preservation–the danger of assimilation and the need for integration–securing collective society and solidifying organized collectivity–reorganizing our national structures and promoting their administrative efficiency–again become part of the diasporan agenda and serve as the bases of our national strategy.
Accordingly–such diasporan concerns and the duty to support the homeland must set on the same pedestal of our national priorities.
We must first become cognizant of the history–evolution–and objective of the modern Armenian diaspora that began its formation in the early 1920s. The survivors of the planned Turkish genocide and deportations were forcibly dispersed into foreign lands where they began forming separate communities. In this respect–the creation of the Armenian diaspora was the outcome of a historic injustice. However–its organization into unified collectivities was the accomplishment of the elder diasporan generation’s dedication and awareness. The Turkish state intended to obliterate the people of the Armenian Plateau. The elder generation determined to secure the existence of the surviving Armenia’s. We owe that generation the collective survival–organization–and endurance of diaspora’s Armenian communities.
As a collectivity and organized society–the diaspora did not remain fixed and unchanged. It evolved and transformed. Throughout the years–it developed its potential and its structures. It necessarily transformed and adapted to the changing conditions of its surroundings. Through its inner potentials–it preserved its existence–kept the reason for its being–and pursued its purported mission. We should seek the explanation for this dynamic evolution in the daily practical awareness that the members and structures of the diasporan communities displayed for their conditions.
The development of the diaspora can be divided into three evolutionary phases:
A. Organizational Stage–1920 to 1970
During the early years of formation–communities initiated self-organization commensurate to possibilities and surrounding conditions.
The main target was self-preservation (hayabahbanoom: preservation of Armenian identity). The newly formed Armenian diaspora was viewed as a temporary station from where the expatriate Armenian would soon return to the ancestral land. The return required diaspora Armenia’s to maintain numeric quantity and preserve the Armenian identity. Accordingly–these communities organized religious–educational–political–and social structures. Their purpose was to provide the migrant Armenian a proper environment in which to learn and live out national heritage–values–traditions–and beliefs.
In essence–self-preservation was tantamount to self-defense. To achieve this–communities formed a closed-environment–aimed at inhibiting the influx of external influences into the Armenian collectivity that might alter Armenian processes–traditions–and values.
Communities had to defend themselves against the penetration of foreign factors that would alienate–estrange–and disaffect Armenian traits. When a new generation born in the diaspora faced the danger of assimilation–self-preservation and their closed-environment policy were further emphasized and rooted. In turn–it revealed the bitter reality that the next generations were to become more vulnerable to the current of estrangement. Consequently–the policy of closed environment left its profound impact on these displaced communities.
The struggle to organize and to maintain identity created and fostered diasporan communities for almost fifty years.
And though its closed-environment policy effectively secured the relative successes of that effort–it nevertheless imposed restrictions. It did not allow communities to benefit from the positive new trends and progress that took place in our surroundings in the technological–political–and administrative realms.
We kept away from the political and social processes of the host countries. We focused on the aspect of ethnological preservation and sufficed with minimal expectations. In this sense–the policy of closed-environment produced two negative consequences–collective isolationism and cautious mentality.
2. Claim-making Phase from 1970 to 1980
In contrast to the organizational stage–the phase of claim-making was characterized by its heightened expectations. The post–50th Anniversary of the Armenian genocide generation–claimed a more aggressive approach to the Armenian Cause in 1965. It considered the diaspora’s national–political–and organizational achievements insufficient. Especially after 1970–the new diasporan generation–led by Hai Tahd claims–boldly pursued the introduction of fundamental changes in the leadership’s already outdated isolationist attitude and cautious mentality.
Seeking basic reformations in our collective life–the claimant generation advanced serious justifications–maintaining that the domains of diasporan public life were not that rosy.
It indicated that absolute stagnation prevailed on political–organizational–cultural–and intellectual levels. Some saw exaggeration in these criticisms. Nevertheless–the diagnoses were accurate. It was impossible to conduct efficient work within old structures–and with outmoded style–and outdated mentality. Diaspora communities faced new challenges that could only be successfully overcome by existing potential and means.
Modernizing–politicizing–and revolutionizing the diaspora were the triple directions that helped our communities to develop the necessary potential and means.
Our structures and style of work were losing their dynamism and efficiency; modernization enabled them to regain their dynamism and keep pace with the changes and progress in the surrounding. The policy of closed-environment was turning the self-preservation of the Armenian identity into an end in itself–replacing the premise that the fundamental objective of self-preservation is Armenia and Hai Tahd; mental and spiritual politicizing of diaspora Armenia’s reestablished that fundamental objective.
Furthermore–the politicizing process brought added quality and content in our political work.
Along with modernizing and politicizing–the revolutionizing process was also a vital. The experience of collective isolationism was causing the development of a conservative mentality and psychology; on the other hand–economic successes and affluence were promoting the spread of a bourgeois mentality and erosion of idealism. The revolutionizing process attempted to halt such negative developments and propagate Hai Tahd activism. During this period–diaspora Armenia’s also resorted to revolutionary traditions to tear down the decades old wall of silence erected by Turkey and its Western allies against the issue of Genocide.
3. Ignoring the Diaspora since 1990
With the advent of the Artsakh liberation struggle and reestablishment of independence in Armenia–the claim-making phase acquired new meaning.
The diaspora channeled all its means and abilities toward the homeland. After all–preserving the Armenian identity–modernizing diasporan structures–as well as the politicizing and revolutionizing processes–were intended to serve the homeland. Now was the time to materialize that service. The zeal to assist the homeland in practical terms spread throughout the diaspora. As expected–Armenia and its people became the focal points of the active elements in the diaspora.
Unfortunately–the diaspora’s needs were unwittingly ignored during this phase.
Many factors were involved in this development. Engulfed with homeland concerns–leading forces in the diaspora had neither the time nor the urgency to tend to the basic requirements of communities. On the other hand–a segment of the diaspora concluded that with Armenia’s independence–the diaspora’s mission reached its culmination. As a result–the diaspora began to lower expectations to deal only with its regular routine.
Ignoring the needs of the diaspora carried–and still carries–serious damaging effects–which are felt on leadership–organization–and individual levels. The weakening of the diaspora’s leadership is becoming obvious; it can be strengthened by recruiting qualified–able–and knowledgeable elements to leadership positions. On the organizational level–structures are once again becoming stagnant–and in dire need of reorganization and revitalization. As for people–we have to overpower the evils of indifference and passivity that are becoming increasingly prevalent.
The situation may be gloomy–but not incurable. We possess the collective knowledge–the wisdom–the ability–and the patience to overcome this phase. We can circumvent it.
For starters–we must raise our collective and individual awareness of diaspora conditions.