Gary Gyultemiryan

What Could the Armenian Diaspora Learn from the Israeli Diaspora?

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By Gary Gyultemiryan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Tensions between people in their homelands and their respective diasporas are not unusual. Israel and Armenia are no exceptions. I use Israel as an example because of its similar characteristics to Armenia. First, Armenians and Jews are ancient peoples who have survived subjugation to one empire after another, through which they have maintained their identities. Second, both nations are relatively young as independent states. Armenia gained its independence in 1991 and Israel in 1948. Lastly, both nations enjoy influential and vibrant diasporas.

What makes the Jewish diaspora unique, however, is its foundational belief that Israel must survive; its concerns are primarily related to survival. While some Jewish communities returned to Israel, others chose not to and thus joined the Jewish diaspora, assisting Israel from abroad by financially backing social, political, and economic endeavors.

Here, I want to address the financial partnership between Israel and its diaspora and how this can be a model for Armenia moving forward. For a nation like Armenia to endure, it needs a strong economy to finance and raise a formidable military. Without this, Armenia is inevitably endangering her existence.

When Israel became a state in 1948, many Eastern European Jews began the repatriation process to their newly independent homeland, doubling its population within the first five years and leading to exponential growth in subsequent decades. This vast growth resulted in a scarcity of resources for its growing population, especially in developing neighborhoods across the country.

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To socially and economically improve these neighborhoods, the state of Israel initiated a national plan in conjunction with the Jewish diaspora to help build these neighborhoods into strong economic and social communities. Project Renewal was launched. This was a joint program of the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency to support financially distressed neighborhoods, targeting 82 Jewish communities in Israel for rehabilitation.

Project Renewal had basic principles all parties had to abide by. Here is a brief summary. Its projects must be joint efforts involving Israeli government ministries, municipal authorities, local residents, and Jewish communities from abroad. To participate in this program, a particular diaspora group must be matched with a particular stressed Jewish community/neighborhood. This is referred to as twinning. There must be a comprehensive approach, addressing all matters of Jewish life. The communities/neighborhoods for which the funds are allocated must take an active role in the process. Each project should have a timetable for its completion.

Such an orderly and multifaceted venture, indeed, has had a seismic economic impact on the flourishing of the state of Israel and its communities. Additionally, it has brought forth a model for the Jewish diaspora to move forward, and be active politically, socially, and economically by supporting such meaningful measures for Israel. This, and other similar programs, allowed Israel to have one of the highest GDP per capita at $43,000 in the year 2020. To put this into perspective, during the same period, the Russian and Chinese GDP’s per capita were about $10,000 each. Nations possessing strong and modern militaries rely on a sound economy, through which they can finance a robust military.

Can Armenia implement its own version of the Renewal Program? Unequivocally, yes! Armenia needs to reconsider the level of dependency on foreign aid and foreign remittances from family and friends as a source of economic growth.

Historically, international foreign aid has not satisfied its purported purpose for the nation that is the recipient of the foreign aid. A cursory reading of the literature on foreign aid demonstrates its inability to generate meaningful economic progress.

Moving toward a working economic model should be the focus of Armenia and its diaspora. Current economic revitalization attempts have proved to be futile and/or sluggish. At present, there are no such programs to help Armenia in any strategic and coordinated manner. If we wish to see an economically thriving and secure Armenia, a variation of the Renewal Project should be seriously considered. Incentivize the venture, so all parties, diaspora and the local Armenian communities have a stake in seeing the mission through.

Gary Gyultemiryan resides in Glendale, California. He has a philosophy degree from the University of Biola and is currently teaching history at iQ Academy.

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