Realistic Expectations from Sixth Armenia-Diaspora Conclave

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While many Armenians in the Diaspora snub the Armenia Diaspora conclaves, whose sixth session will take place on September 18-20, 2017, 1,700 Armenians from around the world have registered to participate. This means that large numbers find a value in holding and in participating in those gatherings. Therefore, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Those who have contributed to the homeland in substantive ways seldom appear at these conclaves — benefactors who contribute to the tune of millions, technology experts, successful entrepreneurs who have set up projects in Armenia, respected writers, people in the creative and performing arts who have achieved fame around the world, people of Armenian origin who hold government positions in foreign countries and famous newscasters and anchormen in the foreign media.

The goal of the organizers, perhaps, should be to target that category of people rather than holding an open forum for every participant to feel important. But certainly, the participants do talk about the areas outlined above — and they talk a lot. Doers are not there but talkers are there in abundance.

We do not intend to tackle the issue with sarcasm, because we appreciate the cognitive value of the endeavor. Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Armenians around the world and in Armenia have been engaged in a diligent effort to get to know each other and thereby create a common level of understanding and cooperation in helping the homeland and using that homeland as a resource to preserve and to regenerate their identity. That is why the organizers of the conclave have adopted a motto which translates to: “Mutual confidence, unity and responsibility.” This goal certainly implies that there still is room for improvement in developing mutual trust.

The two-day gathering proposes an ambitious program which is well-structured with the following specialized areas:

  1. Major goals for Armenia’s development. This topic includes foreign investments, promoting tourism and cooperation in business.
  2. Security concerns in the face of modern challenges — the emphasis is on Armenia’s defense and the violability of border towns and villages.

III. Armenia’s foreign policy, on whose agenda the major issues are Karabakh conflict and the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

  1. Preservation of the Armenian identity through language, literature and culture.

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It is imperative that Diaspora Armenians develop awareness of the issues plaguing Armenia, although in helping overcome the challenges, the diaspora is in a position to contribute meaningfully. Thus, the defense issue is a matter of life and death for Armenia, yet the diaspora lacks the means to contribute to the immense need through its limited resources.

As far as the foreign investments are concerned, the ball is in the court of the Armenian government. Because since Armenia’s independence, many Diasporan Armenians, inspired by patriotism, have rushed to start businesses or invest in the local economy, only to be frustrated and burned. Every successive administration has pledged to improve the situation, to no avail. Corruption, cronyism, unfair taxation and outright robbery have rendered Diaspora Armenians’ patriotism into a farce.

Foreign capital or investments do not recognize patriotism. If a level playing field is offered to all, and no party remains above the law, then not only patriotic Armenians can contribute and invest but foreign capital would also gravitate towards Armenia.

Unfortunately, the issue of investments has frustrated so many people that it will remain a sore point for a long time to the detriment of Armenia’s economy.

All the above issues may be debated, analyzed and perhaps some positive outcome may emerge in those areas at the conclave.

As far as Armenia’s foreign policy is concerned, the diaspora should and can contribute if it is organized and politicized. Armenians have measurable resources in Western countries which have not yet been utilized. Armenia may help to provide direction but the main responsibility remains on the diasporan leadership to get its act together.

But the measure of success will come when the gathering can find solutions to two essential issues: developing a government policy to halt emigration and forming a pan-Armenian council including representatives from Armenia and the diaspora to chart a realistic course to develop mutual trust and cooperation for Armenia’s future. It defies logic: why would a soldier sacrifice his life on the border of a territory whose population is leaving in droves?

Turkey and Azerbaijan have blockaded Armenia and are waging a war of attrition, to scare off the population. And the government is inadvertently contributing to the hemorrhage by failing to develop an effective policy to encourage its citizens to stay and hope for a more promising future. If a border guard is expected to put his life in harm’s way, or if the diasporan Armenian decides to invest in the economy, it must be incumbent upon the government functionary to refuse to take bribes, to eliminate unfair taxation and to restore rule of law in the country.

The enemy is only bent on destroying Armenia and if the government on all levels fails to take drastic action to implement a viable policy, Armenia cannot avoid depopulation and destruction. The situation is deadly serious.

The other crucial issue is the formation of a pan-Armenian council to regulate relations between Armenia and the diaspora.

Thus far, Armenia’s awareness of diasporan powers and values has been very shallow and hope has been pinned on the wrong individuals and organizations. The real movers and shakers in the diaspora may not be found among the participants of the conclave, but it is the responsibility of the Armenian government to identify them and to enlist their support and participation.

The power sharing of the current coalition is based on wrong assumptions and premises. If the same measures and values are used forming the pan-Armenian council, it would be a recipe for failure. The key idea is inclusiveness; all parties and groups must feel comfortable that they are not in a popularity contest, nor are they prey to facile choices.

Traditionally these conclaves run parallel to lavish receptions, regalia and entertainment. As long as the entertainment part is not confused with actual work and progress, then the conclave can assume that it has hit a milestone.

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