A Bird’s Eye View from the Diaspora

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By H.K.

The sixth Armenia-Diaspora Congress in Yerevan September 18-20 is finally over. Much was written about it prior to the event, much is being written and discussed at the present and no doubt, a sizeable number of commentaries will be its legacy in the coming weeks and months.

The big question remains how to translate the various recommendations and resolutions that are on paper into tangible results and action plans, thus justifying the convening of the meeting.

The Congress provided a golden opportunity for getting together, exchanging experiences, exploring avenues of collaboration and networking. In the 90-plus presentations, in four different sessions, there was a mix of calls for better communication, coordination, effective and sustainable investments, self-serving addresses, utopic suggestions, albeit not much by way of practical and constructive dialogue particularly in relation to complementarity within this network of Armenia-Artsakh-Diaspora. In this context, there were numerous calls for the Diaspora to be more cohesive and united in its actions.

The mantra of the congress was “Prosperous Armenia, Independent Artsakh and a Cohesive and Vibrant Diaspora.” This was explored and elaborated in the final resolution that was read by the Minister Hranush Hakobyan and unanimously approved at the end.

As they say the devil is in the details when it comes to the implementation. Already the press and media in Armenia and the diaspora have started the debate as to how to proceed. Curiously, however, several authors in articles, blogs and discussion groups have considered that this as a whole has been an exercise in futility.

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One should, however, be optimistic, forward looking and give it a chance. There are existentialist issues in Armenia and Artsakh that should be confronted successfully; failure is not an option.

I tend to look at the situation through the lens of a diasporan and try to explore why there is such a negative and defeatist impression, in particular the sector of Armenian society, be it in Armenia and the Diaspora. My comments are directed in particular, to the Diaspora as I know it rather well. In particular, I try to understand the reasons behind these concerns and why is it that well-meaning acts do not result in an effective and cohesive impact in Armenia or Artsakh.

Throughout the three days, I listened to official presentations, observing the body language of participants, being privy to side discussions, listening to titbits of arguments. I have concluded that the diaspora should face up to the calls for unity in order to have a say initially followed by a role in the mother land.

I observe that, for example, most participants belong mainly to the analogue space, rather than the digital space in this globalised and competitive world we now live in. Some naturally have managed this qualitative leap; however, the presence of those of the digital space, i.e. the youth, appeared to be in the minority. There was however, a shining example of this when younger members of the Prime Minister’s team took to the floor to the applause of the audience. The general absence of this digital generation in the diasporan component from decision making process remains a stumbling block in the face of a cohesive, and thus a very effective diaspora.

Another issue, as I see it, relates to the chronic division and the subtle mistrust of the two segments of the Mother Church. This was obvious both explicitly and implicitly. This division has been the cause of much of the divisive action in the diaspora. This split of more than 50 years, has been the cause of much waste of energy and resources. Many call for reforms in the church (if not in this congress) and an unambiguous reconciliation away from political meddling. Surely, the Mother Church could heal the wounds inherited from the past, bring about this reconciliation and herald the much-desired unity. This action is bound to result in a unified and stronger action by the Diaspora in service of Armenia and Armenians wherever they may be.

Since independence, much has been accomplished by diasporan philanthropists in Armenia and Artsakh. In the initial years of unorganised “Chaos” many such individuals were disappointed and their assistance to the country was not effective. Although such individual acts of benevolence are much appreciated and are commendable, but individual acts do not form a nation. In my personal experience, such actions should be channelled into institutionalised acts with a clear strategy, expected outcomes, and measurable of indicators of success. In order to operate in this manner bridges of trust should be established between donors and recipients – something which is not always taken for granted. The guarantor should naturally be the state as the promoter of good governance.

Another impediment to a closer integration of the Diaspora is the recent “exodus” of people from Armenia towards diasporan shores. This reminds one of the migration of Armenians from Lebanon and the Middle East in general during the 15-years of the Lebanese civil war. This group of Armenian migrants, however, injected a new lease of life in the couniries they went and settled in because they were knowledgeable of the Diasporan traditions, customs and the language. They provided teachers, editors, community workers, and religious people to the countries they settled in. This in itself was a welcome phenomenon when taking the diaspora as a unity. The new migrants from Armenia, however, had precious little knowledge of the Diaspora, its traditions, its institutions and its language – they spoke eastern Armenian as opposed the western Armenian – the lingua franca of the Diaspora. As a direct consequence western Armenian is now in decline, and community schools are at a loss as to how to cope with this. These new migrants are developing insularly in closed communities. They join the traditional diasporan structures only at April 24 commemorative marches and to some major religious feasts.  A concerted effort is called for through the Armenian diplomatic missions for a better integration. This can only strengthen the diasporan communities thus enabling better-organised bi-partisan action in service of Armenia, Artsakh and the Armenian nation.

Finally, I ask the detractors of such mega meetings: What is the alternative? In my modest opinion, the only way forward should be to add value to what has been accomplished thus far by forming specialised task forces in selected domains for a healthy debate, elaboration of priorities and strategies and formulating action plans and work packages. The success of such an approach needs a dedicated government. The speeches of the President of the Republic and its Prime Minister inspire me with confidence and provide hope and the possibility of integration of well qualified younger generation of diasporans in the decision-making process. The Armenian Diaspora provides both financial resources and manpower which should be tapped by the decision makers in the Armenian public service, particularly in matters related to the Diaspora.

(The author is based in London.)

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