Diaspora Adrift



By Edmond Y. Azadian

We live in a world of instant gratification. Life, death, calamities and pleasures happen instantly before our eyes, leading us on a course of fatalism.

The Middle Eastern Armenian communities are quickly depopulated by political and military upheavals. Armenia is being depopulated after the six-century dream of an independent homeland has fallen short of providing all the answers. On the other hand, new communities are formed in the West and especially in North America, with a different complexion.

In short, a lopsided existence has been created with more Armenians living outside than inside Armenia. As such, values also have undergone an intense process of transformation.

Drifting apart from our home bases in Armenia and the Middle East, we have come together in other parts of the world as a consequence of globalization. We are apart yet we are bound together in a nebulous existence.

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Following the Genocide, as the survivors settled down in the New World, the common prophecy was that within 50 years, there would be no Armenians left in the diaspora. One hundred years after that prediction, today, the prophesy remains the same, leading us to believe that the momentum will carry us still for some time in the future.

But as time passes, the global Armenian community will be reduced to an amorphous state, where the anchor of our existence, Armenia, will have less and less relevance.

The process has already begun; indifference, hatred and animosity have been plaguing Diaspora Armenians every time Armenia becomes a subject of discussion.

Incidentally, now there are two strains in the diaspora. The traditional one, which has existed for at least a century, if not more,  some even dating back to the fall of Ani, comes with a built-in resistance to assimilation, and a new one, formed by the waves of economic immigrants from Armenia who carry no immunity to alienation and assimilation.

These new immigrants are forming self-contained communities in communion and osmosis more with the outside world than the existing Armenian communities in North America and Europe. For example, the new 25,000-30,000-strong Armenian community in Greece has almost no interaction with the 10,000-strong older Armenian community there, which has struggled for a century to preserve its damaged identity and create mechanisms for self-preservation.

The same confusing picture emerges in California, where new immigrants have created a world of their own, their Soviet values incompatible with the host environment: where former academicians have become taxi drivers, others freshly arrived who believe they are entitled to welfare, where the youth culture prides itself on its jailbirds and where former opera singers and ballet dancers entertain the nouveaux riches at obnoxiously opulent weddings while intellectuals form a separate caste, seldom contributing to the overall Armenian culture. Most of them exhibit a dangerous anti-Armenia streak, perhaps derived from pangs of guilt at having abandoned the homeland.

The traditional diaspora, in its turn, continues its degradation, with its institutions becoming mere shells of their former selves.

The churches have assumed a new social role, shedding their traditional missions. Throughout history, wherever the belfry of a church arose, a school was built adjacent to it. On the East Coast, the church has completely shirked that responsibility and our clergy members do not opt for a change. On the West Coast, the picture is not very different; the Diocese only has a single school, while the Prelacy sponsors a network of schools mostly on a utilitarian agenda, to indoctrinate a new generation with political dogmas.

The diaspora survived for centuries because of its institutions and charismatic leaders. Today, it is hard to pinpoint leaders who can command the overall respect of the diaspora and mobilize communities for a noble cause.

We have not yet succeeded in galvanizing the million-plus-member diaspora into a political force. While politics — domestic or foreign — determine our existence and destiny, we have a tendency to resist the issues, instead depoliticizing the community with an atavistic fear inherited from the Ottoman times. Many local and community agendas could be achieved by engaging in the democratic process of this country.

There is an indifference, a sense of ennui, with regard to the loss of some values and institutions. No one is alarmed by the loss of the language. It is true that the spirit can carry us some distance, but language has an important traditional value; it is the key to our heritage, to the sources of our history. Responsible people rationalize that language is doomed to be lost, sooner or later, so why struggle, why worry — let it happen sooner rather than later.

The centennial of the Genocide is around the corner. The US Armenian community has yet to chart a course. No one is outraged that the Genocide Museum project failed because of our general apathy and perhaps also because of a political conspiracy. The Russian-Armenian community has become the largest Armenian Diaspora, though it is still in its infancy, with almost no schools, just taking pride in putting up new churches.

Ironically, there are more Armenians in Russia than Armenia, but the community is still in a flux to define and to determine its identity, to be useful to itself, to the world Armenian community and especially to our ancestral homeland.

Facing disaster, we live in a Panglossian world. The French philosopher Voltaire published the classic satire of the Age of Enlightenment, Candide. In the book, the protagonist, Candide, is the disciple of Dr. Pangloss, whose optimism won’t be dampened by any disaster. Armenians around the world live in that Panglossian world, the motto of which is: “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”


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