Geocurrents photo

3 Steps Towards Resetting the Diaspora-Armenia Connection

1134
0

By Avo Piroyan

The relationship between the Armenian diaspora and Armenia has overall been disjointed for many years and has not improved in recent years.

The charity-based model of diaspora participation does not and cannot guarantee consistent long-term involvement. While charitable donations have made a big difference to individual people, families and groups, they have not fundamentally made a difference to the economy of Armenia and have at best sustained Armenia rather than led to substantial growth.

A new innovative and inspiring model for diaspora participation is required. One based on a mutually beneficial relationship that will guarantee significant and long term financial involvement.

3 Steps Towards a Mutually-Beneficial Relationship

Citizenship – Being a citizen of a country is a special thing and a deeper commitment than just occasionally engaging and disengaging from afar. Therefore, the creation of a special Diaspora Citizen of Armenia passport (similar to India) or Armenian citizenship with a special non-residency status with differing rights and responsibilities to regular citizens of Armenia will greatly enhance and entrench the diaspora’s participation in Armenia.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Crucially, this new passport type/status should include, first, voting rights basis tax contributions of a minimum amount and secondly, an acceptance that compulsory military service is in reality an unrealistic expectation.

Land – Among the main — though by no means the only — issues the diaspora faces when looking to invest or engage with Armenia is knowing which of the many organization, projects or appeals to support. The time required to research is simply not available to the vast majority of working people.

In addition and perhaps contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of diaspora Armenians earn the average income of their home nation and therefore disposable income is limited. Only a very small portion are millionaires. Also perhaps contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of the diaspora does not see Armenia as a place to invest for purely economic reasons.

Nonetheless, the desire to engage with the fatherland and invest is strong, not for economic but mainly for patriotic reasons.

One excellent way to address all of the above points is to distribute land either for free or basis a nominal fee, for example, $500 per plot to every extended Armenian family with the above mentioned passport/non-residency status. The land will go towards building dynastic and/or holiday homes, entrenching that diaspora family with their Armenian roots long term almost no matter how ethnically thin the Armenian part may become.

Such a program will automatically give diaspora Armenians something to invest in and it will create construction jobs in areas of the country with acute job and investment shortages. It will also create a regular place for diaspora Armenians to visit, increasing the number of visitors to Armenia and boosting the tourism sector.

For the Armenian state it is a win-win. They will have to make no financial contributions in what is effectively a public-private partnership. They will suffer no opportunity costs as most of the land is barren and/or unused and at the moment has no economic value as evidenced by the fact that it is unused. And in addition, there will be an influx of small and medium scale foreign direct investments on a mass scale throughout the country.

Bureaucracy – The reality is that Armenia’s attraction for diaspora Armenians is primarily emotive and based on patriotism instead of any practical benefits. Therefore, participation in Armenia’s economy and society must be easy, simple and accessible for the whole of the diaspora. Currently, it is not.

Armenia’s bureaucratic systems have been in need of whole scale review and reform for some time. Ideally, an independent commission is required to carry out the review and make recommendations which can then be enacted.

In order to attract the diaspora in bulk instead of just a small percentage of the very most committed, bureaucratic reforms are vital.

The aim of the reforms should be to reduce all bureaucracy to a minimum and simplify daily life. This would significantly encourage and ease diaspora participation in Armenia.

Benefits for Armenia

The diaspora is Armenia’s single greatest economic resource, arguably by some distance with the potential to generate tens of billions of US dollars’ worth of economic activity but it is currently badly underutilized. Just funds from nominal administration fees for the passport applications and nominal fees for land will raise upwards of $500 million from just 250,000 diaspora families. This does not include the much greater financial benefits to Armenia’s economy stated above.

However, in order to utilize this resource to its highest limit, diaspora Armenians must be allowed to be stakeholders in Armenia with rights, benefits and a voice that recognizes them as members of Armenia society that do not live in Armenia.

This will guarantee major, long term diaspora financial participation in Armenia bas ed not on charity but patriotism and self-interest. In so doing, the Armenia-diaspora association will transform into a mutually beneficial and mutually reinforcing ascendant relationship.

Urgent Need and Trust Building

The diaspora is a major asset with only a limited shelf life. The pressures of assimilation are strong and the diaspora needs strong links to Armenia to sustain itself, without them it will likely dissipate within the next 50-100 years, according to Professor of Sociology Georgi Derluguian.

This will be to the detriment of both Armenia and diaspora Armenians. At that point, the great economic resource of the diaspora will no longer exist.

For Armenia, it is currently at a low point. It lacks significant economic and human resources. Therefore, it is imperative for both the diaspora and Armenia to find a common understanding and develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

In order for the above to turn into reality, trust building in the near term is essential. The three initial steps (listed above), if implemented, will do just that and be the first big steps towards facilitating a lasting diaspora-Armenia partnership.

(Avo Piroyan is a London-based contributor.)

 

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: