An Urgent Problem Whose Urgency Is Fading


By Edmond Y. Azadian

An ARF political thinker named E. Agnouni has encapsulated the Armenian people’s propensity to emigrate away from their native land by a perfectly rhyming sentence in Armenian: “Hayeh Amen tegh eh penderoom apastan, batsi ayn teghits voreh kochvoom eh Hayastan” (The Armenian is seeking a haven in all places but the place called Armenia.)

This tendency has political, military and economic roots, but over the centuries, it seems that Armenians have more easily decided to go with the current than fight meaningfully against it. Our literature and music are replete with songs of yearning, nostalgia and love for the native village, city and country, but seldom of fulfillment, recovery or restoration of sovereignty.

In addition to external causes, a sense of inferiority has permeated the subconscious and psyche of the Armenians to serve alien forces and to try to excel in proving their prowess to their overlords. Indeed, there were emperors, princes and generals of Armenian extraction in the Byzantine Empire, even when the Byzantine armies had been attacking and sacking Armenian kingdoms, principalities and historic centers like the medieval Armenian metropolis of Ani, a rival to its contemporary centers such as Damascus, Baghdad and Istanbul.

There was Armenian military aid to the Muslim forces conquering Egypt, especially Alexandria in the ninth century.

World War II brought forth the military genius of the Armenians, always under the Soviet flag; indeed the valor of Marshal Hovhannes Baghramian, Admiral Issakov, General Nver Safarian and Nelson Stepanyan wrote the glorious pages of World War II. And lest one forget, General Anastas Mikoyan, the member of Politburo and president of the Supreme Soviet, in effect, the leader of the Soviet Union.

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On the other hand, Missak Manouchian and his team were heading the French Resistance movement in liberating France.

Last but not least, the 5000-strong Armenian Legion, which broke through Ottoman-German fortifications on September 19, 1918, at the Battle of Arara in Palestine, of course, under Allied command.

Paul Ignatius was one of the prominent secretaries of navy in the US.

We can go on citing more and more examples, but the sampling of these historic cases prove a theory that has plagued our destiny throughout our history.

Against this backdrop, one case of treachery is enough to demonstrate the above theory that we serve foreigners well, but hinder our own. Thus, in February 1918, when the defeated Ottoman army was running for cover and the retreating Russian army had left a huge amount of food and armaments behind, Eastern Armenian volunteers, who had joined the Russian army, refused to fight under General Andranik to defend the fortress of Kars. Had they supported our national hero, most probably Kars and Ani at least would have remained within Armenia’s current borders.

By the same token, any citizen in Armenia believes that he or she can make a better president than the one in power. As the saying goes, too many chiefs and no Indians.

The Armenian dispersion has its roots way back in the Middle Ages, when the bustling metropolis, Ani, was destroyed and its citizens fled to distant destinations.

Ani was first attacked by our Christian brothers, the Byzantines, in 1044, followed by a Seljuk Turk attack in 1064, eventually to fall under the Ottoman rule in 1579. The city, which had a population of 100,000-200,000 in its heyday, was depopulated in the 18th and 19th centuries and reduced to ruins. Its population migrated to Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and Romania. They gradually assimilated with the local population and disappeared.

The migration trend which extended to central and southern Asia Minor helped the emergence of the Cilician principalities which developed into the Cilician Kingdom from the 11th to the 14th centuries. Cilicia fell to the Mamluks in 1375 and its king, Levon Lusignan VI, was taken to Egypt as a prisoner.

Armenian migration has such a central place in Armenian history that many scholarly volumes are dedicated to the topic. Ashot Abrahamian, in Soviet Armenia and Arshag Alboyadjian in the diaspora are the major historians who have done in depth treatments of the migration history.

As we analyze the root causes of migration, we find out the overwhelmingly important factor is outside forces. Although there are different interpretations of the phenomenon and history cannot be changed, we can better educate ourselves to see the future more clearly. For example, 19th-century novelist Raffi said that all the investments Armenians have made in creating chalices and other religious objects could have been used to manufacture armaments so that our nation could be free today.

Historically, the depopulation of the Armenian homeland was caused by the clashes of the empires that overran Armenia while our people dreamt of a free and independent Armenia from 1375 to 1918, when the first republic emerged. From 1920 to 1991, the Soviet Republic of Armenia gave some semblance of a state identity to our people. And despite all the atrocities and human rights violations in the Soviet Union, the Armenian people enjoyed stability, security and above all, unprecedented development in arts, literature and science in Soviet Armenia.

It is perhaps ironic that the Iron Curtain had trapped the population by limiting migration, which in turn contributed to the population growth. With Armenia’s independence, the floodgates of emigration were thrown wide open, and today, no one dares to come up with an accurate number of people leaving Armenia.

This time around we can no longer blame outside forces as a cause of depopulation; perhaps, we can partially blame Turkey, as the blockade has been crippling the economy and driving the population to poverty. But, surprisingly, the blockade has not stopped the rich from becoming richer.

Today Armenia’s depopulation is the number one cause for concern for the republic. If Armenia is depopulated and overrun by the Azeris (as Azeri President Ilham Aliyev is predicting,) there will not even be the monument of Tsitsernakaberd for us to go to and cry to in memory of the Genocide victims.

We cannot ignore the outside factors, but there are areas where Armenians as a whole can improve. The government, especially, can apply drastic measures to stop the hemorrhaging.

A new parliament was formed and the president has been re-elected. Technically, it is a one-party rule, as the opposition was crushed during the elections. Given the power structure of Armenia, one-party rule leads to one-person rule. President Serge Sargisian has all the power to stop the trend, even if that means he comes to rule Armenia as a benevolent potentate.

The rate of economic growth given in statistics does not translate yet into food on the table of families.

Oligarchs enjoy the best of both worlds; they conduct their business in Armenia as long as it lasts and they have their capital in foreign countries, should the ship sink in Armenia.

Foreign investments are encouraged verbally, but discouraged by the extant red tape and corrupt laws. Even patriotic Armenian investors from around the world have had bitter experiences trying to invest in Armenia’s economy. How many Diaspora Armenians have to be beaten, bullied or killed so that the authorities will finally create a tolerable atmosphere for foreign investments?

Patriotic rhetoric no longer lures anyone to invest in Armenia.

The courts, through corrupt judges, undermine the rule of law necessary for the formation of a middle class — a class which is the backbone of any country’s economy.

Celebrations and pomp and circumstance during the visits of foreign dignitaries provide a veneer while the starving population abandons the land and drives the country to confront a big Shakespearean question: “To be or not to be?”

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